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Write-offs being sold to unsuspecting used-vehicle buyers

Vehicle repair association wants insurers to give consumers access to the vehicle write-off register.
Having begun its ‘second life’ as a result of nefarious activity, a rebuilt write-off will invariably be dangerous to drive. Image: Shutterstock

Unsuspecting used vehicle buyers are purchasing cars without knowing they have been previously written off because the registration code of the vehicle – possibly through fraud, bribery and corruption – has not been amended to reflect this.

Not only does this lead to consumers purchasing a used vehicle at an inflated price but these rebuilt vehicles are often unroadworthy and dangerous to drive and require the new owners to spend a significant amount of money to get them into a safe and roadworthy condition.

This has resulted in the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (Sambra), an association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), appealing to the SA Insurance Association (Saia) to allow public access to the vehicle salvage database to allow consumers to check if a vehicle has been written off before concluding a transaction.

Saia has declined this request.

Inspection reports highlight the dangers

Sambra has provided Moneyweb with inspection reports and photographs of two vehicles that were previously written off, subsequently poorly repaired and then sold to unsuspecting consumers.

An Audi Q5 that was written off in Cape Town in February 2019 was sold on auction as a Code 2 (‘second hand vehicle’) instead of Code 3 (‘written off, rebuilt vehicle’). It was then poorly repaired and ended up at a Randburg dealership, where it was sold.

An assessor inspection report listed 15 specific problems that would cost R120 659 (excluding Vat) to rectify.

The problems ranged from both chassis legs being bent and still visibly distorted to the front X-member that holds the front engine mount being missing.

“The mere fact the front main X-member was not refitted is very dangerous and makes this vehicle unsafe to drive,” according to the report. “The engine is leaning forward into the front radiators.”

The R378k purchase with ’35 serious faults’

The other example involves East London-based Thabiso Mahamba, who purchased a second hand Ford Ranger from a Gauteng dealer for R378 000 in August 2020 without knowing it had previously been written off and deemed uneconomical to repair.

An inspection report lists 35 serious faults, including hydraulic brake lines being secured with cable ties, multiple structural repair issues on the frame and a front suspension that could break, collapse or shear because of the use of heated second-hand suspension parts.

The report concluded that the vehicle was very unsafe and dangerous to drive.

Read: Manufacturers call for tax changes to boost new vehicle sales

‘Unacceptable’

Sambra national director Richard Green said these are perfect examples of why Sambra is urging insurers to release a write-off register which can protect unsuspecting buyers.

“The lack of information available to potential buyers in the used vehicle market about previously ‘written off’ vehicles is just unacceptable,” he said.

Green added that access to the write-off register is arguably the only way potential used car buyers can check that previously written-off vehicles have been repaired to the correct standard.

He said Sambra believes a formal, publicly accessible write-off register will minimise the illegal use of vehicle identifiers in the rebirthing of stolen vehicles and in curtailing stolen vehicle parts being used in the repair of damaged vehicles while also helping to eliminate unsafe vehicles for unsuspecting purchasers.

“If there isn’t a market for these cars, the practice will have to slow down,” he said.

Green said the only way for a vehicle that has been written-off to be registered as a Code 2 vehicle rather than Code 3 is through bribery and corruption.

He said a roadworthy certificate is not of any assistance to consumers because “that part of the industry is fraught with fraud”.

Green said it is difficult to know how prevalent this problem is because it “comes up from time to time and then goes away”.

He said Sambra has employed a full-time investigator “to build up a body of evidence”.

‘Significant problem’

TransUnion Africa vice president of auto information solutions Kriben Reddy said that not being able to check if a vehicle has been previously written off is a significant problem because many vehicles are being cloned.

“Consumers could be better empowered and enabled through the access to additional data on a used vehicle. As it stands, consumers’ access to additional information is limited,” he said.

Read:

The answer is still ‘no’ 15 years later

Saia insurance risks GM Pamela Ramagaga said Saia has in the past been requested to make the Saia member vehicle salvage database public and this conversation has been ongoing for more than 15 years.

“However, the same reasons we gave then are still valid today. The Saia vehicle salvage database is for Saia member consumption and has been created to combat crime that the non-life insurance industry is struggling with. It therefore was never created for public utilisation,” she said.

