Sambra says new VIN-Lookup website is not good enough
The SA Motor Body Repairers’ Association (Sambra) has criticised the new VIN-Lookup website for not going far enough to protect consumers from unwittingly buying potential “death trap” cars.
The SA Insurance Association (Saia) this month launched a new VIN-Lookup website with Code 3 (rebuilt), Code 3A (spare parts only) and code 4 (scrap — permanently demolished vehicles) to allow motorists and stakeholders to see the motoring history of a particular vehicle.
Saia agreed to make the formerly hidden information public after lobbying by Sambra, which took up the cause to prevent the practice of written-off or seriously damaged cars being rebuilt and put back into circulation by unscrupulous repairers to be purchased by unsuspecting consumers.
Access for members of the public is free on www.vinlookupsa.co.za, though the vehicle salvage database only applies to the estimated 30% of vehicles in the country that have been insured.
Jacques Viljoen, Sambra national director, criticised Saia for not yet listing previously written-off code 2 vehicles.
“While the industry welcomes this first release it is however not getting to the heart of the problem which talks to previously written off code 2 vehicles that find their way to salvage yards and are then repaired and sold back into the system to unsuspecting consumers,” says Viljoen.
“The real issue we are fighting is transparency and access to information. The code 3s and 4s are already on our system but it is the code 2s which have been declared uneconomical to repair which talk to the problem.”
Without a transparent record there is no way to inform prospective buyers of used motor vehicles, whether they are individuals or used car dealers, of the status history of the vehicle and this is a major problem for unsuspecting motorists who are buying second-hand vehicles.
William Miller, CEO of DealersOnline — vehicle valuation and auction specialists for the South African dealer market — confirmed they receive at least one complaint a week of an incorrectly coded vehicle.
He says last week they sent a 2021 Kia Seltos with just over 38,000km on the clock for an independent assessment. The vehicle had been bought new from a dealer in Helderberg and then sold to another dealership with the information that it had sustained some rear-end damage. On inspection, however, only minor imperfections in paint and body panels on the rear could be seen.
“What the dealer did not realise,” says Miller, “is that it had actually been declared a write-off in September 2022 and subsequently salvaged at a scrap yard in Cape Town. Our assessor managed to locate the Natis registration with the salvage photos registration, and via chassis number input on the Ace Website search confirmed that this was indeed the same vehicle. Closer investigation found it had been bought from auction and within 60 days restored and reintroduced onto the road, eventually being bought by the current unsuspecting owner.”
“Sambra placed this vehicle’s details on the new VIN-Lookup website and it unfortunately did not come up. So until we have Code 2 ‘uneconomical vehicle to repair’ data the problem will persist,” says Viljoen.
Miller says this poses questions about who potentially stands to gain most in the repair cycle.
Viljoen says this is just one more example of an erroneously written-off automobile, salvaged, repaired and subsequently reintroduced into the market without transparency regarding its previous write-off status. It also points to a potentially bigger problem of why the vehicle was written off in the first place and the competence of the assessment tests being carried out.
“There is a very clear need for transparency and due diligence when trading in second-hand vehicles. The ball is without a doubt very squarely back in Saia’s court,” says Viljoen.
Saia said the second phase of VIN-Lookup, to be available by the end of 2023 at the earliest, will consider inclusion of written-off code 2 vehicles.
Saia CEO Viviene Pearson said of the 14-million registered vehicles in South Africa, less than 5-million are insured.
“This means access to this small database against the population of registered vehicles in South Africa is not the silver bullet mentioned in some reports on this topic,” she said.
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