LILBURN, Ga. (CBS46) -- Imagine taking your car to a repair shop after an accident, only to discover your insurance company won’t pay for the full repair unless you go to their preferred shop.
It’s a problem many drivers face, including customers at Osborne Bodyworks in Lilburn. Vanessa Harbin took her Nissan Altima to the shop after someone ran into it. The nightmare began when she opted to get the car repaired by Shane Osborne, instead of going to a shop recommended by her insurance company.
“I said well, the accident wasn’t my fault; so I’m not paying anything,” explained Harbin. “It has been almost two years and as of today they’ve closed my case.”
Rose Ponton, another customer at Osborne Bodyworks, can relate. Her car has been sitting at the shop for three long years. She, too, decided not to go to a shop recommended by the insurance company, and she said that has cost her big time.
When CBS46 investigative reporter Adam Murphy asked just how much, she said she was responsible for covering about $3,000 out of pocket. It’s not just the consumer paying the price.
Osborne said insurance companies don’t want to work with shops like his because they refuse to cut corners on repairs, making their work more expensive.
“We do charge more, but we do more because we don’t skip over what they want to force us to skip over and lie to our customers,” said Osborne.
It’s a similar scenario at Wilson’s Body Shop in Conyers.
“What the body shop needs to understand is that they’re liable and they’re responsible to do a safe and proper repair and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and not let a third party dictate how that car is repaired,” explained shop owner Tirrie Terrell.
Documents show these are not an isolated issue. Body shops nationwide have filed dozens of lawsuits against multiple insurance companies, claiming they are steering business to companies that use cheap parts and labor, putting drivers at risk.
- Learn more about the case that could make insurance companies liable for bad repairs in the lawsuit below
Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck said he’s concerned.
“The insurance companies cannot steer customers to a body shop, the law is clear about that,” Beck said.
The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies refute the claims made by body shops, stating that insurers negotiate with repair shops and designate them as preferred if they meet high standards regarding equipment, training and service.
Statement from Jon Bergner, Assistant Vice President – Public Policy and Federal Affairs
National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies
January 23, 2019
“Insurers utilize direct repair programs to streamline the claims process and deliver a high level of service and satisfaction to their policyholders. The way it generally works is that insurers negotiate with repair shops and designate them as preferred if they meet high standards regarding equipment, training, and service. Typically, both parties agree to an upfront, fee-for-service pricing schedule so that the repair shops are preauthorized to begin repairs right away without having to receive approval from adjusters and appraisers.
Being in an auto accident is often an incredibly disruptive event in a person’s life – the cost-effective, streamlined repair process achieved by direct repair programs allows the work to be done efficiently so that people may resume their normal lives with as minimal disruption as possible. It is because preferred shops can deliver a high level of service that they are frequently chosen by consumers to perform their repairs.”
“We have decided to make sure we sternly follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Just to know that when I lay down at night I’m not thinking ‘oh my goodness, is that car safe?’” said Terrell.
That’s why in addition to fixing cars, he also seeks to educate drivers about safe repairs.
At the end of the day, anyone can be the next driver in a jam if they don’t do their homework. Experts say customers need to familiarize themselves with their insurance policies, and ask questions if they don’t understand something.
Drivers who choose to go to a preferred shop should take the time to sit down with the mechanic first. Any repair technician should be able to explain exactly what needs to be fixed and why.
Finally, insurance companies can’t force drivers to go to a preferred shop, but customers should be prepared to pay out of pocket if they go that route.
CBS46 wants to help you protect yourself when it comes to these types of issues. Print out the card below and put it in your wallet. If you run into an issue where you need to work with an insurance company and a body shop, you'll have the card to help you navigate the issues.