Your Car…. Your Choice

October 24, 2003

I have received a great deal of correspondence from consumers and auto shops regarding the insurance companies’ role in choosing an auto body shop to which to bring an automobile.

A number of people have told me that their insurance carriers had required that they bring their automobiles to particular repair shops following an accident. Others have informed me that, without prompting, appraisers had strongly recommended particular shops. In addition, a variety of independent auto service stores have issued similar complaints, claiming that auto insurance carriers were steering consumers away from their stores, only to certain other shops, thus costing them customers.

Such action, it seemed, was in extreme contrast to the free market system we have in place and, in turn, hurt both the consumer and the repair shops. I researched the issue and found that not only has this been a concern for a variety of people across Connecticut, but around the country as well. Officials in Pennsylvania, in fact, went so far as to propose legislation to ensures the Pennsylvania Insurance Department is properly enforcing the laws against appraisers’ selecting auto body shops for consumers.

With this in mind, I contacted the Connecticut Insurance Department and researched our General Statues in order to find out exactly what our state’s regulations were. I found that section 38a-354 strictly prohibits appraisers from requiring that appraisals or repairs to a vehicle be made in a specified facility or repair shop. As a consumer, you have the right to get your vehicle repaired from any repair shop you wish. In short, it’s your car, so it’s your choice.

It should be noted that it is legal for insurance companies to recommend a shop, but only if the policyholder asks for such information. Unsolicited recommendations and especially “steering” is illegal.

Laws are also in place which give the commissioner of the Connecticut Insurance Department the power to investigate any inappropriate activity and issue fines, license suspension, or termination of licenses to any offenders depending on the severity of the violation.
If anybody is currently involved in this type of situation, he or she should contact the Consumer Affairs Division of the Connecticut Insurance Department in writing with all pertinent information. The address is.

State of Connecticut
Insurance Department
Consumer Affairs Division
PO BOX 816
Hartford, CT 06142-0816

Freedom of choice is something I do not take lightly. My top priority in this matter is to protect consumers along with the auto shop owners and workers who provide them with quality service. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to call my office toll-free (800) 842-1421 or visit me at my office hours.