Automobile repair workshops that are independently owned and operated businesses. Specialty automobile repair shops are shops specializing in certain parts such as Brakes, Mufflers and Exhaust systems, Auto parts, Transmissions, Body parts, Tires, Automobile Electrification, Air conditioner repairs, Glass repairs and installation, Engine air filter, Brake fluid, Power steering fluid, Automatic transmission fluid, Steering Repair, Car Suspension, Wheel Alignment, Coolant/antifreeze, Align, rotate and inflate your tires, Timing Belt, Serpentine Belts, Coolant Hoses, Brake Repair, Timing Belt, Diesel engine, Check Engine Light, Cooling System, Fuel System, Steering System, Tune Up System, Drive Belt, Charging System, Motor Mount, Suspension System, Computer diagnostics, Emissions Testing, Automotive Service, Parts and Repair.
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Consider the Operation's Location and Overhead
"Where you get screwed in our business is labor hours," Mallette explains. His shop charges $40 per hour for labor. But in ritzy parts of West Los Angeles, the per-hour labor charge is $60-$65. In wealthy Newport Beach, California, Mallette has heard of $90-per-hour labor charges.
Large body shops with a lot of front-office workers probably have to charge higher rates to pay their staff. While service delivered by front-desk folks, managers and foremen gives some people a feeling of confidence in the business, it can result in estimates that are padded with non-essential work. When they're charging more labor hours at a higher rate, your bill can add up quickly.
In his shop, Mallette says he does things by the book — literally. Body shops and garages use reference guides that estimate the number of hours required to perform common repairs.
"Let's say somebody has damage to their fender, bumper and headlight," Mallette tells us. "I go to my book, I write an estimate and I basically go by the hours mandated by the book."
By contrast, the higher-end shops might decide to charge for everything in "the gray area," meaning those things that they might have to do to fix the problem. In Mallette's example, high-end estimates might include a charge for time spent removing the hood and the door, while his judgment call is not to perform this additional work.
Get Several Estimates
Taking your car to several auto body shops for repair quotes is the best way to avoid overcharges, Mallette notes. "I'll tell people to go get some estimates and bring 'em back to me. I'll match estimates if I can."
And while it's important to protect against being overcharged, you shouldn't simply take the lowest quote. "You might get some kind of midnight guy who will say he can do it really cheap," he says. "Stay away from those guys, because there is something they're not doing. You could have major problems down the road."
Pay Attention to Word-of-Mouth
Any business can advertise, but you'll do better with a shop that friends, family or acquaintances recommend. It's a business that has proven it can satisfy customers. And it might not be the biggest or best-known shop in your area.
Mallette went to a shop years ago on such recommendations and found that the owner was a "real stand-up guy.... He doesn't advertise on the Internet; it's a family-owned shop," Mallette says. "But, golly, if you take your car there, you'll get a fair price."
In some cases, you might get a recommendation for a small shop where the owner works on the cars himself. "That's how I like doing business," Mallette says. "To me it seems so much more personal and then you can understand what's really going on with your car."
Follow Your Intuition
Finally, it's important to trust your intuition about the shop you're considering. If a shop isn't busy, maybe that's because customers are avoiding it because of shoddy repairs. If the place is really dirty, cluttered or disorganized, this might reflect the kind of work you could expect the shop to do with your car. Is the shop owner or manager a grouch who seems to resent answering your questions? You'll be happier with a shop where the owner communicates well and is straightforward with customers.