From whom shall I seek direction?

April 1, 2021
How can and should we negotiate with an insurance claim rep whose reason for denying payment on an operation has nothing to do with facts, documentation and logic?

Recently one of the staff people within the collision business I work for reached out to me and asked, I was hoping for some help on a file. It’s a 2020 Honda CR-V. I was reviewing the supplement with [a claim rep] at [an insurance company] and he said he spoke with his crash guy and he doesn’t feel an alignment check is necessary. I had sent him the Honda ADAS job aid but I’m unsure if he actually took the time to look at it or just called his guy.I was hoping for some guidance on what my next approach should be to get us paid for the alignment check. The vehicle was hit down the right side, and we have the front bumper off and will be into the fender, door and door. Let me know. Thank you.”  

I referred to the Honda Job Aid and it states: 

APPLIES TO: All models with the millimeter wave radar, FCW/LDW camera, multipurpose camera, and blindspot information radar. 


Under WHEN AIMING IS REQUIRED: You must do a wheel alignment after a collision or when the alignment is severely out of specification. 

This vehicle certainly fits into the applicable category that Honda describes regarding the equipment and having been in a collision.   

Probably being less tolerant and understanding, as so many of us are in these turbulent times, my sarcastic first thoughts were to wonder who this eminent ‘crash guy’ was and why we should take his word as the ultimate authority regarding how to properly perform repairs, including on this 2020 Honda.  

Then I took a deep breath and calmed down and started to consider how to approach this issue in a professional and diplomatic manner.  

And I wondered: what happened to dealing with facts, documentation, and logic? How can and should we negotiate with an insurance claim rep whose reason for denying payment on an operation is because he feels an operation isn’t necessary, despite contrary information from the vehicle manufacturer? I don’t blame this claim rep; he is only doing his job as prescribed by the insurance company he is working for. And I understand that on occasion a vehicle manufacturer issues a position statement that may be questioned for accuracy or necessity. But, ultimately, an insurer is not the authority on how to complete a safe and proper repairthat is our job.  

This is not an isolated incident. Such situations have become far too common. As vehicle complexity has increased, many insurers have not provided resources, or direction, to their claims staff to research and understand current technologies including repair procedures and other manufacturer repair information on each repair they encounter. Instead, in too many cases, they are encouraged to use ‘case by case’ basis logic and often they wind up relying on anecdotal information and assumptions.  

Not long ago I was part of a presentation — hosted by the company I work for — on new technology, especially ADAS, for insurance claims audience. While setting up for the next presenter, I asked some reps in the audience how they get repair information. One attendee from a top 10 insurer confessed, “My company won’t give me Alldata.” I asked how he got repair information when he needed it. He responded, “I call your people.” A few others in the audience nodded in agreementWhile I was pleased that they had confidence in our collision repair staff, I was shocked that major insurers would send reps into the field to handle claims without direct access to vehicle manufacturer repair information.  

Another example of what I describe came when another large insurer shared a vehicle scanning statement with shops and others in our industry. That document states, “Position statements are often broad in nature and not specific to a particular year, make, model, type of damage, or even repair scenario. We give consideration to position statements; however, due to their broad and general nature, we consider them on a case-by-case basis, evaluating specific facts, vehicle equipment and damages specific to a particular loss.”  

This shows how that insurer casts doubt on position statements. And they give some guidelines on what to consider when regarding a choice to disregard a position statement. But they are so very broad that they provide no clear and specific data to do so. (What specific facts? What vehicle equipment? What extent and nature of damage?) They have the same approach to virtually all vehicle manufacturer repair communications other than the official repair procedures (position statements, job aids, bulletins, etc.) In conclusion, too often insurers cast doubt on these repair communications and directives, but they don’t necessarily provide the data or criteria as to which ones in which cases should be ignored.  

So…if these vehicle manufacturer communications should be considered to not be at the same level of necessary obedience as the official repair procedures, what does that mean? Some insurers say they’re too “broad and general.” Does that mean they are less credible? Are they written by people other than those who write the official repair procedures? If so, do they have less expertise or authority? I decided to find out. And if I am going to have a reasonable discussion with an insurer, I must have the factsI want to be certain that as a repairer I am getting my repair advice and direction from the proper and best sources.  

