Do body shops charge for estimates?

“Why would you have to pay to find out roughly how much you’re going to have to pay?”

You’ve been in a car accident and you need an idea of how much the repairs are going to cost. You need an estimate. Getting an estimate should be free, right? Think about it. Why would you have to pay to find out roughly how much you’re going to have to pay? It seems like a ridiculous concept, and it is! The short answer to this frequently asked question is “no”.

A body shop should not charge you just to give you a rough estimate on the cost to fix your car’s damages. Of course, there are places that have a fee for a basic inspection, and you should avoid them, because most credible shops do it for free.

But here’s the catch: we’re talking about a rough preliminary estimate.

What do you get with a preliminary (free) estimate?

First off, a preliminary estimate shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. Your contact and car information (VID: vehicle identification number) will be taken down; you’ll get a write-up of all the VISIBLE damages, the cost of labor, the parts required (that includes paint), and of approximately how long the repairs will take. Pictures will be taken for your file, and a correspondence with your body shop will begin, that is, if you decide to have your car fixed there.

*This is key: after you get your preliminary estimate, you can take your car elsewhere. Before settling on one place, you may want to get a few estimates from more than one body shop, which you should choose carefully.

An estimate is a quick and easy process. The truth is you don’t even necessarily have to take your car into a shop to get one. You can take the pictures yourself, send them along with all the other required information, and then the shop can come up with an estimate. Furthermore, based on the pictures, a shop can see whether or not you might need a teardown in order to get a more accurate estimate, and here’s where things change. An accurate estimate is a whole other ballpark.

What is an accurate estimate?

You could use the word “deposit” as a synonym for an accurate estimate that requires a labor intensive inspection. Many accidents involve hidden damages that require a teardown of the car to evaluate, and because this requires time, equipment, and lots of elbow grease, it will come at a charge. That means that the cost for the labor intensive inspection will be a component of the final price, not an added fee. This inspection is part of the repair itself.
That is one of the reasons why the final price can be higher than the original estimate.

After you request an accurate estimate, can you take your car to another shop?

Usually, by now you’ve done your research and you’ve settled on a body shop to carry out your repairs, because some accurate repairs, i.e. labor intensive inspections, can be costly, and if there are damages found beneath the surface, it will alter the cost of the repair considerably.

As stated earlier, you could view the accurate estimate as a deposit, because if you follow through with the repairs at the shop that’s given you the accurate estimate, it’s considered part of the labor. However, if you decide to choose another shop, you’d still be required to pay for the thorough inspection.

In Conclusion

A preliminary estimate should not cost anything. It’s useful to get a rough idea of how much your damages are going to cost and whether or not there may be hidden damages. The only way to know if there are hidden damages is to carry out a labor intensive inspection that requires a teardown, and that does come at a charge.

You want to have your labor intensive inspection carried out at the shop you’ve chosen to complete the repairs, otherwise you are throwing your money away. Here are some tips on how to go about choosing your shop.