Our Turn: Car repair standards bill benefits consumers

Published: 9/14/2019 7:15:06 AM

For more than two years, a bipartisan group of lawmakers studied how consumers’ cars were repaired following a collision and how the insurance system reimburses the consumer for those repairs, and in the process crafted House Bill 664 to keep drivers in safely repaired vehicles.

Over two-thirds of the New Hampshire House and the entire Senate voted to pass HB 664, a strong coalition of Republicans and Democrats.

When Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed this popular legislation, his appointed insurance commissioner, John Elias, declared himself as the sole protector of consumers – but in so doing ignored the findings of people directly elected to represent you: your state representatives and state senators.

His arguments have been long on insurance lobbyist talking points and very short on reality. Let’s look at the facts.

For 24 months, your local elected officials listened to consumers, independent collision repair experts, car manufacturers, parts companies, the New Hampshire Insurance Department and insurance companies. They found that to be sure your car is properly repaired, safe to operate and, most importantly, returned to “pre-loss condition,” which is guaranteed by most collision policies, repair shops often need to follow the repair recommendations of the auto manufacturers. If they do follow that expert advice, the insurance company needs to cover the cost of that repair procedure. It’s that simple.

Today, when you bring your wrecked car in for repairs, some insurance companies will push for you and your repair shop to ignore certain safe repair procedures. It sounds unbelievable, but one example is companies denying post-repair computer scans that make sure all the complex collision avoidance technology in your car is working properly. That scan is like getting an x-ray after your broken arm has been set to make sure it came together properly. Skipping it may mean that you will get unpredictable and dangerous behavior from those advanced safety features.

Because the bill doesn’t increase body shops’ labor rates, your premiums should not increase. New Hampshire’s auto insurance premiums are low because our independent shops are already so competitive. While threatening that insurance costs will rise if this bill passes, the commissioner forgot to mention that auto premiums written statewide went up a whopping $35 million from 2017 to 2018. That increase had nothing to do with HB 664. He also forgot that his own website points to the rising cost of vehicles and the technology in them as the primary causes for premium increases, not body shop repairs.

Speaking of data, in the two years of work and over a dozen public hearings, we saw specific evidence of insurers ignoring safe repair recommendations from auto manufacturers. Meanwhile, the insurers and the department provided no studies, no evidence and no proof of any negative impact on your policy cost.

The bill explicitly states that body shops can use the same parts, tools and equipment that they do now. The commissioner suggests that only new manufacturer’s parts would be allowed, but this is far from the truth. After-market parts companies and auto parts recyclers supported the “all parts are allowed” amendment, which is part of the bill.

The commissioner expresses concern that the bill adds these rules to the consumer protection statutes, but neglects to mention that his own department lawyer recommended that the language be placed in that section of the law.

Your elected officials heard from hundreds of independent collision repair shops, technicians and auto manufacturers that support HB 664. If you had a wrecked car, who would you turn to for repair advice? Your insurance actuaries or your local body shop and the engineers who built the car?

It takes a two-thirds vote to override a veto. We hope that a two-thirds bipartisan majority will support their local consumers and small businesses and override the governor’s ill-advised veto.

(Ed Butler of Hart’s Location is chair of the House Commerce Committee. Kermit Williams of Wilton is vice chair of the House Commerce Committee. Dan Feltes of Concord is Senate majority leader. Kevin Cavanaugh of Manchester is chair of the Senate Commerce Committee.)

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