Taking your car to the mechanic can be a draining and frustrating experience. Many of us have sunk money and time into labor and replacement parts, only to have that strange noise or blinking light show up again a few days later. Car repair is a difficult and imprecise science, but new evidence suggests that insurance companies may be making the situation worse. More than 500 automobile repair shops from 36 states have joined together in a lawsuit claiming that insurance companies have pressured them into making cheap repairs with underperforming, and in some cases dangerous, parts.
The issue is rooted in “steering”, a practice by which major insurance companies direct their customers to specific preferred repair shops. These programs have become so prevalent that many repair shops consider customers steered to them by insurance companies to be a vital part of their customer base. However, allegations have arisen that these shops are supplied with broken, used, or shoddily repaired parts, then removed from the insurance company’s preferred list if they complain or refuse to use the parts.
One particular shop in Louisiana points to headlights as a prime example, saying it has received shipments of “new” headlights that had clearly been previously damaged and simply glued back together. The owner of the shop was of the opinion that some headlights he received had been in accidents already, and were cracked in such a manner that they would fill with rain at the first opportunity. Other shops have complained of dented rims or hoods still warped from a previous collision.
The sheer number of repair shops involved suggests a nationwide issue, and government officials have begun to take notice at both the state and federal level. Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has already filed suit against State Farm, the largest insurance provider in the state. He fears thousands of “junkyard parts” are now on America’s roadways endangering drivers. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut has called for an increased federal role, saying that it is the job of federal watchdog agencies to protect consumers from exactly these kinds of deceitful and harmful practices.
The practice of steering is illegal under state and federal laws, and major insurance companies, including State Farm, have been quick to deny any wrongdoing. They have pointed out that while they do maintain “preferred-shop” lists, customers are free to take their cars elsewhere. If your car needs work, it is always a good idea to get multiple diagnoses and quotes before having anything done. Make sure to visit at least one shop not on the “preferred list” offered by your insurance company, allowing you a chance to compare the repair services and parts being offered.
About The Author: Jamie Kessel is a personal injury attorney practicing with the law firm of Allen & Allen at their office in Short Pump. His practice is focused in the areas of car accidents, product liability, premises liability, and distracted driving accidents. He was named one of the 2015 Legal Elite by Virginia Business Magazine and has been honored as one of the “Top 50 Attorneys in Richmond” and “Top 100 Attorneys in Virginia” by Virginia Super Lawyers.