When Michael Trinagel’s twin daughters were born 16 years ago, he drove them home from the hospital in a Rolls-Royce. Today, the only reason his shop, Personal Touch Auto Body in the Bronx, is still in business is because he took out a loan against the equity he has in his house one part of the mountain of debt he has undertaken to keep his shop open. He says it’s because he has lost more than 90 percent of his business to illegal steering.
His story is not unique. As we all know, shops are closing their doors every day. Others are still alive but struggling mightily. Steering is but one reason, albeit a big one.
What is unique about Trinagel is that he’s waging an all-out war against insurance company steering by appealing to local and national media.
Trinagel convinced New York City CW affiliate WPIX-TV Channel 11 to interview him as part of an exposé on steering (visit www.bodyshopbusiness.com and use the search term “Trinagel” to read the article and watch the news clip). But he isn’t stopping there. He has written a letter to Glenn Beck, host of the popular national talk show the Glenn Beck Program, in hopes of being given a chance to explain his plight and educate consumers on their rights.
Trinagel says he targeted Glenn Beck over other talk shows because he felt like it was the one most likely to hear him out.
“‘The O’Reilly Factor’ might take me. Larry King is too high-profile. But Glenn Beck is blue collar, he despises politicians and cuts on government all the time,” Trinagel says. “That’s the audience I’m looking for.”
Trinagel doesn’t believe that telling his story will force insurance companies to stop steering.
“Obviously, the law is a big joke to the insurance companies, and they know all too well that they can get away with their illegal actions.” He just wants to better inform the public of its rights.
There’s not much more he can do in that regard at his shop, where he has installed an electronic ticker sign out front that splashes consumers’ rights onto the street and pleads with them to call him first before they call their insurance companies. He has also posted Section 2610 of the New York state law outside his shop which states that “an insurance company cannot require that a repair be made to a motor vehicle in a particular place or repair shop. You have the right to have your vehicle repaired at the shop of your choice.” He also has this language prominently displayed on his Web site.
Trinagel says business has increased since he put the ticker sign up, but the day I talked to him, he had one solitary vehicle in his shop to work on.
Other repairers have offered Trinagel advice, for example, telling him to join an association, but he has been very honest about who he is and what his intentions are, whether it sounds selfish or not.
“I’m not an activist. I’m a businessman,” Trinagel says. “My job is perform the best possible repairs on vehicles. I don’t have time for this crap. I don’t have the extra energy or effort to put anywhere but in myself. I’m worried about me. I don’t want to know about other people’s business. I just want someone to start enforcing the law.”
And that’s Trinagel’s main beef. He’s sick and tired of politicians looking the other way when it comes to steering. Steering is illegal in New York, as it is in other states. In New York, an insured has to specifically ask the insurer for a referral before the insurer can offer one (S 167-C Section 2610). But as we all know, the laws don’t seem to be working. Despite what insurers say, steering is going on, and their influence and power (synonymous with money, really) make lawmakers turn a blind eye to it. And it’s killing honest, hard-working businessmen like Trinagel who make up the backbone of this country.
“If there wasn’t a law in place, I wouldn’t place a bitch,” Trinagel says. “I could shut up and call it a defeat. But there is a law, and I have to use it as a crutch. As it is right now, this is not a fair game. I say stand the customer in front of my shop and the DRP shop and let him or her choose.”
Trinagel likens what’s going on to calling the police and telling them a burglar is in the house but no one shows up. Here’s hoping he gets on the Glenn Beck Program and sets off an alarm.
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