Mercedes-Benz senior manager of corporate communications David McCarthy.
Mercedes-Benz senior manager of corporate communications David McCarthy.

Car insurers playing 'Russian roulette' with safety repairs

CAR insurance companies using non-genuine parts and unapproved repairers have blood on their hands.

Mercedes-Benz shot a broadside at the motoring insurance industry, saying an "overwhelming majority" are fitting parts to cars that are non-genuine or counterfeit - putting the bottom line before lives.

"When you fit non-genuine parts in an environment that is not qualified or trained to fit those parts you are playing Russian roulette," said Mercedes' senior manager of corporate communications David McCarthy.

"The use of non-genuine parts and the way they are fitted is the greatest threat to road safety and road trauma that we as a community face.

"All they are interested in are repairing a car to look good. They are not preparing the car for the next accident."

Mr McCarthy recognised Mercedes-Benz was protecting its own in appealing for genuine parts and repairers to be used, but said his company was doing is best to reduce costs.

"We will not engage in a race to the bottom on safety," he said.

"The insurance companies need to face up to their public responsibilities and wash the blood off their hands."

Post-accident repairs are becoming a gaping hole in the safety of motorists. After a car gets back on the road there is no roadworthy checks or balances.

Complicating matters is the increasing specialist technology within vehicles - which many marques, including Mercedes-Benz, say can only be properly repaired by full trained technicians who have access to the most up-to-date information.

Meanwhile, insurers are under pressure in a highly competitive industry to maintain low premiums.

Repairers therefore sit within a vice, attempting to meet customer timeframe demands while also meeting insurance budget obligations in terms of labour and parts costs.

A Commonwealth Government report in 2012 revealed that vehicle manufacturers are increasingly preventing access to repair information at reasonable cost, which is threatening the ability of independents to offer repair services.

An Insurance Council of Australia submission to the NSW Government during February said there was no systemic issues with safety or quality of repairs. It pointed to a low volume of complaints registered with the Financial Ombudsman Service.

The council would not comment on any of Mercedes-Benz's allegations as individual insurers have different business models for repairs and spare parts.

In a statement, the RACQ said was difficult to be certain a non-genuine part is of the same quality as original equipment replacement, "therefore we encourage repairers and motorists to have an open dialogue about the source of any replacement parts".

Also a vehicle insurer, RACQ said it not support the use of parts that in any way compromise the safety, structural integrity, presentation or utility of the vehicle.

"RACQ Insurance will not use new parallel, new non genuine or recycled non-OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts unless at the request of the policy holder," an RACQ statement said.

Insurance companies in Australia authorise about 2.5 million repairs annually and account for about 76% of revenue in the smash repair industry.

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