AAMI

Reporter: Georgia Main

Brad Kremborg has been a panel beater for 20 years. It's a family business and he prides himself on genuine quotes and quality repairs.Fed up of bullying by insurance companies, Brad's turned whistleblower lifting the lid on the tactics insurance companies use to get cars repaired cheaply -- while their profits skyrocket. "Some of the tactics they use is they refuse to authorise work to you in the future, if you don't do what you're told. They just tell policy holders that if they don't do what they're told they will deny the claim", Brad said.

It's called "steering" the customer to the insurers "preferred repairers". The practice is now illegal in much of North America but In Australia, the industry's code of conduct is voluntary. "The inference is if you do work for us the way we tell you, if you do work cheap for us, we will in other ways direct and steer work to you", Brad said.

Lucky is not how AAMI policy holder of 12 years, Dimi Dimopoulos, would describe herself. Being a rating one customer didn't count for much once she made a claim. After crashing her Ford XR8 in a shopping centre car park, Dimi got two repair quotes -- one from Brad at Lustre Panels and another from a Ford dealership. "AAMI chose to have a third quote which I knew nothing about, until they informed me that they were going to go with that particular repairer. They towed my car to him immediately and said work would proceed without our permission", Dimi said.

While AAMI's quote for Dimi's car appeared cheaper, there was damage underneath the bonnet which hadn't been included in the quote. " I had an independent assessor come out -- the proof was there", Dimi said.The independent report said AAMI's estimate wasn't "comprehensive …. or complete".

The damage to Dimi's car was estimated at $12,000. Lucky for Dimi, the Insurance Act allows claims to be disputed in court. According to government submissions, insurance giants are doing their best to have this part of the Act changed. "We did go to court, we did win", Dimi saidFor Kevin, a former AAMI customer, it was a similar story. When he crashed his beloved ute, he handed over all the paperwork the insurance giant requested but they weren't as keen to reveal their quote. "I spoke to AAMI and said listen I wanted to see the quote, they said you don't need to but you need to send your car there. I'm a carpenter by trade and if I supply a quote to somebody and they can check it against another quote to see what kind of workmanship is being done", Kevin said.

Again, the AAMI quote appeared to be the cheapest. "When I got the quote from AAMI there were a couple of things not included, one being the rear spoiler, another one being a hairline fracture through the back of the spoiler and the tub liner wasn't quoted for. So I'm not really sure how you can compare the two quotes", Kevin said.

According to Kevin, when he wouldn't go to AAMI's preferred repairer he was threatened. "I got a call from senior management ,someone in the hierarchy, just to say that my car wouldn't be fixed if I didn't go to their repairer and they didn't understand what my issue was with trying to find out what the quote is because the car isn't a Ferrari. And that's disgusting behaviour especially from senior management", Kevin said.

Kevin went to court -- once again, AAMI settled.We are simply being forced to cut corners and that leads to vehicles going back on our roads that are not safe", said Executive Director of the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce, David Purchase.

"What a lot of the assessors are doing is what is called desktop assessing. They're not even looking at the vehicle they're looking at it on screen", he added.While David points out that many insurance companies are guilty of 'steering'., Suncorp, the company which owns AAMI -- along with IAG -- who own NRMA, control a significant 75% of the car insurance market.

In a statement AAMI said: "...we have found that the vast majority of consumers do not want choice of repairer..."

"We advise them over the phone before they buy a policy, on the website and in our policy documentation that AAMI chooses the repairer and arranges the repair."

"The State Government had made promises that if the Federal Government did not oversee changes to fix these issues, they would implement legislation that would bring change to the industry", Brad said. Brad and the VACC claim their concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Consumer Affairs Minister Tony Robinson declined to comment.

"They now know that if they don't do precisely what's in the Code nothing much is going to happen to them", David said. But this story goes even further than AAMI's $217 million profit. In November, a Today Tonight investigation uncovered just how widespread the dodgy dealings of insurance giants are.

For nine years, Adam Thomas trained accident assessors for NRMA Insurance. When an NRMA assessor checks a repairers quote to fix a third party NRMA accident claim, they offer the driver a cash settlement.But before they do, they scrub out items like paint and sandpaper making 10% back on every cash claim. That's $3 million a year back in their pockets. After speaking out, Adam lost his job and NRMA went into damage control.

Like Adam, Brad knows his business from AAMI is now likely to stop. "One of the requirements of the Code of Conduct is to repair cars to manufacturer and industry standards -- we will not bow under that", Brad said. "In some ways you don't need anti-steering legislation, you need insurance companies to behave themselves and be fair dinkum, to do the right thing", David said.