Your Auto Repair Inspection Checklist
Here’s a common scenario – You were in an accident. No one was hurt, but your car got a little crunched. You’ve had your vehicle taken to an auto body shop and repairs are completed, and they’ve called you to come pick up your vehicle.
Now what? Are you good to go, or is there more to do before you’re back to normalcy? Was there a part of the process you didn’t understand, or it didn’t go well and you’re unhappy with the service?
If you’re like the majority of people in this situation, you have no idea what to look for at this stage in the repair process, or the questions to ask of the repair facility when picking up the vehicle.
Not to worry, we’ve got you covered with some helpful tips on how to get the best experience from your repair shop.
Good Reviews and a Good Shop
First thing is first - let’s go back in time a little, from after the accident but before you’ve taken your car anywhere to be fixed. Make sure you’ve chosen a reputable shop with good reviews. If you know someone who loves a shop, seeking personal referrals is great!
We recommend doing your own research as well - the insurance company’s recommended shop isn’t your only option. In the state of Colorado, as in many other states, the insurance company is mandated to pay a fair market repair price for the work done. You absolutely have your choice of shop for repairs, no questions asked. Another tip - if your car requires painting to match new vehicle elements to previous ones, discuss the paint warranty with the shop before finalizing what company you choose for repairs. You’ll want the newly painted pieces to match the rest of your car to perfection, for the duration of its lifetime.
Alright, so you’ve gotten your car to the facility and they’ve gone to work restoring damage done. Check in with your gut - you want to have a comfortable feeling with how they’re taking care of your wounded vehicle, not that sinking feeling of, “Oh gosh. This may be a mistake.” Nobody wants that experience!
Retrieving your Vehicle
And then the call comes; your car repairs are complete! When you go to pick up the vehicle, the shop will give you a final bill of everything that was done during repairs, including parts that needed replacement as well as the labor for restoration. They should have personnel available to answer any and all questions that you have, and to walk around the vehicle with you (if you request) to go over the repair. (Always request! Another set of eyes never hurt anything.)
Don’t panic - If the vehicle was repaired under an insurance claim, you can expect the final bill to be more than the original insurance estimate. You should only be responsible for your portion of the insurance claim (the deductible) and any non claim related work that you asked the shop to perform.
However, if the vehicle was repaired without an insurance claim, the shop should have contacted you with any material changes and received your approval, so you won’t be saddled with an enormous invoice you didn’t expect. The ONLY exception would be, when dropping off the vehicle and signing their repair authorization, you waived that right. Otherwise, you will pay what you agreed on, and no more.
Inspecting the Vehicle
Reunited at last! Here’s what to expect at this part in the process; You shouldn’t be able to tell the vehicle was repaired, at all.
Begin your inspection with checking out the paint job - compare newly repaired areas to paint from the original finish. Can you see the difference in paint color from the repaired area to the non repaired area? If so, that’s not good - everything should be uniform, matching in sunlight and also under fluorescent light. You should not be able to see a color difference - though an exception to this would be bumpers. Bumper color is minorly different from body color because you have different surface material below the paint.
There can also be a concern painting a much older vehicle with severely damaged paint, significantly faded or peeling paint. Unfortunately, in that type of situation the paint often can’t be matched. If this might be your situation, make sure you address the color job with the shop prior to repairs. Matching color is an artform, and requires trained and experienced professionals.
Next up: The body shop will have masked off (put tape around to protect) moldings, door handles, or any other removable items during repairs but these items should have been removed prior to painting. The goal is to get you back to a factory paint job and if you’re inspecting your car and you see a mask still attached, it’s a major cause of paint failure, causing paint to begin to peel at the broken line. If you see tape anywhere, tell your shop that’s not ok!
Check inside of the door jams for a finished look - no tape and no tape edges. Inspect the paint in the engine bay and in the trunk, if those areas were affected, as those areas normally have a different finish and that difference should have been recreated by the shop.
Finally, run your hand across the areas close to the painted areas to establish that there is no overspray (paint from the painted area that has drifted on to other areas) on your vehicle. If the paint job is sloppy or uneven, it’s often a symptom of a job not done well.
Gaps and Parts
After checking out the paint job, the next inspection task is to assure that the gaps (distance between parts) are the same; top to bottom, left to right, parts are flush to each other. If that makes no sense, you can google your vehicle pictures and see what non-crashed vehicle gaps look like so you have a reference point for comparison. Save these images to your phone and have them on hand for inspection.
Onto inspecting new parts - OEM original equipment manufacturer’s parts are the best option for the vehicle owner. Unfortunately, most insurance policies use the term “of like kind and quality,” meaning aftermarket and used parts, which cost the shop less, so they do that. Sadly, this is another reason your body shop choice for the repair was important. A body shop that’s of quality repair will make sure that the aftermarket or used part is truly a like kind and quality, or will insist that the insurance company pays for an OEM replacement part.
This is where the insurance company’s preferred body shops often find themselves in a difficult situation - they will be “scored” by their insurance partner on the percentage of used and aftermarket parts used! They’re required to maintain a certain percentage of those parts to remain a referral shop, often at the detriment of the vehicle being repaired. Unfortunately, you won’t know whether the replacement part is a quality part until the thing has failed, and now you have to fix it, again, out of your own pocket! Again, this reinforces that your good decision of a body shop is paramount to a long lasting, successful repair.
Structural Damage and Alignment
If your car needed to be aligned, or had structural damage, make sure that the final computer data shows that the vehicle is correctly aligned once more, and that the results are in proper ranges for safety standards.
If there was substantial structural damage, or you have any concerns about the quality of the repair itself, it would be worth the cost to have an independent alignment of the vehicle. And some body shops will do a post inspection of a repair at no or little cost!
Pre and Post Repair Electrical Scans
Nowadays, most vehicle manufacturers require that a post-repair scan of the vehicle's electronic and computer systems are completed upon completion of your car’s time in the shop. Be sure to ask the shop if this has been completed, and if there were error codes, what they were. If so, confirm the problems have been corrected, and the codes cleared.
Final Things to Check
Last things - confirm your vehicle is nice and clean when you pick it up. No, it’s not important to the repair but it IS an indication of the pride the shop has in their product. And you want the shop to be confident and content with their work, both internally and externally. Make sure you have the appropriate paperwork before you leave the shop - this often includes the warranty for your paint job, and anything else you’d need to present if your repairs unfortunately fail.
Take a breath as you start your car and place yourself into a moment of awareness before you drive away - are there dash warning lights on? Does the vehicle pull left or right, or is the ride the same as prior to the accident? Listen to your gut instinct, here; Do you think something is not right?
If so, go back to the shop and explain what your concern is. Your body shop would work with you to answer any questions or concerns.
There you have it! While it seems like a long process, taking your car home after the repair shop should fill you with relief, not concern that something isn’t repaired well. Never have regrets asking questions or confirming a job well done - that’s why you’ve chosen their services.