How to Choose an Auto Body Repair Shop

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as featured in:
Vancouver Business Journal

Choosing an Auto Body Shop
You’ve been in an accident, now what? The insurance company may have given you a list of shops to go to. How do you decide who fixes your car? There are two general types of shops – DRP and non-DRP. If you haven’t been in an accident before, or it’s been awhile, you may be unsure of what shop to choose. Keep in mind it is your right to choose who fixes your car. I’ll share my perspective from having experienced both sides as a repair professional.

First off, DRP stands for Direct Repair Program. This program is the relationship between an auto body repair shop and an insurance company. A body shop signs an agreement with an insurance company where (in theory) they both win. Notice, I didn’t mention anything about the customer winning here. Let me explain below how this benefits everyone but you, the consumer!

The agreement may specify the repair shop completes repairs with a specific number of used, repaired or aftermarket parts, over new parts to save the insurance company money. The agreement could also specify that “their” (the insurance companies’) customers go to the front of the line, before other customers so that they pay less on replacement rental cars, as well as no storage fees charged if declared a total loss.

The more money that a body shop saves an insurance company, the higher on the list that shop’s name goes. If a shop doesn’t put the aftermarket parts on, or replaces a panel that needs to be replaced vs. repairing panels how the insurance company wants to save money, the body shop will be moved lower on the list. The body shop gets more customer referrals the higher up their name is on the list. This provides them with all the incentive they need to do the least costly repairs as possible. Least costly in most cases means not up to the manufacturer specifications. Manufacturers (Toyota, Honda, Chevy, etc.) specify how their vehicles need to be repaired to ensure the highest level of safety. Some repair shops do not even pay to have access to each manufacturer’s specifications for repairs. Yes, we repair shops have to pay manufacturers for this information in order to complete the safest repairs.

Line Of Customers
Why would a shop want to be on a Direct Repair Program? Referrals have to be the biggest reason. Imagine a solid line of customers being sent to your doors. It sounds good, again, in theory. How can a DRP shop stay in business when the insurance company wants to pay them as little as possible? Profit margins are not big in the auto body repair industry, so how can a shop survive if they are giving discounts? We have seen instances of body shops charging for a new part, but actually put on a used part or repaired the existing damaged part. We have seen instances of body shops cutting corners on repairs to increase their profit on a particular repair. This saves that shop money, and in turn the insurance company; at your expense and potentially putting your safety at risk.

Let’s talk about a non-DRP shop. This is a shop that does not have any contracts with insurance companies. They work for their customers, with their customers’ best interest in mind. A non-DRP shop receives no referrals from insurance company claim departments. They rely on word of mouth from satisfied customers, which benefits you, the consumer. Who do you think is more likely to do a better job on your repairs, a shop trying to please the insurance company or a shop that is seeking satisfied customers for referrals?

Recently a customer was referred to us for repairs and when we asked them how they heard about us, they responded with, “a family member that works as a fraud investigator for a major auto insurance company referred us to you and said you are the best.” Now if an insurance company employee refers their family to us for repairs but refers their customers to a DRP shop, it makes you wonder why.

We had multiple insurance contracts up until a couple of years ago when we decided to finally terminate all of them and have our customers’ safety as our No. 1 priority. Now, the safety of our customers was always our priority, but when you are a DRP shop, you are told to fix cars in a way to save the insurance company money. When you don’t fix them the way they want you to, you literally go to the bottom of their list. I have heard insurance company representatives disregard quality standards because they say that the average person is going to sell their vehicle before the workmanship issue shows up, multiple times! All this does is pass that unsafe/lesser quality repair onto the next unsuspecting person buying the used car. Think about that the next time you are in the market to purchase a used vehicle … but that is a topic for another day.

Its Your Right To Choose

Who is the DRP Shop’s most important customer? The insurance company that sends in the business or the actual person having their vehicle repaired? I would recommend you use a DRP shop, if time, or having the insurance company guarantee the repairs, are the most important attributes you are looking for. However, if your safety is what matters most, then maybe a non-DRP shop is the way to go. Either way, do yourself and family a favor and ask more questions about how they fix cars and read reviews.

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Vancouver Business Journal

Safety Is Our #1 Priority

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We are always telling you that Safety is our #1 priority! Here is just one of the ways we advocate for our customers and refuse to cut corners that compromise your safety…

Collision Repair Safety

Have you ever wondered how aftermarket sheet metal parts are manufactured? One way is, when an original equipment manufacturer, like Ford, Chevy, Honda, etc. makes their replacement parts, they create a die, which is used to stamp out the metal. It’s used at the factory until it is deemed no longer within specifications. They then sell the die to the aftermarket parts manufacturer, to then stamp out more, even though they will be slightly off.

Yes there might be a FEW in the beginning of aftermarket production that will still be pretty true to originals, but the die has already been used to capacity when it is sold to the aftermarket parts manufacturer. After a while, everything is just off… the holes, the curves, the lines. These are important not only for safety but also for the overall look of your vehicle.

Collision Repair Safety

We have two aftermarket part vendors that will no longer sell parts to us due to our high rate of returns. You see, on the rare occasion we order an aftermarket replacement part, we don’t just bolt it on and keep moving. We weigh it, if it doesn’t weigh the same as the original part, we return it!

Why?, you might ask, well when your car was built it was very carefully engineered to be in perfect balance. A replacement part of different weight would throw that balance off. Or what about aftermarket parts where the holes just don’t quite line up, we return it! Because of insurance company relations and the fact that they are measured by how many aftermarket parts are used, some shops will just slot new holes to make it fit. We return it! How about a fender that lines up perfectly at the hood but by the time you get to the bumper, the gap is 3 times wider? Nope, we return it!

