Commentary: The rocketing cost of auto repairs

Commentary: The rocketing cost of auto repairs
CHEK/File photo
A sign showing an area for ICBC claims.

It sounds like a shot….that gut-wrenching noise as a stone travelling like a bullet hits your windshield as you are driving at high speed on the freeway.

Automatically you slow down and start checking: did the rock damage the windshield? Did it pierce the glass itself? And does the damage interfere with your field of vision?

I’ve been driving for 50 years and have gone through half a dozen windshields – mostly on long summer trips up the Alaska Highway.

But the latest happened on the Upper Levels Highway a couple of weeks ago.

It was an annoying double-hit on the lower part of my windshield…..there were two distinct chips. Every time I drove into the sun, the light caught the damage – distracting me.

So, it needed to be repaired. I thought it would be an easy, and relatively cheap, fix. It always had been in the past.

I called the Glass Doctor in North Vancouver….and that was the beginning of an exercise which taught me first hand just why our ICBC rates have skyrocketed!

Replacing the actual windshield was relatively straightforward. BUT almost every newish car – and mine is a 2019 VW GTI – comes with so much technology that it includes a tiny camera embedded behind the windshield itself.

So, the windshield had to come from the factory. No cheaper generic part available. And more problematic, technicians then had to calibrate the windshield camera so the driver safety systems would work.

Now I love the new technology – the parking assistance, lane departure warning systems and blind-spot identification helps immeasurably when driving.

Once the car had the new glass, it was taken to a VW dealer for a four-hour procedure by highly skilled technicians using lasers to get the camera working perfectly.

ICBC covered virtually all of the cost, minus a $200 deductible. But the total was close to $2,000.

The Glass Doctor’s Ron Longoz said for some vehicles, windshield replacement can top $2,500, depending on the model.

Wow. Over the years, most of my other windshields were replaced for a few hundred bucks in an hour or so.

It represents a nearly 600 per cent increase, and Longoz says that has happened mostly in the last couple of years.

Windshields aren’t unique. The cost of other new autobody parts have jumped just as quickly. With cameras and new technology embedded all over the vehicle, the increases are just as steep for replacing many other components.

ICBC spokesperson Joanna Linsangan says vehicle damage is considered a significant cost driver for ICBC – $1.7 billion in the fiscal year, April 1, 2018 – March 31, 2019. It was just $964 million a decade earlier, so it is now close to double.

The average cost to repair or replace a windshield has gone up to $601 on average, as of January 2020, up from $444 in 2011. But newer vehicles typically come with advanced driver assist systems (ADAS).

“It’s important that people understand what parts are being put on their vehicle to ensure they meet the standards set out by the manufacturer around quality, fit, finish and safety,” says Linsangan.

This helps to ensure customer safety. Generally speaking, newer vehicles are more technologically advanced and manufacturers are using more expensive materials compared to older model vehicles.

However, ICBC and partners in the industry have, for example, worked to redesign the glass repair program and since March, encourage windshield repair over replacement, where appropriate.

In many cases, a small crack or chip in a windshield can be repaired instead of replacing the entire windshield. ICBC’s comprehensive coverage for private passenger vehicles allows customers to have their windshield chip repaired for free with no deductible!

But the increased cost of parts over the years is evident in the chart below. For example, the replacement cost of a Mercedes Benz AMG C Class wheel has risen more than 600% since 2002. That impacts repair and replacement costs.

Chart from Clive Jackson showing the cost of auto repairs.

Chart from Clive Jackson showing the cost of auto repairs.

The increase in the price of replacing headlamps has risen astronomically and is another example of the exploding costs.

A new headlamp for a Toyota Camry has gone from $415 to $2101 in the past 17 years. A wheel for a Honda Accord from $262 to $701 in the same period.

Meanwhile, bodily injury claims have a greater impact, costing roughly $3.3 billion in annual claims costs.

Clive Jackson is the former assignment editor at Global BC.

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