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Dispatches investigates car insurance and bodyshop sector

Dispatches, the Channel 4 investigative TV show, is looking into the car insurance industry in a new programme which looks to uncover the influence insurers and accident management companies have over bodyshops’ workflow and profit margins.

Retail Motor Law, the motor industry law firm, has helped to provide evidence for the show - Secrets of Your Car Insurance – which can now be viewed on 4oD.

Andrew Moody, managing director of Retail Motor Law (who spent 15 years working as a car mechanic and panel beater before retraining as a barrister and solicitor), said: “We showed the Dispatches team our Retail Motor Law report outlining the agreements that certain paint manufacturers and distributors enter into with insurance and accident management companies.

“They decided the subject deserved further investigation and we have been on hand to provide background information and expert opinion throughout the production process.”

The report was also submitted to the Office of Fair Trading, who passed it to the Competition Commission as part of their wider investigation into the motor insurance market.

Moody said: “I have got a huge amount of evidence; some of it was posted anonymously to my office – that gives you an idea of the culture of fear that exists. A specialist competition barrister who has seen it said it raised ‘serious competition concerns’.”

The number of bodyshops in the UK has reduced dramatically over the last decade. There are around 3,000 left and RML believes over 8% of those are likely to shut for good in 2013.

Moody said: “An unfortunate culture has developed in this country where policyholders call their insurers as soon as they have a crash. With a few clever words from a claims handler they will be steered into an approved repairer network. Most consumers are not even aware they have a choice.

“There are two good reasons why policyholders should be concerned about this – cost and safety. First, cost – there are occasions when people claim, lose their no claims bonus and pay a large excess, when that amount is likely to have paid for the repair. Second, safety – no one really knows what is under a paint job so it is important that consumers can trust the body repair industry.

“My concern is that the method and mode of the repair is being dictated by the insurer. They are in a position to say to the repairer ‘you must do this otherwise your supply of work will be cut’. That is dangerous because insurers’ interests lie in maximizing their own profits, not delivering the best quality repairs.”

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  • Craig Nelson - 07/01/2013 20:26 : We are presently in a dispute with Churchill Insurance, who's policy holder hit our Porsche Boxster while it was parked up, and when their "engineer" came out stated that instead of going to Porsche Uk for the repair to be carried out, that for about £500 (five hundred quid) a back street garage would do the repair , and they offered £800. my wife rejected this amount, The following day the cheque arrived !!! This is now a formal complaint against CHURCHILL Insurance and they are not hanlding it very well. A Mr Rahmen is dealing with it, and to date NOT VERY WELL. We ended up proposing a cash settlement of £1350, which they rejected. so we had a BMW 3 series for 2 weeks, the car was repaier by Porsche, and the total cost for their policy holder was in excess of £2000.HOW CAN THIS BE RIGHT ??? my email address is above, mail me if you have similar stories. This needs to be publicised, Thanks Craig Nelson

    • - 08/01/2013 09:53

      @Craig Nelson - Hi. In trying to give a definitive answer to your question can be quite difficult. However, a number of reasons can be: 1 That it wasn't estimated correctly or they didn't have the knowledge to understand the correct repair process in the first place. 2 Who ever was it involved could have been cutting corners to save costs. 3. The labour rate at the Porsche Garage will be invariably higher. I could go on. Your story is not unusual. An estimate for a repair is exactly what it is - an estimate! Again due to the complex nature of the modern Motor vehicle - Repairers will be lucky if they get 70% correct. Its the old adage - if you have a Porsche go to the Franchise or a Bodyshop approved by them NOT on the Insurance Companies recommendations.

