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Here's why that 'fender bender' costs so much to fix

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A lot of local drivers who got in crashes this week are in for sticker shock.

Some of those so-called fender benders will result in whopping repair bills.

Body shops hear it all the time. How can a little crunch end up costing thousands to repair?

"Sometimes customers will say, 'oh, it's just a fender and a bumper,' well, there's more wrong with it than that," explained Eric Berge, owner of Werner's Crash Shop in Seattle.

Berge says blame part of the cost on what you don't see on the outside.

Damage to an exterior quarter panel, for example, often hides additional damage to reinforcement pieces, and other critical parts that must also be replaced.

The other big factor is how much car parts cost now. Here are a few examples, which Berge says are fairly standard in the industry:

*Factory-grade back-up camera - as little as $300 to as much as $1,000 depending on the year and model of the vehicle.

*Side view mirror with blind spot radar - $350 to $2,500.

*Headlight assembly - from $300 to $3,000, again, depending on the vehicle.

Berge says labor costs are yet another factor. Typically around $54 per hour for the body work and $33 per hour for paint.

And be careful about trying to save money with cheaper parts you find online because you never know what you'll get.

Berge says he's had cases where the cheaper part a customer bought in was substandard, wouldn't fit, and cost as much to return as it did to buy.

Something to keep in mind the next time you get what seems like a minor fender bender.

Insurance, of course, will cover much if not most of your repair costs - depending on your deductible.

And insurance companies typically have relationships with local collision repair shops that meet their standards. That's why you might get a list of repair shops to choose from.

From your insurance company's standpoint, repair shops that they recommend meet their requirements for cost, equipment, training and workmanship.

Insurance experts say that relationship is seen as a way to make your claim get processed as efficiently as possible.

"If you go to those shops that the insurance company's recommending, the insurance company backs up the warranty," explained Kenton Brine, president of the Northwest Insurance Council.

But all reputable repair shops are interested in providing quality repairs. And you have every right to shop around. T

he key is to find a shop that meets your expectations, with experienced, reliable technicians who'll restore your vehicle to the condition it was in before the crash and back up their work.

"You have the right under Washington law to go to any auto body shop you choose. So you can ask your insurer for recommendations, but you don't have to go where they suggest you go. You can go to any auto body shop you choose," Brine explained.

Bottom line: If you want to use your insurance company's recommendations, great.

But just because a company is not on the list, doesn't mean they're not top quality.

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Just make sure the repair shop you choose has a good track record and backs up their work with a strong warranty.

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