My teenage son took the family minivan (a 2008 Pontiac Montana) to a party where one of his idiot friends jumped on the hood, denting it. Fortunately, the friend has stepped forward to do the responsible thing and is paying to have it fixed. I have taken the vehicle to three body shops for estimates and they range from about $800 to $2,000, with the middle estimate coming in at about $1,200. Why the huge discrepancy? – Joshua, Waterloo, Ont.
The range could depend on what replacement parts they're using and what they're charging for labour – and, in Ontario at least, they should be automatically giving you a detailed written estimate.
"On a 2008 Pontiac Montana, if somebody jumped on the hood, I'd say there's a 98 per cent certainty that the hood needs to be replaced," says Mark Deroche, the chief instructor of automotive collision repair at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Burnaby.
"Depending on where they're getting that hood from, well, that could easily account for the range."
Generally for car sheet metal, the most expensive option would be a new replacement OEM (original equipment from manufacturer) panel – in this case, a Montana hood ordered directly from GM.
A better deal could be a used part from a salvage yard, which might cost about half of what a new part would cost, Deroche said.
"If a new hood is say, $500, you might find one in good shape for $250 or less at a salvage yard," he added. "It might even be the same colour, so you can save on paint."
Cheaper still could be an aftermarket hood, which, like a lot of aftermarket parts, might not be made to the same standards as the original version. Often, they're meant to be cheap replacements, and there's a reason they're cheap.
"You can get some that don't fit very well at all, and the metal is inferior, but its very cheap," Deroche said. "Aftermarket sheet metal may be a thinner gauge of metal and doesn't have the same corrosion protection or primers as an OEM or used part."
The cheapest option would be just repairing the dented hood, if it's not too badly dented.
On top of the parts, you also have to pay for the paint – the hood will normally be painted on both sides with the same paint quality, at least, as the rest of your van. If the match isn't exact, they will paint it to blend into the fenders as well, so it would look like the same colour.
"Body shops might work with you to save a few bucks by not painting the inside of the hood because they'll say you'll never see it anyway." Deroche said. "But other shops might not cut corners because their policy is that it's got to be done properly, because their name's on it."
The quality of paint and the preparation will make a difference in cost and in results. The repair shop should be using a top-quality paint system with a base and a clear coat. If cheaper, poor quality paint is used, it could start flaking off in a few months. Or, if they're using a poor clear coat, the paint could quickly fade.
So, unless your son's buddy's pockets are really deep, wouldn't it make sense to save money, since it's just a hood?
"When somebody opens the hood and it's not painted or it's a different hood, they're going to see right away that the hoods been changed, probably," Deroche said. "When you have a vehicle repaired, you shouldn't be able to notice it. That's a sign of a good auto body repair facility. You don't see any paint lines and you don't see any over-spray. It should be cleaner than when you brought the vehicle in."
All of this – the exact parts and paint they're using, what they cost and what labour costs — has to, in Ontario at least, be given to you in writing.
"Unless you say you don't want it, you must, by Ontario law since 2005, get a written estimate," says John Norris, executive director of Collision Industry Information Assistance.
But even in places in Canada where an estimate isn't required by law, you should always ask for one, Norris said.
Prices for parts are fairly standard. "The vast majority of shops have electronic estimate programs and use the same pricing information, so you can't really play with that to make it cheaper," he said.
"The labour rate is another thing that can vary but, across Canada, the rate for labour must be posted. Also, ask about the warranty — a good shop will give you a year or more," Norris said.
"With insurance not involved in a case like this, you can negotiate with the owner for a lower rate," Norris said. "The price on the wall might say $60 an hour, but things are pretty slow right now. We've had a pretty mild winter. So they might be willing to make you a deal."
If you have any driving queries for Jason, send him a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him through Twitter: @JasonTchir