ATF Professional spoke to Tony Simpson, President of the Institute of Automotive Engineer Assessors (IAEI) about the Salvage Code of Practice (CoP) to understand it from an assessor’s perspective with over 30 years experience in the industry.
Why do you think now is the time to talk about the CoP?
From my perspective, in my engineering practice and dealing with consumers, I’ve seen flaws on occasions in the process concerning interpretation and decision making where training issues are evidently required. In my role, I’ve seen an alarming number cases where it would seem that the categorisation decision has been made on factors other than an ethical and moral one in line with the spirit of the CoP as opposed to the actual damage incurred to the vehicle passenger cell and structure.
These decisions on occasions show a poor interpretation of the code, which illustrates the fact that you can’t be complacent, therefore continuous and ongoing training is necessary.
But it’s easy to become complacent, and the fundamental, overall riding consensus factor of the code is to protect to the public, detect and deter insurance fraud and other criminal activities, and to have clear transparency of the vehicle. We need to be ethical in our approach, be very clear and have a full understanding of the construction and architecture of the vehicle and what should and shouldn’t be repaired.
Those assessing vehicles need to first and foremost ask the questions; can this vehicle be repaired safely and understand how the vehicle is constructed along with the potential implication of any future repair.
Does this just apply to assessors, or is this aimed at all parties involved?
All parties. Predominantly, the assessors at the front line look at the damaged vehicle and the methods of the construction of the vehicle. They need to consider what is required to reinstate this vehicle to its pre-accident condition; if the actual frame is damaged to a degree where it needs a new frame or a body shell assembly and what materials are involved in the construction of the vehicle. All of this must be approached methodically when applying that category. It should always be an ethical approach, as opposed to the financial implications of applying that code.
Where an ‘S’ will return a greater salvage value than a ‘B’, this shouldn’t be a consideration – it’s the actual damage sustained to the vehicle, and every case must be judged on its own particular merit.
Do you think the code is too open for interpretation? Does it need to be more specific?
The engineer should be proficient in making his decision based on his technical expertise and judgement. The Engineer expert should make his own categorisation decision and not be influenced by a repairer estimate or the financial implications of such a decision based on his principal’s salvage contractual returns. It’s the actual damage sustained to the vehicle and its structural frame that must be the paramount influencer and the vehicle’s future occupant safety.
The CoP has been in place for several years now, do you think people have become more complacent, therefore interpreting the code how they see it? Could technological advancements be a factor in any misinterpretations of the code?
Technology is a challenge. With image inspections, you are at a disadvantage to the physical inspection, and I think with the pressures placed upon engineering teams to process claims more quickly, that a moment’s lapse of concentration can be made rather than the more thorough investigation into the actual damage to the vehicle. Also, the factors of economics can come into play.
Most major insurers will take the ethical or correct approach. Engineering teams can be influenced by their principles – the instructing party. What we need to see is a more uniformed approach across the whole spectrum of work providers and insurers so that they are getting it right and that a more consistent approach to decision making is adopted.
The AQP exam has set a good quality benchmark standard, and this exam is renewed every five years. It has made a significant improvement to the categorisation of salvage. However, there’s still room for improvement; there’s still a need for training to be done because with today’s technology, predominantly most claims are dealt with on a desktop basis, which does leave the engineering team at a slight disadvantage to the actual physical inspection.
With multiple SRS deployments, and with the resultant and inevitable structural damage implications that predominantly incur in these cases, the vehicle really shouldn’t be returned to the road; it should be categorised as a ‘B’. This is where green parts come into their own, providing a great opportunity. The principal may lose some revenue on an ‘S’ or ‘N’ if you make it a ‘B’ but what you’re generating is a future parts basket with a ‘B’ where you have the opportunity to use these safe, undamaged parts. So the trade-off from the loss of revenue from the ‘B’ category, a gap could be bridged between the revenue stream of an ‘S’ by having stronger returns on a ‘B’ because suddenly you’ve got substantial and significant value in the remaining parts in that vehicle.
But should it be driven by economics? If it’s a CAT B, why shouldn’t it be broken?
If there are components that can be safely reused, there is a sound investment in that category as opposed to putting it in the shredder. The remaining damage passenger cell or structural bodyshell should be crushed inline with the spirit of the Code of Practice and protect the public at large. The sale of any undamaged reusable component being a bonus.
What are your thoughts on regulation and the need for it?
