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What is everybody's opinion on "preferred" insurance body shops as far as quality goes? I have to use my collision after being in a minor accident and insurance says I have my "choice," but I've no clue where to go.
Planning on contacting my mechanic tomorrow, anything I should look out for? Google comes up with Body Shop websites which say "OMG evil insurance" and insurance company websites say the opposite.

All I can find is that OEM parts may not be used and this could be a problem...it's the front headlight, part of the fender and the bumper cover...so no real frame or mechanical damage as far as I can tell.

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I have been with Geico over 16 years and my wife had hail damage last year. Because of the number of claims in my area, Geico had a agent processing claims at their preferred shop. I watched as they worked on one and told agent I did not have faith in their shop. He stated if any problems arose, I would be taken care of. Well after a week the car was (ready). I could still see the damage through their pop a dent technique and on top of that small areas where damage was the clear coat was missing. The drivers mirror was completely knocked off of car which they claimed was like that, fortunately I took pictures with my phone at the time they took the car. I the adjuster I was taking it to my shop to have the work redone. He told me Geico would not pay for it. I told him to jump in a lake and called Geico direct explaining my situation as well as the fact I was long time customer with no claims or tickets. They told me to take it to any shop I wished and they would cover it. So what began as a 1600 repair ended up being a 3700 repair.
Bottom line. preferred shops are a joke. IF you know someone who does quality work, go to them. By the way, most dealerships no longer have a Body Shop, they also use the preferred shops as well. Good Luck!!

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Full disclosure- I work for a major insurer... Find a Body Shop that you are comfortable with whether they are preferred or not. Quality is not driven by whether they are a preferred shop or not. Also, understand what benefits you get by using a preferred shop. Some insurers provide a lifetime guarantee on repairs made at a preferred shop. But some shops may already provide a lifetime guarantee. An insurer's policies on OEM ,for example, are not different for preferred shops and non-preferred shops. I would say for minor damage as you describe, it probably does not make a big difference.

You will find that the shops that expound on the horrors of preferred shops are not preferred shops! So not exactly unbiased.

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Sometimes the insurer might not pay more than beyond the 'agreed upon' rate of the preferred shop.

So you can take it to 'Maters Auto Repair' but if Mater charges more than 'Preferred Auto Shop' you might be on the hook for the diff.

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First I'd ask your agent what the difference is.

Years ago in my situation it was preferred shop their choice non critical parts maybe nonOEM or used OEM & no deductible. Or dealership or other my choice all new OEM parts & I pay deductible.

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Recently, I got an estimate for a messed up fender and bumper at a shop I chose in hopes that it would be below my deductible and I could just pay them to do the work. It wasn't, so I called Allstate to set up an appointment. The adjuster works out of their "preferred shop." I took it there and he looked at it and told me based on his opinion, it could be fixed for less than my deductible. He said that could change after they started taking it apart if they found more damage, which happens sometimes. I told him about the estimate I got that was nearly double his estimate. He said that I could take my car there, but that shop would either have to convince Allstate why it wanted to charge that much, or I would have to pay the difference between that amount and the amount he calculated during his adjustment. However, he offered that if I had the work done by Allstate's preferred shop, Allstate defers to their expertise by default and if they say it needs more work, Allstate just automatically authorizes it.

Essentially the difference was...
Take it to my shop, there is a possibility I would have to pay more than my deductible to have it done "right."
Take it to their shop, there is a guarantee I don't pay more than my deductible. But, there is a possibility that the shop does a sub-par job because Allstate pressures them into keeping costs down.

In the end, I went with the preferred shop and wouldn't you know it, the shop took the parts off and determined it did need more work. The final amount ended up way closer to the original estimate than adjuster's lowball estimate. It was nice not having to argue with Allstate to approve the extra work, but I did end up having to argue with them about other stuff that was more of a customer service issue than anything. I have subsequently left Allstate and gone back to Geico party because of that headache and partly because of the increased premium. The headache related to the other issue may have been avoided if I had gone to my original shop, but based on my experience with Allstate, the headache related to getting them to cover the non-preferred shop's higher estimate may have been just as bad or worse, so it was nice to avoid that issue. The preferred shop's final product (the bodywork) was great, so at least that part was done right.

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