Robert Chas MurrayRMurrray@pitt.edu
University of Pittsburgh, Intelligent Systems Program
Mon, 03 Aug 1998

When my ’93 Honda Accord was rear-ended, I posted asking about auto body shop recommendations for Pittsburgh. Thanks again to all those who helped. Now I have my car back in better shape than before the accident, and I thought I might return the favors by sharing some of the information I learned along the way. First of all, I found several good web sites related to the subject. One that I found particularly helpful was the Accident Check web site at http://www.accidentcheck.com. Below are a few of the pertinent facts I learned at this and related web sites. Since I’m no expert in the field and especially because there can be conflicts of interest between insurance companies, consumers, and repair shops, I imagine that some people may quibble with these points, particularly people in the insurance industry. Still, I believe that these points are essentially correct and may be useful information to consumers in need of collision repairs.

You are entitled to be “made whole” after the accident. Your car should be returned to at least as good as pre-accident condition. Even if your car is perfectly repaired, just the fact that your car has been in an accident causes a loss in its value, and you are entitled to compensation for that loss.

Insurance companies naturally want to minimize their costs, and so they often try to save money by paying less than required to return your car to pre-accident condition. Many insurance companies attempt to place you in a shop which has made special concessions with the insurance company – e.g., a “preferred provider.” This creates a conflict of interest for the shop as to whose interest is served. Since they may deal with the insurance customer many times a week while dealing with the car owner only once, they tend to view the insurance company as their customer. Thus they may try to save money for the insurance company at the expense of the car owner. THE INSURANCE COMPANY CANNOT REQUIRE YOU TO GO TO A PARTICULAR SHOP.

Some insurance companies want you to visit their drive-in claims center for an appraisal before having your car repaired. Remember that this is only a preliminary surface assessment. In most cases, the insurance company’s appraisal for repair costs is about 65-80% of the actual repair costs. Differences in repair estimates are common. A lower estimate may include sub-standard materials and omit some necessary repair procedures. You may get a better deal if you let the collision repair shop of your choice help negotiate your claim with the insurance company. You are not required by law to obtain more than one estimate or appraisal.

Watch out for sub-standard parts. New, original equipment manufactured (OEM) parts are best. In particular, watch out for non-OEM [after-market] parts, because these may be inferior in quality, fit, and even safety: only 3% of after market parts meet the present CAPA certification. It is also likely that they will try to replace your original OEM parts with used parts of OEM origin. Such parts vary in quality. Some used parts were used in my repair and after painting they look as good as new to me. “LKQ” is supposed to mean “like kind and quality,” meaning as good or better than the parts replaced, but it is often used by insurance companies to refer to used and non-OEM parts.

Some things to look for in a repair shop:

  • Unibody frame repair machine / measuring equipment
  • MIG welders
  • Dust-free paint environment (spray booth)
  • Certificates of participation in professional and fraternal organizations, and certificates from training courses
  • Written warranty. Minimums: paint – 3-5 years; workmanship – 1 year
  • Neat, clean, organized, helpful, friendly

Regardless of which shop you choose, you might want to file a claim for diminished value when the repair is completed, and mention this fact to the shop. Thus the shop will know that the repair work will be quality checked.

The Accident Check web site has experts available to answer questions. I wrote to them for a repair shop recommendation and got some good advice at no cost from their regional representative for my area, Charlie Barone, of AutoClaimsHelp.net . I heard independently that he is an expert in the field, writes for major trade journals, and has worked on related legislation in the past.

With Charlie Barone’s help, I found an excellent auto body repair shop, which I want to tell you about in case you’re anywhere near the Pittsburgh area. All the repairs were paid for by the insurance company of the person who rear-ended are car, so I have no financial incentive to make such a recommendation. I love my car and maintain it as well as I can, keeping it in a garage, washing and waxing it regularly, and changing the oil and having the dealer perform all the preventive maintenance. So I expected that my car might come out looking alright after the repairs, but I assumed that it wouldn’t be quite the same after the accident. But the car came back in better shape before the accident, and my expectations were exceeded by the extraordinary quality of the workmanship and service that I received. The shop is BOWER HILL AUTO BODY in Upper St. Clair, PA, telephone (412) 221-3144. Ask for the owner, Pat Bianchin.