Why approved crash repairers aren't the only option
“More insurers are considering manufacturer-approved bodyshops such as this”
Your insurer might say your damaged car must be fixed by its approved repairer. But that’s not the case, as we explain
Full disclosure time: during the course of 40 years of driving, I can recall the occasion a car crashed into the back of my Astra at traffic lights and, later, another into my Mondeo. Then when I drove my Renault 5 into the back of the Mini I could have sworn had pulled away ahead of me at a roundabout.
Each time, I left the decision about who should repair my car in the hands of my insurer. Even my Mazda Eunos, for heaven’s sake – a sweet little thing that had been shunted by one car into the path of another. How I loved its precision steering, at least before its rack was shattered. The insurer-approved repairer to which it was sent operated out of a tin shack beside a bomb-site dealership.
All my cars were reasonably cheap, the most expensive being the Mondeo that cost me £7000. With the exception of the Eunos, the damage they suffered was light and all repairs were carried out largely to my satisfaction.
However, I like to think that had they been more valuable and their damage more serious, I would have rejected my insurers’ approved bodyshops and instead insisted my cars were repaired by manufacturer-approved ones that use genuine OE parts and who are trained to remanufacture a damaged car rather than simply repair it. I would certainly have the right to do so, although the insurer could refuse and pay me a cash settlement in lieu.
But there are rights and there’s the gentle art of persuasion, where the insurer speaks softly in your ear about picking up the pieces after an accident while you ease yourself into its free hire car and go about your business. Hold out for a repairer of your choice and it starts sounding rather less friendly. No wonder most of us take the easy option and go with the approved repairer.
Not the owner of the one-year-old Jaguar XJ 3.0d I’m looking at, though. The category S write-off – meaning it has suffered structural damage – has been in one almighty front-end smash. The insurer wanted to write it off, but since by some miracle the cost of repairing it won’t exceed its pre-accident value, the owner has chosen to have it repaired. Not only that but he has insisted it is repaired by a manufacturer-approved bodyshop.
What’s left of the Jag is supported on a chassis jig at Castle Coachworks in Northampton. Autocar was here only a few weeks ago when Brian Lennon, co-founder and director, sparked our interest in manufacturer-approved bodyshops such as his with warnings about lesser bodyshops fitting recycled parts that can compromise a car’s safety. It sounded like the thing you’d expect an expensive bodyshop to say about its less expensive rivals, so we returned to see what Castle Coachworks, which is approved by JLR, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Volvo and Kia, does that is so different.
And where better to start than with this battered Jag? Its engine and eight-speed gearbox have been removed and lie behind a plastic screen. With its bonnet and wings also removed to expose its A-pillar reinforcement beams and chassis rails, the car looks like a giant stag beetle. Panel technician Steve Johnson is preparing to replace one of the A-pillars and its reinforcement structure and straighten a chassis leg. Later, he’ll check the alignment to make sure everything’s true.
It looks like a straightforward, if major, repair, except the XJ is aluminium, a material that requires special treatment, while those who work with it require intensive training and dedicated tools.
“Aluminium is the new steel,” says Ellis Lennon, Brian’s son and Castle’s vehicle damage assessor, charged with knowing all the correct repair techniques. At one time he was the country’s youngest panel technician approved by JLR and Mercedes; no small achievement given that the failure rate on automotive aluminium training courses is high. “Aluminium has no memory so won’t return to its former shape,” he says. “As you work it, it gets stiffer. It can’t come into contact with steel and if you expose it for too long, it oxidises.”
Just like steel there are multiple varieties of aluminium, some containing more silicone for greater flexibility and used for external panels, and others containing more magnesium for strength, in areas such as the bulkhead. JLR vehicles feature at least five different grades of aluminium. The front of the Jag features three alone.
“If this were steel, we could repair it in situ,” says Ellis. “But aluminium stretches so we’ll cut away the damaged areas and replace with new panels that we’ll weld, bond or rivet as required. Other bodyshops might try to get away with patching the damaged panels with filler.”
To avoid cross-contamination with steel, the tools and equipment that Ellis and his team use must be cleaned and stored separately. They also need to be regularly updated. “The investment in tools is considerable. Our rivet guns will be outdated in 12 months’ time,” he says.
Training isn’t cheap, either. Mercedes, for example, demands that technicians attend its training courses twice a year for four days at a stretch, at a cost of £2000.
This all helps explain why Castle’s repair bill for the crashed Jag will be £30,000. It makes you wonder how the owner persuaded his insurer to pay up rather than give him a lower cash settlement and write off the car. That they did so is thanks to JLR’s total loss avoidance scheme that grants approved repairers access to discounted parts. By taking advantage of it for the Jag’s repair, Castle’s estimate fell £2000 short of the insurer’s write-off threshold.
“The scheme saves money and ensures the repair is done by the book,” says Brian. “From Jaguar’s perspective, it ensures a customer doesn’t take the cash settlement and buy a different brand. It also means that this Jag has avoided being bought by Fred in a shed at a salvage auction and patched up.”
Despite their reputation for stinginess, Brian says an increasing number of insurers are beginning to consider manufacturer-approved bodyshops such as his: “Manufacturer-branded insurance schemes already use repair shops such as ours, but we’re noticing general insurers following as they become more aware of their duty of care to customers. As cars become a lot more sophisticated beneath their skin, it’s the right thing to do.”
Know your repair rights
Under the terms of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you have the right to have your car repaired by a bodyshop of your choice. Check it is properly qualified to do the work and, especially if yours is a new or premium car, and that it will use genuine new rather than recycled parts. However, to control their costs, insurers encourage customers to use their approved bodyshops with which they negotiate tough deals. Many of these repairers are excellent but few would claim to be experts on every car. Here is how insurers may discourage you from using your own repairer:
Threatening to increase your excess by as much as 100%, although consumer rights experts such as Motor Claim Guru can help you challenge this.
Withdrawing the provision of a courtesy car.
Limiting their contribution to the repair cost to what their approved repairer would have charged.
Insisting on more detailed evidence of the crash.
Insisting on multiple repair estimates, although by law only one is required.