If the insurance industry together with the engineering community and possibly the recycling industry were able to work together more collaboratively, we could all learn from each other. With the AQP, a standard is set; and to endorse this standard, an audit function would provide transparency and uniformity in standardisation for all decision making. An independent and impartial audit function could monitor and provide positive live data and expertise, highlighting any inconsistencies and potential individual training needs.
Are the engineers getting it right? I’ve seen a few examples where there are clearly training issues, and an audit function would identify any necessary potential training requirements, and enhance the uniform standard across the industry, for example, one damaged vehicle should have the same category applied by ten different respected AQP operatives.
The AQP function does need some regulation in regard to an audit function, similar to the BSI who audit the PAS 125 Accident Repair Centres. During that process, any ongoing training needs can be identified and data fed back to the principle.
An argument would be, although ethically and morally correct, it would mean that the process would slow down, which might not please a lot of recyclers as they want a quick turnover of vehicles. What are your thoughts?
This will still be achieved by choosing a random selection of vehicles from a company, therefore endorsing the AQP and the categorisation decisions being made. It will be in place for all stakeholders to identify if training is needed to ensure it can be a right first-time decision.
It’s like an audit or policing function – keeping everyone focused. The code, as it states, is there to protect the public and to stop vehicles going into the fraud or theft chain. This is the overriding importance of the category.
It’s about giving peace of mind to the recycling industry by our commitment to getting this process right. The only answer I can see to endorse this process and to ensure the categorisations are correct is to have an across the board audit function endorsed and supported by both BSI and the ABI and all parties concerned in the code of practice.
Do you think the CoP is deterring fraud?
Yes, if adhered to and as written in the code of practice. The code has come a long way, it’s a well-structured document, but it’s the interpretation.
If a person who applies that code of practice has a strong commercial awareness and engineering expertise and can also see the implications of his decision making when it comes to theft of a vehicle, then the decision must remove the vehicle from the theft chain and any potential decision that could encourage potential future criminal activity.
We have a moral and ethical responsibility. When that engineer is sitting at a desk, they are making a very important decision, and that decision has substantial ramifications and future implications further down the line. It is easy to put a categorisation on a piece of salvage, send the file off and it’s forgotten.
The job of the assessor has become less face to face and more desk-bound. So training is a necessity. Even after 32 years, I am still learning. It is about eliminating the risk of vehicles being poorly repaired and returned onto the roads and the risk of a future theft claim.
You said you are still learning after 32 years as an assessor, do you think that learning has become more rapid after this time, especially with the advancement of technology?
Without a doubt, it’s about understanding the implications of the systems and technologies being adopted by manufacturers, and the ever-changing the vehicle architecture and platforms and their associated repairability. For example, if a vehicle is salvaged and is categorised as an ‘S’, you need to think of a vehicles onward journey and what are the chances of it being repaired safely and appropriately using the correct, safe methods and manufacturers recommendations.
The code is a superb document and an excellent reference point. But the decisions being made can sometimes fall short of the what the code is about. Salvage returns have a significant contribution and influence on premium modelling and as such, have a strong commercial bearing.
If a vehicle which had previously been repaired was to be involved in an accident and the integrity of that repair was being called into question due to both a previous poor categorisation decision and a questionable repair, the vehicle safety could potentially be compromised in a future collision.
We have in place a code of practice which is a precise standard across the UK insurance and salvage Industry, but it’s not a compulsory standard. If it were to be legislated, it would be fantastic. The IAEA provides a robust level of quality training and an outstanding examination syllabus for engineers, and we promote our professionalism and integrity as part of everything we do. We have an AQP exam across the industry that enhances the professionalism of the categorisation of salvage significantly but to compliment that examination and the COP, an audit function would benefit the two, providing confidence back to the industry.
What are your final thoughts?
I would like to see a more uniformed professional and ethical standard across the interpretation and categorisation of motor vehicle salvage. More involvement, more communication, and more engagement from all stakeholders.
To counteract the sign of the times and to counteract the need for the technology and process and the volumes and speed of settlement, we still need to get the categorisations right. An audit function would undoubtedly endorse the integrity and moral principles of the CoP and its operation by clearly demonstrating that the correct interpretations are being made and the correct categories are being applied.
A respected and professional audit standard would benefit all parties and provide confidence in the CoP. By knowing that any anomalies and inconsistencies are addressed when they are identified will provide positive feedback—ultimately proving the highest of standards in upholding the spirit and principles of the CoP.
The criteria are evident in the code; it should be an ethical and moral decision in line with what the code is wishing to achieve. To protect the public, protect the consumer, and it should never be based on any financial implications to accomplish this.
If we are all working together with unity, everything becomes more transparent, and the whole process works more effectively for everybody.