Garages' Conflict Of Interest?

In the third part of the "Taking Advantage" series, jointly presented by the CBS Evening News and The Early Show, the questionable practice of car repairs by insurance companies is investigated.

On Wednesday, CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reported on customers who were clobbered by a repair shop chain owned by a group of insurance companies – giving some drivers reasons to point out the conflict of interest.

On The Early Show, Ron Pyle, president of the Automotive Service Association (ASA), which has about 12,000 car repair facilities as members, gave some advice on finding a technician after a car collision.

Insurance companies started buying or investing in car repair businesses about three years ago. Pyle says an insurance company owning a car repair facility can result in the customer receiving bad service and inferior replacement parts. Many people in the auto repair industry have complained they are pressured by the insurance companies that own them to keep costs down, and if they don't, they risk losing referred business.

Pyle says car owners have rights when getting their car repaired after a collision, but it applies to routine maintenance repairs too.

The ASA suggests car owners ask insurance companies the following questions when finding a technician after a collision:

  • Do I have to obtain three estimates?

    This is an old practice, but Pyle says you don't have to obtain three estimates. He explains this was a practice, not a requirement, which put the onus on the consumer to get the lowest price.

  • May I choose any repair shop?

    Pyle says the customer can choose a repair shop, and any attempt to direct you to a particular shop should be viewed skeptically. Often, the new car dealer may not have a collision repair shop and car owner will be sent to one with which they have a contract. It's not a requirement that they have one.

  • How can I be sure that you are going to repair my vehicle with quality parts?

    The insurance company is required to disclose any parts used other than OEM car parts. Pyle explains the car owner is supposed to agree if the insurance company says it will use other market parts, rather than have those parts forced on them. In some states, however, there are no regulations that require this.

The Automotive Service Association recommends the following simple and inexpensive preventive checks for car owners to maintain their car:
  • Always consult your owner's manual, but a good rule of thumb is to have the oil filter changed regularly, every 3,000 to 4,000 miles.
  • Have all fluids checked, including brake, power steering, transmission/transaxle, windshield washer solvent and antifreeze. These fluids play a large role in the safety and performance of the vehicle.
  • Check tire inflation. Under-inflated tires can result in a loss of fuel efficiency. This is the least expensive form of preventive and safety maintenance. Tires should be checked once a month.
  • Keep your engine tuned. A fouled spark plug or plugged/restricted fuel injector can reduce fuel efficiency as much as 30 percent.
  • Have the chassis lubricated frequently. This step extends the life of the moving components of the vehicle's suspension system.
  • Check battery cables and posts for corrosion and clean them as needed. The battery fluid should also be checked and filled if it is low, except in the case of maintenance-free batteries.
  • Have the lighting system checked frequently, including headlights, turn signals, and brake and tail lights.
  • Check windshield washer blades for cracks, tears and windshield contact. Replace them approximately once a year or sooner if streaking begins.
  • Inspect engine belts regularly. Worn belts will affect the engine performance. Look for cracks and missing sections or segments.
  • Have the air filtration system checked frequently. The air filter should be checked approximately every other oil change for clogging or damage. This system ensures that the vehicle is performing at its peak condition.
  • Always consult the vehicle owner's manual for individual service schedules as manufacturer maintenance requirements vary greatly.