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Old 08-22-2013, 10:08 AM
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MAJOR Problems with Body Shop

I have a HUGE dilemma on my hands and need some advice. I brought my 1958 Buick to a restoration shop last October to do bodywork and get the car running (install rebuilt engine, hook up brake and fuel lines, etc.) It was supposed to be done in May, then June, then July - one time where I took the weekend off of work because he assured it would be done for the big car show in Syracuse. Didn't happen and I lost money. I politely left him a voicemail asking that we stop bodywork and just focus on mechanical. Didn't hear from him for a week. Called back two more times before getting a call from him telling me he was insulted by my "condescending message that suggested all the work he did must be worth crap because I'm having him stop it all of a sudden." So, we get into it over the phone and he tells me he didn't call right away because he was afraid he was "going to lose temper and when that happens things start flying and I'll just shove your car out in the lot with no wheels or drums." We eventually agreed that since he's so busy, that I will take the car to another shop to do the mechanical and he would finish the bodywork. Here comes the problem:

I showed up yesterday because he called to have me pick up some of the parts and he shows me this chip in the corner of the windshield that happened when they were putting it back in (the grey on the glass is primer that he oversprayed on it). He said that happens sometimes with the older glass because the glues start separating and then he pointed out the bubbles in the vent window. He told me I could probably throw epoxy on it or ignore it and put a sticker over it. Then I noticed the passenger side window had a crack in it. He said it must've already been there, but I have pictures a month ago that show it wasn't. The front grill also snapped in half while he was removing it and he claimed that there must've been a weak spot on it. Now it has to be tig welded. On top of it all, he tells me he's going to calculate the balance I owe him and let me know. The contract said "Approx. $6,000" for everything. After paying him $3,000 in April, he told me if I gave him another $1,500" that would pay to get the door poppers and put the car into primer and prioritize it. After nothing happened on it for two months I gave him another $500 to motivate him and now it's exactly where it was supposed to be, but I owe him more?

The rest of the bodywork on the car looks sweet, but I thought I was paid up. Now he's going to stick me with some figure that I can't even anticipate and he's not even doing the mechanical now! I told him I thought we were squared and he said there was a lot more work than he originally estimated and he's been working on it non-stop for a week. What do I do here? I'm concerned that if I get mad or call him out on the glass stuff he's going to pull the stuff he did with me over the phone and I might not get my car back, or at least not in one piece. What to do? I just want my car...
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Old 08-22-2013, 10:52 AM
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well sorry to here all of this. but when this was started and they gave you a date for completion. you should of put it the contract that if not completed on time you would back charge him X amount everyday not finished. But at this point get your car out off their. try and agree on a price together. and take this as a lesson learned.
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RetroJoeG (08-22-2013)
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:06 AM
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Depending on the state and how serious you want to get....... Here in California if they don't have a number on the "estimate" amount that you have signed you owe them nothing. If the work order isn't written with a detailed summary of what needs to be done, you own them nothing. If there aren't detailed notes on when you oked any differences in the cost, you owe them nothing!

You could pay what he wants, leave there and sue him to get it all back!

At this point it sounds like I personally wouldn't want to do that but the shop owner does sound like he has a serious ego problem and it may be a great lesson for him if you were to get all your money back.

Brian
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:07 AM
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I'm so sorry to hear that you are going through all this pain...pain unfortunately that could have been avoided, that.also unfortunately is hindsight.

To start off with, if a shop tells you that an estimate to restore a large old vehicle like the one you have will be about $6,000 should send red flags up all over the place. That sounds like an estimate to get the car painted, color sanded and polished...if the body was perfectly straight and just needed to be stripped and repainted (come to think of it...that even sounds low).

