BodyShop Business
BSB Undercover: The Estimate Roundup


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Shop No. 1

We had driven by this shop several times on the way to Subway for lunch and always wondered what it was like. Only a few miles from the office, it seemed the perfect first stop to take our front-end damaged 2007 Nissan Sentra.

The first thing we noticed was that it was not obvious where we should pull up. It seemed fairly logical, however, to park next to what looked like the front office.

The office was not the cleanest we've been in. It was rather drab, with your typical car calendars and an interesting bunch of local sports souvenirs, which we felt was a nice show of community support, but didn't do much for the décor.

"You know there's a new shop that opened on the East Side of Cleveland that has an art gallery in the customer reception area?" we said.

"Hah! Not here!" said a guy working the phones.

Right off, it seemed the estimator was bothered, distracted and cantankerous. The first thing he did was look out the window at the car and say, "In order to do a complete and thorough estimate, I will have to pop the hood, and it may not go back down. Otherwise, I'm only going to be able to write what I see."

Okay, quick thinking. That might be fine if we were dead set on having the car fixed there, but we needed to drive it around to at least three more shops for the purposes of this article. So we replied, "Just write what you see then."

We also told him we'd like to pay out-of-pocket if possible. At the next shop, we figured we would say we wanted to file an insurance claim. Maybe at the next we would say we were undecided.

The estimator went out to inspect the damages. While writing the estimate, he speculated on whether the radiator and condenser were damaged. We wondered about the A/C, to which he said, "Does it work?"

"Yes," we replied.


Again, sort of a condescending and smart-aleck tone. Not appreciated.

He told us he could "ala carte" the repair if we wanted, selecting what to repair and what not to repair.

we asked all the shops we visited if they could just
We asked all the shops we visited if they could just "bang out" this hood instead of replace it. And we got the same reaction from all: "Are you nuts?"
ou can see the radiator cap and all the damage," he said. "Given that you're trying to keep it as tight as possible, I can spec it out and go with straightening or replacing what I need to where the hood locks down and then leave the radiator. When we open the car up, we'll probably find more stuff, and you can either approve it or not approve it. If you notice, the fender is bent up, which is not a big deal, but it is displaced."

The grille had to be replaced, he said, and it was more important than addressing the bumper cover, which was smeared with black. We asked if the hood could be straightened.

"No, it totally has to be replaced," he said. "These are designed to do exactly what it did, which is not go into the interior."

We played dumb, saying we heard there were non-original parts we could use to save money.

"Yes, you can get those, absolutely," he said.

We asked if he thought there was frame damage.

"No, you hit it high enough," he said.

Regarding the energy absorber in the bumper, he said, "If I was doing it for the insurer, I would replace it."

"Why?" we asked.

"Because I'm obligated to get your vehicle to pre-accident condition."

He also let us know that he could only spend so much time on our estimate.

"If you're considering copy stuff (aftermarket parts), I say we write it like that. I will look up a hood and tell you what Nissan charges and what the copy price is and you can decide which way to go," he said. "But I have to draw a line on how much time I will spend on this estimate. Also, we could go used, but that is more expensive than copy parts but not as expensive as OEM.

He then went on to explain a little how insurance companies work.

"We're primarily an insurance shop, and we know how they want us to write these things. First, they want us to find used stuff. But with front-end stuff, this is a typical accident, so there's not a lot of used stuff out there. Some companies refuse to use aftermarket copy stuff, but others do."

Once we w
a busted grille was just one result of the front-end 
crash-up our 2007 nissan sentra got into.
A busted grille was just one result of the front-end crash-up our 2007 Nissan Sentra got into.
ere back in the office and he handed us the estimate, we once again brought up straightening the hood. We asked why he couldn't just "bang it out," and he seemed pretty annoyed.

"Modern vehicles are designed with crush zones, and once those zones are compromised, it's a safety-related item," he said. "You might be able to find some hillbilly somewhere to do it, but if that's the case, you might as well leave now."

His parting advice to us was, "Shop for estimates and go with the cheapest one is what I recommend if this is the way you want to go."

At some point while he was writing the estimate, we asked him how business was. He said they were "three weeks out," which we professed surprise at since it was summer and we thought more accidents happened in winter due to the weather.

"There are more accidents in winter, but they occur at smaller speeds," he said. "In summer, people drive faster and tear things up more, which means the jobs are more expensive."

Another note: the phone rang during our conversation, and he answered it, "ABC Auto Body." That's exactly the way customer service experts say you shouldn't answer the phone! A better way would be, "It's a great day at ABC Auto Body, how may we assist you today?"

Going over the estimate, he explained certain things. Blend, for instance. He explained that he wanted to paint over the top edges of the fenders and clear the fenders completely so the hood would match.

"There are some things I will compromise on, but that's not one of them," he said.

Going over the estimate, he also said, "If you go to a real shop that has a computerized estimating system, all those prices and numbers should be the same. My judgement is where you're going to save some money."

Addressing the front-end damage, he said, "The radiator support is bent back. To get the hood to open and close properly, and get the lock in the right spot and the radiator and condenser back in line with each other, we need to repair that. Some companies sell those parts but with Nissan, it's all one part, so we have to take the front part of the car off and replace it, which is $380. Therefore, I opted to straighten it. It will be functional and safe and look good when we're done, but there's no parts price because we're not replacing it. We'll do four hours, and we need to put it on a bench before we start on the car. We'll tie it down and pull the nose of the car out to the proper length and measure that.

"Aftermarket stuff tends to rust more quickly, so we'll do corrosion protection because we want to protect the hood. Anything we touch, we'll give a lifetime guarantee. I want to make sure it's protected so that if you do come back in three years and it's rusting, I'll know I did as much as I could for you."

He finished by saying that the estimate total ($1,655.92) was as close as he could cut it, and that any full repair would easily cost a third more. He also added this:

"Don't share that with the insurer because then they'll say, ‘Why can't you fix the car for that amount for us?' And this estimate is not fixing your car."

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