Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

An over-honest lawbreaker?

Owner, MPI at odds over his removed immobilizer unit

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 Eugene Skotniczy had the failing immobilizer removed from his truck, which MPI says was illegal and prompted the insurer to cancel his insurance.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Eugene Skotniczy had the failing immobilizer removed from his truck, which MPI says was illegal and prompted the insurer to cancel his insurance. Photo Store

Eugene Skotniczy says Manitoba Public Insurance is punishing him for his honesty. MPI says he's paying the price for breaking the law.

In 2004, Skotniczy bought a 2002 Silverado truck. When MPI released its 2007 Most At Risk list of vehicles most likely to be stolen, his truck was on it. There were 47,000 vehicles on that first list, with another 50,000 added the next year.

Skotniczy says he was told he needed to have an immobilizer installed. He did, at MPI's expense, and got a $40 deduction on his Autopac as a result. But he says the immobilizer caused his truck to resist starting.

"The first time, I went to Mac's. I went inside to pay. I came out, turned the key and nothing. I went inside and called a friend to come get me."

The problem continued.

"It was intermittent; I never knew if it was going to start. I thought it was electrical."

He had the vehicle towed to Parkside Ford. By the time they examined it, it started without any problem. They couldn't find a problem.

The second time, he says, he had it towed to a CAA-approved garage.

"The vehicle gets there. It sits on the lot for a couple of days. Guess what? It starts."

Skotniczy owns Urban Glasswork, a Transcona-based glazier. The Silverado is a company vehicle. He and his crew share it for various jobs. He travels up north and to northwestern Ontario for work. He needs a vehicle he can rely on, especially in winter.

He and his wife have two young children and he's afraid of the truck stalling when he's with them.

"It's worth maybe three or four thousand dollars," he says of the Silverado. "It's one of those vehicles if you put a scratch on it, it doesn't matter."

He says he was starting to feel stupid, having his truck towed to garages only to have it start when the mechanic took a look at it.

"It's $80 for a tow," he says. "It's not like I get a kick out of seeing a tow truck. I don't have a tow-truck fetish."

The last time it stalled, he took it to a Transcona garage. They said the immobilizer was the problem. With his permission, they removed it. He had the truck towed back to his business lot.

Then Skotniczy contacted MPI and told them what he'd done. He didn't deserve the $40 deduction, he says, and it wasn't honest to keep receiving it.

On May 17, MPI sent him a letter saying his policy was suspended and he no longer had a registration or insurance on the truck.

Skotniczy, who emigrated to Canada from Poland in 1991, says he has always played by the rules.

He and his wife have five vehicles registered under their names. Other than the Silverado, they all have alarm systems he paid to have installed.

"I've never had fraudulent claims on my vehicles. There's never been a break-and-enter report."

That may be, says MPI spokesman Brian Smiley, but he broke the law when he had the immobilizer removed.

"It's in the legislation," he says.

Smiley says of the 200,000 immobilizers installed since the MAR program began, MPI has been told of fewer than one per cent that have had problems.

"Maybe it wasn't installed quite correctly," he says of Skotniczy's immobilizer. "It will wear out and it will need to be replaced. It's no different than your brakes wearing out. You have to replace them."

The immobilizers come with a one-year warranty. MPI's website has a list of approved installers who can also diagnose problems.

Auto thefts have gone down 80 per cent since the immobilizer program began.

But why pull all of the truck owner's insurance because he had the device removed? Why not just refuse to cover him if the vehicle is stolen?

"If the vehicle is stolen and used in the commission of a crime or used to run someone over, then what?" asks Smiley. He says whoever removed the immobilizer also broke the law.

Skotniczy says he's afraid if he has another immobilizer installed, his problems with the vehicle will return.

"They made me get this and my truck stopped working. I tried to be honest about taking it off and now I can't drive my truck at all."

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2013 B1

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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