"There's still no better recommendation than word of mouth, so be sure to start your search by asking friends and family for recommendations of good collision centers or ones they would not recommend," Williams adds.
A local consumer organization, such as the Better Business Bureau or Angie's List, can provide insight into the quality of facilities you are considering. Ask about the number of complaints, if any, and also inquire as to how the complaints were resolved.
"The Better Business Bureau is a great resource," says Johnny Mock, owner of Johnny Mock Auto Body in Turtle Creek, Pa., near Pittsburgh. "If a shop has numerous complaints, you know it's one you should avoid."
Another good source is Automobile Association of America. "AAA will only put a business on their approved list if it meets a certain high level of customer satisfaction," says DeLee Powell, president of Baker's Collision Repair Specialists in Mansfield, Ohio. "The approval process is pretty stringent."
Next, be sure to visit any shops that you are considering, keeping these three factors in mind: cleanliness, readiness and presentation. A premier collision center will be neat, well-organized and have modern equipment.
"You should feel comfortable the minute you walk into a body shop," Powell advises. "You immediately should feel like it is a place that can properly repair your vehicle."
"Ask for a tour of the shop and take a good look around," says Mock, a former BodyShop Business Executive of the Year recipient. "Is the shop clean and neat? What does the quality of work look like? Is the person giving the tour proud of what they are showing you?"
A professionally run collision center also should have a courteous staff who is willing to answer important questions. Some key ones to ask include the following:
* Do you have experience handling the make/model of my car?
* Do you have experience working with my insurance carrier?
* How long does a repair take?
* What kind of training and certifications do your technicians have?
* Will I be able to track the progress of my repair online and/or will you keep me updated on a regular basis?
* What kind of technology do you use in your shop?
The latest equipment in alignment systems, diagnostics and painting technology signifies a tech savvy shop. Believe it or not, the painting system a body shop uses is one of the most important facets of a repair.
"Factory finishes incorporate multiple layers of highly specialized paints, and without the use of sophisticated techniques and training, high-tech factory finishes cannot be duplicated successfully," Williams says. "Be sure the body shop you select has invested in the finest, most advanced painting system available and takes pride in its ability to match factory finishes. A bad paint finish will detract from any other well-done repairs."
Mock suggests holding a discussion with shop management about what you can expect. Make sure they follow an internal quality control checklist when you come to pick up your car. Management should include items such as paint match, door gaps and even cleanliness of the car on their checklists.
"You want to find a shop that is helpful in taking the stress out of the situation," Mock says. "The expense of vehicles today is immense, and if you do have an accident, you want to be confident that the body shop you select will put your vehicle back into its pre-accident condition. The idea that a car that has been in an accident will never be the same is a misconception. A quality body shop can restore it to pre-accident condition."