Friday, 28 March 2014 16:55

Independent Auto Body Association Restructures in North Carolina

The Independent Auto Body Association (IABA), not to be confused with the Indiana association with the same acronym, is currently inactive as they restructure their leadership, but they have big plans for the future for when they’ve regrouped. Mike Causey, president of IABA, is excited about these upcoming changes and shares some information about the association.

IABA was founded around the turn of the century, 1999-2000 that is, because a group of small body shop owners in Western North Carolina “were fed up with insurance companies steering customers away from their shops in favor of large body shops willing and able to sign on their insurer’s direct repair programs (DRPs),” Causey recounts.

Taking the lead on resolving this dilemma, Tommy Green, one of the owners of a collision repair facility, circulated a petition that was endorsed by 60 shop owners before being forwarded to elected officials in Washington, D.C., and Raleigh, NC.

At the time, Causey was running for a statewide office, to be the North Carolina insurance commissioner, but when Green contacted him to ask about starting a collision repair association, Causey aided the involved shops by drafting a constitution and by-laws for the new statewide association that was to be called the Independent Auto Body Association. Causey notes, “the ironic part is only a small handful of those petition signers had the will to join the association. So the IABA started with only five western North Carolina body shop owners. The initial goal was to pass legislation in North Carolina to stop steering, or at least slow it down.”

After losing the election for insurance commissioner in November 2000, Causey agreed to represent the IABA as a legislative lobbyist at the North Carolina General Assembly. Causey and Green immediately engaged in discussions with key representatives about drafting proposed legislation to help consumers by enforcing their right to choose the body shop where their vehicle would be repaired. In October 2001, the IABA’s proposed House Bill 13—the Consumer Motor Vehicle Repair Act—was signed into law by the state’s governor; this success launched Causey’s part-time career as a writer for various collision repair publications, including Autobody News. Since the association’s inception in North Carolina, they have expanded their service area to include Virginia and South Carolina as well.

When invited to contribute feedback on IABA’s beginnings, Tom Green stated, “the only guy I ever met who was equally as persistent as myself had to be Mike Causey. Looking back 14 years ago, I believe that we both had a good understanding of what we were up against at the time. House Bill 13 was originally written by Wilma Sherrill, State Representative for Buncombe County 116 District, and she also deserves a tremendous amount of credit for passage of the bill through the State House of Representatives. She is, without doubt, one of the best Representatives to ever serve in North Carolina’s House of Representatives. I still to this day often wonder what we might have accomplished had more people got involved. Like I used to tell those guys back in the day, ‘I’ve never seen a war won on your knees or sitting on your ass.’”

Though the IABA is currently inactive as they work on reorganizing the association with new officers, they still anticipate the need to overcome a multitude of challenges once this regrouping is completed. Causey notes that the biggest challenges that the IABA faces in maintaining operations is “apathy from body shop owners, opposition from insurance companies, and financial challenges.”

The general disinterest and unwillingness to get involved that is pervading the collision repair industry lends itself to the IABA’s goals, which, according to Causey, are “to survive as an association in the fact of such apathy by shop owners and to get more members by getting body shops involved. Most shops show little interest in participating in associations or meetings. Most are afraid of the insurance companies, it seems, and don’t want to ‘rock the boat’ or make waves.”

Although the IABA is not currently working on any legislation, their mission as an association includes getting legislation passed to help consumers and small business owners, as well as “to educate the public (and elected officials) on their rights, help consumers, and help ‘level the playing field’ for shop owners,” Causey explains.

Of course, Causey recognizes the challenges of these aspirations, especially regarding legislation—“the main challenge is getting enough shop owners and managers behind the proposed legislation. Then, [we have to rally] consumer groups and individuals interested in consumer protection. The next challenge is funding to hire a professional lobbyist to guide the legislation through the legislative process, which sometimes can take many months or years. Insurance companies always oppose consumer-oriented legislation that takes any control away from insurers in the repair process.”

Discussing current legislative initiatives related to the collision repair industry, Causey notes, in regards to the PARTS Act, that “IABA favors full disclosure legislation. Give consumers a choice, and make it clear that the consumer can choose OE parts or otherwise.”

The IABA is also against any mandated parts-procurement systems, such as State Farm’s PartsTrader because “it is a one-sided agreement in favor of the insurer. Plus, it harms the local economy by cutting local suppliers out of the loop.”

This view relates back to what Causey sees as the biggest problem currently facing the industry today: “control of the repair process has been taken over by the insurance companies. Insurers now dictate what shop gets the repair job, where the shop will buy the parts, what price the shop will pay for the parts, how much money the shop gets paid—regardless of whether the shop will take a loss. Insurers have near-total control of the process.”

Through their efforts, IABA hopes to restore control of the collision repair industry back to the repair professionals to whom it truly belongs. The first step to change is getting involved!