First, let’s get one thing straight:
You always get to decide where your vehicle gets repaired. YOU. Not your insurance company!
This is established in law. It varies from state to state, so check the laws of your state (a quick Google search should do it), but most states are very clear that you, the vehicle owner, have every right to choose the mechanic, auto body shop, or another repairer you want.
Your insurer will try to direct you to a list of ‘preferred’ auto body shops. They might try to make it difficult to use a shop that isn’t on their list. They might even tell you they have the right to choose your repair shop for you. In most cases, they do not.
Why you probably shouldn’t use your insurer’s preferred auto body shop
Most insurance companies have entered into agreements with one or more auto body or repair shops in their service areas. These might be called ‘preferred’ shops, a ‘Direct Repair Program’ or something similar, but it amounts to the same deal – the insurance company sends business to the shop, and the shop provides the least costly repairs possible.
The insurer saves money.
The body shop gets business, and their REAL customer – the insurance company – doesn't complain if the repair is of low quality, or if the cheapest possible parts are used. The only one who loses out is you.
It is a better idea to seek out your own auto body or repair shop. One who works for YOU, not your insurer. Then you get the quality of workmanship you deserve, the quality your insurance company is obligated to give you – if they can’t wiggle out of it.
Why would my insurer lie about this? Isn’t that illegal?
Well, it would be illegal to outright lie, yes. But many insurers find that lawyers are both less expensive and more effective than clear consciences.
Lawyers are very good at finding ways to let the insurer give you the wrong impression without technically lying.
They can make it difficult for you.
They can make it more time consuming.
They can drag their feet.
They might say they won't be able to warranty your repairs at your chosen shop (spoiler, the shop almost certainly warranties their own repairs).
They might say that it will take an extra week or more to have an adjuster estimate the damage to your car if you don't use their shop. In the end though, in most states, they will have to admit that you have the right to take your car to your choice of repairer.
Why would they do it?
Simply put, they'd rather keep more of the money than spending it the way they agreed to. Most insurers give their claims reps very clear goals about this. Most demand that the claims rep steer at least 40% of claims to their ‘approved' shops.
If they don't manage that consistently, they will soon find themselves out of a job.
So, you don’t have to use the auto body shops your insurer may try to force on you. You don’t have to use ours, either… but you should.