Frustrations with VIN-lookup site surface again at SAMBRA conference

On 15 November, SAMBRA (South African Motor Body Repairers Association) hosted their Vehicle Write-off Conference 2023 in Bryanston.This follows the first edition that was held at Emperor’s Palace in May…

On 15 November, SAMBRA (South African Motor Body Repairers Association) hosted their Vehicle Write-off Conference 2023 in Bryanston.
This follows the first edition that was held at Emperor’s Palace in May 2022. This year’s conference theme was Pursuing Transparency and Truth for all used vehicle buyers in South Africa.

Stakeholders from across the affected and related landscape of collision repair attended, including government officials. Speakers included Charles Canning (National Chairman of SAMBRA), Jacques Viljoen (National Director of SAMBRA), Chris Viljoen (Independent Forensic Motor Assessor), Ferose Oaten (Chairperson of the Vehicle Testing Association), Brandon Cohen (National Chairperson of the National Dealership Association) as well as a personal testimony by Andrew van der Westhuizen, a consumer who fell foul of the current rotten situation with regard to an inadequate vehicle write-off register. The speakers were followed by a robust interactive session where attendees could raise concerns and also contribute possible solutions to the problem.

Canning described the conference as a “landmark event” in his welcoming address and said the aim was to continue the conversation about the critical need for an open vehicle salvage database (VSD), which had to include Code 2 vehicles that had been previously written off by insurers. The aim of the VSD would be to protect the consumer against unsuspectingly buying an unsafe previously written-off vehicle.

In Canning’s short overview of the 18 months since the first conference, he highlighted a landmark finding in the Gauteng Regional High Court in January 2023, which ruled in favour of a consumer who had unsuspectingly bought a previously written-off vehicle. The court ruled that the dealership had to refund the consumer the outstanding amount on the vehicle plus the interest. It was proved through the assistance of SAMBRA that the vehicle in question had previously been written off. Owing to this case’s high media profile more and more stakeholders started seeing the need for a VSD

Jacques Viljoen looked at the current state of the South African Insurance Association’s (SAIA) VIN-lookup portal, which was launched earlier this year. At the outset, he made it categorically clear that his overview should not be construed as an attack on SAIA, but rather a pointing out of SAMBRA’s frustrations with its status. Jacques said that in May this year he followed up on SAIA’s undertaking that the VSD would be published in March to which SAIA responded that its first phase (Code 3 vehicles) would be published at the end of July (which SAIA did) and phase 2 (Code 2 vehicles) would be published at the end of the year. SAIA launched the VIN-lookup search engine and informed SAMBRA that they could follow up on the phase 2 launch at the end of October, which he then did. It was then that the frustrations started. SAIA responded saying the association was no longer going to publish the Code 2 vehicles at the end of December and that it was reconsidering the decision. This was regarded by SAMBRA as a regression on the initial undertaking.

“We are now back at square one where they are only considering it and consulting various parties to identify risks and that seem to be a few steps back from publishing what we view as the crux of the matter, the Code 2 vehicles,” Jacques Viljoen said.

He also said that the process was further handicapped when a request from Chris Viljoen (no relation) to “sit down with SAIA and test the site” was effectively denied. “We don’t understand where the data was derived from, how effective it is and how accurate the data is that is fed into the database. So we requested SAIA to entertain Chris Viljoen for a day to sit down with their technicians and test it as Chris Viljoen is probably thee expert on the subject in the industry. We also offered for Chris Viljoen to suggest improvements on the system. The short answer from SAIA was that access to test the system was denied,” said Jacques Viljoen. He called this turn of events “discouraging”.

He concluded that the possibility now exists that SAIA will not be able to get the VSD “over the line” and that the option might have to be explored of establishing another VSD, albeit under another name.

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