A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Friday, 27 October 2017

Hooptedoodle #282 - Bump! - Gotcha!

Generic media picture of a minor accident, to grab reader attention
Well, the bad news is that the Contesse has had a minor accident in her car. The much better news is that no-one was hurt, the accident was not her fault (someone ran into the back of her car at a give-way at a T-junction - unless they reversed into you, it is pretty much a given that if you drive into the back of someone it is your fault), the damage is not very serious (a new rear bumper panel will sort it out, though it is a bit of a shame, considering the vehicle is less than a year old), the car is still driveable and everything should be sorted in a week or two. Things, in short, could be much, much worse; motor accidents can wreck lives in an instant, so we have to be very, very grateful, and it is a useful reminder not to take so many blessings for granted.

We have very few mishaps on the road, I am delighted to say, so we have little opportunity to develop any well-grooved procedures for dealing with this sort of situation. However, we have had the same insurer for 15 years or so now, we are quite happy with them (efficient, and very competitive charges) and we have a good idea of what you do if you have a bump.

The last time I had a vehicle off the road after an accident was two cars and six years ago when someone ran into my pick-up when it was parked (definitely not my fault, I was somewhere else at the time, Your Honour). The procedure was simple enough - I contacted my insurer (the same one as now), they booked the truck into a repair shop, who came and took it away, and lent me a courtesy car - a tiny, bright pink Ford Ka, with "Excelsior Coach Repairs" written on both doors in large black letters. It did the job, though the painted advertising does imply a subtitle: "KEEP AWAY FROM THIS ONE - HE HAS ACCIDENTS". The claim was settled, life carried on.

Generic picture of a courtesy car
This time more people were involved. A lot more. And there are a lot of added-value services laid on - if you expect someone else's insurer to pay for all this, it is tempting to just keep saying yes - why not? Everyone else does.

Interesting. The insurance company were efficient and businesslike, as ever, and provided the Contesse with contact numbers and details of the repair shop and the "car-rental company", who would be in touch. They also encouraged her to upgrade to a larger rental vehicle than the basic courtesy car on offer, which seemed surprising in an age when we are all trying to keep costs (and premiums) down. So she agreed to that, and, as promised, people began to ring up. Within a couple of hours everything was in motion.

The Contesse was not comfortable with the contact from the car-rental people, who asked her a whole pile of questions about the circumstances of the accident which seemed to be out of scope for their part in this deal. It turns out that they are not a car-rental firm at all, they are a credit hire company. They offer delivery to your home, and collection (which is attractive, since we live on the Dark Side of the Moon), they will obtain for you an over-spec vehicle, and the Terms and Conditions, legal small print and lists of fees and penalties run for screens and screens of the email attachments. With alarm bells clanging, she did some research online and found a lot of hostile client reviews - what used to be a minimal extra service provided as part of an insurance claim appears to have become a major scam industry. Apart from the wasted cost contributed by the insurers, the credit-hire firm and the rental vehicle providers all lining each others' pockets (yes, there are commission payments travelling upstream as well, so it was in the insurance company's interest to recommend a vehicle upgrade), details of the parties involved are also sold to the market, so that clients are subsequently beset by phonecalls from so-called lawyers, encouraging them to make further claims for whiplash, post traumatic shock, loss of earnings and that mysterious fungal growth in the lawn. It is, basically, a scam. A scam, moreover, which fits right into that much-loved British ideal of an industry which contributes very little, but generates income for an extra level of parasite. The courtesy car add-on associated with a car repair used to involve maybe two people to set it up, and cost very little. Now it involves about half a dozen people, who inflate costs and pay each other commission, and it just milks the system.

No wonder that:

(a) unemployment levels in this ridiculous, bankrupt nation are lower than you would expect, though our output in goods and genuine services continues to shrivel.

(b) insurance premiums are unnecessarily high, and lawyers are never short of a few bob.

(c) the insurance industry (in which I worked for many years) is so widely despised and mistrusted.

Anyway - the ending. After a fairly short period of consideration, the Contesse called the insurer, and also emailed them, and cancelled the courtesy car. They can stick it up their corporate bottom, though of course she did not tell them this. They were pretty sniffy about it, and not prepared to discuss their business relationship with the "car-rental firm". We have email confirmations, and names of the people she spoke to on the phone, at both the insurance company and the credit hire mob. If some poor chaps turn up with a big, posh rental car for us on Wednesday then we know nothing about it, and they may take it away. They can hardly charge for a service they haven't provided. We shall cope with the vehicles we already have - my wife can use my car for a few days, I'll use my van, and we'll write off any small inconvenience against the money we have saved everyone, and the illusion of a tiny victory against a dodgy system.

Watch out for insurance claim add-ons. I cannot believe this is a uniquely British problem, though we seem to have a remarkable talent for creating money-making scams of this type.


  1. Its been a while since someone bumped into me (decades actually TG) but this has given me an idea. There may be some merit in getting big bright magnetic signs saying "Courtesy Car" to stick on my car before making the trek to the city.