This type of thing happens all the time, low estimate, bring it in, they start the work, the price goes up, your left hanging. Everything needs to be in writing, the shop or restoration should have a daily log of what they did to justify the hours and dollars charged. Any additional work, you should be notified and you need to sign off for these additional repairs. Restoring an old vehicle always comes with surprises, the shop doesn't know what's under the old paint until it's stripped to bare metal...even then, the sheet metal should be taken off of the car and an appraisal done after all things are visible. This is what a responsible, shop will do, they will not lead you down a garden path with a low estimate and then try and intimidate you when you ask questions.

What to do know is to STOP...everything. Calmly ask to see the log of repairs that has been done to the vehicle, have a witness with you. If the shop can produce one...and I highly doubt that they will be able to...go over each item individually, if this upsets him, chances are he may not be as animated if you have witness with you. If the charges are legitimate, he should be happy to go over the entire build to date with you....I know I am. If he is struggling to justify the charges, it's your vehicle, you may need to bite the bullet and pay a little more to get your car out...but get it out of there. If he can justify the charges, then you need to decide if you want to continue...as I said, this is unfortunate and could have been avoided. I understand that you are not in the industry and wouldn't realize what is all involved...and that's what some shops prey on.

If the glass was broken or not, that is a minor issue when you consider what is at stake...walk carefully, bring a witness and don't let the shop person intimidate you....be firm but, stick to the facts...As I mentioned, I've seen this many times before, often they will tell you to get the car out of the shop before they tow it out...have that plan in place with access to a flat bed and another place to take it too with one phone call...be prepared.

I hope this helps and I'm sorry to hear about this all over again...your not alone, but, that is hardly any consolation today.

I sincerely hope this helps
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:16 AM
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A little something I wrote on the subject a while ago.....

Confessions of a body shop owner.
By Brian Martin


“Anybody know of a good body shop in (enter your city name here)?”, “How do I get my body shop to work on my car?”, “My car is being held for ransom!”, or just simply “Body shop Blues”. I’m sure you have all seen topics similar to these posted. Gentlemen, my name is MARTINSR and I was one of those dirty rotten bastards that would keep your car ten times longer than I promised.

For the guy not doing his own body work or at least not all of it, he is at the mercy of the body shop. It is not a nice position to be in. In fact, it can go down as one of the low points in your life. I have seen horror stories that would make your hair stand on end. A long time customer of mine (he owned about 60 cars and usually had a few in shops around the area at all times) had a car that was held as evidence in a murder. Yep, it had blood splattered on it when one of the shops owners killed the other with a baseball bat!

The following is my generalization of restoration shops that I have owned, seen or worked at. There are exceptions to the rule. Please don’t beat me up if I have rolled your shop into the mix when you are an exception. But, if you do see yourself, I suggest you get down to your neighborhood junior college and take a course or two in business. One of the great myths is that we each think our business is so unique, we can’t learn from a “regular” business class. Well after much instruction and exposure to the business side of things I can tell you, business is BUSINESS. Whether you are running a liqueur store, a cat house, or a body shop, they are all exactly the same. Sales are SALES, period.

So, we can agree a body shop is a business, being a good body man does not make you a good businessman. Restoration shops are usually owned by good body men, not good businessmen. It is very hard to make money doing restoration work, it is very easy to make money doing regular collision work. The business man makes his money doing collision work and tells all the customers with restoration work to go to Joe’s Body shop down the street, he does the restorations. Joe loves doing what he is doing, but seldom makes much money. He is an artist, a true master at his craft. Joe sees things at what they can “become”, not what they “are”. When Joe sees a car he doesn’t see the time it will take to make it the show winner he knows it will be, he only sees it as the show winner. I really don’t believe he means to lie to you when he says it will be done in a month, he is looking at through rose colored glasses, his vision is altered. Like a woman forgets the pain of giving birth, so does Joe when he gazes upon the beautiful car he has carried for nine months (or longer). And when the next rust bucket rolls in, he has forgotten about the hundreds of hours needed, he only sees a luscious rose garden.

