Help! The panel shop won’t release my car – what are my rights?

The chances are many of us will be involved in some type of accident or bumper bashing at some stage of our motoring life and may need to take our car in for repairs. What happens however if you don’t collect your vehicle after it has been repaired because you cannot afford the repairs or perhaps even the insurance excess?  Equally what are your rights if your insurer does not pay for accident repairs to your vehicle.

Uvashen Bramiah, national director of the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (SAMBRA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), provides some advice and clarifies the position about storage costs and when a car can be declared abandoned.

He says it is important for consumers to realise a panel shop is entitled to charge for storage fees if a vehicle is not collected after a specified time, and for the period that it remains uncollected, provided that these costs and terms are clearly stated in a contract upfront.  Also, a panel shop can dispose of unclaimed vehicles after a period if the vehicle remains with a panel shop, because of the panel shop exercising its right of retention, or just because of the owner disappearing or not willing to collect its vehicle.

The most important starting point is your contract (quote/estimate), which you will receive from the motor body repairer (MBR) or panel shop to sign and approve before any work goes ahead. This contract will deals with the cost of the repair, storage costs, expenses towards courtesy vehicles, etc. It will also cover no or partial payment and determines when the MBR is entitled to regard the vehicle as abandoned and to obtain an order to dispose of the vehicle.

  So now what happens in the following instances?

You take your car directly to a panel shop for repair, sign the contract but when it’s time to collect your vehicle you find yourself in a position where you cannot afford the repairs or the insurance excess.
Can you expect your panel shop to keep the car until you can pay?

  • Firstly, check your contract – what does it say about payment before the release of the vehicle, and storage costs?
  • Immediately contact your MBR and discuss the problem of payment with the owner. Any accredited and reputable MBR will require that you sign an acknowledgement of debt and draft a new contract and payment structure which can in some cases, eliminate storage costs.

Remember the contract is a legal document, so if you default and do not approach the business, they are within their rights, after a certain period, to regard the vehicle as abandoned and to obtain a court order to dispose of the vehicle.

Your car is insured. After your accident you lodge a claim and take your car in for repairs. In this instance there are two possible scenarios that can play out. Firstly, your insurance company, as was recently the case with Constantia Insurance, goes into liquidation before you collect your car and secondly, you find yourself in a position where you cannot afford the insurance excess.

Here is what you need to do:

  • If your insurer goes into liquidation, immediately contact your insurer/broker and carefully follow the liquidation process they set out. It’s now your responsibility to settle any outstanding payments. A panel shop can keep the vehicle lawfully until you are able to pay in full.  You may be able to reclaim back some of these costs from the liquidator, but it will take time.
  • If you cannot pay the excess on your insurance, the insurer will not pay the MBR and again, he has the right to retain your car until payment is made. We recommend you immediately get hold of the MBR to explain your situation and work out an arrangement on storage until you can pay the insurance excess.
  • If you are still unable to pay after a reasonable period, an MBR will the do following:
  1. Write a letter of demand, demanding payment, and collection of the vehicle within seven days.
  2. The matter can proceed through the courts, or an attorney can be consulted to issue summons for the amount and have it served by Sheriff.
  3. Depending on whether the summons is defended by the owner, a default judgment application can be brought, or in the case of a defense, a summary judgment application since such costs will form a liquidated claim based on the signed contract between the parties and the invoice delivered.  
  4. Depending on the route of a defended matter or undefended matter respectively, once judgment is obtained a warrant of execution can be issued and the Sheriff can be requested to attach and auction the property by way of a sale in execution. This will in principle cover the claim of the panel shop. If it doesn’t, you will remain liable for the amount outstanding.
Previous Article

Top 5 reasons we like the Hyundai Grand i10

Next Article

The New Year’s resolutions that will save you money on the road

Need more help?

We're here to help.
Your privacy is important to us. To demonstrate our commitment, please refer to the MotorHappy notification which communicates how we process your personal information to comply with legislation.
Related Article