Have you been in a car accident and been advised to avoid filing an insurance claim? If so, you might have thought that was a joke, especially given the potential costs. The image of someone trying to get their car fixed after an accident without going through insurance brings up some pretty unsavory images -- you wonder if the accident was their fault and if they're trying to avoid messing up their driving record, right? There are legitimate circumstances where someone might want to avoid insurance claims and just pay for the work themselves, even if the accident wasn't their fault. And it's very easy to find yourself in that person's shoes if you have an older car that could be totaled by the insurance company over a very small claim. But what do you do about the costs of the repair, which could be high? The answer is to check out independent repair shops rather than going to a dealer service center.

Line Items

Independent collision repair centers and other repair shops usually charge lower amounts for labor, and it's not unusual to find a dealership charging for something called shop supplies. These are items the shop needs to operate -- not the things they actually put in your car during a repair. Not all dealerships do this, but in an interview with "Popular Mechanics," a former service manager notes that shop-supply charges are common to most dealer service centers. The anonymous former manager notes the costs can be outlandish, such as $30 for three rags.

Take shop-supply costs like that and higher labor charges out of the question, though, and your car repair bill can drop dramatically if you find a good independent repair center. In fact, Car Talk looked at the price differences between dealers and independents across the United States and found that in some cases, such as with Honda dealers versus independents, the price difference could be substantial. For example, the national average for labor rates at Honda dealers was $121, while the national average for independents looking at Hondas was $69. That adds up if your car has to be worked on for several hours.

These centers might also have good working relationships with suppliers and be able to get special deals that further lower the cost. If you normally go to a dealership service center and have a good relationship with them, they might cut you a deal, but that is never guaranteed.

Preparation Rules

Even if you haven't been in an accident, start contacting independent collision centers in your area and asking about prices. That way you're prepared if something does happen and it turns out that insurance would total your car (that can result in a bureaucratic mess as you try to convince the local motor vehicle department that your car is still road-worthy). This is one of those cases where it's better to be prepared and not have anything happen, rather than trying to find a good auto body repair center while dealing with a damaged car.