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Big blow to used-car buyers in South Africa

The South African Insurance Association (SAIA) has confirmed that it will not include Code 2 vehicle salvage information on its VIN-Lookup website.

The VIN-Lookup website was launched on 1 September 2023 and allows potential buyers of pre-owned vehicles to check whether the particular car they are interested in was written off previously.

At present, however, the website only covers vehicles that have been classified as Code 3 (rebuilt), 3A (spare parts only), and 4 (permanently demolished) by one of the SAIA members – which includes the majority, but not all, of South Africa’s top insurers.

SAIA said that following “extensive internal engagements by the relevant SAIA Committee structures”, it decided that also revealing Code 2 information to the general public would “compromise those who buy these vehicles and safely undertake repairs to the manufacturer’s specifications.”

Consumers pay the price

The South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (Sambra) decried SAIA’s decision to withhold Code 2 data as a loss to the motoring public.

The organisation highlighted a recent case in which having the knowledge of a pre-owned car’s Code 2 status could have saved a buyer lots of money and sleepless nights.

In April, Leon Bredenkamp, an 84-year-old pensioner from Bela Bela, was duped into buying a 2021 Suzuki Vitara Brezza from an online vehicle dealer in Joburg for R230,000 which at first seemed like a bargain but upon second inspection turned out to be a “rolling deathtrap on wheels,” describes Sambra acting national director Marcia Modiba.

After taking delivery of his swanky new ride, which was supposed to take Bredenkamp and his wife on a long-awaited trip to Cape Town, he felt that something was off and within one week took it to an expert to check the wheel alignment, which is where the situation took a turn for the worse.

Leon Bredenkamp with his 2021 Suzuki Vitara Brezza

Once the crossover was hoisted into the air, Bredenkamp was immediately advised to take it to a motor body repairer.

The Brezza soon arrived at the Sambra-accredited BB Autobody Rebuilds in Bela Bela where it was subjected to an independent forensic inspection that noted 49 concerns, including numerous instances of substandard repairs and negligence.

The more serious faults encompassed the front chassis being deformed, torn front lower A-post panels, a bent radiator, missing airbags, and subpar spray work.

The inspector also discovered that the vehicle had indeed been declared a Code 2 insurance write-off in 2022 and handed contractually to a salvage yard, from which it was subsequently bought by an unscrupulous retail dealer who undertook poor repairs to deceive a future buyer that it was a roadworthy vehicle.

The independent report concluded by saying that given the extent of required repairs, which far exceeds the vehicle’s retail value, it was deemed a total loss and unsuitable for road use in its current condition and should be immediately reclassified as a Code 3 vehicle.

Just some of the faults discovered on Bredenkamp’s Suzuki Vitara Brezza

Bredenkamp forwarded the document to the original dealer requesting the reversal of the sale and return of his original Toyota Corolla which he used as a trade-in as he was still within the prescribed seven day cooling-off period.

He was told his original car had already been sold and the dealer insisted he bring the Brezza back to tend to the faults, which wasn’t a feasible option given the dangers of driving 145km from Bela Bela to Joburg in the rickety crossover.

Bredenkamp has since written to the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa informing it of his situation, which contacted the dealer on his behalf in an effort to settle the dispute.

Sambra has also urged the pensioner to seek remedial legal action in order to recover his losses and get the vehicle declared unroadworthy.

While Bredenkamp is busy attempting to minimise damages, the dealer who sold him the deathtrap continues to operate and sell vehicles on the used market in Gauteng and online to unsuspecting buyers.

Leon Bredenkamp holding passenger airbag lid where the airbag was not replaced

In light of Bredenkamp’s unfortunate situation, Sambra contends that releasing the Code 2 information would be invaluable for the end consumer to avoid these types of scams going forward and bring nefarious car traders to justice.

The association notes that a roadworthy certificate isn’t sufficient in modern times to protect consumers as it only confirms if a vehicle in its current form adheres to the law, but doesn’t say whether it was in a previous accident and then repaired.

Sambra has come across countless cases where previously written-off cars were badly repaired and returned to the road with a roadworthy certificate despite being unfit for use.

“Mr. Bredenkamp had no way of checking if the car in question had been previously written off as the South African Insurance Institute Association, which represents all major insurers in South Africa, continue to refuse to publish this register publicly,” said Modiba.

“The bottom line is that once a vehicle has been declared uneconomical to repair by an insurer and ends up at a salvage yard, it is then fair game for anyone and that is where we lose total control.”

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