To begin, the radio hosts summarized the lawsuit they planned to discuss. In January 2014, Eaves filed a complaint against insurers on behalf of 21 collision repair shops. Though the lawsuit began in MS, it has spread and continues to gain traction so that it is now a national lawsuit, involving six states, which will be tried by a single judge in FL. Multiple insurers have been implicated in the complaint as the habit of insurer steering is an industry-wide problem.
Fowler pointed out that steering has become so pervasive in this industry that insurance companies often attempt to take control at the accident scene, moving the damaged vehicle against the consumer’s wishes and trying to coerce the vehicle owner to agree to having the repair completed at one of their DRP shops. Although the consumer has the right to choose where their vehicle is repaired and it could easily be argued that the insurers are taking advantage of their customers, it is easier and cheaper for insurance companies when they get their way, as they often do in these situations.When questioned about why insurers are so adamant about steering despite the possibility of being sued, Eaves noted that insurers profit greatly by this practice as the benefits to them outweigh the risk; this is the reason his pending lawsuit and other lawsuits are necessary. Fowler reminded listeners that this is a battle the collision repair industry has been fighting for 25 years, but it has come to a point where quality repair shops will go out of business if nothing is done to rectify this travesty.
Moving on to the topic of imitation and OEM parts, Fowler admits that his opinion has changed; previously, he believed it was the customer’s choice whether to use aftermarket parts, but because most consumers don’t understand the differences and implications of using these parts, he now feels that it is the collision repair professional’s responsibility to educate the consumer since testing proves that aftermarket parts do not always perform the same as genuine OEM parts.
In response to the radio hosts’ question about whether imitation parts have been implicated as the cause of any accidents, Eaves confirmed that the use of poor quality aftermarket parts has caused a multitude of accidents across the country. Unfortunately, few people are aware of this concern because these settled cases included confidentiality agreements to prevent them from becoming public knowledge. Furthermore, as many parts, including windshields, tires and airbags, directly affect the safety of the vehicle, investment in parts is more crucial than ever. According to Eaves, YouTube features many videos on how aftermarket parts affect vehicle safety, and documentaries are currently being filmed on this issue as well.
Eaves is not optimistic that the lawsuit will go to trial quickly, but he is prepared to fight this battle for quite some time if necessary, nothing “this is bigger than just a lawsuit; it’s a campaign!” Part of this campaign includes asking Congress to support legislation to restore the proper balance of power between the insurance industry and the collision repair industry. As precedent for his request, Eaves cites a similar situation in the 1960s when insurance companies tried to dictate which parts could be used and how much they would pay for repairs. The U.S. Department of Justice sued the insurance industry, and the resulting ruling was that insurers cannot force collision repair facilities to compromise the quality of their repairs. Thus, the balance of power between these two industries was restored, and Eaves hopes that his current efforts will yield the same results for the modern collision repair industry.
Directing his attention to what consumers can do to aid in this battle, Fowler reminds consumers that they have the right to choose the facility that repairs their vehicle, and he encourages them to demand this right by taking their car to whichever shop they prefer. He cautions that it is a red flag if the insurer insists on dictating where the vehicle is repaired, and this could indicate that the insurer is engaging in other unsavory practices, such as mandating which parts are used in the repair.
Though vehicle manufacturers provide specific repair information to maintain a vehicle’s safety, Fowler has experienced firsthand that some insurers will demand used parts be installed, even though the manufacturer has warned that such a practice could compromise the vehicle’s safety. Despite insurers’ tendency to use intimidating in their interactions with both consumers and repair facilities, Fowler states, “there are shops that try to do what’s right, but they are vilified, disparaged and essentially squeezed out of business.”
Eaves agrees that it is imperative for consumers to trust the facility repairing their vehicle as their lives are being placed in the hands of these professionals, and a poor quality repair jeopardizes the safety of the consumer, their family and anyone else on the highway. The importance of finding a trustworthy repairer is so great that Fowler founded www.safecars.us, a website that promises to place the consumer’s safety above all else and plans to feature member shops who have committed to this goal.
Although Fowler believes that some insurance agents would like to do the right thing for their customers, the rules are passed down from the insurance companies’ corporate offices, leaving the agents powerless to make changes. Unfortunately, the insurers are the only ones to benefit, and these practices are actually performed to the detriment of the collision repair facilities, the consumers and even lending institutions as an improperly repaired vehicle is apt to create a situation of diminished value.
When radio hosts questioned why some insurance companies have departments that deal in diminished values, Fowler notes, “they pay when they’re forced to pay, but they are never going to voluntarily do the right thing because it’s not profitable, and everything they do is profit-driven.” In fact, he warns that diminished value can occur to such an extent that the vehicle should have been declared a total loss because it is no longer safe to be driven on the road! Luckily, diminished value is an issue that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of, and Fowler encourages anyone with doubts about the safety or integrity of a repair to get a post-repair inspection. His shop will gladly inspect repairs and provide objective assessments, as will many shops across the nation.
As the show came to an end, Fowler encouraged consumers to stand up for and demand their rights. Though he would like to believe that the insurers look out for their customers’ best interests, his observations indicate that they are only concerned with profits. “This war has been going on for a long time, mostly behind the consumers’ backs, but it affects everyone because if a car is unsafely repaired and out of control, it is dangerous to everyone on the highway. The U.S. public needs to be concerned with this issue… You never know what battles you can win until you fight them. Doing nothing only ensures you will lose.”
To listen to the radio broadcast, visit http://www.iaba.info/Documents/Newsletters/Issues/2014/10%20October/Full%20Stories/Article%207.html