Project Bumper findings ‘shocking’

Aviva Canada’s investigation into bodyshops has revealed inflated charges, work not done and parts not repaired being billed for according to CTV W5.

Project Bumper was promoted by a complaint by a Toronto driver who claimed a bodyshop deliberately damaged his vehicle in order to charge his insurance company more money for the repairs. Aviva Canada had suspected a link between inflated costs at bodyshops and rising insurance premiums.

Armed with this information, Aviva decided to investigate what happens behind closed garage doors using hidden cameras and private investigators posing as drivers.

‘We would manufacture damage on these vehicles,’ said Aviva investigator Paul Miller. ‘Whether it be a single vehicle accident or a two car collision, by pushing the cars together so that it would create the impression they had been involved in a motor vehicle accident.’

In order to ensure fairness and accuracy, Aviva hired an experienced independent appraiser and a forensic engineer to thoroughly examine each car. They recorded exactly what needed to be repaired or replaced and estimate how much it should cost.

After the cars were documented, they were towed and staged as accidents on the side of highways. Private investigators posing as drivers then waited for a tow truck to arrive and agreed to have the vehicle taken to whatever auto body shop the tow truck driver recommended.

‘Our main objective was to stay objective in this project,’ said Miller. ‘And put the cars out into the field and let the cameras roll as it were and see what results we ended up with.’

While the vehicles were being worked on in the shops, hidden cameras recorded what happened. After the repairs were completed and the vehicles were picked up, the independent experts fully examined the vehicles.

Aviva investigator Doug Dunstan said what they found was alarming. ‘I was shocked, absolutely shocked,’ said Dunstan. ‘I honestly thought there can’t be that many people out there ripping (insurance) off.’

Aviva said it found a majority of the shops it investigated charged for repairs that weren’t done and parts that weren’t replaced. Other issues included parts invoiced as replaced, but only repaired. It also believes some shops deliberately damaged parts of vehicles in order to charge more for repairs.

The insurance company calculated that the shops, on average, overcharged by 57%. Aviva said if this pattern holds true across the industry, it could mean a potential fraud of $547m a year in Ontario and $2bn a year Canada-wide.

According to Aviva executive Gord Rasbach, insurance companies are partially to blame because they don’t record or report problems with auto bodyshops.

‘It’s the Groundhog effect,’ said Gord. ‘You get up every day and you start all over again dealing with each shop on a claim by claim basis instead of trying to amass all the information.’