Can You Trust Your Auto Insurer?

Philippines Flooding
CAROUSEL - Residents and rescuers carry a body which was recovered from the riverbanks in Marikina city, east of Manila, Philippines on Sept. 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
AP Photo/Aaron Favila

Angie Riedel didn't know it when her SUV was rear-ended, but she was about to get blind-sided twice more. First by the auto repair shop, according to inspectors who checked her car later. Then by people she thought she could trust, reports CBS News Correspondent Erin Moriarty.

"We found that it was pretty poorly repaired," said Allen Wood of the California Bureau of Automotive Repair.

Auto body fraud may not surprise you, but this might: California state investigators charge that insurance companies have become a big part of the problem.

Insurers in most states refer policyholders to body shops they have contracts with - known as direct repair shops - promising quality repairs at reasonable prices.

But investigators tell us that often isn't what the customer gets.

"You know this is my insurance company and I trust them," said Angie Riedel.

So when Allstate told her to go to one of their recommended auto repair shops, she picked the Roseville Collision Center.

"They said they would guarantee it for life," Riedel said.

She drove the repaired car for a year, then turned on her local news and learned that Roseville had been charged with fraud and substandard work.

"I thought, oh my gosh," Riedel recalled.

Meanwhile, she contacted the state Bureau of Auto Repair, which found the car's roof and the frame had not been repaired.

"It was left in a condition that it was still not acceptable ... just very substandard," said state inspector Allen Wood.

She called Allstate about the shoddy work on her car and the allegations against the Roseville Collision Center.

"They told me I had to go back to the Collision Center," Riedel said. "Isn't that crazy?"

According to several repair shop owners who asked not to be identified, insurance companies pressure the consumers to go to shops they contract with.

"They tell the customer straight out, Either you take it to one of our shops or we will not send an adjuster out. We refuse to pay for the repairs. These are supervisors that do it. And I'll testify to any court any time about it because it happens all the time," said one shop owner.

Allstate wouldn't talk to us on camera, but an insurance industry representative, Dan Dunmoyer, said that if they didn't send customers to their shops: "The price of auto insurance for comprehensive and collision in America would probably double."

Riedel never did get that car fully repaired. The state investigators bought it for evidence against the repair shop.

"It makes me really angry that I drove around with this for a year with my family in the car," she said.

The Roseville repair shop is still in business but under investigation.

Investigator Alan Wood has one recommendation for consumers - don't feel pressured by insurance companies - go to a repair shop you can trust. In Sacramento California, this is Erin Moriarty for Eye on America.