Checks and balances – do your homework when buying a second-hand car

Checks and balances – do your homework when buying a second-hand car
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Buying a second-hand car can be an exciting purchase and a sound economic decision provided there are no unexpected surprises. Typically, the reliability of a used car is at the forefront of most buyers’ minds, particularly now that their financial means are so constrained. But how can you be sure you are buying a reliable car and know if it has not been previously involved in a serious accident?

Uneconomical to repair, but back on the road

Cars that have been severely damaged in accidents and which should have been written off as uneconomical to repair, often end up being repaired and returned to the road. To the untrained eye these cars may look perfectly acceptable but, hoist them up and take a closer look, and you may be shocked at the quality of the repairs and the severity of the previous damage incurred.

Uvashen Bramiah, National Director of the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (SAMBRA), an association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), says as many consumers know the problem in South Africa is that there is no way for the public to check if that car has been “written off” previously in an accident and this makes it difficult for them to assess if the apparently showroom-condition car they bought, isn’t exactly what it claims to be. “A lot of lobbying has been done with the South African Insurance Association (SAIA) to make this information available to consumers and accredited and reputable dealers alike and SAIA have confirmed they are in the process of implementing this register,” says Bramiah.

What you can do to protect yourself

Until that time however, Bramiah says wary motorists have limited options to protect themselves and suggests the following:

  1. When buying a second-hand car, it comes with a roadworthy certificate. This alone will not provide confirmation of no material issues being present. A roadworthy certificate is a legal requirement to complete the registration for transfer of ownership when one acquires a used motor vehicle, or for any vehicles carrying passengers for reward like mini-busses/busses/heavy load vehicles. 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 it is “roadworthy” but will NOT necessarily pick up if the vehicle has been in a previous collision.
  2. The first step then if you are at all concerned, is to insist the car is taken to an accredited vehicle testing station i.e., any station that is a member of the Vehicle Testing Association (VTA), that will undertake a comprehensive multipoint check on the car. The multi-point inspection (MPI) covers a range of additional categories. It is conducted by a trained and qualified examiner of vehicles and will give you a far more comprehensive report on over 120 points of the vehicle. Alternatively, if the car is on sale at a NADA member franchise dealer, the dealers trained technicians will usually provide a detailed multipoint inspection record.
  3. If you are worried about its service history, pop into any NADA dealer and request a service history check of the car. Bring the vehicle VIN number with you.
  4. Ask any RMI accredited MIWA service workshop to tell you if there are any mechanical faults.
  5. Finally, if it’s a previous collision you are worried about, ask aSAMBRA-accredited body repairer to give the vehicle a thorough once over.

Extra checks worth the effort

Bramiah says it is worth doing the extra checks. All of these accredited workshops comply with the strictest standards and criteria to protect consumers. A full list of accredited SAMBRA (South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association), NADA (National Automobile Dealers’ Association), Vehicle Testing Association (VTA) and Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA) members can be found on the RMI website. In this digital day and age there is a small number of purchases being concluded online but, if at all possible, Bramiah warns never to buy a used car without seeing it and physically inspecting it.


“Unfortunately, there are a lot of unscrupulous sellers out there that prey on unsuspecting buyers. Until a solution can be found and the Vehicle Salvage Database (VSD) register is made available from SAIA, we strongly suggest you get your second-hand car thoroughly checked out to avoid any future costly mishaps. Any reputable dealer would have no problem in allowing this,” concludes Bramiah.