The accident that revealed our car repair rights happened right outside our village school, with a crowd of parents looking on. My wife couldn’t have been more mortified: a brief lapse in concentration caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to a third party’s vehicle and our family estate car. No one was hurt but worse was to come. It incurred the wrath of the headmistress, citing the crash in the school newsletter and asking parents to walk their children to school wherever possible.
The irony is, we walk our kids to school nearly every day, come rain or shine. But one of the few times my wife needed to go on elsewhere, the accident happened. I’m glad it did. It shone a spotlight on the confusing car repair rights process that drivers face when dealing with their insurer, and highlighted the number one consumer rule of accident repairs: the policy holder has the right to choose where their car is repaired.
Insurers prefer to use their own approved bodyshops
During all contact with our car insurer, the impression was of one of promptness, professionalism and courtesy. They offered to take care of all arrangements, transport the car to their approved bodyshop and make repairs as swiftly as possible.
The accident repair centre met their rigorous standards, I was told. So I could be confident of having the work carried out to the highest standard and in the shortest timeframe. The car should be fixed and back with me in no time. It all sounded too good to be true.
However, I hadn’t wanted a policy that offered a courtesy car, as my vehicle manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz, could provide a loan car, as well as vehicle breakdown assistance and recovery, provided the car was serviced according to its schedule at a Mercedes dealer. (I’d bought the car with two year’s free servicing included, so it made sense.)
If I hadn’t made that decision, it could have cost me dearly further down the road.
Cars under warranty or leased through manufacturers should be repaired by a manufacturer-approved bodyshop
My insurer was ready and waiting to relay the car to its approved bodyshop. But after speaking with Mercedes-Benz about making courtesy car arrangements, they flagged up an important point. “Is your car under warranty, or purchased through a Mercedes-Benz lease scheme?”
It was only then the penny dropped. Having the car repaired by the insurer’s bodyshop would leave me liable to any rectification work that the vehicle manufacturer deemed necessary upon handing back the car, should the leasing company find fault with the repairs and deem them below the standard of any Mercedes-approved bodyshop.
The rise of personal contract purchase finance schemes
Our car is only our car because of an affordable personal contract purchase (PCP) finance product. It gives us the option to buy the car outright at the end of the three-year period, hand it back or part-exchange it for another car. It’s a hugely popular approach; the majority of new cars are bought on PCPs, which means around 705,000 drivers a year are tied into a PCP.
In our case, that PCP is provided by Mercedes-Benz Finance. And the small print of our contract stipulates that in the event of an accident and subsequent repairs, by not using a Mercedes-approved bodyshop I would be liable for rectification work if I chose to return the car to Mercedes at the end of the finance period, or part-exchange it for another Benz.
Consumer Rights Act says drivers may choose their vehicle repairer
That’s a serious concern. So I contacted my insurer, put it to them that our car was a lease car, and using their bodyshop could leave me in an exposed position. Initially, the insurer stuck to its message: that its bodyshop was only approved because it met the insurer’s stringent standards, and the repairs would be to the highest possible standard.
After digging in my heels, citing the lease agreement, they went away to “look into the matter.” The answer was “that’s no problem at all, sir”. Of course it wasn’t. The law states as much. The right to use your own repairer dates back to the Consumer Rights Act, of 1993, superseded by the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Why do insurers want to use their own ‘approved’ repair centres?
Andrew Moody, a former panel beater turned motoring barrister at Retail Motor Law, told The Telegraph that “With a few clever words from a claims handler the customer will be steered into an approved repairer network, where the focus is firmly on maximising profit for the insurer. In some cases asking to go outside the network might trigger a £200 ‘non-approved repairer excess’ fee. Most consumers are not even aware they have a choice in any of this.”
The benefits of using manufacturer-approved accident repairers
The concern for vehicle manufacturers, such as Mercedes, and their finance division is that cars which are not fixed using their network’s approved repairers may not be rebuilt using guidelines laid down by car makers. Those guidelines are designed to return a damaged car to an as-new standard. That’s to ensure that in any subsequent accident, it is as safe as a new car.
BMW says using its approved bodyshops means ‘repair techniques will be used to return your BMW to its original Euro NCAP safety rating.’ Volvo advises owners: “Be certain that your Volvo car is repaired using Volvo’s repair standards.” This, it says: “Provides reassurance that Volvo’s reputation for safety is not compromised.”
Car makers are also concerned about use of non-genuine replacement parts of an inferior quality. Consumers can insist that original, branded parts are used. Ford states: “You can insist that your insurer asks for genuine Ford parts to be fitted. If they want to specify non-genuine parts, we recommend you ask for evidence that they’re of equivalent quality.”
So, next time your car is involved in an accident and needs repairing, carefully consider all your options.