How to lose your car

(A cautionary tale)

This is a sad tale of ‘service’, or its antithesis, and a timeous warning to all who own a motor vehicle, especially if that vehicle might attract the attention of others because of its excellent condition.

It begins with a trip to Durban from Nelspruit (Mbombela) when, due to the serious illness of the owner, the owner’s son is enlisted one morning to drive the vehicle back to Durban. En route, while negotiating a roadworks detour, the underside of the vehicle is damaged by a rock imbedded in the road. So far, all is fairly normal – but now starts the interesting bit. Most of us take pains to insure our vehicle, in the belief that insurance cover will ensure that, in the event of a mishap, our time of need will be alleviated by the benign services of the insurer company. They, of course, being concerned to have us back in the driving seat as soon as possible. Hah! A serious misapprehension.

The story continues to unfold. Immediate phone-calls are directed to the insurer before arranging to have the vehicle towed to the nearest town, Ermelo, some 14 km distant. ‘Leave it to us,’ says the insurer. We will get ‘our’ towing service to fetch the vehicle. In due course the truck arrives – but with instructions to transport the vehicle, not to Ermelo, but to Secunda, nearly 100km beyond Ermelo. The truck driver’s comments that, ‘There seems to be very little damage’ and ‘Why not go to the agent here in Ermelo?’, coupled with frantic calls to the insurer, fail to make this happen and the car, with occupants, is duly taken to Secunda despite protests, where it arrives mid afternoon. 

Now the plot (of this story or of the insurer? you decide) thickens. The driver and friend are stranded in Secunda, entailing another series of frantic phone-calls before agreement is reached about hiring a vehicle to get them to their destination, along with the contents of the damaged vehicle. The ‘garage’ to which the car has now been delivered produces a quote for repair amounting to R59 000. This is not sufficient for the insurer and they decide to bring in ‘their’ assessor from Jo’burg, who submits a HIGHER quote of R64 000. The insurer, clearly not believing that the repairer knows what he is doing, decides that the quote of R64 000 is the definitive one and promptly declares the vehicle to be a ‘write-off’ as the new quotation is above their limit for repair to be done. Howls of protest from the owner’s proxy, phone-calls to ‘someone in higher authority’, pointing out the drastic implications for the owner; all fail to garner sympathy. Eventually – and days later – the insurer grudgingly agrees that the car can have its ‘Write-off’ status ignored and can be released to the owner ‘as is’ – but that the insurer will take no further responsibility for the quality of work done AND that there will be no further insurance cover for the vehicle from the moment it leaves Secunda.

Acceptance of these conditions allows for the vehicle, after a delay of some weeks, to eventually be uplifted and conveyed to Tarlton in Gauteng for actual repair to commence. Within days the repair is complete and some old electrical issues attended to – total bill for repair, R5 000.

Throughout this harrowing time there are pertinent questions which never get answered. Why did the insurer avoid nearby Ermelo as the point of repair? How did the original quotation come to an astounding R59 000? Why was this not accepted by the insurer? How did the ‘assessor’ manage to produce an even more astounding estimate of repair costs? And why was the car taken far away from where it could be personally inspected?

Of note is that the vehicle was in immaculate external condition, had a low mileage on its odometer, was owned and driven by a careful driver, was the upmarket version of its model and had an owner who was in hospital at the time.The story almost ends there. But the bright side of this dark cloud of stress and threat is that the owner, though still in hospital at the time, gained the much-needed benefit of an insurance payout that provided much-needed ‘overspill’ at a time of considerable financial stress. AND she still has her precious car!

By Ivan Baard

Photo by Hush Naidooon Unsplash

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