News Africa25 May 2020

South Africa:Pressure mounts to release key vehicle history to consumers

25 May 2020

The South African Motorbody Repairers' Association (SAMBRA), an association under the Retail Motor Industry (RMI) umbrella, has requested the South African Insurance Association (SAIA) to allow access to vehicle information, such as the vehicle identification number (VIN), so that consumers can be properly informed prior to making a used-car purchase decision.

SAMBRA is concerned about the lack of information available to the market with regards to the status of second hand vehicles.

Mr Richard Green, SAMBRA national director, says in a statement that, at present, 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 said.

According to Mr Green, insurers routinely ‘write off’ vehicles and these vehicles are sold to auction yards.

He says that while there is nothing wrong with this at face value, the problem emerges when the 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 profit via digital sales platforms or unsuspecting used car traders.

Mr Green said, “This is where the system goes awfully wrong as the second unsuspecting buyers often ends 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 (Permanently Unfit For Use) vehicle and the purchaser has no way of checking the history.”

The other problem facing the industry is if the cars are not repaired and sold on, they can be bought by hijacking syndicates.

“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 number 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,” said Mr Green.

He says that the vehicle information is routinely forwarded to SAIA by all insurance companies, yet SAMBRA's request to SAIA has been denied to date.


SAMBRA believes 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. “Practically, if there is not a market for these cars, the practice will have to slow down,” he said.

“Access to the write-off register is the only way one can check 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,” Mr Green added.

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