Do I need to take my car to the body shop my insurer recommends?

By Ryan Hurlbert on December 20th, 2010

There is a body shop owner in my home state that advertises heavily on the radio and TV, advising consumers to avoid the insurance-recommended body shops and bring your car to him instead. In my mind, that raises the question: Why wouldn't I take my car to the body shop my insurance company recommended?

Auto insurance companies routinely make arrangements with auto body shops. The insurer agrees to direct business to the shop in exchange for a warranty on the work and a reduced cost of repair. This is common in health insurance, too- ever look at your bill and see the "insurance negotiated rate" for a medical procedure? It just isn't detailed the same way on your auto body estimate!

Does this mean you are getting a sub-par repair? Not necessarily, but it doesn't guarantee that you are getting the best work for your car, either. There are good and bad body shops just as there are good and bad doctors, and your insurance company may not know which is which. Many insurers will routinely inspect the finished work on a customer car to make sure it meets their standards, and can drop shops that don't do quality work. After all, their name and reputation are on the line.

But just like doctors, shops can specialize. They may do a lot of work on a particular make or model, and simply be better at dealing with the nuances of those cars. Just because my family doctor took an anatomy course doesn't mean I want him performing surgery on my ankle, so I will seek out an ankle specialist.

How I selected my repair shop

When my wife's Mini needed a little work, I called the local Mini dealer and asked who they used. I visited the shop they recommended, and in talking with the owner determined that they were Mini fanatics, owning several and racing one. I knew right away where my wife's car was going.

The shop was not on my insurer's preferred list. I may have gotten a perfectly acceptable repair from a shop my insurer recommended, but I was more comfortable with a specialist. Just like finding a doctor, finding a body shop may involve a few conversations with friends and other experts to see who they used.

Where should you take your car?

Just because a shop is recommended by your auto insurance company doesn't mean it is the best for your car. By the same token, a body shop is not better simply because they aren't an insurance-recommended shop. So, in this case it definitely pays to do your research.

Find a shop you are comfortable with, one with a solid reputation and recommendations from people you know. The laws in virtually every state allow you to pick the shop you want to do the work on your car, so choose as carefully as you would a surgeon. You may not mind walking with a limp, but no one wants that for their car!

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