    1. I like your thinking, professor. It reminds me a bit of the reasoning which led me to buy my ancient Land Rover, circa 2000. I wanted a vehicle that would get me to the station every day, regardless of the weather or the road conditions, and which I could leave in the car park overnight without worrying about someone stealing it. It was such a filthy wreck that other car park users kept well away from it. Nowadays I use the corollary (no that's not a model of Toyota); I try to find a nice, expensive new car to park next to, side-by-side, because it seems a decent bet that the owner will open his doors carefully...

      Yes - all right - weak logic....

  2. Well done for taking a stand when you could manage without a hire car. I have had issues in the past where repairers have tried to fob me off with crap cars in place of my not-crap car. A few years back a chap from one such company turned up in a Nissan Micra and proudly announced it was my courtesy car. I pointed to my VW Touran and suggested the Micra was perhaps a wee but smaller. The following day the owner of the bodyshop turned up and lent me his Mercedes C200...

    1. My chief recollection of said pink Ka is that it was about the same height as the wheels of the lorries on the Edinburgh bypass, which was a major culture shock after a Mitsu L200 Warrior - otherwise it was fine - certainly there was little temptation to go joyriding in it.

      My weirdest experience of a bodyshop was when I had some damage to a company car (in the days when I had an employer...), and someone at the repairer's works borrowed it for a Sunday to shift garden waste to the public tip. They'd have got away with it if they'd cleaned up and remembered to put the mats back in. That was a strange period - there was a lot of trouble a couple of years later because some guy at our fleet management dept and the repair shop owner were arranging to have damaged cars written off, then switching the chassis numbers and doing them up for re-sale, for personal gain. I have to tell you, boys and girls, that they went to prison - so there you have it.

      Crime doesn't pay. Unless you are friendly with the government. Or you are the government.

    2. I recall there was a similar scam being worked by an insurance claims assessor and a scrap dealer in Suffolk in the late 1980s. I forget the name of the Norwich-based insurer...

  3. Ah! The penny drops. We had a similar experience in the Summer when someone rear-ended my beloved's Fiesta. She didn't understand why the insurance company were asking her for credit card details - and neither did I despite me taking over in a manly* 'Leave it to me. I'll sort it out' way. I'll claim I was too knackered to catch what was going on. (or womanly, or transgenderedly, or non-binary otherly, or even wardrobely)

    We had a nice time in the new Toyota Auris hybrid with all the latest mod cons whilst it took an inordinate amount of time to replace the bumper panel. It's equivalence as a car to the Fiesta was limited to the fact it was also white.

    Now instead of an admiral's hat, when I think of this insurer I'll be picturing a Stetson.

    1. Morning Chris - the continuing, wild growth in insurance claims is partly driven by public greed and ambulance chasers, but also by the insurers themselves, it seems.

      A friend of mine accepted an upgraded rental car after an accident last year - a very hefty BMW was delivered, much more prestigious than anything he had agreed to, and after a day of this he phoned and asked them to take it away - there were so many penalty clauses in the documentation that he didn't want the thing sitting outside his house. There was a stand-up fight with the car-rental people about whether he could terminate the hire prematurely, and collection was delayed for a couple of days, during which, he later learned, the bill was still running. He took the vehicle back himself, in something close to desperation, and was forced to stand and wait while every single scratch and chip was debated. Discussions ended with very frayed tempers - lots of finger pointing; when he phoned his insurer to complain, they apologised, but nothing was done about it. Business as usual, I guess.

      There is always the chance, of course, that your no-fault accident is not decided entirely your favour. The other party's insurer might agree to pay the claim for damage, but not for the gratuitous limo - all results are possible. To the hire credit company, only one result is possible - they get paid, and the small print contains some pretty hairy penalties for late settlement. The £80 home delivery charge won't look too clever if you have to pay it yourself. There are a great many cases of the legal pursuit of disappointed claimants, who have had to settle their own bills - a quick look online will turn up a great many examples.

      This is all self-perpetuating - the more people feel they are being overcharged for insurance, the more they will tend to claim for when the opportunity arises - and, of course, there is another industry cold-calling them to do exactly that. This is a dirty business, I'm afraid, and it attracts some very dirty people. And the cost is met by - that's right - the policyholder. You and me, brother.

  4. Another depressing tale from the twilight world of insurance...

    A neighbour of mine owns a timber company - they have a sawmill site (not here) which has some very large vehicles and equipment, handling logs and big loads of cut timber. Not long ago, one of his regular customers visited his site, and parked a van in the wrong area. Thus he was asked to move, since he was obstructing operations and there is a safe area for parking elsewhere. The customer refused to move, since he was finishing his packed lunch. When he did move, his vehicle clipped a mobile hoist and caused some mutual damage. Details were exchanged, and the matter passed to the respective insurers. Three weeks later, the timber company were notified that the claim against them now included some very heavy damages for whiplash injury sustained by one of the passengers - this was a completely new development, the speed of impact was very low and no mention had been made previously of any injury.

    Largely by good fortune, my neighbour actually has CCTV evidence of what really happened, and his insurer is now contesting the claim. In the meantime, he is in the weird situation of having to deal with this customer in the normal manner - neither of them is allowed to mention that there is a (blatantly fraudulent) claim in process. He says the most annoying thing is the implication that there is nothing personal in this, and that insurance companies are there to make this kind of pay-out.