Like I said few make a living at restoration or hot rod work. The biggies that you have heard of like Roy Brizio or Boyd Codington all make money with other ventures, not the rod shop. The first time I visited Brizios shop this was very apparent. The rod shop is about 5000 square feet sitting in the middle of a 50,000 square foot building. The rest of the building is Brizios manufacturing business. It is all non auto related by the way. The rod shop is a hobby, I don’t doubt for a second he makes money, but it is a hobby none the less.

So when you go looking for a shop to do your car you have to remember this, you are most likely going to be dealing with an artist. If you think the business end of it is going to go smooth, think again. If you build yourself up and believe everything, you are in for a BIG let down. If you set yourself up for less than that you will be much better off. I suggest getting ready for MUCH, MUCH less and then you will be happy when it only takes five months instead of the ten you got ready for. If he said one month and that is what you are planning, by the time five months rolls around you are ready to kill someone.

These are HUGE generalizations but I have found a few signs that may help you in picking out a shop. If nothing else they will help you understand who you are dealing with.

1. If there is more than one car sitting in the shop covered with dust, this may be a bad sign. If you have been around body shops much you know that dust build up is like the rings in a tree, you can tell by the layers and colors how many YEARS it has been sitting. If there is a car that is being used for storage of misc. boxes and things, bad sign. My brother used to joke that I should bolt a vice on the fender of the car, at least I could get some use out of it! Coyly ask “Cool car, is that yours?” if he says “Naw, it’s a customers”, BAD SIGN. If there are ten stalls in the shop and six have dust covered cars in them, RUN. I shouldn’t have to tell you this one, but if there are guys hanging around with beers in their hands, RUN.


2. How many stalls does he have? I have found that the real restoration/rod shops seem to have only room to have three or four cars at a time. If you only had room to work on three cars, you are going to be damn certain they get out so you can have room for the next. One of the most successful custom shops I have ever seen was a little four stall shop in Pittsburgh California. It is the famous (well at least on the west coast) DeRosa and son Customs. Frank has been around since the fifties making show winning cars. He and his son Frank Jr. do the same today and do it FAST. They a neat, little and clean shop. If you have seen the 2001 DuPont calendar they did the “Cadster”. It was only in the shop for a few weeks. By the way, it doesn’t have DuPont primers on it like the calendar says, Martin Senour primer was used.

3. Does he look at your car like they do at the McPaint shops, you know, all jobs all colors the same price? If he doesn’t take a good long look at the car taking notes, he has no clue what he is doing. He is looking at the car with those rose colored glasses. Every single panel should be examined and noted for the amount of hours needed. If he just looks over the car without doing this he is surely going to be WAY off. If he is way off on how much he is charging you, what incentive does he have to work on it?


So let’s say you have a shop you would like to bring it to, you really need to case the joint. Turn into a stalker and keep an eye on the shop. You know for months that you are going to need a body shop. Watch the shops for months. Drive by during business hours and see if they are actually open. Many of these guys (remember they are not good businessmen) take their open sign as sort of a guide line. If it says 8:00 to 5:00 it is more like 9:15 to 2:00 then 4:25 to 7:00, they can’t get your car done like that. See if any cars leave. If you go by there and see the same cars sitting there and many little jobs going in and out, BAD SIGN. I have to tell you, those little money making collision jobs are dang hard to turn away. If I had a million hour job sitting there and it was the 28th of the month I am going to set it aside for the $800.00 job I can do in two days to pay the rent.

If they don’t allow you to walk around and check the place out, be wary. Look at the paint dept, does he have a booth? Is there junk and open cans all over? Is there many different brands of paint? This is usually not a good sign, he buys anything he can get his hands on. This is many times the sign of a “junior chemist”, they guy that mixes products and doesn’t follow tech sheets.

