Sub-standard repairs on vehicles classed as insurance write-offs create potential death traps, writes STEPHEN OTTLEY
THEY have blood on their hands. And they’ll soon have more.’’ That is the blunt assessment by smash-repair expert Gerry Raleigh of the insurance companies and politicians he says are allowing dangerous cars on Australian roads.
He is referring to sub-standard repair jobs on vehicles originally classified as insurance write-offs.
Raleigh, a 30-year veteran of the panel-beating industry, is the leading voice in a campaign to stop writeoffs being patched up and resold.
‘‘I’m sick of people bringing cars in here that should not be on the road,’’ Raleigh says.
‘‘They look cosmetically fine, but these repaired cars are actually death traps. I’m absolutely sure people have died because of this.’’
He says there are two types of insurance write-offs and repairers are taking advantage of the difference.
The first category is a statutory write-off, which means the car is considered unable to be repaired. It must be scrapped and cannot ever be re-registered.
The second category — and the problem — is cars classified as ‘‘repairable’’ write-offs. Insurance companies rate them as too expensive to repair, but they have less damage than a statutory write-off.
Raleigh says insurance companies are now trying to cut their financial losses by classifying some statutory write-offs as repairable ones, a move which means unsafe cars are being repaired and put back on the road and, in some cases, used by car thieves to rebirth stolen vehicles.
There are systems in place to try to stop this practice, but Raleigh says they are too easy to bypass.
VicRoads is party to the national Registry of Written-off Vehicles that is meant to be updated whenever a car is declared either a statutory or repairable write-off, but there is no penalty for failing to lodge a report.
Raleigh, who works for smash repair business Kerry Panels, says unsafe write-offs are becoming far too common.
He cites the case of a late-model VW Polo that was twice declared a write-off and twice repaired and put back on the road — and insured by the same company both times.
He also tells of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class that was involved in a rollover accident.
Despite having 11 points of structural damage, it was sold as a repairable write-off at auction because that allowed the car to be sold for an extra $22,000.
Raleigh is calling for the Victorian Government and industry bodies, including VicRoads and the VACC, to step in and remove the repairable write-off category.
Genuine write-offs could then be sold only to accredited wreckers who can sell the parts. But Raleigh says he has had no response to his safety warning. ‘‘The Government have done bugger all about it. VicRoads is in denial,’’ he says.
He is now campaigning to have the office of Roads and Ports Minister Tim Pallas take action.
At the very least he wants the practice of repairable write-offs suspended while an inquiry takes place.
The VACC says it is aware of the practice, but is not supporting Raleigh’s call to outlaw repairable write-offs. Instead, it has its own solution. ‘‘VACC is aware of some repairable write-offs being inadequately repaired by backyard operators and finding their way back on to our roads. This should not be allowed to occur,’’ VACC executive director David Purchase says.
‘‘VACC is also aware some statutory write-offs are being declared repairable write-offs and sold as such. They are then repaired and find their way back on to the roads. This is illegal and should not be allowed to occur.
‘‘Only licensed operators should be permitted to buy vehicles that have been written off.’’
VicRoads says the classification of repairable write-offs is part of the nationally agreed register, but director of road user safety, David Shelton notes ‘‘operation of the scheme is being reviewed by the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council and we will consider any recommendations out of that review’’.
‘‘VicRoads is in regular contact with major insurers and organisations such as VACC about the operation of the register, to improve education and training around vehicle repairs and assessment, and to ensure issues of non-compliance are acted on,’’ Shelton says.
Raleigh admits the issue is not just limited to Victoria— and he is going national to try and resolve it.
He has already won support from the Motor Traders Association in New South Wales.
‘‘The situation Gerry talks about is widespread across Australia,’’ MTA boss James McCall says.
‘‘We believe every written-off vehicle should be a statutory writeoff. If insurance companies are not prepared to write off all vehicles, at the very least they should put it on the registration papers that the car is a repairable write-off.’’
The message Raleigh, VicRoads and McCall have for used car buyers is to have the vehicle thoroughly checked by an accredited smash repairer and run its Vehicle Identification Number through the Registry of Written-off Vehicles. In Victoria you can do that by calling 131 171.