Johannesburg - If you’ve ever been offered a really good deal on a used car, with the only problem being that it has “no papers”, walk away.
Yes, it’s possible to buy a car that’s been written off and rebuild it legally, or re-register a car - but in 99 cases out of 100, says Jeff Osborne of Gumtree South Africa, it’s more trouble than it’s worth - and he should know.
To start with, before you put a cent down on the deal, you’ll need a police clearance certificate to confirm the car’s not stolen - and without the papers, that’s going to take a lot of jumping through official hoops. But it has to be done because, if you buy a car that turns out to be stolen, you lose the car, you lose all the money you’ve paid for it and you are still likely to slapped with a stiff fine for receiving stolen property.
The fact that you didn’t know it was stolen is no defence - it’s your responsibility as the buyer to check.
“If the seller says he’s lost the papers, he can have duplicates issued for a small fee, because his name and address are on them,” says Osborne. “You can’t, for the same reason, so tell him to go and get a set of duplicates and come back to you. If he does, well and good. If he doesn’t, the car probably wasn’t his to sell in the first place.”
If he says he bought the car without papers, he should be able to point you in the direction of the last registered owner, and the same applies: he can get duplicates, you can’t - but in this case you are probably going to have to pay the costs involved.
“It may take some detective work,” says Osborne, “but it’s better than getting on the wrong side of the law.”
Once you’re sure the car’s not ‘hot’, you’ll need to get it weighed (crazy, but it’s the law) and put it through roadworthy so that it can be re-registered in your name.
Building up a car from parts
”This is usually the route you’d follow if you’re restoring a classic, building a kit car or putting a Code 3 vehicle (an insurance wreck) back on the road,” Osborne says. “You’ll need to keep meticulous records, because you’ll have to show receipts for the engine, the chassis, all the other parts and even the labour - which can be a problem when you’ve done it all yourself!”
Registering a kit car built from new parts is much the same, he says, except that you will also need to fill out an RLV application form, produce your South African ID document and an SOA affidavit form stating what parts were used and where you got them - with receipts attached as proof.
Time and money
If you’re fixing up a Code 3 insurance write-off, the process is much the same as for a ‘no papers’ car, but you will also need the de-registration certificate or, at the very least, evidence of why the car was written off in the first place.
“And then you’ll have to get a police clearance certificate, weigh it and roadworthy it as well,” cautions Osborne.
“Expect to stand in a lot of queues and to spend a lot of time and money,” he says. “If you’re buying a rare classic as a restoration project, it can be done, even if the car has been derelict for so long it isn’t in the system anymore.
“But if you’re eyeing a second-hand car without papers because it’s cheap and seems like a bargain - it’s probably going to be major headache, very soon.”