Drop That Stone and Step Away From the House - BodyShop Business

Drop That Stone and Step Away From the House

As I stood at an industry function, chatting with a shop owner and his wife, I was only half listening until … the shop owner took a sip of his third (maybe fourth?) rum and Coke, started talking and couldn’t shut up. He told me all about how shops in his area – including his shop – save deductibles, cost shift and generally commit fraud. He also admitted that in order to accomplish all this, he takes short cuts on repairs.

“Honey,” said his wife (who, by the way, is a lawyer!) “that’s enough. You’re going to give her a bad opinion of us.” You think?
Then she turned to me and said, “That was all off the record, right?”
“Well … not exactly,” I responded. “I’m wearing a police wire.”
Ha Ha Ha. We all laughed and said our good-byes.

Though I was surprised this shop owner would talk so openly about committing fraud (brought on by an alcohol-induced talking stupor, of course), I wasn’t surprised that he commits fraud. I hear all too often about illegal things repairers do. Unfortunately, many repairers point the finger at everyone but themselves. I was recently on a Web site discussion forum where a group of shop owners were talking about how corrupt insurance agents and adjusters used to be – and still are – and how they were often given kickbacks (money, gifts, etc.). One repairer reminisced how a local agent used to be fitted for a new suit every Christmas and then had the bill sent to a local shop owner.

As I read their posts, I realized they never made the connection: Repairers were just as guilty as insurers. Who do you think offered the kickbacks?

A lawyer once told me about something called the clean-hands doctrine. It means that if you’re going to condemn the practices of others, you’d better be darn sure you haven’t exhibited any of that same behavior. What the lawyer meant was, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

And too many repairers live in glass houses.

A post-repair inspector named Charlie and I were recently discussing repairer fraud. Charlie told me that one shop owner he busted twice for fraudulent repairs had to buy his customers new vehicles in both cases. Recently, this shop owner closed one of his locations and blamed the closing on Charlie – rather than on his own illegal activities.

The problem is, too many shop owners feel justified in stealing. They say insurance companies “won’t let me make a decent profit” so “I have to do it” to stay in business. “It’s not going to hurt the insurance company,” they say. “Insurers have deep pockets.”

Before I go any further, let me just say that stealing is wrong, regardless of how wealthy the victim is. But many shop owners justify fraudulent activity by convincing themselves they’re taking from the rich (insurers) and giving to the poor (themselves). What these shop owners fail to realize is that insurers are obligated to pay for the damage, regardless of the owner’s intent to repair, so the insurance claim money belongs to the vehicle owner. And when a shop deviates from the estimate – for example, leaving off items such as bumper reinforcements, frame rails, inner wheel housings, etc., but still charging for them – they’re actually stealing from … you guessed it … the vehicle owner.

No, I’m not saying it would be better if they stole from insurers. I’m also not saying repairers are the only ones committing fraud. What I am saying is that until repairers clean up their own act, what gives them the right to judge anyone else?

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