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Hello, Pot? It’s the Kettle

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Somewhere in this country, a dad is sitting on a couch, smoking a cigarette, watching a football game and resting a bowl of potato chips on his beer belly (which doubles as a TV tray).

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During a commercial break, this same dad lectures his son on smoking. "It’s a terrible habit," he says, blowing smoke both literally and figuratively. "Don’t let me catch you doing it again."

Well … that heart-felt speech should effectively suppress any further desire his son has to smoke, don’t you think?

Every day, we see classic cases of "Do as I say, not as I do." Or, as my husband likes to say, "Hello, pot? It’s the kettle."

The most recent example of the pot calling the kettle black was when the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII) issued a statement about how happy they are that California Senate Bill 1648 (which would’ve outlawed insurer-owned shops) failed to pass. Says NAII Vice President Sam Sorich: "Repair shops, which today are characterized by a 43 percent fraud rate, are not entitled to statutory protections."

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Though I don’t know why 1648 failed, I do know that it takes a lot of cojones for the insurance industry to reprimand repairers for fraud. I’m not saying repairers are guilt free, mind you. Plenty of shops commit fraudulent acts every day.

Heck, when I shopped around for estimates after my Celica was rear-ended, three out of the four shops I visited offered to bury my deductible. One estimator even explained how he’d do it. And, frankly, if I hadn’t been knowledgeable about the collision repair industry, I wouldn’t have known that what he was really saying was that he was going to charge the insurer for something the shop wasn’t going to do.

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The "phantom invoice" is another type of fraud that’s apparently popular with some repairers. In a big wreck – in which the shop orders 40 to 50 parts – the shop will often fax the order to the dealer parts department, which must then send the parts in three or four loads with the same number of invoices. But when the job’s done, the shop returns many of the parts for credit. You see, all the shop really wants is the original invoice (showing the purchase of all the parts) to submit to the insurer. This practice is so prevalent, in fact, that dealer parts departments – tired of having to restock the unused parts – often ask the shop up front: "Do you want the parts or just the paper?"

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But I digress … We all know that there are shops out there that are willing to do just about anything to get business. But we also know that insurance companies aren’t always the victim. In many cases – especially with a "preferred shop" – insurers sometimes look the other way (silently condoning illegal actions and more or less throwing their own policyholders under a bus). We also know that some adjusters encourage fraud. (Rather than having the shop replace an inner-wheel housing, one appraiser told a shop manager to throw away the new part and use the money he’d receive for installing the part to pay for some additional procedures that weren’t on the estimate.)

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Insurers are, by no means, in any position to judge repairers.

"What about the fraud committed daily by the powerful insurers in this country?" asks autobody lobbyist Mike Causey, after hearing the NAII’s statements about repairer fraud. "How often do [insurers] lie, cheat and steal [from] body shops, auto glass shops and even their own policyholders?"

I don’t know. What I do know is this: Since insurers are also guilty, they’ve flipped their lid if they think it’s their place to call the kettle black.

Georgina K. Carson
Editor

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