Auto Insurers Accused of Cutting Corners

Following an 8News investigation into recycled car parts, we’ve learned that auto insurers are cutting corners

One local auto body association tells 8News that car repair shops are being pressured by auto insurers to use after-market parts.

These are parts not made by car’s original manufacturer — they’re reproduced replacement parts that can cost about a quarter of the original price. Some body shops say they’re cheap, they don’t fit and can be dangerous.

It was bad enough for Michael Larkum when his parked Honda mini-van was badly damaged in multi-car accident in November… but he never imagined it would take seven months to get his car repaired correctly.

“The side panel, the bumper, the hood, the headlights. The whole front end was caved in.”

Ben Gibson with Harrison Body Works in Richmond is now taking over the repair work after Larkum noticed some major flaws with the first job.

“You can see there is a pretty noticeable color difference between the bumper and fender,” Gibson pointed out to 8News.

Gibson got under the hood and took a look for Larkum. And what he found could make for a dangerous drive, he says.

Gibson says the first repair shop used after market parts for the bumper, grill and headlight. These are parts not manufactured by Honda. They’re reproductions, which cost a lot less. Gibson says they also don’t often meet industry standards.

“They just don’t fit as they should.”

Gibson, along with the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association, tell 8News they’re seeing more and more auto insurers forcing body shops to use after market parts.

But some are challenging the insurance companies. A federal anti-trust lawsuit involving 500 garages in 36 states, including Virginia, has been filed against dozens of auto insurers for the use of after market and recycled car parts.

“Our industry is being pushed by the insurance industry to use anyway we can to cut costs.”

As a result, Gibson says mechanics are rushing and trying to force these after market parts to fit. And when they don’t fit right, it puts drivers in danger.

Bad repairs can also cost the consumer when it comes time to trade in the car.

“When you have bad repairs, it diminishes value of the vehicle plus the vehicle just deteriorates, just goes away from the original owner much quicker than that it should.”

So what can you do?

Larkum spent months fighting with his insurance provider. A letter to the state Attorney General and Virginia’s Bureau of Insurance finally did the trick: His insurance is picking up the tab for these latest round of repairs using “OEM” parts…Parts from the original equipment manufacturer.

“You just have to keep fighting.”

Gibson recommends you do your homework, ask your insurer if after market parts will be used and maybe even ask what their policy is before you sign up with them.

Larkum’s insurer, Elephant Insurance, did not return our calls or emails for comment. The first shop that did the repairs says they stand by the work and believe after market parts can be good quality parts.