Top 5 mistakes that auto body shops make, and how to spot them.

by Tom Zoebelein - Fri, Jan 24, 2014 3:11 PM

Auto Body shops genuinely take pride in their work, but not every technician is the best in the business. And as humans, they sometimes make mistakes. Technicians also get paid more if they can move cars through the shop faster. This incentivizes the less careful technicians to cut corners. This list contains some common short cuts and how to spot them.

The last thing you want to do after picking up your car is to have to take it back for repairs to the repairs. You don’t want that, the insurance company doesn’t want it, and the repair shop doesn’t want it to happen.

Here are five very common errors that can happen to your car, and some may take a little time to discover. Here is how to spot them immediately.

1.  Bad paint auto paint work.

Cars and trucks are big dirty, crevice filled machines that spend a lot of time getting wet and dirty. All that weather hides dirt, sand and grit in places that just can’t always be cleaned prior to paint. Before any painter sets paint gun to primed panel, an auto body technician, usually a painters helper, must thoroughly mask off every section of the car that is not to be painted.  If the technician leaves any area exposed, it will likely get sprayed unnecessarily.  If you can believe it, some shops will even avoid taking the time to mask important features, like mufflers, wiring, and some suspension components and will wind up painting right over them.

This is the sure sign of sloppy work, and shortcuts being taken. Poor masking can also lead to getting dirt and grit in the paint. Sometimes that will be polished out, but sometimes the car simply needs to be re-painted.

How to spot it:  Inspect the area of repair carefully, particularly around your doorjambs and trim.  Overspray can make a surface look slightly foggy or even overly shiny, depending on the paint and the area that was sprayed.

2.  Improperly matching auto paint color.

Color matching is a science that requires the right kind of equipment and a well-trained eye.  There are many different shades of colors that vehicles are painted these days, which can make color matching tricky, but what really adds to the challenge is that vehicles typically experience color changes over time due to exposure to the elements.

Not only that, I have heard stories of shops telling customers that it will “even out over time”. If a shop ever feeds you this line of garbage, get out your cell phone and call your insurance company. Even if you have a tricky pint color, there are tricks to making things properly blend, or if necessary painting the whole side of the car to ensure proper color matching.

How to spot it:  Take your car out into the sun, since paint can sometimes seem to match in the shop’s lighting, but might look different in the sun.  You should also try to get a look at the repair under some type of fluorescent lighting, since a man-made light source can sometimes expose more color discrepancies.

3.  Failing to re-install equipment properly.

Sometimes the guy who takes your car apart for body work is not the same guy who puts it back together after the repair. Technicians are under the gun for completing work on time, and they get paid more if they complete cars ahead of schedule. As a result, short cuts get taken sometimes, and panels can develop noises, vibrations and squeaks that weren’t there before the accident.

How to spot it:  Check your wipers, turn signals, power windows, and lock switches to ensure they are working properly.  Make sure that you’re not getting any error codes, such as your airbag light coming on or you check engine light.  Also check that your headlights work correctly and aim where they should.

Drive the car under a variety of road conditions including bumpy roads and highways. Turn the radio off and listen for anything odd. That tiny squeak might end up driving you nuts in a few weeks if you don’t take care of it now. The sooner after the repair that you address these issues, the easier it will be to point the finger at the shop. Don’t let your excitement of having your car back cloud your judgment on this one. Take care of it now.

4.  Misaligned auto body panels.

Manufacturers design vehicles with very tight panel gaps these days, so it requires precision and diligence to install panels correctly. A technician who is rushing through a repair might not care as much about replicating factory panel gaps as you do. Some people don’t notice these things, but to me a poorly aligned panel stands out like a red flag.

How to spot it:  Take a close look at the gaps between the repaired panels and compare them with the gaps in other areas on your car.  Do they match the pre-existing panels?  Also check to see whether the gaps are uniform all the way around each panel.  While you’re at it, test your hoods and doors to make sure they open and close smoothly.

5.  Neglecting to align wheels.

Another area that body techs can sometimes overlook is proper tire alignment, yet this is important for the health and longevity of your tires. This kind of thing is only done by the really bad body shops looking to make a few bucks by shortcutting the repair. It takes a while for tires to show bad alignment wear patterns, and this one is easy to blame on the car owner long after they have received the vehicle for the auto body shop.

How to spot it:  Drive the car for a few weeks and note any tire wear. If the vehicle is out of alignment you might not even feel it, but it will not take long to begin to see the telltale signs of wear on the edges of the tire.  When going down a nice straight stretch of road, take your hands off the wheel and se if it wants to drift to the left or right. If it does take it back in. If the shop tries to claim they aligned the vehicle, get an independent alignment check up. Some shops will do it for free. If there is a problem, call your insurance company immediately.

Poor alignments could also signal improper auto body repair.

I’ll keep this list to this top 5 mistakes, however next week’s blog will continue this theme to include areas where body shops can cut corners that will take you years to discover.