It’s been said that, “the best things in life are free”… Auto damage repair estimates are not one of them.

Keep in mind, the market is VERY competitive meaning that the shop estimator/appraiser definitely wants to get your business. Free estimates are usually for customers who agree to have their vehicle repaired at the facility that does the estimating. Usually, the estimate is “free” when it is deducted from the final invoice.

Why do professional shops charge for writing up an estimate? You could ask the insurance companies why they pay their damage appraisers. The answer? They are paid to write up damage estimates.

First, a thorough inspection of the damage must be done. Sometimes measurements have to be taken and external parts have to be removed in order to see if there is internal damage. This is known as a “Tear Down”.    Additionally, while most professional shops use estimating software to improve efficiency and consistency within the market as well as accuracy,  such software programs can cost thousands of dollars.

Second, itemizing labor and every single part and materials to be used, down to the $ 0.10 plastic inserts, clips, fasteners, adhesives, etc, etc, etc, takes time. And there are lots of items. Accuracy and details are important because nobody likes to get a price and then, once work starts on your vehicle, the shop tells you “We discovered more damage” or “it needs more parts than we estimated”. Immediately, the customer may feel they are being taken advantage of.  So, the more accurate the estimate, the better everyone feels about the up-front price. Accuracy takes time. Keep in mind, that as detailed as an estimator may be, he still may not catch every detail. But if he is an experienced and skilled professional, these unseen items can be kept to a minimum.

Third. Making sure the parts are available and if so, where? How long does it take to acquire them? Then, how much for freight or delivery if necessary. This can take hours to complete. While some parts are common, quite often, parts have to be located.

Finally, most shops, estimators/appraisers, purchase and use software that regularly updates what the current market price is for collision repairs. This helps maintain consistency in the market.  But the software can cost thousands of dollars. In addition, repair facilities have an hourly labor rate. Writing an estimate can take hours if there is extensive damage.  So, if a shop charges $40.00 per hour for labor, and they factor in the cost of estimating software, the time spent on data entry, communicating with the customer, printing out a written appraisal/estimate, you can see why they would charge for appraising the damage on your vehicle. But remember, if you decide to let the shop repair your vehicle, the cost of the estimate is usually credited on the repair invoice.

While there are still some shops who offer “free estimates”, many times it is better to pay for an accurate estimate which will provide greater insight into the scope of work and extent of damage. Remember, the cheaper price, “FREE”,  may not always be the most economical choice if you value your time.

Lease and Rental Vehicle Accidents


The debate over whether it is a good idea to purchase rental insurance or not, is riddled with pros and cons. Does the rental or lease company make money when you purchase an insurance policy from them for the vehicle you rent or lease? YES.

If involved in an accident, is the minimal charge for insurance worth it? Usually it is.

Because even a scratch that requires painting generally will cost at least a few hundred dollars. The expense goes up from there if there is a dent or, something is definitely broken.   One option that many consumers overlook is to check your credit card terms and see if paying for rentals with that credit card includes insurance for your rented or leased vehicle. Many credit card companies do offer this as one of the perks for using their card. BUT, be sure you read and understand the terms. If after reading the terms you are still unclear about some of the wording, simply call and speak to a representative for the card you plan on using and ask them to explain those terms.

If you are renting a commercial truck and you do have an accident or incur some damage to the vehicle, consider the following options:

 If Renting the vehicle, you usually incur daily charges. In this case, it would generally be more economical for the customer to let the rental company handle making the repairs, especially if it is insured. What you will need to decide is if the cost of daily rental charges while the vehicle is in your possession will justify going on your own to get the vehicle repaired before returning it to the rental/lease company.

If you are Leasing the vehicle, sometimes it will be more economical to get a few estimates from different commercial body repair shops  before involving the lease company (Save yourself some time by having an estimator come to you. Many shops offer free estimating). Be sure to specify that the repair shop will use original factory replacement parts and that the repairs made DO NOT void the vehicle or cargo bed/box manufacturer’s warranties. IF it does, the Lease company can refuse to accept the repairs resulting in possibly thousands of dollars more in correcting the “repairs”.

But getting an estimate beforehand from at least two different shops will allow you to compare the actual cost of repairs with what the rental or lease company charges for repairs. This will help you to determine if the rental company is inflating the cost of repairs.

Hopefully this information will allow consumers to have a better insight when entering into a rental or lease contract and prove helpful in formulating questions ahead of time. In any event being insured will, in the least, provide ease of mind.

ON SITE Repairs


At times on site body repairing may be a desired option. In some cases, there may be no other option, such as in an emergency. But, consider the following:

Companies that provide ON SITE body repair have Mobile Service Vehicles AND have a much higher operating cost. Additional equipment, tools, insurance, fuel, vehicle maintenance and licensing all increase the operating expenses. This expense is passed on to customers who could save significantly by bringing their vehicle in to the repair shop.

Additionally, Body Repair Shops are noisy and turn the on site area into a health & safety hazard zone. YOUR place of business is NOT a body shop. Also, there are zoning laws that could possibly make your business the target of unfair and unwanted fines and liabilities. So, bringing the shop to you may not always be a favorable option. In-shop repairs allow the repairs to be done in a controlled environment that is well equipped for repairs which in turn results in better quality service.

Repair or Replace Body Parts?

When it comes to the decision of REPAIRING vs. REPLACING body parts on your vehicle, you will need to know a few things to help you decide:


1) Is your vehicle still under warranty?

If it is, simply patching or repairing the damage might void your warranty. For example, on a commercial box truck or trailer, aluminum skins or panels can be patched. The same is true for aluminum and translucent roofs. While patching is a more economical route in the short term, and maybe the only option in the case of an emergency, in the long run, these patches may cause structural weak-spots especially in the framework (rails, support beams for example). And this will result in REPEATED or ADDITIONAL repairs as the vehicle undergoes vibrations and flexing under the rigors of daily use.

2) Do you just want a temporary fix?

This may be a good option IF you need an emergency repair, do not plan to keep the vehicle, or if the vehicle is very outdated and soon to be replaced.

3) Do you have more than one estimate from different shops?

Be sure to compare apples to apples when choosing between different shop estimates by making sure the job descriptions are similar. If you are not sure, ask the estimator or representative to explain any repairs you may not be clear on. Also, you can get two estimates from the same shop, one for patching and one for replacing. Ask what repair options are available for your vehicle.

4) What to do next?

Finally, if you do choose patching over replacing body parts, ask if there is any warranty on the work being performed. This can help you to decide which option is best for your situation.

Choose well by being an informed consumer and you’ll be glad you did!


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