FA­TAL FLAWS

Sub-stan­dard re­pairs on ve­hi­cles classed as in­sur­ance write-offs cre­ate po­ten­tial death traps, writes STEPHEN OTTLEY

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Special Report -

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.

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