Northern Ireland

Insurance firm Axa 'uses replica car parts'

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Media captionGlyn Hanna said he was asked to use replica parts by Axa

Glyn Hanna runs a busy body repair shop in County Down.

He does a lot of work for insurance companies, fixing cars that have been damaged in crashes.

In August, he said he was contacted by an engineer from Axa Insurance, the biggest of the Northern Ireland insurance companies, about a car that was being repaired as part of a claim.

Mr Hanna said the engineer suggested he fit cheaper replica parts rather than more expensive manufacturer ones.

He said it was an attempt by the company to keep the repair bill down.

"I informed him at the time that the only time I would do that was if I told my customer, their policyholder that I'm doing it."

He said the company did not push the issue and he did not fit the cheaper part.

It happened again in recent weeks, he said, when an Axa engineer called and said the fitting of cheaper parts on a Volkswagen car could cut the bill to the insurance company by almost £1,700.

Mr Hanna told his customer, who opted instead to fit second-hand Volkswagen parts rather than the replica parts.

Mr Hanna is a member of the Northern Ireland Bodyshop Alliance. It represents about 50 independent car repairers who say they want an investigation into the practice of using replica parts.

Insurers are under big pressure to keep the cost of insurance competitive.

The use of copied or 'non-OEM parts' (original equipment manufacture) is one way of doing it, and the potential savings can be substantial.

A replica wing for a Volkswagen Golf costs about £40. A wing made by Volkswagen will set the insurance company back about £136. A Mercedes Benz C Class wing will cost just over £300, a replica around £100.

The independents claim there is a difference in the build quality of replica parts. They claim they are lighter and have a shorter lifespan.

Similar standard

There is a reference to the use of replica parts in Axa's car insurance policy document.

It says: "Parts used may not have been made by your car's manufacturer but will be of a similar standard."

Axa said: "The parts that we use meet exacting EU safety standards and do not compromise the safety or resale value of the vehicle following the repair."

The company confirmed that it would fit replica parts automatically to any car older than three years, unless there was a safety or performance reason not to.

It said non-OEM parts complied with the car manufacturer's specifications and were covered by a lifetime warranty as long as the vehicle was not sold on.

"Axa's priority is to ensure that our customer's vehicles are repaired to a very high standard and that repairs are carried our quickly and efficiently to ensure that our customers are back on the road as soon as possible following a claim," it said.

"We select repairers for our approved network on the basis that they can meet these high standards and provide our business with value for money.

"This is important to enable us to keep our prices for car insurance as low as possible as well as provide a great service.

"We are up front with our customers about this practice and it is included within our policy documents. We don't hide this, nor do we encourage our approved repairers to do so," the company said.

Insurance costs in Northern Ireland are on average 11% higher than the rest of the United Kingdom according to the Office of Fair Trading.

It said that was due to a number of factors, including the fact that NI customers do not shop around; that level of personal injury compensation and legal costs are higher; and that there are more accidents.