THE owner of a vehicle repair shop claims that insurance companies are forcing garages to cut corners, putting drivers at risk.
Bob McLaren says the restrictions on time and cost being imposed by insurance companies is putting too much pressure on businesses to carry out crash repairs as cheaply and quickly as possible.
The owner of McLaren Auto Body in Loanhead, just outside Edinburgh, says he will now only deal with customers directly rather than accept the deals offered by insurance companies to “approved” repairers.
He says: “The insurance companies are putting the public in danger. What they are doing is very, very wrong.”
McLaren, who has worked as a panel-beater for 17 years, says insurance companies limit the amount of time and money which can be spent on a vehicle – saying a job can be done in a day where a trained technician would assess it as a 12-day job.
He said garages may be forced to use second-hand parts rather than fit new ones and to repair parts which, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, should really be replaced. Many insurance companies refuse to pay for things such as wheel alignment and electrical system resets.
“It puts customers at risk,” he said. He added that when insurers offered money “in lieu of repair” it was often not enough to complete the job safely – forcing repairers to do a substandard job or cover the extra cost themselves.
McLaren said the pressure to cut costs was having a serious effect on his own business. “I used to have 15 staff, now I’m down to six. But I’m not alone – according to the Auto Body Professionals Club 150 body shops in the UK are going out of business every month.”
Frank Harvey, head of the National Association of Bodyshops, said there were now around 2,500 bodyshops in the UK compared to 3,500 to 4,000 two years ago.
Malcolm Tagg, director-general of the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association, said many drivers were being bullied by insurance companies: “The customer should be allowed to choose where he has his car repaired. Most insurance companies bully their customers into having their cars repaired where it suits the insurance company – which is the cheapest.”
He said there was the potential for rushed repairs to be unsafe.
Andrew Moody, a panel- beater-turned-barrister who is MD of Retail Motor Law, echoed concerns about safety.
“One wonders how many vehicles are out there on our roads where the outer door has been repaired but the side impact bar has been left in a damaged condition,” he said.
“What would happen if such a vehicle had another crash? The possibility of the side impact bar failing in a second accident is greatly increased, as is the possibility of injury to the occupants. I believe the removal of independence – with insurers having their own engineers and operating their own ‘approved repairer networks’ – works to the detriment of repairers and to the detriment of consumers, both in terms of the quality of repairs and, ultimately, in higher premiums.”
A Channel 4 Dispatches programme revealed car manufacturers’ concerns. Volvo warned buyers of new cars: “You may not be aware that insurance companies are reducing costs by having non-genuine parts fitted or panels repaired rather than replaced, which may compromise the car’s safety integrity”.
Fiat also warned owners: “Most insurers want to repair your car as cheaply as possible. They may not adhere to our Fiat repair standards and could avoid using Fiat genuine parts. This will affect your vehicle’s resale value and safety.”
A spokesman for the Association of British Insurers said insurance companies strongly disputed the claims made by McLaren and Channel 4. He said: “We have not been provided with any evidence that insurers would like to cut costs and compromise safety – that is something no-one would approve of. What insurers want to do is get the best possible deals for their customers.”
However, the Office of Fair Trading last year referred the vehicle insurance industry to the Competitions Commission after finding evidence insurers compete in a “dysfunctional” way.