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Aggressive auto glass-repair companies target your wallet

By Posted : 11/16/2010

Broken windshieldSharp competition among auto glass companies has some technicians setting up booths at gas stations and car washes and even going door to door to drum up business.

"There's nothing wrong with soliciting business," says Robert Passmore, senior director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America (PCIAA). "But some of these folks are crossing the line."

Amid the honest go-getter technicians lurk a few swindlers. Know the business you're dealing with before agreeing to any repairs or replacement, and don't let yourself be bullied by overly aggressive sales people.

"Windshield scams have been around for years, and the cons tend to be similar from one year to the next," says James Quiggle, spokesman of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

PCIAA's member insurance companies anecdotally report rising numbers of auto glass claims in the last couple of years, Passmore says. Some observers speculate fraudulent activity might be behind some of the growth.

Aggressive sales techniques aren't criminal, but swindlers take things a step further. They lie to car insurance companies about the extent of the damage. Or, they bill insurers for more extensive repairs than were actually completed.

Even worse, some crooks use insurance information to bill for multiple windshield replacements over time without you knowing.

"Con artists tend to be small independent operators who come and go quickly," Quiggle says. "There's not one large organization, so tracking them down is difficult."

How auto glass scams hurt consumers

Recent National Insurance Crime Bureau figures suggest auto glass fraud is skyrocketing. In the first half of 2010, insurance companies referred 1,498 questionable auto glass claims to the bureau ��� more than five times the 239 questionable claims referred in the first half of 2009.

However, Craig Fairfield, an NICB supervisory special agent in Spokane, Wash., says the large percentage increase could be due to something as simple as one or two insurance companies devoting more attention to the problem.

Auto glass scams hurt consumers in several ways. When auto insurance companies have to pay higher costs due to auto glass scams, car insurance rates rise for consumers.

"Insurance companies are anxious to crack the windshield cons, and consumers who are alert can play a valuable role to keep auto insurance premiums down for everybody," Quiggle says.

Compromised safety is an even bigger concern tied to these scams. The windshield, along with the side windows, must be installed properly for the airbags to deploy correctly.

In a front-end collision, the windshield provides up to 45 percent of the structural integrity of the vehicle cabin and up to 60 percent structural integrity in a rollover, according to the Automotive Glass Replacement Safety Standards Council.

That's why it's critical to choose a reputable auto glass shop to inspect, repair or replace a damaged windshield.

Otherwise, Quiggle says, "you could end up with substandard glass that may not be safe."

Tips to avoid auto glass scams

Follow these tips to avoid becoming a windshield scam victim:

  • Beware of overly aggressive salespeople. Don't let yourself be bullied. "Part of the scam involves intimidation," Quiggle says. "You should be very wary if you have a small nick in the corner of your windshield, and a stranger walks up to you at a gas station and insists you have your entire windshield replaced on the spot."
  • Talk to your insurance agent first. Get a list of recommended service providers for auto glass, Fairfield says.
  • Check things out. Make sure the operator has a fixed address, not just a post office box. Confirm you're not billed for a more expensive product than you received, such as tinted versus regular glass, Quiggle says.
  • Focus on credentials. Look for companies registered with the Automotive Glass Replacement Safety Standards Council. Such companies have committed to install auto glass according to the council's safety standard and participate in an auditing program that verifies they are installing according to the standard.
  • Ask about the product. Ask whether the auto glass company uses original equipment manufacturer glass and adhesives, which meet tougher standards than cheaper aftermarket products.
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