Trading Stories: Uncovering the secrets of Cork cars

Trading Stories: Uncovering the secrets of Cork cars
George C. Ballard Motor Assessors Ltd., Cork.George Ballard, managing director, and his sons Stephen (left) and Keith. Picture: Denis Minihane.

George Ballard and his sons, Keith and Stephen, run George C Ballard Car Assessors in Montenotte and are never too far from a car whether it's for work or for play.

Keith tells us how he got into the family business, why having family close by is so useful, and the big changes he has seen over the years.

How did the business start?

My father started in in 1988. His office was in his bedroom, but, thankfully, we've grown since then. Stephen started here 19 years ago, and I started here 15 years ago. We all took the same steps. Originally he was a mechanic, and this was a natural step. You go from being an apprentice mechanic to a qualified mechanic to an assessor. We're all qualified.

Did you always think you would follow into your dad's business?

From a very young age, I was absolutely mad into cars. From five-years-old, I could name every make and model of car that drove past me. 

You always grow up with your father as a bit of a hero to you, and you hope that you can follow him. Me and Stephen did, and we've both learned quite a lot from him. We're all mad into cars. Even in our hobbies. 

I build and repair rally cars in my spare time. None of us are ever too far away from an engine or a spanner. We get on like a house on fire. 

It helps to have each other around when there is a case you're not sure about. The three of us can sit down around the table and put out all of our ideas and be straight with each other. We can trust each other, and we all have to look after each other.

What kind of services do you provide?

Our main service is crash investigations, mainly for private individuals. We help people establish the facts especially when they are not being treated properly with insurance. 

We also do forensic fire investigations, and we do pre-purchase investigations. Your general Joe Soap who doesn't know much about cars would come to us, and we'd check out a car to see if it's been crashed before or if there are any problems that need to be dealt with, and we'll deal with the seller to get the work done. 

Information on all the work we do is at our website - carinspection.ie

How does car crash assessing work?

In your inspection you have to take into account the angles of impact, the forces of impact and discern where the liability lies. People will give us their sides of the story, and we listen to that, but we have to take the car's word for it. 

The car is the silent witness that speaks volumes. People can give us the tall tale, but it's tiny things that will tell you the real story. A rear impact is straightforward enough, but you could have a head on collision with a lot of different little details. 

You have to go in deep and build up your investigation. Then we got to court as professional witnesses. Our job is to report the facts to the solicitors or the individuals, but when we are in court, we are there to assist the court. We set out the real facts to assist them, whatever the facts are.

George C. Ballard Motor Assessors Ltd., Cork.George Ballard, managing director, and his sons Stephen (left) and Keith. Picture: Denis Minihane.
George C. Ballard Motor Assessors Ltd., Cork.George Ballard, managing director, and his sons Stephen (left) and Keith. Picture: Denis Minihane.

We all hear a lot about fraudulent insurance claims. Do you see a lot of that?

Certainly, there is fraudulent claims out there. There are people setting up accidents. But there is genuine people there too. Small crashes can seem like they aren't bad, but they can do a lot of damage. Me and Stephen went to a conference in the UK recently, where they did some live crashes. 

We took some slow-mo video of it ourselves. What we noticed was that at 5mph - car park speed - a plastic bumper would pop back into shape as if nothing happened, but the car, with the handbrake on, would still be propelled 10 feet. That can do a lot of damage. If a towbar is struck there is no give to it, and the shock can reverberate through the whole car. It was very eye-opening. Small impacts can do a lot of damage.

Has a lot changed over the years?

The structure of cars has changed in how they can absorb the impact. Before you could have someone fatally injured in a 40mph crash, but now they have a much better chance of surviving. 

It's different ways of building them and different materials being used, and new technologies, so that the impact is spread around the whole frame of the car. If you put a small car now up against a big car from 20 years ago, the small car would probably come out a lot better.

What do you see in the future for this business?

The future is looking promising. The way commercial vehicles are tested has change. If a tester isn't happy about the state of a vehicle, it has to go to be repaired, and we have to check it. The vehicle won't pass if we don't approve it. So we are constantly upskilling and attending courses and lectures so that we are ready for anything that comes.

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