What to Consider When Choosing Auto Body Shops

Elisabeth Leamy's tips, advice and warnings for those looking for car repairs.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 1:10 AM

Oct. 1, 2007 — -- So this week I crashed my car. I'm perfectly fine and so is the other driver. But my car has some ugly "injuries" and suddenly I have to try to follow the advice I give to consumers all the time. Getting in a car accident is bad enough, but some consumers feel like fate comes crashing down on them a second time when they go to get their car repaired.

Shoddy work. Junkyard parts. Insurance-company influence. But even if your car is a tangle of metal, like something from a bad dream, getting it fixed doesn't have to be a nightmare. The key is in choosing the right auto body shop. It's an important choice because for most of us our car is our second biggest investment after our home.

Insurance companies are not supposed to force you to use their chosen shop. That's called "steering." But most insurers keep a list of approved shops that they've worked with in the past. And it's one way to narrow your choices down. Once you have that list, ask friends, colleagues -- your mechanic -- if they can recommend any of the shops on the list. If not, maybe they have another strong recommendation.

Next, check out the reputations of the shops people have recommended by calling or going online. Contact your local Better Business Bureau (BBB), your county consumer affairs office (if there is one) and your state consumer protection office. You should be able to find out the number of complaints, the nature of those complaints and how they were resolved.

Find out whether the body shop belongs to any professional organizations. For example, shops that belong to the Automotive Service Association (ASA) pledge to uphold a code of ethics. You can call (800) ASA-SHOP for a referral. Some auto body shops also belong to ACRA -- America's Collision Repair Association. See if the technicians are certified to do body work by ASE -- Automotive Service Excellence.

Some insurance companies allow certain shops to do their own adjusting work, rather than waiting for an adjuster from the insurance company to come out and look at your car. This could save you time. Plus, since the auto body shop wants to make money and wants to do a thorough job, if they do their own adjusting you may get the better benefit of the doubt.