VIN-search for written-off vehicles launched, but body repairers want more

5th September 2023 By: Irma Venter - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

VIN-search for written-off vehicles launched, but body repairers want more

The South African Insurance Association (SAIA) has launched a Web-based facility that allows consumers to research the status of a vehicle within the industry’s Vehicle Salvage Database (VSD) before they potentially buy it.

Named VIN-Lookup, access is free. (The Web address is

Consumers need to complete three fields on the screen, namely name, identity number and vehicle identification number (VIN).

If the VIN is found on the database, the user will see a short narrative about the vehicle. 

The text could look similar to the following: “SJNXXXX15Z6299693. The vehicle was deregistered as DEMOLISHED because it had irreparable structural damage that could not be repaired to a safe and roadworthy state AND no major components could be used for vehicle spare parts. In terms of Regulation 13A read with Regulation 1 and 55 of The National Road Traffic Act,1996, the vehicle shall not be registered and its parts shall not be used to build or repair any motor vehicle.”

“The launch of VIN-Lookup is a contribution of the non-life insurers to help address the problem of purchasing unsafe repaired cars from vehicle salvage houses,” says SAIA insurance risks manager Zakes Sondiyazi.

“SAIA urges consumers to use VIN-Lookup as just part of thorough research when buying a used car, rather than treat it as a single solution to understanding the history of a vehicle.”

The implementation of VIN-Lookup is being done in phases. The first phase includes the following vehicle salvage records: Rebuilt (Code 3); Spare parts only (Code 3A); and Scrap – Permanently demolished (Code 4).

The vehicle salvage database from which the information is drawn for VIN-Lookup contains records that show how insurance companies have designated previously insured vehicles. 

The database does not contain a comprehensive record of all vehicles and their status. Full records of all vehicles, insured or not, are held on the NaTIS system that falls under the Road Traffic Management Corporation, which is an agency of the Department of Transport.

The information provided through VIN-Lookup is considered complete at the time it was received, reflecting the status of the vehicle at the time it was in the possession of the insurance company. 

The status returned is not a reflection of the quality of repair, nor roadworthiness of the vehicle, warns SAIA.

The second phase of VIN-Lookup will consider the inclusion of Used (written-off Code 2) vehicles and is scheduled to be available by the end of the year, at best.

Sondiyazi emphasises that the physical inspection of a salvaged vehicle by a trained professional remains the best option before the purchase of such a vehicle.

“We always recommend that you have any vehicle checked by a qualified third party to ensure it is roadworthy and repaired to an acceptable standard.

“Of the 14-million registered vehicles in South Africa, less than a third is insured,” adds SAIA CEO Viviene Pearson.

“Therefore, the industry's vehicle salvage database will likely have less than 3% of vehicles that are written off, and most of these are vehicles that can either be rebuilt, or can only be used for spare parts, or should be demolished.”

‘Not getting to the heart of the problem’ – Sambra
South African Motor Body Repairers Association (Sambra) national director Jacques Viljoen says while his industry welcomes the first release of VIN-Lookup, the launch fails to “get to the heart of the problem”, which centres around 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.  

“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.”

“It’s simple,” says Viljoen. “Without a transparent record, there is no way to inform prospective buyers of used-motor vehicles – whether they are private individuals or user-car dealers – of the status history of the vehicle. This could be a major problem for unsuspecting motorists who are buying second-hand vehicles.” 

William Miller, CEO of DealersOnline, vehicle valuation and auction specialist for the South African dealer market, confirms that his company receives at least one complaint every week of an incorrectly coded vehicle. 

For example, the company was sent a 2021 KIA Seltos, with just more than 38 000 km on the clock, for an independent assessment. 

The vehicle had been bought as new from a dealer in Helderberg, and then sold onto 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, is that the vehicle had actually been declared a write-off in September, 2022, and subsequently salvaged at a scrap yard in Cape Town,” says Miller.

“Our assessor managed to locate the NaTIS registration…and via chassis number input on the Ace Website search, confirm that this was indeed the same vehicle. 

“Closer investigation found it had been bought from auction, and within 60 days it was restored and reintroduced onto the road, eventually being bought by the current unsuspecting owner.”

Sambra says it placed this vehicle’s details on the new VIN-Lookup website, but that its status did not reflect. 

“So until we have Code 2 uneconomical vehicle to repair data, the problem will persist,” says Viljoen.

Sambra believes participants across the value chain, including banks, retailers and motor-body repairers, “are all anxious to help speed up implementation of the Code 2 written-off cars”.