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ICBC writes off customized van after body shops refuse to repair it

Vehicle was broadsided in November, repairs in limbo while van sat in storage.

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After three months in insurance limbo, Jay Shapka finally got an offer from ICBC this week, one he was mulling over on Wednesday.

It’s a cautionary tale about consumer rights and navigating bureaucracy.

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“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Shapka said. “It’s something Kafka could’ve written.”

His ordeal began on a foggy November night during a pizza run in East Vancouver.

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Shapka was driving a 2021 Ford Transit, an all-wheel-drive cargo van he had spent two years converting into a camper so he, his wife and their toddler twins (and his motorcycles) could get away on weekends.

At an intersection another driver smashed into Shapka’s vehicle with enough force to send his heavy van spinning 180 degrees.

“The pizza place on lower Commercial was closed,” he said. “I remember being very upset because I was starving. I drove back up Victoria to my house near Trout Lake and this guy came flying down the hill.”

Visibility was maybe 15 metres and the guy who hit his van was going well over the speed limit, Shapka said.

“He hit me hard and he was in the hospital for multiple days.”

Jay Shapka's customized cargo van with awning set up for camping.
Jay Shapka’s customized cargo van with awning set up for camping. Photo by Jay Shapka /Submitted

The issue wasn’t who’s at fault. The other driver was, 100 per cent.

The issue was Shapka couldn’t find an auto body shop that had the expertise or equipment to work on his customized camper.

“The body shop takes one look at it and says, ‘Oh no, it’s beyond our scope,’ ” he said.

He had contacted more than two dozen body shops.

According to ICBC, when vehicle conversions are done by the owner, it can be difficult to find a shop willing and able to do the repairs or remove modifications due to liability, warranty, lack of necessary skills and other concerns.

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Jay Shapka with his rental car in Vancouver on Monday.
Jay Shapka with his rental car in Vancouver on Monday. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

Since the accident, ICBC supplied the Shapkas with a Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Shapka estimates ICBC has so far spent more than $10,000 on the ride.

“They were burning cash on something we already knew wasn’t working,” he said. “It’s a first-world problem, it’s annoying, but it’s a first-world problem.

“But the problem beyond that is that it looks to me like ICBC was going to keep using this bureaucracy without having an adult step into the room to look at the reality of the situation and make a decision.”

One insurance lawyer Shapka spoke with told him the three most common practices of insurance companies in general are delay, using complex language and substantially underestimating losses incurred by injured parties because the longer a claim can be stretched out the more money the insurer saves.

It makes Shapka wonder what went on before ICBC made their offer just hours after Postmedia News contacted the Crown corporation this week.

“Do they make it difficult enough to jump through the hoops to get to an actual process, where only 30 per cent (of insured drivers) are going to make it to the end of the road and the other 70 per cent give up and roll over and take an economic loss?”

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Lindsay Wilkins, an ICBC spokeswoman, said the corporation’s goal is to get customers’ vehicles repaired and back on the road as quickly as possible.

“We understand Mr. Shapka’s frustration in getting his converted van repaired and we’re doing our best to help him with his claim,” she said. “In consideration of the rare circumstances of his claim, we’ve informed Mr. Shapka that we can provide a total loss settlement for his vehicle.

“Mr. Shapka may also choose to retain his vehicle and the salvage cost will be deducted from his settlement. In that case, the vehicle will have a salvage title.

“If the vehicle is repaired, it can be registered with a rebuilt title.”

Is there any lesson Shapka learned?

“The buck doesn’t stop anywhere, that’s the problem,” he said. “You have to persevere and not be ground down.

“My biggest advice is, don’t get in an accident because it will be a nightmare.”

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