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Use of after-market replacement auto parts questioned

I never get involved in the vehicle damage side of an insurance claim. Unlike the value of a personal injury claim, the market value of a used vehicle can be easily verified without the assistance of a lawyer and in this province, ICBC will pay to repair vehicle damage.

I discourage people from paying me to get involved in matters where I can’t make a real difference. Until a couple days ago, I had been bumbling along, thinking that all was fair and right in the world of vehicle damage claims.

I should have known better.

It’s big, big business. And where there’s big bucks at stake, and an opportunity to cut corners and save some of those big bucks, it’s going to happen.

Your bumper is damaged. You take it to an ICBC-approved repair shop. The damage is repaired so that your bumper looks good as new. No dollars come out of your pocket except, perhaps, a deductible amount.

That basic sequence of events sounds fair. What could possibly be the problem? The problem comes from the fact that there’s more to vehicle repair than a shiny paint job. There’s a lot of engineering that goes into vehicle safety.

Your first line of defence in a crash is your bumper.

If your bumper has to be replaced, you’re going to want a bumper with exactly the same engineering as the bumper that rolled off the assembly line.

Until I learned otherwise a couple of days ago, I assumed that this would be the case.

It never occurred to me that there are companies in East Asia that mass produce cheap knockoffs. A cheap knockoff bumper will look the same under a shiny coat of paint as the real McCoy.

It will have the same exterior lines. It will mount in the same place, though sometimes requiring jerry rigging by the auto body mechanic.

What about the thickness of the steel, though? What about the actual quality of the steel? What about other safety characteristics of the first line of defence on your car or truck?

So why would an auto body shop install a cheap knock-off?

With ICBC paying the bill, the auto body shop would always choose the real McCoy, whether new or recycled. Wouldn’t it?

Would it risk your safety by installing an untested knock-off? As the one paying the bills, ICBC has a lot of power.

The way it sets things up, they effectively force auto body shops to use the cheap knock-offs. This is, apparently, nothing new. What’s new is that the use of cheap knock-off bumper parts has very recently been reconsidered by ICBC.

ICBC came to the right decision, which was to prohibit the use of any cheap knock-offs that have not passed the approval of some independent auto parts body called the Certified Auto Parts Association (CAPA).

I guess it must have been determined that doing the right thing would cost too much. ICBC did an about face within a few days and reversed its decision. I pay for collision insurance so my vehicle will be repaired properly.

Insurance is a business, and of course ICBC is entitled to make money. But when that extends to using cheap knockoff parts that might compromise my family’s safety, though, I think they’re crossing the line.

Perhaps a lawyer really can make a difference with vehicle damage claims. Perhaps ICBC can be forced to pay for the right replacement parts. If you have a vehicle damage claim, see what happens if you insist on CAPA-tested replacement bumper parts.

If you get nowhere, consider getting a lawyer involved to push the issue.

Perhaps this is the kind of thing that would work well with a class action lawsuit.

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