Collision Repair Consumer Protections Still Remain Elusive in Many StatesPosted 8/13/2004
By Robert L. Redding Jr.
An update on steering, DRPs and insurer-owned shops
Generally, the barriers for protecting consumer rights are many in the collision repair experience. Many states have little or no protections for a consumer's right to choose a repair facility. Many states that do have protections offer little in the way of enforcement.
What has become even more frustrating for the collision industry is the lack of consumer complaints regarding the right to choose a repair facility. ASA selected several key transportation states to determine the number of consumer complaints regarding repair facility choice and met with insurance regulators in those states. The responses were quite similar state to state.
There are a few consumer complaints regarding the vehicle owner's right to select a collision repair facility. Of those who do complain that they were inappropriately steered to a repair facility not of their choosing, the energy behind the complaint dissipates once the vehicle is repaired and members of the enforcement staff from the regulator contact the consumer. Typical responses, according to enforcement staffers, include "Well, my vehicle is repaired now" or "My original collision repair facility really suggested that I place the call to the consumer hotline. I am OK now."
ASA met with Montana officials some time ago to discuss a public service announcement the state had developed regarding the consumer's right to choose. ASA believed, at that time, that this initiative was one of the best educational ads in the country for this issue. With Montana's permission, ASA shared the video with regulators in other states. Funding for states to pursue more consumer educational efforts, or to increase enforcement in this specific area of consumer protection, is unlikely in the near future due to the financial struggles in many states today.
A recent report by one consumer in a state with what appears to be sufficient protections against steering included the following scenario. Upon contacting the insurer, the claimant was told that one option to begin the repair process was to meet the adjuster at a specific local repair facility. This would be the quickest and simplest process for the vehicle owner. Upon arrival, the claimant was introduced to the adjuster by the body shop receptionist and began the process in the adjuster's office. After reviewing the vehicle, the estimate of record was given to the claimant. The adjuster told the claimant the body shop staff person in the office next door would schedule an early repair slot. At this point, the adjuster asked if the vehicle owner would prefer some other body shop to repair the vehicle. Of course, by this time, the vehicle owner had already made the decision to repair at that location. Defining the lines of protection for consumers is difficult, particularly with these issues at the bottom of the list for consumer advocates at the national and state levels.
The lack of choice for the vehicle owner does not stop at the selection of the location the vehicle is repaired. Although approximately 44 states have some type of replacement crash parts statute, at last count 36 of these states provided "notice only" protections as to what types of parts are being used in the repair of the vehicle. ASA's last survey highlighted seven states that require notice and the vehicle owner's consent prior to the use of specific parts. Eight states reported they did not require any notice or consent prior to the use of specific parts.
Despite several high-profile efforts to improve consumer choice in the past few years, in general this activity has been sidetracked in the collision industry by other issues. This certainly includes insurer-owned shop legislation at the top of the list of issues occupying the resources of the collision repair industry. The California Autobody Association was successful in improving the plight of consumers with the passage of S.B. 551 in 2003. As reported by the California Autobody Association, the new law:
There are states with current statutes, protecting the consumer's right to choose a repair facility, already in place. How do repairers in those states motivate the regulator to spend more resources on consumer education and enforcement? This might prove to be of more immediate value than multiple legislative initiatives across the country.
ASA's collision leaders will review options for improving the consumer's right to choose prior to the 2005 state legislative season. ASA's staff has researched those states whose statutes might prove helpful as models for repairers as they develop policy options for their state legislatures and regulators.
ASA's new legislative Web site, www.TakingTheHill.com, will be of value to repairers and repair organizations across the country as they take their message to policymakers. ASA encourages you to review the Web site to determine how it might best assist your consumer choice policy efforts in the 2005 legislative process.
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