If you have decided that this is the shop you want to go to, help the poor guy. You “suggest” to him how you want to go about the money part. This is the ONLY way you should do it believe me. Don’t give him a deposit and leave the car. This is darn near a guarantee that your car will be sitting for weeks while he uses that money to buy parts for a high profit collision job or simply pay a long standing bill. Which then leaves your car sitting there with no incentive to work on it.

Here is what you need to do. Tell him that you want to do only ONE of the things on your car, at a time. You want to get a price for all of them maybe so you know what it is headed, but do only one at a time. You will pay him for one step at a time. Not because you don’t trust him, but because YOU are bad with money and that YOU don’t want to leave him hanging after the car is done with no money to pick it up.

This way it is more like he is in control and made the decision. Then you negotiate the time it will take for each step. Let’s say you have patch panels to do on the front fenders. You agree that he will have them done at the end of the week, and that they will cost $200.00. He has something to work for, he knows he will get the money and he actually does it. You go see him on Friday see the work done and give him the $200.00. Then you pick another thing to do. Just as if you were doing these things at home, break them down into bite sized pieces so he can swallow them. If you go in there and find that he hasn’t done it or he has done poor work, you can then say “I am sorry to yank your chain, I don’t have any more money, I just lost my job” and take the car, no body owes a thing. If he does not want to do this, you really need to start rethinking your choice of a shop. Either this or variation of this should be fine with him. If it is not, something is wrong.

If he really wanted to make money he would be doing this. The first restoration job I ever did where I really felt I made money was done just this way. It was a little ’58 Bug eye Sprite. I had decided that something had to be done or I would fall into the same trap as before with a car sitting forever. One of the first shops I ever worked at was a full on restoration shop. It broke the rule and was pretty big, with four full time employees. Every car had a time card assigned to it. When you worked on the car, you punched in. Then each month (these were HUGE frame off restorations on 30’s and 40’s vintage Fords) the owner would receive a bill with the times worked. If they couldn’t pay, the car left, period. The guy made money and I finally got smart (after about 12 years in business) and followed his lead. I put a sign on this Bug Eye and would post the hours I spent on it. I told the guy to come by each week. Now, when the guy came in and saw only two hours were spent, he was not very happy. That was a heck of an incentive for me right there I will tell you that! It worked great, I actually got paid for every minute I worked, unlike most restoration projects. And he actually got the car back in close to what I said. It was still late, but not ten times as late as I had done before.

Another thing I highly recommend is to take plenty of photos of the car, really detailed photos. When you drop the car off leave him a copy of them. Letting him know you have a copy. Not threatening like “I am doing this so I can prove you lied to me” more like “I can’t wait to see how different it is and you can have these before shots to show future customers”. Which is true, it is just not the only reason you are doing it. If he is doing a full on restoration for you, I HIGHLY recommend parts like chrome and interior be taken home after he removes them so they don’t get stolen or damaged. You need to have a very close relationship with the shop, if these visits make the guy edgy, you really need to find another shop.

If you have the attitude that you are genuinely interested in how this work is done, not how he will do YOUR car, but just in general. You will find that he will be much more likely to “show off” his talents than if you go in there like an untrusting customer.

Along with these photos you want a VERY detailed work order. Run like the wind if he has no work order. Still run if he has a work order that says “fix dents and rust” as the repairs being done. RUN, I say. You need to have a fully detailed work order, not for legal reasons (wink, wink) but for your own records to show the wife where all the money went. The “wife” is a great way to get things done. You need to come look to see what is done because the wife wants to see. Bring her in there, she has an excuse, she knows nothing right? So you bring her in to see what magic this guy is doing to your car so she can understand why it costs so much. Bring a friend when you drop the car off, be sure he hears everything that is said. Let him or her help you make the decision on leaving it there. Sometimes YOU too can be looking through rose colored glasses. If someone else says they have a bad feeling, LISTEN to them.

There are few things that can compare with returning to a shop to find the place is locked tight and the mail is piling up on the floor where the carrier has dropped it through the slot. I have seen it, it really happens. The good news is it is rare, just take your time and find a shop where you feel comfortable.
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RetroJoeG (08-22-2013)
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:31 AM
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too late to help you but for others.

