A rolling death trap on four wheels

When Mrs Mahamba purchased her dream second hand vehicle in August this year from a dealer in Gauteng for R378 000, she had absolutely no idea it was a rolling death trap or had been previously written off and deemed uneconomical to repair.

It was only when she went back to East London and her husband wanted to book the car in for a service that they were told by the Ford Servicing Dealer that there were multiple problems with the car. The Mahambas immediately took the car to an independent accredited Motor Body Repairer to get a second opinion. Gordon Cummings Bodyworks, who inspected the car, found 35 serious faults ranging from hydraulic brake lines being secured with cable ties, to multiple structural repair issues on the frame to a front suspension that could break, collapse or shear due to heated second-hand suspension parts. The net result, a vehicle which is not only very unsafe and dangerous to drive, but one which could cause a very serious road accident.

Richard Green, national director of the South African Motorbody Repairers’ Association (SAMBRA), an Association of the Retail Motor Industry (RMI), says this is a perfect example of why we are urging the insurers to release a write off register which can protect unsuspecting buyers. “The lack of information available to potential buyers in the used vehicle market, with regards to previously ‘written off’ vehicles is just unacceptable,” he says.

In the Mahamba- case the car was sold to the unsuspecting couple from a whatsapp video with a “legitimate” Code 2 Registration. “We have investigated the matter further and found the vehicle was initially sold in Cape Town in 2017 in Paarden Eiland. It was then written off in October 2019. The vehicle then found its way to JHB where it was repaired at a second hand car dealership in Johannesburg where it was finally sold to the Mahambas,” notes Green.



Green says the assessors know the Johannesburg dealer who sold the rebuild. They have visited this same dealer with a similar complaint on another Ford Ranger which was also a very sub-standard rebuild. In that case the client was advised not to buy the vehicle.  “It is very concerning that they could see other repairs being done on the same premises, particularly if this is the standard of work being carried out,” says Green.

In the Mahamba case, Green says SAMBRA gave the dealer in question an opportunity to respond to multiple questions but they declined to answer any of the questions. “We received a copy of the sales invoice instead in which the dealer had written on the invoice, ‘The client is happy with the condition of the vehicle and buying it as is. Discount was given because of the sensor problem.’   If, as suspected after investigation, this dealer was aware of the problems, or indeed repaired this vehicle and then sold it via their own second hand car sales outlet, they have acted extremely negligently and could perhaps also be accused of intent to defraud which is a criminal act.”

Insurers routinely ‘write off’ vehicles and these vehicles are sold, within a salvage contract to auction yards and while there is nothing wrong with this on face value, the problem comes in when these vehicles, still registered as Code 2 (the description for a used car), are sold to any buyer willing to pay the highest price on auction.  “In many cases, like the Mahamba example, these vehicles are bought by dubious repairers and sold back into the system for a good profit via digital sales platforms, unsuspecting used car traders or a ‘partner in crime’ outlet. This is where the system goes awfully wrong as the unsuspecting buyers often end up with a vehicle that has previously been written off by an insurer – who is unaware of the subsequent sale – and deemed uneconomical to repair. It also has not been reclassified as a code 3 vehicle and the purchaser has no way of checking the history.”

Green says what these unscrupulous players and syndicates are doing is criminal.  “There is a lot of money being made by a whole chain of people and, apart from the possible reputational damage to bona fide insurers and other unsuspecting parties, the only real victims in this are the unsuspecting buyers.

The dealer in question who sold the Mahamba’s their vehicle has refused to refund the family and take back the car or take any liability. The Mahambas are now consulting an advocate to take the matter further.

“Arguably, access to the write off register is the only way potential used car buyers can check that previously written-off vehicles have been repaired to the correct standard. In order to pass a roadworthy test, which is a legal requirement for any previously written off vehicle intended for return to the public road system, these vehicle would need to be either repaired by an accredited motor body repairer, or they need to be destroyed. If left they can either be used by criminals to re-register stolen vehicles or they end up being repaired in a shocking way, such as in the case of the Mahamba’s vehicle, and endangering lives.  We would like to engage the insurers to obtain access to those “write off’ registers  to protect people like the Mahambas,” concludes Green.