Allegations that some auto shops are overbilling ICBC and contributing to the insurer's troubled financial situation are untrue, according to the Automotive Retailers Association.
The claim came from MoveUP, the union representing ICBC estimators, which blames the express repair system introduced by the BC Liberals back in 2001 for sending costs soaring.
The system allows auto shops to write their own estimates and send them to ICBC for approval. If they don't hear back within two hours, the work can get underway.
Though it might be faster, MoveUP vice-president Annette Toth said it has also led to some shops grossly overbilling for repair times.
"The over-inflation of the bills is something estimators see frequently," Toth said.
"It's a real bone of irritation for them because they know the cars shouldn't cost that much to repair. The kind of work being done isn't that expensive."
For the express system to properly function, she said it's important that auto shops' estimates can be verified. But according to MoveUP, there are half as many ICBC estimators employed as there were when it was put in place 16 years ago, even though there are thousands more cars on the road.
"The body shops can be more accountable, and one of the ways that can happen is to have more estimators available," Toth said.
The autobody industry disagrees with those claims, however, calling them a political ploy to argue for more union jobs. Rick Hatswell, COO of Craftsman Collision in North Vancouver, said shops have little power over prices.
"Canada-wide it's the same. It's set from the manufacturer," Hatswell said. "In our experience there is no overbilling."
Craftsman Collision is one of the hundreds of repair shops accredited by ICBC to provide estimates and perform repairs. The Automotive Retailers Association said it's hard to believe any of those shops would risk that accreditation for a little extra money.
"Considering the preferred status they get through their relationship with ICBC, no shop in B.C. would risk losing that status to simply bolster the odd invoice," president Ken McCormick said. "It simply wouldn't happen."
Fortunately, the question of whether overbilling is a problem is expected to be answered through an audit ordered by the provincial government.
The NDP has asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to review how auto body repair is done as officials scramble for a way to fix ICBC's finances and prevent massive insurance premium hikes.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Shannon Paterson