Replacing body parts vs. straightening crumpled metal

I have a situation combining finances, time, and quality-of-work issues. This is about comparing replacing body parts vs. straightening crumpled metal.

I need some body work on my 2003 Toyota Prius. I was in an accident where the left rear fender & bumper were crumpled. Insurance paid $2,740. Separately, there?s been damage to the front bumper & grill and other scratches.

Cost for all the repairs at a professional body shop would be $6,140, which is $3,400 more than the insurance paid. The body shop needs 7 to 10 business days.

Local business guys working out of their truck quoted a price of $1,440 total for all the work. The difference is that, instead of replacing the bumpers, they would straighten the metal and fix the plastic or rubber, then paint it - all in a couple of days. They have many nasty “before” and great-looking “after” pictures of their work with the owners showing thumbs-up and smiles. Also, they said I wouldn?t have to pay until the work is done, and if I?m not happy with the work, I don?t pay.

If I go with the local guys, my questions are:

- Is repairing the metal really a good technique in the long run or should I pay the extra $3,400 to replace the fender & bumper?

- I?d like this to be done quickly, but is a couple of days too short to get the job done right?

- Will I be sorry in any way later?

Basically, I don’t have a problem with working sheet metal out with a few exceptions. The exceptions would be metal that is badly mangled or if the person doing the work is one of those Bondo Kings. Body plastic that is applied too thick may eventually crack, become somewhat porous in appearance, and may even fall off.
Plastic is meant to be a finishing product; not a body line rebuilder.

If the metal is only caved in, wrinkled a bit, dented, etc. then one should be able to work this out pretty easily.

It’s hard to say if they could do this job properly in a few days. If the damage is not too major I would say it’s possible.

Before going this route I would check with the local BBB on these guys rather than rely on what could be propaganda pictures. They’re showing you the good; there may be some bad ones they don’t want you to know about.

This is an art form. If the tech who decides it can be done and does it is good, the results will be good. Otherwise I would prefer replacement as that is a little less demanding of skill. Really both methods require skilled techs to get it right.

I would have serious reservations about having the work done by aome “local guys working out of their truck”. That’s fine for minor repairs, but real crunchies need the equipment and environment to be properly repaired and refinished. And any guys doing major body work out of the back of their truck that tell you “if you’re not happy you won’t have to pay” probably will send Vinnie the Legbreaker" to visit you if you don’t.

I agree with Joseph that properly repairing crunchies takes a good tech. And a good tech will know what can be repaired and what’s better replaced.

In NJ, there have been a number of bad incidents resulting from itinerant guys who offer to do bodywork at curbside. A neighbor had them repair a rear door on her Volvo, and it looked “okay” afterward–that is, it did not look good, but at least it looked better than it did before they repaired it. A few months later, the paint peeled off, and she had to pay a professional to do professional repairs, meaning that she paid twice to have the door repaired.

In addition to the questionable durability of the repairs done by guys like this, please bear in mind that the bumpers of your car are part of the car’s ability to withstand collisions. I seriously doubt that these clowns will do the necessary repairs underneath the bumper to properly restore the integrity of the bumper structure.

Consider repairs of this type to be merely cosmetic and of short duration. If you are looking to get rid of the car within a few months, then perhaps these repairs might be a good financial decision. (The morality of selling the car with that type of sub-standard repair is another issue, of course) On the other hand, if you plan to keep the car, you should spend the money necessary to have a real professional do the job.

Anyone doing great body work at a great price would have a real shop and a long list of customers waiting to get their car fixed there. People working out of trucks on the street are scam artists. They will do a lousy job, take your money and then disappear. Good luck getting any post repair satisfaction if you have any complaints.

If these folks were working out of a shop and were incorporated and insured then I would be less cynical.

BTW, if they are not insured and somebody gets hurt fixing your car guess who gets to pay their hospital bills?

People working from a truck are sometimes cheats. Be suspicious. If you had a Honda Accordion…

The guys said they are bonded and insured. I’m pretty sure they work for a larger company. I’ve seen their truck around before. I did check with BBB, Angie’s List, and Car Talk. There’s no listing for a company with the exact name on the business card, but there’s a report in Angie’s List for a company with that name as part of CarStar, and it has an A rating. However, I called them and they didn’t return my call, so I’m not sure if they’re the same.

To clarify the damage, the fender and bumper are mostly just caved in, as ok4450 noted, to depth of about 2". But there’s a bit of crunching at the joint where the fender and bumper meet, for a length of about 2-3". (See attached photo.)

I agree that structural integrity is important. The professional body shop made a note on their estimate saying, “possible hidden body damage”, but they didn’t see anything obvious. (I’m sure these guys would not fix structural damage.)

I plan to keep the car for as long as I can. I’m thinking of having these guys do the work for now, and if it doesn’t last, then I could have the work done professionally later when I have more money.

Thanks much for your comments already posted and for any other comments and suggestions.

From that pic I don’t see anything major at all; even in regards to any frame (kind of a misnomer) damage.

Main thing to watch for - no 1" thick body plastic.

There’s a couple of guys around here who used to do this (regionally) for car dealers only and eventually they settled in at a shop. After about 5 years they moved to a larger building where they are still at today. Excellent outfit and very reputable. They’ve been in business for over 20 years now.

“The guys said they are bonded and insured”

Unless you see proof–in writing–of those claims, it pays you to be very skeptical of what they are telling you.

Cost for all the repairs at a professional body shop would be $6,140

It’s impossible to be certain from a picture but based on that damage, this estimate is obscene. I’m sure your insurance recognized this and they also know that a properly repaired panel should last the life of the vehicle and there is no need for replacement panels in this instance. That being said, there is no way I would settle for a budget job. Normally, you can take your car to a shop the insurance will work with and never have to deal with the financials. I would prefer this route because, as was mentioned, there could be hidden damage (unlikely here). If you already settled and accepted a check, tough cookies if it runs more money. If the insurance is paying the shop directly, they have to do the negotiating and pay the ultimate bill when the work is complete.

About the charges at the professional shop - The charge for just this work we’re discussing (rear fender & bumper) would be about $3,020. But note that there also is damage to the front bumper and grill, with a charge of $1,760 for that replacement, and four rust spots on the roof, with a charge of $1,210, plus a few scratches here and there. Then there would be car rental for 7 to 10 days, which I’m estimating at $150. So altogether, the total costs would be about $6,140 but it’s not quite the highway robbery it might have seemed.

Insurance already paid $2,740 for the rear damage (since they took out for the deductible) but they’re not paying for anything else. So for EVERYthing, I’d have to pay $3,400 more than the insurance payment if I went with the pro shop. But these guys would do everything with repairs rather than new replacements and only charge $1,440, and rental would be minimal if anything.

So, I’m still thinking of having these guys do the work for now, and if it doesn’t last, then I could have the work re-done later. I’ll make sure they are bonded and insured and I’ll ask to talk with customers, preferably not recent customers so I can get the benefit of time perspective. I’ll also try to pay the bill with a charge card so if something goes really wrong right away, I can contest the charge.

Thanks again for all your comments. I really appreciate the help.

  • Is repairing the metal really a good technique in the long run or should I pay the extra $3,400 to replace the fender & bumper? …repairing is fine if done correctly. Why cut off a factory panel and weld/glue on a replacement if not needed.

  • I?d like this to be done quickly, but is a couple of days too short to get the job done right?..from the picture it appears to be about a 3 day at the most 4 day job.

Working all of the damage out and getting it in primer looks about like a 1 day deal to me; especially if that rear bumper (valance to me) is plastic. Replace the valance and the remaining rear quarter damage just doesn’t look that bad.