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By Roy Cokayne

Moneyweb: Freelance journalist

Elderly man’s horror purchase fuels demand for transparency on written-off cars

Bredenkamp traded in his Toyota Corolla to a dealer online and purchased a 2021 Suzuki Brezza with mileage of only 28 525km for R230 000.

The association that represents short-term insurers in South Africa has reneged on a commitment to provide consumers with details of vehicles that have been deemed uneconomical (too expensive) to repair and written off by insurance companies.

This has led to the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (Sambra) renewing its call to the South African Insurance Association (Saia) to extend its Vehicle Salvage Database (VSD) to vehicles that have previously been “written off” by insurers. The database was intended to help prevent consumers unknowingly buying written-off vehicles and at inflated prices.

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Sambra highlighted the plight of 84-year-old Bela-Bela pensioner Leon Bredenkamp, who unwittingly bought what looked like a dream car but turned out to be a previously written-off Code 2 vehicle that was “a rolling death trap on wheels” with 49 flaws.

Code 2 refers to used vehicles that have been involved in an accident and deemed uneconomical to repair.

Saia launched the first phase of its free public access VIN-Lookup (vehicle identification number) portal at the end of August 2023 and confirmed that the second phase containing used written-off Code 2 vehicles would most likely be available in December 2023.

The first phase of the VSD only contained salvage records for:

  • Code 3: Rebuilt vehicle;
  • Code 3A: (Use for) Spare parts only; and
  • Code 4: Scrap – permanently demolished.

Database will stop there, ‘education’ rather than transparency

Marcia Modiba, acting national director of Sambra, said Sambra met Saia on 15 April 2024 about the publication of Code 2 vehicles that had been deemed uneconomical to repair.

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“Saia confirmed that, after extensive internal engagements by the relevant Saia committee structures, they have decided that Code 2 vehicle salvage information will not be included in the VIN-Lookup website.

“Saia is of the view that providing general access to Code 2 salvage records would compromise those who buy these vehicles and safely undertake repairs to the manufacturer’s specifications.”

She questioned why Saia is not equally concerned about compromising the safety of the end consumer.

She said Saia has indicated that it is willing to partner with the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) and Sambra “to educate the consumer as to what to do, and what to look for, when buying a used vehicle”.

Moneyweb emailed a list of questions to Saia but has not yet received a response.

Roadworthy certificates only go so far

Richard Green, a former national director of Sambra who several years ago launched the drive for greater transparency for consumers about written-off vehicles, told Moneyweb on Tuesday that anyone buying a second-hand vehicle should simply say to the seller that they want their trusted panel beater to inspect the vehicle prior to signing an offer to purchase.

“If the seller refuses, move on,” he advises.

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Green said the organisations that perform roadworthy tests do not have motor body repair personnel in their employ and would not know what to look for in instances like that of Bredenkamp.

“They have a ‘tick box’ test format and it’s identical each time. They do not place vehicles up on a hoist so that the innards [of the vehicle] can be viewed.”

Bad feeling

Bredenkamp traded in his Toyota Corolla to a dealer online and purchased a 2021 Suzuki Brezza with mileage of only 28 525km for R230 000.

But soon after he got behind the wheel of his new vehicle he realised something felt terribly wrong.

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“I have a mechanical background and could instantly feel there was too much play in the steering and the steering wheel looked off centre,” said Bredenkamp.

“I took it to check the wheel alignment and once the vehicle was hoisted up, I was advised to immediately take it to a motor body repairer to check.”

‘Not safe to drive’

Santie Boshoff, owner of Sambra-accredited repairer BB Autobody Rebuilds in Bela-Bela, said Bredenkamp brought the vehicle into her repair shop in April, six days after purchasing it online.

She said that after completing an initial inspection of the vehicle, they recommended they retain it because it “was not safe to drive”.

Boshoff said they commissioned a full report by a specialist independent forensic inspector, which found the vehicle had been declared a Code 2 insurance write off in 2022 and subsequently handed contractually to a salvage yard.

