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Used car buyers in the dark about the history of their vehicle

Published May 22, 2020


Johannesburg - Richard Green, national director of The South African Motorbody Repairers’ Association (SAMBRA), an association of the Retail Motor Industry (RMI), says he is concerned about the lack of information available to the market with regards to the status of second-hand vehicles.

"Right now, there is no way for a consumer to find out if the second-hand vehicle they are purchasing has been previously written-off. Not only does this have serious legal and cost ramifications, but it talks to the safety of motorists and a growing pool of unroadworthy and perhaps even stolen vehicles on our roads,” he says.

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According to Green, insurers routinely ‘write-off’ vehicles and these vehicles are sold, within a salvage contract, to auction yards. “While there is nothing wrong with this, the problem comes in when these vehicles, still registered as Code 2 (the description for a used car), are sold to any buyer willing to pay the highest price on auction.

"In many cases, these vehicles are bought by dubious repairers and sold back into the system for a good profit via digital sales platforms or unsuspecting used-car traders. This is where the system goes awfully wrong as unsuspecting buyers often end up with a vehicle that has previously been written off by an insurer, deemed uneconomical to repair. It also has not been reclassified as a code 3 vehicle and the purchaser has no way of checking the history.”

A more significant challenge brews

Green says that another, more challenging, hurdle facing the industry and the consumer is if these "written-off" cars are not repaired and sold on, they can be bought by hijacking syndicates. 

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“Most vehicles stolen by professional thieves have a high value and are never recovered, as they’re either stripped for parts and the bodies dumped or re-birthed under new identities. These written-off vehicles provide the perfect foil for this illegal activity. The severely damaged vehicles are bought on auction to obtain code 2 registration documents which are then used to re-register stolen vehicles. The VIN and engine numbers on the stolen or hijacked vehicle are changed to match the “written-off” vehicle's papers and the scrapped licence plates are used on the stolen car. For the unsuspecting buyer it is almost impossible to check the validity of his car papers,” says Green.

It is for these reasons that SAMBRA has requested for the SAIA (South African Insurance Association) to make a vehicle's history available in the form of the VIN number of the vehicle so that consumers can be properly informed prior to making a used car purchase decision. Green says this information is routinely forwarded to SAIA from all insurance companies yet the request to SAIA has been denied to date. 

"We believe a formal, publicly accessible write-off register will minimise the illegal use of vehicle identifiers in the re-birthing of stolen vehicles and in curtailing stolen vehicle parts being used in the repair of damaged vehicles. It will also help eliminate unsafe vehicles for unsuspecting purchasers. 

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“Access to the write-off register is the only way a consumer will be able to check and verify that repairable written-off vehicles don’t contain stolen parts and it is the only way to take severely damaged vehicles off the road permanently.  We need that “write-off’ register as a vehicle remains on the register for the rest of its life, even if it’s repaired or ownership is transferred,” concludes Green.

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