Collision Repair SafetyJust some of the things we do to put aftermarket parts to the test BEFORE putting them on a vehicle include weighing the part, visual inspection which includes verifying the stamp marks, fit & finish, and that body lines & waves line up.

Sometimes it is even necessary to bolt on the part to complete the visual inspection.

When we say Safety is our #1 priority, we REALLY mean it!

What is GAP Insurance?

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GAP InsuranceDo you have GAP insurance? Wait, What is GAP insurance?

Today I was reminded about something that we tell our customers when they ask about what to expect when settling their total loss process; and that is GAP insurance!

It’s an insurance policy, that you typically purchase at the dealership or through your lender at the time you purchase your vehicle, that covers the difference between the value of your vehicle deemed by the insurance company after being declared a total and the balance that you still owe on your auto loan.

So besides making sure you have an idea of the value your vehicle had BEFORE it was in the accident, gathering any major recent auto repair receipts, be sure to check with your lender to see if you purchased GAP.

Collision Repair Tips

Helpful hint; sometimes you can purchase GAP insurance through your own insurance company even after the initial purchase. I myself, did so for a much lower cost. I also only carried the GAP rider until the balance of my loan was lower than the actual cash value (ACV) of my car; saving me even more money and giving me piece of mind.

Is an estimate the total cost of repairs?

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Consumers sometimes think that the term estimate means a total cost of repairs. However for collision repair, the term estimate means a preliminary estimate of cost, based on a visual inspection of damage.

The trouble with that is, the fact that only the damage that is visible can be written into an estimate (by law, as we will discuss later). Without a complete disassembly of the damaged area, a total cost of repairs cannot be given.

Insurance companies know that estimates are given based on visual inspections and also know that once disassembly takes place there is a chance that unseen damage will be discovered and amended to the estimate.


This is not the collision repair facility nickel-and-diming the consumer. That is how the collision repair industry operates as a whole due to laws and regulations specific to the industry. In fact it is ILLEGAL for a collision repair facility to write an estimate and include possible damages that cannot be seen.

Auto Body Blog

Other Industries have completely different rules and regulations. Take for example a remodeling contractor, they provide you with a BID to remodel your kitchen. Generally you will get a bid based on worst case scenario. The contractor will assess all of the things that MIGHT play a part in what they are about to embark upon. If they get to the job site and it’s easier than they bid, they pocket the difference. If it turns out to be more than they thought, they eat that shortage, or ask for more money.

Auto Body Estimate

Let’s explore more about unseen damage by talking about a vehicle door. The first visual inspection looks like it is repairable. However, when we disassemble it, we are then able to see that there is damage to a sound deadening pad or to the high steel intrusion beam, the beam that protects occupants from injury if later involved in a T-bone accident. This can only be added to an estimate after the disassembly and visual inspection takes place.

We are regularly asked to include those worst case scenarios (and sometimes criticized for not) in order for a customer to get a full idea of total cost of repairs up front. However, if we include something in the estimate for a part we THINK needs to be replaced, without VISUAL PROOF that it needs to be replaced, it is AGAINST THE LAW. That is called committing insurance fraud.

If you really want a complete cost of repairs, we can provide you with this, but only AFTER disassembly of your vehicle. Definition:
es·ti·mate – a statement of the approximate charge for work to be done, submitted by a person or business firm ready to undertake the work.

Estimates, are just that. An approximate total, based on the visual damage to a vehicle. There is simply NO WAY to see EVERY single thing that has been damaged on a visual inspection alone.

Crash Course Elite Collision Center Blog

Illegal Insurance Company Steering Practices

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Today I heard about a situation with a MAJOR insurance company (that I had previously respected) and wanted to make sure you knew some helpful things. Thankfully, our customer knew we were the best, and didn’t want to compromise their repairs OR safety by going with an insurance recommended shop. This poor customer had to hear their own insurance company try to steer them EIGHT different times, before they realized the customer knew what they were doing, and finally gave up.

Please know that “steering” (when an insurance company pushes you to do what you they want) is AGAINST the law. Yet COUNTLESS companies still do it. With phrases like, “if you choose Elite Collision, you MIGHT have out of pocket expenses.” Or “they aren’t an approved shop in our Network, so we won’t be able to warranty the work” or some narrative similar. They do their best to drive work to their approved shop.

Elite Auto Body - Steering

WHY? It’s actually pretty simple. They SAVE MONEY at the consumers expense.

The contracts that are signed between a body shop and the insurance company DO affect your repairs. In order for those body shops to keep their preferred status with those insurance companies, they have to meet standards set by the insurance company. Those standards include overall repair costs, repairing parts vs. replacing them, how many aftermarket parts are used, NOT doing costly pre/post repair scans to name a few. Which means that more aftermarket parts will be used as they are cheaper, instead of replacing parts, they will repair the damaged parts which is again cheaper, possibly no pre/post repair scans will be done. If you do not know how important pre/post repairs scans are when repairing vehicles, please read here.

Do you REALLY think that the insurance company had our customers best interest in mind???

Its Your Right To Choose

Two questions to ask an insurance company if they try to steer you:

  1. Do I have the right to take my car to a shop of MY CHOICE?
  2. Is steering me to your recommended shop against the law?

Please folks, see the insurance company for what it is. It is a for profit company. You have insurance to pay for the damage on your vehicle. The less they have to pay, the better for them.

Don’t let them sway you. Your safety matters!!!

We are a consumer advocate body shop. Your safety is our #1 priority! Give us a call, stop by and see it for yourself.

Crash Course Elite Collision Center Blog