Ramagaga said the database only includes the one-third of vehicles in South Africa that are insured and not the two-thirds of vehicles that are uninsured.

She said Saia does not believe the database is the solution but rather effective policing of vehicles that are bought and repaired after being sold by, by auction houses for example, and that these vehicles reflect the right code in line with the Saia Code of Motor Salvage.

Read: The hows and whys of car insurance

Ramagaga stressed it is not the responsibility of the non-life insurance industry to follow-up on a correctly coded written-off vehicle that has been sold but only to ensure that all legislative process requirements in line with the code have been adhered to by the salvage agent.

Regulatory obligation

She confirmed there is a regulatory obligation on insurance companies to amend a vehicle’s registration on eNatis, for instance, to Code 3 if it is written off or to Code 4 if it is irreparable and must be permanently destroyed.

Ramagaga stressed that insurers will not be involved in the classification/coding of about two-thirds of the vehicles on the road that are uninsured.

She added that there is clear complaints process in the code in cases where there are allegations that any of Saia’s members did not follow the code but are yet to receive any formal complaints or report of such instances.

No ‘specific complaints’ to consumer body

National Consumer Commission (NCC) media liaison officer Phetho Ntaba said the commission has not received any complaints specifically about reconditioned or rebuilt cars.

Ntaba highlighted that Section 25 of the Consumer Protection Act states that a person who offers or agrees to supply, or supplies, any goods that have been reconditioned, rebuilt or remade, and which bear the trademark of the original producer or supplier “must apply a conspicuous notice to those goods stating clearly that they have been reconditioned, rebuilt or remade, as the case may be”.

She added that when it comes to false, misleading or deceptive representations, Section 41 states that in relation to the marketing of any goods or services, the supplier must not, by words or conduct:

  • Directly or indirectly express or imply a false, misleading or deceptive representation concerning a material fact to a consumer;
  • Use exaggeration, innuendo or ambiguity as to a material fact, or fail to disclose a material fact if that failure amounts to a deception; or
  • Fail to correct an apparent misapprehension on the part of a consumer, amounting to a false, misleading or deceptive representation.

“Consumers are encouraged to lodge complaints with the NCC,” she said, adding: “The commission reminds consumers who intend to buy second hand cars to exercise caution and do their research before transacting.”

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You have to rely on your own savvy or take a savvy mechanic with you to the first inspection.

Saw a vehicle for sale in Gezina/Wonderboom the other day. It wasn’t easily noticeable but the 5000km vehicle had no motor plan left and it must have been involved in an accident.

I now don’t trust that area, let alone that dealer.

Some years back while I was shopping for a used car I came across an Audi in a Joburg Hyundai dealership that was clearly visible it was in a major accident. The leather was re-stitched so badly where the side airbags popped. It was 2yo with only 12,500km which in itself was suspect. Guess what, the salesperson showed me that the car has a clean bill of health and motorplan intact as checked and verified by the Audi dealership next door. I could not believe my eyes and what I was hearing. I showed the lady salesperson evidence of the accident and mileage misrepresentation from the leather stitching, body panel misalignment, inconsistent panel gaps, shoddy respray workmanship, faded steering wheel leather, all 4 tyres that were newer than the car pointing to them having been changed proving the mileage has been tweaked. Upon enquiring from Audi the car was last serviced two years prior with 12,000km mileage in Cape Town meaning it has only accumulated 500km in two years. Lots of crooks in this industry.

I bought a car 3 years ago through a dealership in cape town car is being financed, this month i found out by the previous owner that the car was written off 5 years ago, insurance sold the vehicle and was auctioned. Some how i can’t get the supporting details from the prev owner. I’m paying a lot of money for a car that was actually written off. Don’t know what to do further.. Any advice?

By rights the dealer should pay you back in full. Contact the Motor Industry’s Ombusdman, the web site is https://www.miosa.co.za/

Your financing house should also be on your side, get hold of them.

If you don’t get angry enough, nothing will happen.

Poor Pamela thinks she lives in a country where “effective policing” is a real thing.

more like Effective dishonesty at every level!

Saia needs it’s lazy, uncooperative attitude kicked on its selfish behind. Fast! And hard!

The public wonders why there is always so much legislation, but these selfish, uncooperative attitudes on full “professional” display here (and proud of it too!), show exactly why forced legislation is long overdue on this issue.

