Buying a used car: Has it been in an accident?

Buying a second-hand car can be an exciting purchase and a good economical decision – as long as there are no unexpected surprises.  When looking for used cars for sale, reliability of that car is at the forefront of most buyers' mind. Meanwhile, to others, the fear of purchasing a vehicle that was previously involved in a serious accident could be that deal breaker.

Cars that have been severely damaged are often repaired and end up back on the road, but the quality of the repair job and the severity of the damage play a huge part in ensuring the safety and roadworthiness of a vehicle. Richard Green, National Director of the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (SAMBRA) says the problem in South Africa is that when looking for used cars for sale, there is no way of checking if that car has been written off previously in an accident. This makes it difficult for consumers to assess if the car they bought is exactly what it claims to be?

Green says that a customer recently bought a two-year-old Nissan into a SAMBRA Repair Shop in Bela Bela. With just 28 267km on the clock the owner had no idea her vehicle had been in an accident previously and had been so poorly repaired that is was structurally unsafe. “The front body bumper absorber, which is a structural and stabilising component in most cars, and this case forms part of the front cradle panel, had been heated or welded together so poorly that the metal strength was compromised causing the panel to start rusting,  showing early signs of metal fatigue. As it forms part of the crumpling zone of a vehicle, it should definitely have been replaced with a new part.” Green says there were so many other serious repair faults on the car too. “Of concern is that the vehicles had a temporary licence which expires on 1 June, a clear indicator that the vehicle had previously been deregistered.  The car should never have carried a Code 2 Registration and for the unsuspecting buyer it is now almost impossible to track the original sellers of used cars.”

A car is deregistered by insurers if it is “written off” following an accident or other major fault.

The consumer in question had no way of checking the history of the car. “Not only does this have serious legal and cost ramifications, but it talks to the safety of motorists and a growing pool of un-roadworthy and perhaps even stolen vehicles on our roads,” says Green.

Currently, the South African Insurance Association (SAIA) has a Vehicle Salvage Data (VSD) system which contains information on vehicles that have been deregistered. Unfortunately, this information is currently not available to the public. According to SAIA it would be unlawful to make the database is made public, and would give criminals access to the entire non-life insurance industry database of scrapped vehicle VINs. This could lead to a dramatic  increase in false financing and insurance of cloned vehicles.

“We appreciate that much of the information contained in the VSD system such as the owner’s ID/company registration number is confidential and should be kept confidential. However, these ‘uneconomical to repair’ cars are still being bought by fraudsters and syndicates on salvage yards with Code 2 papers and are being, in many cases, poorly repaired, and then sold onto dealers or to unsuspecting consumers who have no way of checking the bona fide history of these used cars.  The papers of these same vehicles are also being used to re-register stolen vehicles as bona fide 2nd hand (code 2) vehicles,” explains Green.

TransUnion’s Kriben Reddy states that not being able to check if a vehicle has been previously written off is a significant problem as there are many vehicles being cloned, especially in a consumer-to-consumer environment. “When it comes to used cars for sale, consumers could be better empowered and enabled through the access to additional data on a used vehicle. As it stands consumers access to additional information is limited,” says Reddy.

It seems clear the conversation is not over and there is merit for all parties to revisit a system which is clearly not working.

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