    • craig nelson - 10/01/2013 17:37 - Hi Mike, I fully agree with you, I want that unhappy with the estimate, more that the "Engineer" who must have been an adjuster for Churchill's ignored my wife's wish, and without authority issued the Settlement cheque.. This backfired, as we then insisted on going to porsche, and having a hire car for 2 weeks. the BMW they provided must have been over £400 for the fortnight. Why do all Insurers approach claimants as fraudulant and out to get something for nothing. We could have agreed a settlement at £1000, but like with most things it needs people to talk, not simply type data into a laptop, and come up with a figure: Thanks for the comments

  • - 08/01/2013 09:42

    Hurrah! At long last, someone has had the bottle to explain what really goes on in the Body Repair market. Customers have for so long been manipulated in having their vehicle's directed to an approved Bodyshop (or even one of their own), controlled by the Insurance Company, where they can manage and control the method of repair and/or costs, not knowing they have the right to choose who repairs their vehicle! Having been involved with Boyshops for over 40 years, the last 20 as a senior Manager, the contents of the TV programme only scratch the surface. This problem has been there for over 25 years. If I had a £1 for every time I have been approached to fit a non-genuine part or repair a panel that should have been replaced, I would be a millionaire! If you don't do what they ask, you are threatened your approved status will be terminated. In instances where the Insurance provide the majority of your work - you can go out of business if you don't capitulate. Regardless of what they say; most copy panels generally don't fit! I have on many occasions had to ask the Senior or local Insurance Engineer to authorise the installation of a genuine panel because the copy panel won't fit! As the programme highlights, the Insurance Engineer is more interested in controlling the cost of repair than the repair method or quality. In some instances the Insurance Engineer wouldn't know what the correct repair method was if it hit them in the face! On one instance, I had a Senior Area Insurance Engineer direct his neighbours vehicle to one of my Bodyshops because he couldn't trust one of his Insurance owned Bodyshop's to carry out the repair properly, or to an acceptable standard. A few years later, the Group I worked for were approached by this Insurance Company to see if we were interested in purchasing their Large Bodyshop. Having had an opportunity to visit and inspect this Bodyshop under cover a short time later - I could fully understand why they wanted to get rid of it! The quality of repair and care taken to look after the Customers vehicle could only be described as awful. As you can imagine - we declined the offer. In this day and age the modern Motor vehicle is far too complex - Boyshops who say they can repair any vehicle - are in cloud Cuckoo land! As far as I am concerned, if you have a Ford it should go to a Ford Bodyshop, VW/Audi etc to their Franchise Bodyshop and so on................ This way (in most instances), you will ensure your vehicle is repaired to the correct standard by Factory trained Technicians using the correct repair methods and equipment. I'm just thankful I had an opportunity to retire a couple of years ago.

  • Donald Wire - 10/01/2013 13:08

    Well, my wife's Astra Mk5 was hit in the rear last spring. A no-fault claim, the car was collected, repaired by our insurance companies body repairer and delivered back to us supposedly with the repairs complete. The rear bumper panel had been filled and just looked wrong somehow, and the number plate was squint as it had no proper flat surface to lie on due to the filler being uneven. I looked under the bumper and saw the impact beam was still twisted and bent as they had attempted to straighten it out. I rejected the car, photographed the areas I saw, sent the driver back [a wasted 100 mile round trip] and got on the phone to the insurer, More Than and made my feelings known. Surprise, surprise! All the damaged panels etc were replaced with new, I got a tank of diesel and the car was returned looking as it should. Now, if my wife had been asked to accept the first repair, how would she [or any ordinary owner] have known what to look for? Luckily I was at home that Friday afternoon and have spent since 1967 in or attached to the motor trade, so I knew what to do. The really concerning thing is that this was a no-fault claim. The other insurance company was paying, we had a loan car from Avis for 3 weeks. So this was clearly a substandard repair passed off as acceptable, question is, what were our insurers going to bill the at-fault drivers insurance company? A full price repair, no doubt about that in my mind. The manager of the body-shop appointed to carry out the work told me that initially the assessor refused his original estimate and insisted the panels etc be repaired. You would think as a no-fault claim and as a long standing customer paying a respectable premium we could have relied on getting a proper repair first time round. Appalling and contemptuous customer care no matter which way you look at it.