Poor Roads and Shortages of New Trucks Boost Repair Business

Vehicles of all descriptions – including trucks and trailers - are suffering damage due to the shocking condition of some roads in South Africa.

Added to that, challenges with sourcing new trucks due to global supply chain shortages and delays at the country’s ports have resulted in transporters having to make their vehicles last longer, with national truck and trailer building company Serco saying it has seen a noticeable increase in repair sales as a result.

Indications are that in many areas the state of roads - especially in country districts - is getting worse rather than being improved. Repairs to potholes and damaged sections of roads are often not done efficiently and soon fall back into disrepair.

In some areas members of the public have taken to repairing roads at their own cost.

Managing director of Serco Charl Coetzee, said his company had extensive repair facilities at its branches in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Gqeberha ."We are seeing a lot of damage to suspensions, tyres and rims, and air bags on heavy vehicles - a large amount of which has been caused by the state of roads in some parts of our country.

“The increasing age of fleets is also contributing towards more maintenance being needed to retain the vehicle integrity and limit costly breakdowns. Delays with new replacement vehicles are however expected to continue this year and into 2023,” said Coetzee.

“With the fall off in business during the COVID-19 pandemic it was our repair division that played a leading role in keeping our heads above water.”

Highlighting an example of a hazardous road, Coetzee said he frequently travelled between Schweizer-Reneke and Wolmaransstad in the North West province. "It's about a 60km trip between the two towns and to be honest there is hardly anything left of the road. One often sees vehicles broken down with drivers spending a lot of their time swerving all over to avoid potholes. The journey now takes about an hour to complete during the day and indications are that very few travellers tackle that section after dark."

Coetzee says because of the bad condition of many roads in the North West and Limpopo provinces it is dangerous for heavy vehicles to travel on them at night thus causing delays in deliveries.

"My personal opinion is that in the interests of the economy as well as motorists generally, South Africa needs a concerted national effort from authorities all over the country to rebuild our road network rather than doing patch-up jobs which often don't last," said Coetzee.  "An efficient road transport network is vital for the prosperity of South Africa - the industry cannot perform at its optimum if so many roads are in a mess."

A spokesperson for a national supermarket chain who asked not to be named said many roads in South Africa, especially those in urban and semi-urban areas, were in a poor condition with potholes being a serious hazard for the group's trucks and trailers.  He said their vehicles also suffered damage from overhanging trees, especially in country areas, on poorly maintained roads.

"We experience damage where our vehicles are unable to avoid potholes while branches from overhanging trees cause damage to windscreens, cabs, fridges, boxes and branding on the side of our big trailers. Our focus is on the safety of our drivers and the current general condition of roads puts our drivers at risk. In some areas in South Africa we specify that our trailers must be fitted with dual tyres to mitigate the risk of blowouts."

In an effort to improve the state of provincial roads, government said in a report recently that it was rolling out a labour intensive road construction and maintenance programme with targets for physical works including resealing, blacktop patching, pothole repairs and maintenance of gravel roads.

Among projects authorities have committed to is the maintenance of about 20 000km of roads in South Africa’s secondary road network by March next year. These are Provincial roads in urgent need of being upgraded to an acceptable state of repair.