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Is your wrecked car really fixed?

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CarInsurance.com

Body shop Whew! The insurance appraiser has given you the estimate and a list of local repair shops. There's nothing more for you to do.

Or is there?

Whether you choose the repair shop recommended by your insurance company or your dad, you owe it to yourself to be involved in the process of fixing your car to ensure it's done correctly. Yes, that takes time, but it's minimal compared to the energy you'll expend if you discover problems later.

Even after all the checks have been written, your car insurance claim isn't truly over until you are happy with the car you get back. Here is advice from experts on how to ensure that happens.

Do a little groundwork ahead of time

Talk to your insurance company. The repair shops those companies recommend have been vetted. Once a shop makes it onto the insurance companies' lists, the managers want to provide high-quality service and repairs so they don't lose the thumbs up. But don't limit your search to jus that list.

"Sometimes the shop you want to use isn't available for whatever reason," says Dan Young, senior vice president of insurance relations for CARSTAR, auto body repair experts based in Overland, Kan., and a 20-year veteran of Allstate Insurance. "You need to determine options beforehand."

Check the shop's credentials. You want a shop that has an ASE B6 certified appraiser. You also want to ensure the shop employs a welder with I-CAR or equivalent training. Many times, the shop's certifications are posted or otherwise easily available. True, your car might not need specialized repairs such as welding. Think of having a highly qualified welder at the shop as the equivalent of 24-hour room service at a hotel -- it shows the business is prepared for whatever the customer needs.

Ask about equipment. Specifically, a three-dimensional electronic measuring system is a key piece of equipment for a collision shop. That will allow the technician to see before and after printouts to verify the frame was correctly repaired.

Learn the lingo. Parts, for example, can be OEM (original equipment manufacturer parts, made specifically for or by the manufacturer), aftermarket (new parts made by other companies who don't supply the manufacturer) or LKQ (like kind quality -- used parts exactly like the ones that were on your car before).

When you get your car back

Don't rush. When you pick up your car, compare the estimate with the final bill. You shouldn't find a discrepancy unless you were notified of a change in advance. Request that the person who wrote the estimate be the same person who reviews your final bill with you; the bill should list all repairs made and parts used.

Remember that your chosen deductible applies if this is a collision or comprehensive claim; you must pay the repair shop.

Double-check warranties on repairs. You want to be completely certain if you have a lifetime warranty, a five-year/50,000 mile warranty or a variation. You also want the technicians to explain in detail exactly what is covered. That way, if your car breaks down or the body needs work, you will understand what is covered.

Of course, your factory warranty still applies, too.

"Many motorists wonder if they will void their factory warranty if someone other than the dealer services their vehicle," says Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council. "The truth is that consumers can have routine repairs performed by their local independent repair shop or do the work themselves without affecting the warranty. It is also important to note that using aftermarket parts does not void the warranty."

Go during the day. The car should be clean inside and out. Carefully examine the vehicle, especially where it was damaged. If the car was hit on the left side, for example, make sure the gap between the hood and the fender is the same on both sides of the vehicle. Doors, trunk and hood should open smoothly. If the car was painted, be sure to examine it in the sunlight. If it is dark or cloudy outside, ask the technician to pull the car in the shop so you can determine that the paint matches and does not have excessive drip marks or orange-peel texture. Look for areas of overspray.

Ask to see the frame specs. If your car suffered frame damage, ask to see the measurements after the repairs. Your printout should show both your car's numbers and those for an undamaged vehicle.

Test your car. Whether it's winter or summer, start your car and make sure no warning lights go on. Check the headlights, brake lights, blinkers and make sure the heating and cooling work. You don't want to return home, park the car, and then discover the brake lights don't work. Turn on the radio; if the battery has been replaced, you may need an anti-theft code to get it working again. As you drive in the weeks to come, make sure the car tracks straight and that tires are not wearing unevenly.

Seek a second opinion if you are unsure. Another body shop will spot potential issues or flaws, for a fee. Ask for a post-repair inspection.

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