The real story 

Since in the example above we were dealing with a 2020 Honda, I reached out to a source within Honda. 

They started by stating that they understand the challenge in getting insurers to respect OEM repair information. It seems to be a constant battle.  

They explained that Honda and Acura body repair procedures and service information are developed by a team in Japan. In fact, my contact stated that they were there [Japan] in 2019 and spent 3 months working alongside them. At that time there were 19 people in the Body and Paint Group that each had their own specialties. The people in this department are not necessarily engineers but follow Honda Engineering Standards when testing procedures. My source stated, “All Service Information is meant to work together to clearly explain the proper repair methods. There is no hierarchy of importance. There are many different individuals that write Job Aids and other documents for American Honda. These are usually individuals in the U.S. with years of industry experience and education. Repair procedures are validated and tested with similar CAD software to that used when the vehicles are designed. In some cases, physical (crash or crush) testing is also done. Some supporting documents such as Job Aids and Service News articles are written just for North America or specifically for the U.S. market. 

My source explained that when they write the procedures in Japan and then translate them into 26 different languages, not everything is as clear as possible.  There are also some documents written here that only apply to the U.S. because of the differences in equipment, facilities and tooling in our country compared to other countries.  

The people who write information other than the official repair procedures are not of any less capability than those writing other technical data for Honda. All documents are reviewed by a technical committee, which many times will include the Japanese staff, and then they must also go through their legal department for compliance as well. 

My source stated, “Some of the Job Aids are simply a clarification of existing service information. Take the Welding and Sectioning Guidelines — all of this information is in Honda’s Body Repair Basics or Service Information, but it is scattered and may be difficult for some technicians to comprehend in that format. By consolidating the information and reorganizing it, it becomes easier to apply. This is an example of a Job Aid written by American Honda. Position Statements are a U.S. product. They are written and published by American Honda. This was done in response to insurance companies saying they would not cover items (like scanning) unless the OEM had a “position statement.” In Japan, technicians and insurers are much more respectful of the OEM procedures. The team in Japan was shocked to hear how insurers in the U.S. twist information and even ignore procedures. They do not have a need for position statements in Japan, because technicians and insurers are all following the service information. 

I found the last two sentences of their quote particularly revealing, as well as disappointing, as an American in the collision repair industry. Why are we in the United States more willing to risk safety and quality for the presumed benefit of reduced cost versus those in Japan?  

My source answered my question about the credibility of the repair information they share with repairers. From what they described, I have increased confidence in documents that may not share the title of “factory repair procedures. And if one were to ask me who I should listen to for expert repair advice  the Honda staff writing Job Aids or the ‘crash guy’ — I think the answer is quite obvious. 

What should a repairer do? 

My advice is to always do the right thing. Repair vehicles properly, no matter what the insurer says or pays. I know that is easier said than done. Yet, in our world of increased vehicle sophistication, liability, and focus on safety, it is hard to argue otherwise. As we saw in the infamous John Eagle Collision caseit was the repairer that wound up with the primary responsibility.  

I reached out to some key people within the insurance company involved in the example I gave in the first paragraph. Thinking in terms of what happened in the John Eagle case, knowing it was their manager who was faced with tough litigious questions with no good answers for himself or his company, I asked this insurer, “If I find myself in front of a judge or jury, such as in the John Eagle case, I don’t think either of us wants me to explain that repair methodology decisions are being made by the [your company’s] claim rep’s crash guy, friend, acquaintance, another shop’s estimator, a dealer’s service advisor, etc.” I believe we will work together in the future to discuss repairs more so in terms of facts and logic and expert advice, primarily from the vehicle manufacturer. 

In other words, let us as auto collision repairers seek the best and most expert advice and information to make our repair methodology decisions. Let us not be swayed by those who wish to convey expertise because they have control over payment. Instead, let us educate them with facts and information from the true experts when they offer poor direction. And no matter their response, do the right thing for the safety and security of your customers. 

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