Updated: December 2016
When your car is damaged in an accident, you want it repaired and back on the road as soon as possible. So, where should you get your vehicle repaired, and how does the auto shop work with your insurance company? Knowing your options may help you better navigate the process.
Here are some key things to know about finding and working with an auto repair shop after an accident.
Many insurance companies offer direct repair programs, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). A direct repair program is a network of auto shops approved by your insurer.
You're not obligated to work with these recommended mechanics or body shops for your repairs; you're free to choose your own facility, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). However, there may be some benefits to working with one of your insurance company's "preferred" repair shops.
Streamlined repair and payment process. Your insurer and the shop may have a streamlined repair and payment process that saves you time, according to the insurance industry publication PropertyCasualty360.
Quality standards. Auto repair shops your insurer recommends are screened in advance to be sure they meet certain quality standards, notes PropertyCasualty360.
Warranties. Insurer-preferred shops usually extend warranties on their repair work for as long as you own your car, instead of the typical one- or two-year shop warranties, says the III.
One-stop shops. Some direct repair programs even offer "one-stop shops," where you can take your car to a single location to get an insurance estimate, have your car repaired and even pick up a rental car, explains the III.
If you opt to take your car to a shop you choose on your own, keep these tips in mind.
Get recommendations. In addition to referrals from your insurance company, get suggestions from friends and relatives who have worked with shops they trust, suggests the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Also read online reviews of local auto mechanics and body shops.
Check for certifications. Ask any shops you're considering if they carry industry certifications, the FTC suggests. These "seals of approval" may come from organizations such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) and the Automotive Service Association (ASA). These certifications guarantee that shop technicians have met or exceeded key repair-work qualifications.
Look for common-sense signs of quality. Reputable shops typically are quite busy, says Edmunds.com. Good shops also should be reasonably clean and well organized. If the shop is filthy or chaotic, look elsewhere, Edmunds advises.
Once you choose a shop, there are several steps you can take to understand the repair work being done on your vehicle.
Review the estimate. Ask for a thorough, written estimate of the repair work, says the FTC. The estimate should include a clear breakdown of labor and parts costs. Question anything that isn't clear.
Ask about parts options. Insurance laws don't necessarily require auto body shops to use original equipment manufacturer's (OEM) parts to repair your car, says the III. Repair facilities may use "after-market" parts made by companies other than the manufacturer or even recycled OEM parts (including bumpers, door panels, etc.).
Regulations about using non-OEM parts vary by state, says the III. If your shop offers after-market parts, you have the right to refuse them. However, you may have to pay the price difference for installing OEM parts. Keep in mind, though, that OEM parts could be new or recycled, depending on your insurer.
Check for repair warranties. If you work with an auto repair shop that isn't on your insurance company's recommended list, be sure to ask about repair warranties and get them in writing, suggests Edmunds. It's important to know you can depend on the shop to take care of your car if they don't fix something right the first time. Remember: When you work with a shop in your insurer's direct repair network, the facility warrants their repairs for the life of your car, according to the III.
Once your vehicle is repaired, you'll need to pay your deductible — the amount you're responsible for paying the shop toward repair costs. Depending on the type of shop you worked with, your insurer may pay their portion directly to the shop, or they may reimburse you. Then, you can get back in the driver's seat once again.