If for any reason, you feel that it’s wiser to have a professional make repairs, in order to ensure that you get the best work at a reasonable price, you must be able to choose the right shop, make the best decision about the type of parts you feel are acceptable, and check to be sure the job’s been done properly. This section helps you accomplish all these tasks efficiently.
Evaluating body shops
Body shops run the gamut from small back-alley paint booth operations to high-tech specialists with space-age lasers, computerized sonar, electric eyes, and robots that scan, measure, and repair auto damage and alignment electronically. Some shops still mix colors by eye and formula, and others use computers and scanners that match even faded colors perfectly.
To protect the environment, find a shop that filters recycles, and disposes of waste materials in an ecologically sound manner even though some states and provinces still don’t require it. If you need to locate a reliable body shop, consult the sections in on finding and evaluating a good service facility. Then use the following tips to pick the best one.
Unless your insurer specifies that only OEM parts be used, body shops should offer you several options on the type of parts they buy for your vehicle. Used parts of all kinds can cost half as much as OEM equipment, but if you have to pay for the parts and labor to replace low-quality parts often, they can end up costing you more. As an environmentalist, I favor anything that can be reused, so here are the pros and cons for each type of part that may be available.
Because bodywork requires such expertise, buying a new bumper or piece of trim (or locating an unflawed one at a wrecker’s) is often less expensive than restoring the damaged part. Many modern vehicles have thin body panels that are designed to be replaced rather than repaired. They crumple so easily that they’re as difficult to straighten as tinfoil, and it’s cheaper and easier to have a new panel installed and painted.
If extensive areas of a metal car body need to be repaired, have those damaged body panels replaced rather than filled in with body fillers. It’s a good idea to ask each body shop you consult whether they plan to replace large, damaged areas with sheet-metal body panels welded in place of the old ones or if they plan to straighten the old panels and finish them with a thin skin of filler.
Many vehicles are still made primarily of steel with plastic bumper covers and trim pieces, but a growing number use aluminum for door skins and hoods, and a few have all-aluminum or all-plastic (including fiberglass) bodies.
A good shop will have no difficulty working with plastics or with aluminum body parts. But if you have an all-aluminum vehicle and have sustained underbody or frame damage, make sure that the shop is certified to work on aluminum.