As a long time Houston area business, we have seen numerous changes over the decades in the body repair business, now commonly known as the Collision Repair Market.

One of the changes is that more and more body shops, charge a fee for writing estimates or quotes.

Keep in mind, the market is VERY competitive. So the shop estimator/appraiser definitely wants to get your business. But he also wants to be sure he is thorough. Nobody likes to get a price and then, once work starts on your vehicle, the shop tells you “We discovered more damage” or “it needs more parts than we estimated”. Immediately, the customer may feel they are being taken advantage of. So, the more accurate the estimate, the better everyone feels about the up-front price. Accuracy takes time. Most shops use estimating programs to improve consistency within the market as well as accuracy. And these programs can cost thousands of dollars.

First, a thorough inspection of the damage must be done. Sometimes measurements have to be taken.

For example, years ago when we were gaining experience, we had a vehicle come into our shop with what appeared to be minor damage. It seemed only cosmetic. So the estimate was quick, the customer agreed to the price and work began. As we removed the damaged body part we could see that the axle had suffered an impact. Still, it didn’t appear serious enough to assume there was any internal damage to the drivetrain. So, we took measurements of the axis points. To our surprise, there was damage that we missed on our initial inspection. After inquiring, the customer provided more details. They didn’t just hit some bushes, which caused the cosmetic damage but, they hit a curb, going sideways at 40 mph, before encountering the thick brush. Scenarios like this is way many estimators have learned to spend the time to be thorough.

Second, itemization. For labor and every part, down to the $ 0.10 plastic insert. And there are lots of them.

Third. Making sure the parts are available and if so, where? How long does it take to acquire them? Then, how much for freight or delivery if necessary. This can take hours to complete. While some parts are common, quite often, parts have to be located.

Most shops, estimators/appraisers, purchase and use software that regularly updates what the current market price is for collision repairs. This helps maintain consistency in the market.  But the software can cost thousands of dollars. In addition, repair facilities have an hourly labor rate. Writing an estimate can take hours if there is extensive damage.  So, if a shop charges $40.00 per hour for labor, and they factor in the cost of estimating software, you can see why they would charge for appraising the damage on your vehicle. However, if you decide to let the shop repair your vehicle, the cost of the estimate is usually credited on the repair invoice.

While there are still some shops who offer “free estimates”, many times it is best to pay for an accurate estimate which, in the long run, will save frustration for the consumer.

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