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Repairers warned of litigation threat

Bodyshops and insurers face a growing threat from consumer litigation due to poor repair standards, according to ABS.

The bodyshop solutions company blames substandard auditing by trade associations for allowing standards to slip, but also calls on insurers to take greater responsibility over the type of companies that make up their authorised networks.

ABS is in talks with Thatcham, the insurer-funded research and training organisation, about setting up a new industry standard. It believes the programme should be graded into four levels to enable every repair business, small or large, to meet the requirements. “It is not be difficult to envisage a situation where a vehicle is repaired at an insurer-approved bodyshop and subsequently involved in an accident where the repair is shown to be a contributory factor,” says an ABS spokesman. “The insurer may be sued for lack of duty of care in directing the vehicle into a repairer ill-equipped to carry out the work.

“The insurance world needs to face up to the need for an independent-graded accreditation scheme to ensure they approve only properly equipped repairers working to recognised standards of expertise.”

ABS says the alternative is for insurers to allow cars to be repaired by franchised dealer bodyshops which conform to more tightly regulated standards policed by their manufacturer partners. This, it believes, will raise the cost of repair.

Thatcham, however, presently favours an accreditation scheme for technicians and is developing an initiative due for imminent launch. “We are impressed with the way that ABS recognises that there is a need for a regulation scheme,” says Lesley Upham, Thatcham head of communications. “But first we need to make sure we have competent people in the industry who are ready to deal with complex future technology. We want to be a partner for quality processes.”

ABS has been highly critical of the three bodyshop trade organisations. Its own audit programme carried out earlier this year revealed “real concerns” over the thoroughness of accreditation checks, which led the ABS to moot its own standards scheme. The company has already taken inspections in-house for its 240-strong bodyshop network.

Matthew Carrington, RMI chief executive, acknowledges that standards need to continue rising – something he believes is happening among his 3000 bodyshop members. “We are always assessing our QC standards – they are currently under review to ensure they meet the needs of work providers,” he says. “This is in conjunction with insurers, bodyshops and suppliers.” The ABS decision to take its inspections in-house is “more about economics than quality”, adds Carrington. “They didn't come to us about raising our standards – others do, and we address those concerns.”

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