“It’s going to cost how much to fix my car?”
This is a phrase we are hearing more often these days at our auto body shop here in the St. Louis area. Often times customers are surprised at what it really costs to fix what appears on the surface to be a relatively minor collision damage once they see the estimate.
And this is not because we charge a higher rate than the guys down the street. The reason for the sticker shock comes from the average car owners lack of awareness of the factors influencing the collision repair of a modern vehicle. If you have found yourself in this very same situation and are shocked at what you see on the estimate, let us walk you through what factors are driving the costs of a correct and safe auto body repair.
Your car or truck has more materials than just mild steel
With each new model and each model year, car makers are under a federal mandate to build cars that are safer and more fuel efficient than the model it is replacing. As a result, manufacturers have developed new ultra-high strength steels, aluminum, magnesium and even carbon fiber which are stronger but lighter than the more common mild steel that it is replacing. As a result, your car can be built like a tank without being built out of the same material as a tank.
But this comes at a cost should the need for collision repair arise. Often times these new materials require very precise and very specific repair methods to correctly repair the vehicle and return it to the safe manner it was in before the accident. Some of these steels react differently to heating and can’t be welded. Some materials have to be rivet bonded, or glued. Each repair procedure is developed by the manufacturer as a set of repair guidelines. Some of these steps are more involved and time consuming than simply cutting out the damaged part, welding in a new one and painting it to match. So, labor costs to repair the vehicle correctly, are driving up the price of repairs.
Your car is safer than the one just one model year before it.
Cars being built today are the safest that they have ever been. Engineers have mastered the art of energy transfer where the collision energy is directed around the occupants instead of through them as in previous designs. This results in less passenger trauma.
But what that means is that a front-end hit can transfer energy to the floor, the roof or even the trunk area of a car resulting in more areas of damage that have to be repaired. The first thing we are going to do when we get your car is to measure it and check these specifications against the OEM specs to see where the collision energy affected the entire car, not just the front. These additional areas of repair are impacting the costs to repair the vehicle.
Your manufacturer has strict methods for repairing your car, and we have to follow those to ensure a safe repair.
As we mentioned earlier, your car maker (regardless of whether it’s a Ford, A Honda, a Chevy) has developed strict guidelines about how we are supposed to repair the car. However, there is no law that forces body shops in St. Louis to follow those guidelines and not all auto body shops do. At Hunter Auto Body we pull up each manufacturers procedure prior to fixing the vehicle in order to develop our repair plan. These procedures may mandate certain parts, fastening materials or certain processes that we have to follow in order to return your car back to its safe state as it was before the accident.
Your car has more data processing than a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The world is slowly moving towards time when cars will drive themselves. Depending on how new your car is, it might even be able to drive itself now if it had the right software. Each year more and more cars are coming out with “Advanced Driver Assist Systems” or “ADAS” as they are called in the industry. Even entry level models are being built with auto brake technology (your car starts braking for you when it senses cars slowing down ahead of you) blind spot monitoring systems, land departure systems (where the car helps steer itself to stay in the lane), and more. All these systems rely on sophisticated cameras, radar and sensors all communication in unison to prevent accidents. Ford announced that the 2016 Ford F-150 produces 150 million lines of code, which is more than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner!
Should an accident happen, those sensors need to be replaced, scanned and recalibrated. These can be expensive and time-consuming processes but have to be done in order for the vehicle to function properly.
As an example, we recently repaired an Audi Q7 SUV that was side swiped and required a new mirror. The mirror had blindspot sensors, de-fogging capability, was power-folding, contained memorized positions and an integrated turn signal light. That was a $1,900 sideview mirror.
It has been predicted that by 2022, nearly every vehicle sold in the U.S. will come standard with automatic emergency braking. This will mean any fender bender on the front of the car could require thousands of dollars in repair costs due to all the sensors that will be impacted. Replaced and recalibrated.
It takes more training and equipment to fix your car correctly and safely.
We discussed OEM procedures earlier, but these procedures also require training, and in some instances, vehicle specific repair equipment. Some manufacturers require that mechanical systems such as steering racks and suspension components get replaced entirely after any collision regardless of whether there is obvious damage or not. All of this demand put on auto body shops has to be paid for, and labor rates get adjusted to meet these requirements.
Pay close attention to variances in auto body repair estimates
If you are comparing two estimates: one from Hunter Auto Body, and one from our competitors, pay close attention to how many lines are written, how specific the parts and materials lists are and the labor times. If there is a wide spread between the two estimates, chances are the other estimate is missing crucial OEM procedures that are vital to the safety of the vehicle post repair. If you have any questions about any of our estimates, we are certainly happy to walk you through them.