#1 NEVER give a shop any more than the cost of a color. everything else is shop supplies but they dont need your color on the shelf if you bow out . a shop that wants 1/2 down is already in trouble.

#2 most important ! go to radio shack and buy a voice activated pocket recorder and always have it in your pocket and on .

#3 NEVER take a restoration to a bodyshop . they fix dents .
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:48 AM
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the recorder is a good idea, but check your state laws first. as recording a person without them knowing will land you about 5 years in the pen.
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by killeratrod View Post
the recorder is a good idea, but check your state laws first. as recording a person without them knowing will land you about 5 years in the pen.
Good advice, I know that in most cases the law is written that if one of the parties that is being recorded knows about the recording, it's legal...don't ask me why, it's just the way it is...but yes, check your State's take on the whole thing.

Ray
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:53 AM
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No it won't get you put in jail, you can record yourself talking to another person all you want without warning them you are recording the conversation.
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:54 AM
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That does make sense Dan, and that would explain the law...thanks

Ray
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:58 AM
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not true read on!

State-by-State Recording Laws
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Old 08-22-2013, 12:09 PM
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it is called " one party consent ". all but 12 states allow you to record a conversation you are part of . thankfully i live in texas where it is legal. i have done it for over 30 years and it save all the bs. i tape every word that comes from a customers mouth.
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Old 08-22-2013, 01:05 PM
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Thank you everyone for your amazing feedback! I actually have tape-recorded everything, including my phone messages and calls, because here in NY it is a one-party state, so as long as I know it's being taped, it's legal. That being said, the only time it would be useful is if he was going to hold my car for 'ransom' and I was willing to go to court and wait for it to be resolved and chance that he might damage the car further. Either way, I can prove he's a jerk and unreliable and that his ego and 'temper' is out of control, but that won't get me far at this stage. I just want my baby out of his shop.

I just got off the phone with him. I am trying to be as reasonable as possible by the amount of work he put in. He's done quite a bit for the price I paid, even though he's screwed up a few important pieces, like the glass. Most other shops wanted a lot more money and rightfully so, so I guess I'm going to have to chalk this up to experience. You get what you pay for, including damage to precious glass. In the long run, the money I saved will be spent on repairing the things he damaged, plus a side order of stress.

I basically went over everything with him and our agreement and he said he will figure some things out and call me back. Talking calmly and stating my case and also hearing him out, even though his excuses about the glass are BS, get you a lot further than getting crazy. If I can get the car out of there for a fair amount of money based on the work he's done, even though it's more than I expected, then it will be a sigh of relief.

What have I learned from this?

1) When there are red flags which I saw in the beginning walking through his garage....RUN.

2) Get everything in writing, have each part of the restore broken down and done one at a time, with 1/2 down and 1/2 on completion, not all up front.

3) Put something into the agreement that states you can stop the restoration at any time, to avoid bruising the gentle ego of a jerk who thinks you're being condescending just because you ask him to stop.

4) Never trust a garage that has car owners constantly coming back complaining about the work he's done while you're there to witness it.

5) Do the rest of the work myself.

This is a lesson learned. The whole project has been. The toughest thing I've had to do is bite my tongue and not lose my cool because he has the upperhand when he has my baby at HIS shop. So, I've just tried stating facts and being plain with him, trying to resolve as peacefully as possible. I'm supposed to tow it out tomorrow. Wish me luck and hope he doesn't try to rape me with the balance he's gonna hit me with. Thanks again!
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Old 08-22-2013, 01:07 PM
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Amazing write-up, Brian! Thank you, sir! A lot to learn from your experience!
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Old 08-22-2013, 01:15 PM
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when you hand a shop 1/2 up front there is no reason for them to work. they already have the profit in hand. this the absolute biggest red flag there is .
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