Bamboozled: Auto-body odyssey

Patrick and Vanessa Ryan’s 2009 Toyota Corolla was rear-ended in February. No one was hurt, but the crash was the start of anBB branding epic four-month battle between the Ryans, their insurance company, New Jersey Manufacturers (NJM), and their auto body shop, Mirror Image Auto Body of Rockaway.

Allegations include the use of aftermarket parts, reused broken parts, billing for repairs that weren’t made and, oh yes, additional damage that occurred during the repair process.

Without making jokes about brave knights bearing swords and fighting to the death, Bamboozled can report the battle is over and the Ryans are victorious. (Okay, joke made.)

The day after the accident, the Ryans had their car towed to Mirror Image based on a friend’s recommendation. They reported the accident to NJM.

6210‘‘NJM said the repair would be made with all Toyota parts,’’ Patrick Ryan said.

On Feb. 13, Ryan said he received a call from John Williams, Mirror’s owner, who asked Ryan to come to the shop to sign paperwork so they could start the job. Ryan said he was told by Williams the repairs would be made with Toyota parts, so Ryan signed what he thought was the estimate.

Before the work was completed, Ryan said NJM sent Mirror a check for the total cost of the job: $7,685.20.

Ryan picked up his car on March 12, almost a full month later, and paid his $500 deductible. He examined the car and found several items were not repaired, and the tail light had been replaced with a non-Toyota part.

Additionally, there were new burn marks on the interior fabric of the car from welding, he said.

Mirror agreed to repair the burn marks, Ryan said.

The next day, NJM emailed Ryan the estimate for his review. Ryan said this was a different paper from the one he had signed when he first authorized the work.

NJM confirmed that it had paid for Toyota parts to be used on the car, and Ryan was directed to return to Mirror.

‘‘I compiled a detailed list of outstanding issues with the car and insisted that [the adjuster] from NJM inspect the car again,” Ryan said.

Ryan met the adjuster at Mirror on March 13 and together they went over the car.

‘‘I was surprised that [the adjuster] only seemed to document selected items. When I asked about the broken trunk lock or damaged wheel well — a visible hole in the plastic — she was dismissive,’’ he said.

The adjuster filed a supplemental claim, but Ryan said only two items were entered and others were completely ignored. NJM told Ryan to file a second claim for the additional repairs, which required he pay a second $500 deductible.

Ryan brought the car back to Mirror for repairs on April 1, but when he returned to pick up the car the next day, the job wasn’t complete, and Ryan said the outstanding repair list was extensive. Ryan said he questioned the owner, John Williams, who said he should bring the car back to complete the other items.

Confidence low, Ryan decided to visit another body shop for an inspection of the work. He paid $453 to Pribit Brothers Auto Body in Little Falls on April 8. It was as Ryan expected: repairs to the frame were not within manufacturer specifications, there were non-Toyota parts and other parts were not repaired or poorly repaired.

‘‘The safety & structural integrity of the car is compromised,’’ the report said.

Ryan again called NJM, which sent two adjusters this time.

Ryan said one adjuster told him additional repairs were necessary to return the car to its pre-accident condition.

But even after all this, NJM didn’t take action.


Ryan complained to the Better Business Bureau about his experience, but found little relief. Mirror Image responded to the complaint, writing: ‘‘This was suppose to be temporary since Toyota deliverd (sic) the wrong parts several times and we did not want to inconvience (sic) the customer any longer. He was to return so we can repair the interior damages and have the factory parts installed. Toyota is known to take quite some time in delivering of parts and having the correct one too.’’

Temporary parts? Ryan said he was never told anything about temporary parts.

We called Mirror to get its side of the story. We asked Johnny Williams, the owner’s son, to share with us any paperwork the shop had proving the Ryans were told there would be “temporary” parts put on the car.

‘‘It’s pretty clear why we did what we did,’’ he said, and he referred us back to the BBB statement.

Williams had no further comment.

We contacted NJM, hoping they would do right by their customer. After taking a closer look at the entire case, NJM came through.

It offered to get the car repaired to pre-accident condition at a different shop and at no cost to the Ryans.

Spokesman Eric Stenson said NJM will also cover the cost of a rental car while the repairs are completed. Additionally, NJM will refund the $453 that Ryan paid for the independent estimate, and after it completes negotiations with Mirror’s insurance carrier, NJM will return the Ryans’ second $500 deductible.

‘‘That process is currently under way,’’ Stenson said. ‘‘Even if we are unsuccessful in subrogating the loss for the burn damage to the interior, we will reimburse the deductible the Ryans paid.’’ The Ryans are very pleased with NJM’s pledge to do the right thing.

‘‘I felt in the beginning they really pushed us aside,’’ said Vanessa Ryan. ‘‘I now feel good that they’re finally realizing what we went through and that they’re promising to take care of everything at no cost to us.’’

We are too, and we’ll let you know when the car is repaired — properly — and the refunds are made to the Ryans.