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No one’s a perfect driver. I mean, I’m certainly not. Most drivers will have some sort of accident or fender-bender or do some sort of weird damage to their car over their driving career. When I still owned the Sonic, I had two accidents, one of which was directly my fault. Both bumps were minor, but the pain of finding a body shop sucked.

If you find yourself in search of a body shop, here are some tips to help you pick a good one:

  1. Ask friends and forums for personal reviews. It’s likely that a few people in your circle have had to get auto body work done at some point — any firsthand take can be a lot more useful than what’s been written by anonymous folks online.
  2. That said, still check online reviews. Google, Yelp, and other spaces can give you a good idea of what quality of work the body shop is capable of doing. True, some shops incentivize good reviews (mine certainly did), but bad work will show up despite that.
  3. Ask for pictures. Ask for pictures of past jobs, specifically work in progress pictures. Do parts look quality? Are the working practices good?
  4. Get an in-depth explanation of what your bodyman plans to do to fix your vehicle. Ask questions, are they painting and certifying welds and repairs? Are they using OEM quality parts or finishes? 
  5. Check around. Do they have a social media presence? What is it like? Are people talking about them or posting images of their work on social media?

Your insurance company likely has a list of preferred shops that it likes to work with for various reasons, but in my experience, those tend to be hit or miss. After all, they’re in the business of paying as little as possible to set things right.

In my state of Ohio, it’s my legal right to choose where I can go for insurance-related body repairs, so long as it’s a state-certified body shop. My insurance company’s recommended shop was very pushy to get my car in for repairs. The Google reviews were bad too, so I took great pride in firmly telling them “no thanks” and then rolling my broken Sonic to a different shop.

I returned to a place I went a few years back; I had a Toyota Yaris that had a minor rear accident from a hit-and-run and they did a good job repairing it. When the Sonic was damaged in its two minor accidents, I had them repair my car. The service was fast, the panel gaps were good, the paint looked fine, and I was satisfied with the repairs. In my mind, they had done well… but it turned out I should have looked a little more closely.

After selling my Sonic I’ve stayed in contact with its new owner while undergoing its transformation from battered rideshare shuttle to unassuming track toy. He’s sent me pictures whilst tearing the car down to make room for track-ready upgrades.

“Yeah, whoever did the repairs in the front did a bad job lol. The radiator shroud isn’t even connected to anything, the core support is just resting on the frame,” he said, via Facebook Messenger. “There are some questionable repairs lol. But the good thing is it’s nothing super important.” The core support is the most egregious example of bad workmanship; It looks like the body shop just drilled wherever they wanted to, to make it all fit. This piece is covered by a piece of plastic, so it wouldn’t be visible to most any consumer.

“My favorite part is they didn’t even re-weld the intercooler crash bar straight lol, It’s like an inch shorter on the passenger side, And they didn’t paint their welds.”

I was embarrassed. I pride myself on knowledge about cars, being the go-to person about repairs, bodywork, flipping cars… yet, a shop I recommended to others for repairs, clearly did shoddy work.

Why Is It Always So Hard To Find a Decent Auto Body Shop?
The body shop drilled wherever they wanted to make the upper core support fit. Image: Jarratt A.

How would I have known, though? I drove the Sonic with its poorly repaired upper core support and unpainted welds for years — it likely was about as safe as any other Sonic. These repairs were less obvious to spot, the core support I would’ve only learned about if I had done the new owner’s upgrades. 

The new owner is well versed on cars too, said that there are a lot of vehicles on the road like this, repaired by many shops. “Whatever gets the car in and out, so they can get the insurance check,” he said.

So what the hell do we do now? It’s not practical to go behind your body shop’s repairs, tearing your car down, to double-check their work.

It’s kind of a crapshoot, but I think there are a few ways you can go into your body repair, armed with a bit of knowledge, which were detailed in the list up at the top of this post. I wish I had done those things before I chose a sub-par shop for my Sonic.

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