If your car needs body work due to damage sustained in an accident, the first thing you should do is call your insurance company to see what steps you need to follow, as procedures vary from company to company.
For example, some insurers will send a claims adjuster out to you to assess the damage, while others will want to have the vehicle taken (or towed) to a specified location. Some companies may suggest that you use a particular body shop, whereas others will require you to get estimates from several different shops. Find out whether the insurance company will make the check out to you or to the body shop.
You should also ask whether the insurance company will pay for a rental car while your car is out of service, and for how long. Generally, insurance policies will cover rental cars for 30 days or less, and some may only cover a portion of the daily fee.
Also note that the insurance claims adjuster will normally estimate the visual damage only. Once the repair work begins, it is not unusual for the technician to discover other problems that need to be fixed. Speak to your insurance company and the body shop ahead of time about what the procedure is when supplemental damages are found.
If you don't already have a relationship with a trusted body shop, here are some guidelines to help you choose a quality facility:
- Get a referral. Your insurance company can recommend a body shop, but you may also want to ask your regular mechanic, friends, co-workers or family members for a recommendation.
- Visit the shops you're considering and ask if you can see some before and after examples of their work. Inspect the paint jobs to see if they are smooth and uniform.
- Ask the shop what kind of parts they use. Original equipment replacement parts from the manufacturer (OEM) are preferable to aftermarket parts, as aftermarket parts may not fit exactly or match up perfectly to the rest of the body.
- Check the reputation of the shop with your local Better Business Bureau.
- See if the body shop provides free estimates.
- If your car is not drivable, see if an estimator will come out to look at the car. If that is not possible, you can provide photographs, but never get an estimate over the phone.
- Find out what kind of guarantees and warrantees they offer, and what their policy is if a customer is not satisfied with the work.
- Ask the body shop how soon they could begin working on your car, and how long they think it will take. If they are back-logged for several weeks, you may want to go somewhere else, especially if the insurance company has limits on how long they will pay for a rental car.