She said the independent inspection noted 49 concerns with the vehicle, including various substandard repairs and negligence, which were all deliberate attempts to mislead potential buyers.

Vehicle Salvage Database, SA Insurance Association, written-off vehicles

Leon Bredenkamp with the passenger airbag lid of his new vehicle, showing that no airbag was refitted – one of nearly 50 flaws identified by an independent forensic inspector. Image: Sambra

“The reports clearly showed that the safety and performance of the vehicle had been compromised, posing significant risks to occupants and other road users,” said Boshoff.

“These included the complete absence of a safety critical airbag. Equally, the concealment of critical defects and superficial repairs not only disregards consumer safety but also reflects a blatant disregard for ethical business practices.”


The 10 most serious faults detected in the inspection:

  • The vehicle’s bodywork exhibited dullness, uneven panels, and subpar spray work;
  • The entire front chassis, including both left and right chassis legs, exhibited deformation and remained unrepaired;
  • A questionable repair on the right front inner tray was concealed under excessive sealant and poorly finished outer rubberising;
  • All four wheel rims were buckled, with two deemed to be accident-related and left unrepaired;
  • The air conditioner radiator sustained damage but was left unrepaired;
  • The radiator was bent and damaged, without any attempts at repair;
  • Deployment of the passenger airbag module was observed, with the upper dashboard cover poorly repaired and no airbag refitted, indicating deceptive practices;
  • The steering wheel airbag was reglued instead of being replaced, providing further evidence of attempts to deceive without ensuring safety;
  • Improper pulling and chassis repairing techniques during repairs resulted in the tearing of both the front lower A-post panels, exacerbating the structural damage; and
  • Incorrect wheel nuts on the right front wheel and hub posed safety risks during normal driving conditions, with the wheel in danger of soon detaching from the hub.

The report concluded that given the extent of required repairs, which exceeded the vehicle’s retail value, the vehicle was deemed a total loss and unsuitable for road use in its current condition.

It said the vehicle should be immediately reclassified as a Code 3 vehicle, which are vehicles that have been rebuilt.

Among the 49 flaws identified …

All images are supplied by Sambra.

  • Torn A-post pillars
  • Absent passenger airbag
  • Cooling pack still bent
  • Dangerous resealed airbag
  • Kinked right front chassis leg
  • Misaligned right front chassis leg
  • Repaired airbag lid
  • Right front chassis leg bent
  • Right front fender inner
  • Right front inner tray welding
  • Torn A-post pillars
  • Absent passenger airbag

Sambra did not identify the dealer who sold the vehicle to Bredenkamp but confirmed this dealer continues to operate and sell vehicles on the used market in Gauteng and online to unsuspecting buyers.

Too late to reverse transaction despite seven-day cooling-off period

Bredenkamp forwarded the inspection report to the original dealer and requested the reversal of the sale and return of his Corolla because he was still within the prescribed seven-day cooling-off period.

However, the dealer informed Bredenkamp that his original vehicle had been sold and he should return the Suzuki Brezza to them to allow them to fix the faults.

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This was not a feasible option because of the 145km drive to the dealership in Johannesburg in a vehicle that had been declared too dangerous to drive.

Bredenkamp has lodged a complaint with the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (Miosa).

Moneyweb requested comment from the ombud but has not yet received a response.

Not the first time

Modiba said that since Sambra started this drive, it has found a concerning number of vehicles that have been severely damaged in accidents ending up being repaired and returned to the road with a roadworthy certificate.

She added that depending on the outcome of the Miosa complaint, Sambra’s intention is to report the vehicle testing station that provided the roadworthy certificate for Bredenkamp’s new vehicle to Phindile Jonas, the Gauteng provincial manager of vehicle test stations.

However, she acknowledged that vehicle examiners are not trained for in-depth damage assessments and will not do a full qualitative damage assessment. They confine their inspections to roadworthiness items.

“From the NaTIS [National Traffic Information System] document the examiner would also not have been able to tell the code of the vehicle,” she added.

This article was republished from Moneyweb. Read the original here

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