When your car has been damaged in an accident, one of the most important things you can do is find a quality auto repair shop that will make it truly roadworthy.
Your insurance company may offer to relieve you of the burden of finding a reputable repair shop by giving you a list of its own preferred providers. This is a tempting offer when you’re in a hurry to get back on the highway and not eager to check out repair shops on your own.
Insurers typically tell policyholders that they have carefully checked out these businesses to make sure they do quality work at reasonable prices. Your carrier may offer to guarantee any work that is performed by shops on its preferred list.
But although these shops may be fully qualified, they do have a business relationship with your insurance company. And by sending you to these shops, insurance companies are gaining more control over their costs. Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), a nonprofit consumer group, says motorists usually are better off finding their own auto shops.
“What you want to do is find the repair shop that does the best job,” she says. “That isn’t necessarily the one they would recommend because they’re into cutting costs. In general, it’s a good idea to pick your own place. Do your own shopping. Look at reviews and decide on your own where you want your car to go.”
Harvey Rosenfield, an attorney and founder of the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog organization, says many consumers don’t realize that state insurance regulations around the country typically allow them to choose their own repair shops following accidents.
Because insurance-affiliated repair shops depend on insurance carriers for their business, in some cases they may more concerned with how much they’re costing your insurer than how well they’re repairing your vehicle, Rosenfeld says.
“You’re at a disadvantage when you’re dealing with a car repair facility whose principle allegiance is to the insurance company,” he says.
Not everyone says you need to be worried about finding your own repair shop. John Espenschied, the principal with Insurance Brokers Group, says shops recommended by insurance companies “are under constant review for quality, workmanship and customer service.”
Many people choose preferred provider auto shops for greater convenience, says Jim Armitage, a longtime insurance agent in Arcadia, Calif. Preferred providers typically bill insurers directly, and the policyholder doesn’t have to deliver a check, he noted.
“They do everything electronically,” he says. “The shop gets paid directly. It’s a more streamlined process.”
If you decide to accept an insurer’s offer to back up the work of a preferred provider, it’s a good idea to get the guarantee in writing to avoid misunderstandings later. Rosenfeld says it’s also important to make sure the repair shop you choose uses original auto parts provided by the manufacturer. He holds that using parts that aren’t original could pose a safety risk.
Tips for choosing the right auto repair shop
If you decide to find your own auto shop, here are steps you can take to improve your chances of having your car repaired properly:
Get recommendations. Ask friends and family members if they can recommend a repair shop that has done good work for them.
Do your homework. Armitage suggests using online consumer-review websites such as Yelp to see what other consumers have to say about the repair shops you’re considering. Another good source of information is your local Better Business Bureau. If you encounter a lot of complaints, consider going elsewhere.
Get several estimates. You won’t be certain of the full scope of the work that needs to be done unless you get repair estimates from several repair shops. The idea is to make sure that you don’t take your car back on the highway until it’s completely repaired and safe to drive.
Check for cleanliness. The nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence recommends finding a tidy, well-organized shop with modern equipment. This may seem unimportant, but the institute holds that it reflects the level of the shop’s professionalism.
Always follow your instincts
It’s important to find an auto repair shop that you trust. If you aren’t comfortable with a shop for any reason, don’t use it. If someone is disrespectful or uncommunicative when you’re seeking an estimate, don’t count on them to repair your car and stand behind the work. There’s usually another repair shop just down the road.