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Toronto mechanic warns big insurer’s sudden change is hurting his small auto shop

A long-time Toronto mechanic says small auto repair shops like his are in trouble if car insurance companies don’t start telling customers they can have repairs done anywhere they want.

Anthony Di Santo, who has owned and operated Florida Garage Ltd. in North York since 1963, said TD car insurance recently removed his business from its list of preferred vendors. That means the major insurer will no longer guarantee any repairs done by the shop.

Di Santo said the company didn’t give any explanation for the move when they sent him a letter about the change in October, and TD also declined to provide any specifics when contacted by CBC Toronto.

“After so many years that we looked after them, we did what we were supposed to do, we never had any problems … It felt very bad,” Di Santo said.

The decision is already having an impact on Di Santo’s business. He said many of his clients now believe the shop did something wrong to spur the removal.

Di Santo said insurers like TD are also telling customers they can’t use his shop.

Drivers in Ontario have a protected right — one monitored by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) — to have their car repaired by whatever mechanic they choose, no matter if the insurer includes them on a guaranteed list or not.

But an FSCO spokesperson confirmed insurers are not required to tell customers about that choice,

Di Santo said he doesn’t think that’s right.

“They’re going to put a lot of good body shops out of business,” he said.

‘Consumer choice is being restricted’

Kevin McNaughton has gone to Florida Garage Ltd. for 15 years until recently, when he asked his insurer, TD, if he could go there for repairs after a minor crash.

He said his representative told him they no longer guaranteed repairs at the shop.

“We’re trusting the insurance company to say that they’re no longer recommended. I take that at face value,” he said.

McNaughton said the representative then told him he had to use a TD auto centre 40 minutes from his home for his repairs.

“I was given every impression that I had no choice … in where I went to have our car fixed,” he said.

But later, unhappy with the service at the new garage, he went back to Di Santo to ask why Florida Garage Ltd. was taken off TD’s list. He was surprised to find out Di Santo didn’t know.

With the whole scenario behind him, McNaughton said he feels misled by his insurer.

“Consumer choice is being restricted,” he said.

“I think people need to speak up and try and get more information because clearly all the information isn’t being given.”

No obligation to highlight choices

TD spokesperson Paolo Pasquini wouldn’t comment on why the company removed Florida Garage Ltd. from its certified list, but told CBC Toronto in an email statement TD does: “routinely review and make changes to our preferred network of repair shops based on a number of industry standards.”

He said TD does have a network of more than 460 independent mechanics across the country where it does guarantee service and repairs, in addition to its own centres. Some insurers offer additional benefits for using a company on their guaranteed list.

Pasquini also wouldn’t comment on whether TD pushes customers to use only its own repair centres.

But even if they do, that’s not wrong, according to Malon Edwards, a senior communications officer with the FSCO.

“Insurers are not required … to notify customers they may use the vendor of their choice.”

Di Santo said he understands companies need to market their product, but he does think all the options should be presented to customers.

“If they’re thinking about doing good things for their insured, they should tell them the truth,” he said.

Instead, he said TD is hurting his company’s reputation and costing it business.

“They’re giving us a bad name that we worked hard to accomplish,” Di Santo said.

He added even if TD won’t, he guarantees his own work, like many other local mechanics.

“If we didn’t guarantee the work and do proper work, I wouldn’t have been here for 53 years,” he said.

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