I thought the same thing – but I also ask the question – Why would SAIA want to be so complacent and uncooperative? I wonder if they something to hide??

To be honest I am not sure what stops us menial IT yobs from creating a separate cloud based database, which should take my team about 4 days to develop, and opening the data to the world.

All it would take is for the insurance companies to give us an API to the write off’s/stolen data.

Good question; ask yourself the older query. Who benefits? There is the answer. Not corporate policy but individuals, possibly even highly placed.

I also ask the question, why should a private organisation open itself up to liability and give you its valuable asset? Is it African entitlement showing up again?

Not to be that person who compares us to the first world but in the US there is a central database where all incidents, even minor, are recorded and reflect on the vehicles record when searched for.

I myself used to buy accident damaged vehicle, repair and resell but with full disclosure and with adequate repairs done. I did this with mild success for about 2 years before throwing the towel after I realized that it was impossible to compete with these unscrupulous dealers like mentioned in the article. One thing I learnt was that all aspects of the value chain are part of the main issue. e.g if I write off my car and it is insured my insurer is meant to de-register the vehicle and sell it for scrap, thus realizing a lose after paying me out. However, what I observed was insurers selling these written off cars to accident damage dealers with the log book and license disc in tact and not de-registering the vehicle, thus fetching a higher price and minimizing their losses, and in turn the deal fetches a higher price and the 2nd hand car salesman fetches a higher price and the consumer gets screwed. It is in the interest of SAIA to not make this database public.

There are so many issues especially as with regards to un-insured vehicles.The above organisations are only involved with insured vehicles when only about 1/3 are insured. We need a system which works whereby if a vehicle is written off it is recorded as such at the licensing department with no option to change it, but I guess corruption is the name of the game. Insurance companies also do not want to insure previously written off vehicles when a code 3 car is unwittingly purchased by one of their clients. I would suggest a full AA report be done before purchasing any 2nd hand car.

The entire car market / insurance market is rigged…. everyone is working hand in hand

The German periodic technical inspection of motor vehicles older than three years works well. Every 24 months, any car in Germany that has been in use for 3 years must undergo an technical inspection by TUV to ensure it is safe and roadworthy. This benefits everyone, and saves lives.

I have always wondered why this is not done in ZA. I have a 10yo car I purchased new and because it has never changed ownership it has never undergone any roadworthy test or check in its 10 year life and almost 200,000km mileage. Surely there are lots of unroadworthy cars on the road, but then again I have seen a vehicle on bricks that passed a roadworthy test without leaving its bricks support stand.

Imagine how many Taxi’s they would have to write off – 75%?, never mind the transport for so many of the poorer people. Unfortunately that would only work if the public transport system would be as efficient as it is in Europe. No chance here. I do wish though that a taxi should have a roadworthy done every 6-12 months as some are so dangerous.

Loads and loads of skelms out there, party draai die speedo ook terug.

I had a vehicle stolen a few months back , it was found by Tracker completely stripped.the insurance company offered me twice what it would have cost to repair stating it is not worth repairing.
Two observations :
1. It is not worth paying a monthly premium by owner because most often these vehicles are found ruined
2. The insurance company is gonna repair the vehicle for probably EVEN LESS THAN HALF the proclaimed cost , sell the vehicle into the used market and cover what they paid me .
I know of an executive in a top insurance company and he does not insure anything because he says it aint worth it , rather takes his chances.

Sure you do bud. Did he tell you this around a braai fire per chance?

The motor industry has to be the most corrupt industry in the country. An acquaintance of mine bought a four year old entry level A class Mercedes from a dealer with 52 000Kms on the odometer.

She however has all her cars services at an independent garage. When she collected her car after the first service she was shocked to discover that the odometer now read over 120 000Kms – what happened was that the mechanic has some very sophisticated diagnostic software that on resetting the service interval check lights takes everything back to where it should be. In this case the “check sum of the digits” did not add up and the car defaulted to the higher reading.

She drove in a fury to the selling dealership and in less than half an hour she had her money back in her account plus the cost of the service AND was allowed to use the vehicle until she replaced it which she did with an identical one, but this time her trusty mechanic did a full inspection before she parted with her cash.

End of comments.

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