SAMBRA National Chairman, Charles Canning
SAMBRA National Chairman, Charles Canning

The South African Motor Body Repairers Association (SAMBRA), a constituent association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), has applauded a milestone Gauteng Regional Court judgement in January finding in favour of a consumer who unsuspectingly bought a previously ‘written off” car.

The court ruled that in aid of the preservation of the consumer’s right to be informed of the true condition of the vehicle, the dealer in that instance, should refund the consumer the full outstanding financed value of the vehicle plus interest even though the selling dealer was unaware of the fact that the vehicle it had sold, was previously “written-off”.

SAMBRA National Chairman, Charles Canning says SAMBRA has been actively lobbying the South African Insurance Association (SAIA) for a number of years now for the public release of a vehicle salvage database (VSD) that will inform all prospective buyers of used motor vehicles, whether they are private individuals or user car dealers, of the status of the vehicle. “This will ensure that the buyers of used vehicles have access to, and will be fully aware of, the condition and status of the vehicle. It will prevent situations such as that which the Gauteng Regional Court has had to rule on and ensure that consumers are fully aware of the condition and safety of the vehicles that they buy,” says Canning.

Canning explains that an accident-damaged vehicle is “written-off” by an insurer if the vehicle is deemed ‘uneconomical to repair’, or differently put, the costs associated with the restoration of the vehicle to its original, safe condition, exceed a certain percentage of the value of the vehicle.

“When this happens, the vehicle should be re-coded on the National Traffic Information System (NaTIS) as a Code 3 vehicle, which will inform any future or prospective buyers of the damaged or salvaged vehicle, that will require extensive expenses to restore”. He says “typically, insurers dispose of these vehicles at auctions where they are then bought and repaired, often to sub-standard specification, by unscrupulous repairers, and subsequently sold onto unsuspecting consumers”.

The car in this ruling for example, was sold online, and even though it was available on the date of sale, it was not subjected to any detailed inspection by any of the parties to the sale and the plaintiff relied upon the disclosures made on behalf of the defendant and accepted the Multi Point Check report on the face value of it. The plaintiff accepted that the report would have disclosed any major flaws in respect of the vehicle. As it turned out the vehicle was found to have a damaged chassis and not to be mechanically sound.

“Having had no joy with the dealer he purchased the vehicle from, the consumer then approached the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (“the Ombudsman”) and filed a complaint but was told that MIOSA could not resolve his complaint either,” says Canning. As a last resort he approached SAMBRA who provided him with an assessment from an independent specialist assessor, who found twenty defects on the vehicle.  During the course of his inspection it was established the vehicle was, prior to the sale to the plaintiff, involved in a major accident; to the extent that it was written-off, stocked at a salvage company – and sold at an auction and “put back in the market”.

The most serious defects were a defective right front CV joint; part of the chassis leg that was still bent and the right front drive shaft slowly disintegrating. The assessor confirmed the casual observer would not have seen these major defects as they were not visible to the naked eye. This evidence was presented in court.

Canning says SAIA has agreed that a vehicle salvage database will be published towards the end of the first quarter of 2023. SAMBRA welcomes this undertaking by SAIA as it will ensure that unsuspecting buyers of vehicles, can obtain information about the status of the vehicle they intend buying, and not end up with the proverbial “lemon”.

The National Automobile Dealers’ Association (NADA), also a proud constituent association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), is also strongly in support of the publication of a vehicle salvage database, as it will aid accredited motor vehicle dealers in ensuring that they trade-in vehicles of good quality that are not only safe for operation, but also capable of retaining value.

“This will go a long way towards promoting consumers’ right to be informed of the status and the quality of the previously owned vehicles that they purchase,” says Canning.

Jakkie Olivier, CEO of the RMI concludes, “South Africa is suffering from one of the highest road death rates in the world. Many of these tragic deaths are caused by unroadworthy or poorly repaired vehicles.  We support publication of the VSD list so that there is finally transparency and owners and drivers of vehicles will be able to establish the roadworthiness of their newly acquired vehicles and take the necessary precautionary steps in ensuring that the vehicle they operate, is safe. We do however need to caution that even with the publication of the VSD, we will only be covering about 30% of the insured car parc so consumers are still urged to exercise caution and get an independent assessment wherever possible.”