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January 30, 2008


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If you want to get rid of cosmetic problems like dents, just apply heat for 30 seconds or a minute with a hair dryer, and then immiediately invert a can of compressed air and blow it over the dent for 10 or 20 seconds. Stand back, wait for the dent to pop out and the ice to melt, and then wipe clean with a cloth.

Here it is in action:

I don't think anything is out of whack; in at least 2 of your 3 examples the owner didn't actually have all the repairs made. If you are okay with having a scratch in the paint or a dent in the bumper, you can pocket the check from the insurance company, or apply some touch-up paint that's "good enough."

This is the same mess we're in with health insurance. I had an emergency appendectomy a few years ago. The "unadjusted" hospital bill was nearly $60,000! After the "adjustments" were made by the hospital due "negotiated rates" from my insurance company, the bill was knocked down to $9,000, of which I paid $900.

Autobody shops have set prices for every single repair, including components of that repair (paint, Bondo, labor, parts). They may quote $100 for a job that the books say will take an hour and it may take them 15 minutes.

does anyone have any tips for windshield chips??

I completely agree with Bill... health care is another market where prices are getting too high for the parts and labor required. Mechanics are like doctors for cars, they have a lot more experience than most people in fixing specific problems. They also have expensive equipment and computers that they spent lots of money on to help run their business, and they have all of the time put in previously becoming "experts". So they expect to collect some decent margin on top of actual cost to make up for those things. Go to the doctor with a cold and someone pays a high bill, either you or the insurance company. Go to a mechanic with a maintenance problem and you pay a high bill. I guess what people hope when enlisting specialists is that the job will get done the best way, and if there happens to be some bigger problem hidden the specialist will catch it and fix it correctly.

Someone backed into my car in the street around Christmas. Had their insurance adjuster come out, and the damage was estimated at $2,200. I had been planning on trading the car in, so...

Took the car to dealership, they estimated the value at $8,000, minus only $1,000 for repairs to damage. So I traded in the vehicle, getting $7,000 for it, used the $2,200 in insurance money as extra money for my new (used) vehicle).

All in all, I got $7,000 plus $2,200 out of my car, about $1,200 more than it was worth, just because the dealer estimated the damages as costing way less then the insurance company paid me.

A lot of it is paying for labor - and most mechanics bill labor at an hourly or half-hourly rate, even if something will only take 10 minutes.

Conversely, for major cosmetic work, you are DEFINITELY paying for the experienced labor. Paint is cheap, and even the painting / un-denting equipment cost is small when amortized over a high number of repairs. But if I'm paying a professional, I expect that they will do a much better job of paint-matching and dent-fixing than I could do on my own.

There is a huge difference between repairing a car just enough to be functional and repairing it to be in exactly the same condition it was prior to the accident (which is what insurance is required to provide for). I think everyone knows someone who buffs out every tiny nick in their paint (my FIL is one), who wouldn't dream of keeping the cash from a claim and not repairing the car.

Most of the expense in auto body work comes from the last 5% of effort to get the paint *exactly* matched/blended and *every* tiny dent/crease removed. Near perfection is demanded, and it costs a lot.

Blaine, does that actually work? I might try that on my wife's car that I dented last winter while "over zealously" trying to chip off some ice that had formed on it. My Jeep came out ok, but her Mazda has dents on the hood and roof.

I think you could easily title this - "Save Thousands of Dollars Doing Your Own Car Repair"

Of course many people do not want to because they have no idea how a car works and don't have the time to learn. But, especially if you do have time, there are many many jobs that you can do with just a ratchet set. I had never worked on a car before, or had any one to help, but using the internet and a manual as my guide I have replaced:

- an alternator
- fuel filter
- spark plugs (3x pairs)
- several sensors
- an exhaust system
- several thermostats
- brake pads

And more smaller bits. The one do-it-your-self thing I would have done by a pro is oil changes. They take too long, are quite dirty, and after all is said and done you only save a few bucks. But that said, the benefits of doing most things yourself are three fold. First you essentially pay yourself for labor. Even if it takes you 2-3 times as long, thats still $23-35 pr hr. Second, parts you buy yourself are often far cheaper than what you get charged at a shop. And third, you gain confidence about cars that prevents you from getting screwed when work does need to get done by a pro. And from my experience talking to others and what their mechanic has told them, there are plenty of rip-offs out there!

Sometimes the insurance claims are just inflated.

I have not heard of any cases of the insurance company paying the insured directly for motor repair claims in my country.

Very often though we hear about how mecahnics, adjusters and the insurance company people form a nice little racket inflating the claims and making some money for themselves.

In the end it all comes back to us in the form of increased premiums.

It all boils down to how much risk you are willing to assume, and how much you're willing and able to pay for someone else assuming.

As a cost estimator and financial analyst, I studied why this is so and I think if you look at all services (e.g., lawyers) you will see how this is so.

It has to do with WHO is assuming the RISK in this? Simply put, you pay for RISK. In the cases above, risk is assumed by the supplier of the service (haven't we all heard of them being sued because of some person who expected too much perfection?)

In the case of DIYers, they assume the risk and know exactly what will satisfy the "customer." Hence, less cost.

In the case of lawyers, the more "at risk" you are (speeding versus manslaughter, e.g.,), the more likely you are to pay a lawyer more to help you mitigate that risk (lawyers are typically a risky investment, services being unproven until after you've paid for them).

I'm going to learn more about DIY car repair, now. Thanks!!! Great post!

Another reason why repair cost is accessed soo high is because some parts cannot be simply repaired, and a whole new replacement must be bought. Especially plastic bumpers. If someone hit you and dinged your plastic bumper (even just a little gouge or hole), it must be fully replaced. Just painting it won't do. To the common eye, it's no big deal, and you can just put touch-up paint on it.

I wouldn't exactly say the appraiser is giving you extra money, in fact if you got the damage professional done, you might have to get even more reinbursment.

DIY repairs, For The Win!

I think that auto body shops charge more because most people who come in are using insurance. Anyway, it is a crap shoot anyway. I had my car damaged one time in an accident of dubious fault so both insurance companies had to look at it. Anyway, my insurance quoted $300 and the other company quotes $600 for the same work. I ended up pocketing the money and living with the dent because there were other dents on it already.

Kevin - I've never tried it. I assume that it does, and will certainly give it a go if I ever get a dent worth trying it on, but last time I got a dent I needed my whole side-panel to the bed of my truck replaced (I got side swiped by a tow truck that didn't bother stopping at a stop sign and pulled right into me.)

I'm a mechanic's wife, and I have known for years that the shops pay their expenses out of the mark-up on the parts and make their profits on the hourly rate. The actual mechanic is only making 1/4 of what the shop is charging for the hourly rate.

The mechanic also has to buy his own tools and scanning devices. These tools have to be top-of-the-line or they break every other day. We're not talking Craftsman, they have to buy Snap-on, Mac, Matco, or Cornwell. I have to bring my husband's Craftsman tools back to Sears for him because if they take one look at his hands, they know he's a mechanic and won't replace the tool.

As long as you're taking your car to an honest shop, there is no insurance racket. The prices are usually justified for staying in business. Body work is usually optional unless there's a problem with the frame's integrity, then it's a safety issue.

As for doing your own basic maintenance, if you have a regular mechanic that you like, he'll probably give you lessons on his day off if you ask him. They love it when someone knows basic maintenance on their own cars. It makes their job easier when you have something serious go wrong.

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