Safety expert says Gastonia body shop made faulty repairs

GASTON COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A Belmont safety consultant says a body shop in Gastonia performed shoddy repair work that could have put a family in danger.

Billy Walkowiak owns Collision Safety Consultants off Wilkinson Blvd. in Belmont. Drivers and companies take their cars to Collision Safety Consultants if they think a body shop may have cut corners. Walkowiak says that's exactly what happened last month to a Gastonia woman.

According to Walkowiak, he was asked to inspect a 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe that had been in a collision before getting body work done at Wellman Motor Sports on W. 8th Ave. in Gastonia. Wellman charged $9217.84 for the work, according to an invoice dated Aug. 27, 2012.

The invoice shows charges for new parts that Walkowiak says weren't installed on the car. Monday, he pointed out visible damage beneath the surface of the vehicle. He said the hood and the fender didn't line up properly, so he knew there was trouble underneath.

"Once you see that, you pretty much know you've got a problem," said Walkowiak. "I would say seven out of ten cars we look at are not repaired properly."

On the Santa Fe, he pointed out that the fender was held onto the vehicle with plumbing parts instead of steel intended for body work. He also pointed out that the left front tire, which was in the collision, was pulling apart and still showed signs of damage even though the invoice said it was repaired.

The car's owner said her car started shaking after she left Wellman Motor Sports. Walkowiak said he wasn't surprised, because he believes several repairs were either skipped or performed with the wrong equipment. He also said the body shop charged the insurance company for new parts but installed after-market parts on the car.

"The whole inside of the wheel well, the inner apron was not replaced. That's $278 that they didn't do," he said.

Walkowiak estimates Wellman Motor Sports billed the insurance company up to $1600 for repairs it didn't make and new parts it never bought.

WBTV could not immediately reach Duke Wellman, the owner of Wellman Motor Sports, when Walkowiak pointed out the potential repair problems Monday. Wellman's son said he was out of town and would not give a way to contact him.  However, when WBTV tried again Tuesday to reach the owner, he sat down to talk.

Wellman said he had not been given the opportunity to see the car after the owner complained. He wants a chance to make things right, if in fact faulty repairs were made.  Wellman also said he outsourced all alignment and body work to another shop because he specializes in mechanical work.  He declined to name the shop that performed the body work in question and said he would take responsibility since his name is on the invoice.

In researching Wellman Motor Sports, WBTV found it has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau with no complaints filed against it.  Calls to other local auto shops also showed Wellman has a good reputation for its repair work.

Walkowiak still thinks Wellman should be held accountable for what he calls faulty repairs.

"Putting peoples' lives at risk to save a few dollars," said Walkowiak. "And left a lady and her small child highly at risk of severe injury or death."

Now the owner of the car may be stuck with the bill for a second round of body work. Meanwhile, Walkowiak has contacted the North Carolina insurance commissioner and the Gaston County district attorney about what he found.

Copyright 2012 WBTV. All rights reserved.