84-year old pensioner a victim of unscrupulous dealer – Another 49 reasons for SAIA to make Code 2 data accessible

84-year old pensioner a victim of unscrupulous dealer – Another 49 reasons for SAIA to make Code 2 data accessible
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An 84-year old pensioner in Bela Bela has not only lost his original Toyota Corolla which he trustingly traded into a dealer online, but has also been unwittingly been sold a 2021 Suzuki Brezza with just 28,525 km on the clock for R230,000. What looked like a dream car at the initial physical inspection in Johannesburg, has been found, on subsequent inspection, not only to be a code 2 vehicle which was previously written off, but literally a rolling deathtrap on wheels.

Trade-in for a Bigger and ‘Safer’ Car Leaves Buyer’s Safety Compromised

Santie Boshoff, owner of BB Autobody Rebuilds in Bela Bela, a South African Motor Body accredited repairer explains that the client in question, Leon Bredenkamp, brought the vehicle into her repair shop in April this year just six days after having purchased it online. Bredenkamp was looking to replace his 20-year old Corolla with a bigger and ‘safer car’ and having planned a long-awaited trip to the Cape with his wife, felt this would be the ideal time to make the change. He decided to trade in his trusty Corolla for something slightly higher and sturdier but to his dismay soon realised when he got behind the wheel that something felt terribly wrong. “I have a mechanical background and could instantly feel there was too much play in the steering and the steering wheel looked off centre. 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.” He took the car to BB Autobody and was dismayed to hear the outcome.

“As soon as we had completed an initial inspection of the car, we feared the worst and suggested a complete independent assessment be carried out. We recommended we keep the car as it was not safe to drive. We also promised the client that we would look into the history of the car for him and in the meantime loaned him a courtesy car,” says Boshoff.

Bredenkamp immediately contacted the dealer on WhatsApp and forwarded the initial observations from BB Autobody.

An Unfortunate Discovery

A full report by a specialist independent forensic inspector was then commissioned by Boshoff and it found that the car had indeed been declared a Code 2 insurance Write Off in 2022 and subsequently handed contractually to a salvage yard. “This is where the story goes horribly wrong,” says Boshoff. The car was bought from the insurer contracted salvage yard by an unscrupulous retail dealer where repairs were poorly undertaken to deceive the subsequent buyer that it was a roadworthy vehicle.

This same dealer continues to operate and sell vehicles on the used market in Gauteng and online to unsuspecting buyers.

When the car was handed over for an independent inspection 49 concerns were noted ranging from numerous instances of substandard repairs and negligence – all deliberate attempts to mislead potential buyers. “The reports clearly showed that the safety and performance of the vehicle had been compromised, posing significant risks to occupants and other road users. 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,” says Boshoff.

The 10 most serious faults detected in the inspection:

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

The report concluded by saying that given the extent of required repairs, exceeding the vehicle’s retail value, the vehicle was deemed a total loss and unsuitable for road use in its current condition. It should be immediately reclassified as a Code 3 vehicle.

Consumer Access To Information

Boshoff says the absence of essential safety features, such as airbags, further underscores the dealer’s disregard for consumer well-being and underscores the urgent need for regulatory intervention to protect unsuspecting buyers. Mr Bredenkamp had no way of checking if the car in question had been previously written off as the South African Insurance Institute Association (SAIA), which represents all major insurers in South Africa, continue to refuse to publish this register publicly.

Bredenkamp forwarded the report to the original dealer requesting the reversal of the sale and return of his Corolla as he was still within the prescribed 7 day cooling off period. He was told his original car had already been sold and they insisted he bring the car back to them to attend to the faults. Clearly this was not a feasible option to expect the client to drive 145km back to Johannesburg in a car that had been declared too dangerous to drive.

Leon Bredenkamp in the vehicle he purchased shows a passenger airbag lid where the airbag was not replaced

Marcia Modiba, Acting national director for SAMBRA, a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation, says it is for cases exactly like this that SAMBRA has been actively campaigning so hard over the last 4 years for an open and transparent Vehicle Salvage Database (VSD) of all vehicles that have previously been “written off” by insurers from SAIA.

“Since we started this drive, we have found a concerning number of vehicles that have been severely damaged in accidents often ending up being repaired and returned to the road with a Roadworthy certificate, as is the case with the current Suzuki. To the untrained eye these cars may look perfectly acceptable but, upon closer inspection, the quality of the repairs and the severity of the previous damage
incurred is often substantial,” she says.

“We have also noted,” says Modiba, “that a roadworthy certificate is not sufficient. This certificate alone will not provide confirmation of material defects being present.”

A roadworthy test conducted by the vehicle examiner identifies visual defects with the electrical items, bodywork components, steering, suspension, and interior seatbelts and an overview of the undercarriage. It makes sure the vehicle is “roadworthy” but will NOT necessarily pick up if the vehicle has been in a previous collision and then repaired. Modiba says the only 100% reliable inspection should be
conducted by an accredited motor body repairer.

Next Steps

“In this instance we strongly urge the client to take remedial legal action in order to recover his losses and the vehicle be declared not roadworthy. Unfortunately for Mr Bredenkamp, even though the vehicle does have an active 5 year Suzuki warranty, it will be void once the defects come to light and this will leave him with significant financial loss,” she says. Bredenkamp has reported the problem to the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (MIOSA) in the interim. MIOSA has written to the dealer in question giving them 10 days to respond. The MIOSA is an independent, impartial, neutral party, conciliating in disputes with the intention of bringing about finality in accordance to good customer relations, good engineering practice and law. It represents neither party and so relies on both parties to impart their side of matters truthfully and factually.

Modiba concludes, “On the 15 April, SAMBRA met with SAIA once again regarding the publication of Code 2 cars that had been deemed uneconomical to repair 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.”

Based on the current example SAMBRA questions again why SAIA is not equally concerned about compromising the safety of the end consumer? “The bottom line is that once a vehicle has been declared uneconomical to repair by an insurer and ends up at a salvage yard, it is then fair game for anyone and that is where we lose total control,” she concludes.