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Who’s the Wolf?

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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

I’m sure many of you saw the article on our Web site in “Breaking News” about the American Insurance Association calling auto repair anti-steering legislation a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” And I’m pretty sure it irked you as much as it did me.

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The article basically said that this legislation could cost consumers millions of dollars in higher repair costs (haven’t heard that one before). Maybe auto insurance should cost more. Maybe consumers would be willing to pay higher premiums if they were guaranteed top-quality repairs and no shortcuts.

The article also stated that the legislation reduces marketplace competition. Huh? I’d say steering everybody to one body shop in a given area pretty much does a heck of a job of reducing marketplace competition. When a policyholder makes a claim, insurance companies say they have the right to explain the benefits of taking the vehicle to a shop in their preferred networks. And you know what? I agree. But once the policyholder says no after the pitch, all discussion should end.

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If the hard sell continues and things like “we find that shop difficult to work with” or “we can’t guarantee the repair if you take it to that shop” are said, that’s coercion and deceptive referral. Perhaps Phil Mosley, general manager of Elite Collision Service in West Chester, Ohio, put it best when he said the deception begins when the person on the other end of the phone starts saying things like, “‘They can’t’ or ‘you shouldn’t’ or ‘they don’t’ or ‘they’re not.’”

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Let’s look at that guarantee thing. In all their advertisements, insurance companies refer to “guaranteed” repairs. But we all know they don’t guarantee anything because they don’t perform auto repairs. And most shops guarantee repairs for life. So an insurance company saying it can’t guarantee repairs at ABC Shop but can at the XYZ preferred shop is, again, deceptive referral. It also implies that the shop whose work the insurer can’t guarantee is somehow inferior to the shop it can guarantee.

Let’s also look at the insurance company’s claim that the repair can be done faster if the policyholder takes the vehicle to a shop in its preferred network. Of course it can. The only reason it will take longer if the policyholder takes the car out-of-network (sounds like the medical insurance field, doesn’t it?) is because the insurer will delay sending an appraiser out to that shop on purpose. Perhaps if the policyholder is without his or her vehicle for three weeks, he or she will think twice about going outside the network next time. Pretty smooth.

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The article also says, “…automobile insurance companies process more than 25 million auto repair and replacement claims annually. This puts insurers in a unique position to know which auto repairers do the best work and provide the best service.” The best service? We all know of some body shops in insurers’ preferred networks that are there for one reason and one reason alone: cheap, low-quality repairs. But the customer will never know the difference, right?

Despite the anger this article may have raised among repairers, it’s actually good for all of us to read to know what kind of information the insurance companies are pushing out there to consumers. It should motivate you to increase your efforts to get your message out and tell consumers the real scoop. Hand out fliers at your shop. Pool your money with other shops in your area to buy radio/TV spots. Tell your story to the local newspaper or news station and lay it on heavy about consumers’ rights. Those local media outlets will eat it up.

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Let’s not forget that educating consumers is as important today as tracking your profitability, figuring out ways to be more efficient, diversifying your product offerings and delivering structurally sound and aesthetically-pleasing vehicles back to your valued customers.

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