Car accidents are some of life’s unavoidable mishaps, even for the most cautious of drivers. If you backed into a light pole, got rear-ended or came out a store to find your car door dented, you're likely going to end up at an auto body shop.

Since these shops and they work they do are unfamiliar territory for most consumers, you’re vulnerable to being hit with inflated charges or paying top dollar for low-quality work. But a little preparation can go a long way toward protecting your wallet and getting the best deal possible.

Here are five ways to avoid getting ripped off at the auto body shop.

1. Get more than one quote. Because of high auto insurance deductibles, many consumers end up paying for their own repairs. Body shops vary widely in price and quality, so it pays to do your homework and visit more than one shop. Ask friends for recommendations and check sites like to see comments from other consumers.

"Probably the best thing to do is get more than one quote," says Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for the automotive site "And let them know it's a quote, and you'll be visiting more than one shop. That might do a good job holding the price down."

Try to understand what the shop is proposing to do so that you can compare one shop against the next. Not all shops will approach the same job the same way, so being clear about what you would be getting for your money is important.

Related: Why You Should Let Your Teen Drive the Newer Car

2. Consider your goal. If it's to have the car perfectly restored to its original condition using only new parts from the manufacturer, that's going to cost more than used parts, Reed cautions.

In addition, Reed recommends thinking about the paint. Paint quality varies, and someone with an old car that won’t be kept much longer need not spend as much on paint as someone who is going for that looks-like-new appearance.

3. Be sure the shop is licensed. Most states license repair shops and post lists of licensees. (Exactly where they’re posted depends on which department does the licensing, which varies from state to state.) The repair shop should have their license displayed, and if they don't, ask to see it. Also, run the name of the shop through the Better Business Bureau database to see if complaints have been filed and if the company is reluctant to resolve them. Reed recommends avoiding mobile dent repair operations and anyone operating outside the confines of a repair shop.

4. Choose a less-swanky location. A shop's location can drive up the price, says Reed. In the Los Angeles area, for instance, you can expect to pay considerably more — even triple the price — to get work done in Beverly Hills versus a less-ritzy area. It's a similar situation anywhere else in the country. If price is an issue, Reed suggests shopping around in areas where the clientele isn't primarily the wealthy.

Related: How to Buy a Safe Used Car

5. Don’t let the insurance company boss you around. Even if the insurance company is paying for the work, it's still in your best interest to check out different shops. "If insurance is paying for it and they try to steer you to different body shops they have a relationship with, that may or may not be the best thing for you," Reed says. "It may not be a shop you want to do business with."

6. Consider your reaction to a shop. Were you put off by the shop owner's attitude? Is the place a mess? Did you like how another put together the quote in a way that was easy to understand?

Ultimately, you have to pick a shop that you're most comfortable with. That's not necessarily going to be the place that has the best price.

Related: How to Make Your Next Car Safer

Mitch Lipka is a consumer columnist and product safety expert. He was the 2011 recipient of the "Kids Best Friend Award" from Kids In Danger for his commitment to reporting on children’s product safety.