State Study Finds Widespread Fraud in Auto Body Repairs : Consumers: The report, which also blames incompetence for inflated bills, calls for stricter regulation of the business.


A state report released Monday found that auto body repair fraud and incompetence is widespread in California, often resulting in inflated repair charges and shoddy work.

The report, issued by the state Bureau of Automotive Repair, calls for stricter regulation of the 10,000 businesses engaged in auto body repair.

The authors of the report say there is not enough evidence to link poor workmanship to accidents or injuries but that it is logical to assume that at least some poorly repaired vehicles pose safety risks.


“The common-sense argument that we have going is that if cars are not being fixed properly, they are less likely to survive crash No. 2 and the likelihood of personal injury goes way up,” said Allan Wood, program manager for the Bureau of Automotive Repair.

An industry group representing the state’s auto body repair shops said the report’s criticisms are too broad.

“I am not privy to the information the committee is privy to, but if it (fraud) is a problem, it is not a general problem,” said Bill Conway, executive director of the California Auto Body Assn.

Conway said the industry does support reforms, however, including stricter licensing and regulation.

“We would agree that there are problems,” he said.

The report was produced by a 12-member committee with representatives from the insurance and auto body repair industries and law enforcement. The committee reviewed claim data from insurers, surveyed auto body shop operators about their equipment and training, and investigated repairs to 52 cars from Orange County and the Sacramento area randomly selected from insurance company claim files.

Investigators working with the committee found that only 29% of the cars had been properly repaired, and they found evidence of fraud in 40%. Repairs to the remaining 31% were rated fair, poor or questionable.


The report says poor workmanship or fraud adds an average of $866 to the repair bill.

In one case, investigators found that two Sacramento-area auto body shops billed an insurance company for repairs to the frame of the same Toyota Celica GT. The investigation showed that the frame was never damaged and that a fender needed repairs it never got.

In interviews, investigators said it is difficult for consumers to protect themselves from auto body repair fraud because it is often not obvious.

“If the fit or finish looks good to the customer, they don’t see past that,” Wood said. “If the car looks pretty, they don’t look to see if it is properly straightened out or a part not replaced.”

Regarding training and equipment, of the 1,572 auto body shops that responded to the survey, only 15% said they had an employee certified for paint and 12% had an employee certified for metal work by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, a professional association.

Describing the situation as “bleak,” the report found that only 12% of shops surveyed had even one person who had completed the basic collision repair training course offered by the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair.

The survey also found that many auto body repair shops lacked equipment considered essential for proper repairs. Only half of shops had a frame rack or bench, equipment needed to lift and stretch a damaged vehicle back into its original shape.


“That really set me back,” said Dan Povey, a Bureau of Automotive Repair investigator who worked with the committee. “Almost every repair requires you to straighten out the core of the car before hanging new parts on it.”

Povey said that some shops probably subcontract frame work to shops with frame racks but that it is doubtful that all do so.

The report suggests that the legislature consider various reforms, including separate licensing and testing of auto body repair facilities. The report also calls for more training for insurance claims estimators, many of whom are not trained in auto body repair and take the word of technicians as to what work is needed.

Consumer Tips

The Bureau of Automotive Repair offers these suggestions for consumers whose cars need body work.

* Ask for references and check technicians’ qualifications. Are they certified by the National Institute for Automotive Excellence or by the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair?

* Be familiar with the existing damage to your vehicle. Investigators say, for instance, that one common scam is for technicians to merely switch wheel covers’ positions rather than repair the one that is damaged.


* Ask questions. When repairs are completed, ask technicians what they did and have them show you.

* Check the gaps between body panels: Are they equal? Unequal gaps may indicate improper panel alignment or a bent frame.

Source: Bureau of Automotive Repair