Second hand car buyers beware

Buying a second hand car can be an exciting purchase and a good economical decision provided there are no unexpected surprises.  Typically, the reliability of a second hand car is at the forefront of most buyers’ minds, particularly now that finances are so tight, 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?

Cars that have been severely damaged and which should have been written off as scrap as they are beyond repair, often end up being repaired and placed back on the road. To the untrained eye these cars may look acceptable, but hoist them up and take a closer look and you would be shocked at the quality of the repair job and the severity of the previous damage incurred. Richard Green, National Director of the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (SAMBRA), an association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), says the problem in South Africa is that there is no way of checking if that car has been written off previously in an accident and this makes it difficult for consumers to access if the apparently showroom-condition car they bought, is exactly what it claims to be?  “We have repeatedly appealed to the South African Insurance Association (SAIA) to make this information available for consumers and accredited and reputable dealers alike,” says Green.


“If SAIA would just agree to making write off information available on a public register where the VIN number of the vehicle can be checked and the buyer can then be properly informed prior to making a used car purchase decision, these types of problems and the massive consequential damages they cause, could be avoided. The information is routinely forwarded to  the South African Insurance Association (SAIA) from all insurance companies.   SAIA then creates a Vehicle Salvage Data (VSD) system.


SAIA’s argument is that if the database is made public, this would be unlawful and allow criminals to have access to the entire non-life insurance industry database of scrapped vehicle VINs leading to a dramatic increase in false financing and insurance of cloned vehicles.


“We appreciate that much of the information contained in the VSD system such as the owner’s ID/company registration number is confidential and should be kept confidential. We have no argument at all with the purpose and integrity of the VSD system and we agree with SAIA about the dangers of releasing the full register of confidential information. Our argument is that if the primary reason the VSD system database was created was to combat crime, how come this is still such a big problem?”


Green says the entire system, including the registration process, needs a shakeup so that consumers are not landed with poorly repaired and structurally unsafe second hand vehicles with Code 2 Registration licences.


Green provides buyers with the following advice:


  • If you are buying a second hand car online, ensure you get an accredited repairer or dealer to provide you with an independent assessment. A full list of accredited SAMBRA (South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association) and NADA (National Automobile Dealers’ Association) members can be found on the RMI website. If possible never buy a used car without seeing it and physically inspecting it.
  • SAMBRA and NADA accredited members comply with strict standards and criteria to protect consumers.
  • If you are buying a car privately, ensure you also get an independent assessor to check out the car.
  • Another useful tip is to review comments on the company’s website and see how people rate their service and quality of product.





“Until a solution can be found and this register is made available from SAIA, we strongly suggest you get your second hand car checked out first by an accredited SAMBRA repair shop to avoid any future problems. Any reputable dealer would have no problem in allowing this,” concludes Green.


CAPTION: This Ford Ranger for example was sold with a valid Code 2 licence disk. On inspection it had 35 serious faults There is no way this vehicle could pass a roadworthy test with so many dangerously and poorly repaired items.