Friday, 28 July 2017


Check that shark cage
It is so revealing that the South AfricanTowing and Recovery Association (SATRA) tops its website with the dire warning "Get it wrong and risk losing your vehicle." Even more revealing is my friend Gloria's latest meltdown.  She's referring to the tow truck scrum she found herself in last week as: "worse than being in a broken shark cage."

Must admit I'd never realised how dangerous the tow truck waters are. Of course, I've heard tales of woe and I know there must be something in my insurance policy small print but who worries about those things until one needs to be towed?  Now she has me worried that I could lose my car, or my life savings.

Gloria's saga
Some of you may remember that she bought a used Bimmer from a sexy salesman a while ago? As luck would have it, she drove slap bang into the back of a SUV with a tow bar which had slammed on anchors to avoid a stray dog crossing Beyers Naude Drive. Still in shock, she applied fresh lipstick while watching steam launch from her badly injured radiator.
Within minutes she was being helped out of the car and the SUV's driver was apologising profusely. Then it happened. Tow trucks were screeching up to the scene. She claims there were at least a dozen, but she is prone to exaggeration so my guess is four or five.

By the time I arrived to take her home, her car had already been towed away. She'd opted for the driver who was first on the scene and had the most respectable looking truck.

Gloria knew she'd made the right choice when he told her he was approved by her insurance company and called in to get the go ahead to tow her car. It would be stored overnight and taken to the panel beater the insurance company had chosen. He handed over his phone for Gloria to furnish the person on the other end with her name, ID number telephone number and address. She signed the blank document the driver had kindly promise to fill in for her and - cherry on the top - there would be no storage charge for her beloved Bimmer's overnight stay.

He gave her his card with the company address.

Stranger than fiction
Next day we had her neck checked for whiplash. I drove her to two important business meetings and we asked her broker to handle the claim. The first shock was to learn that her insurance company hadn't approved the tow, the driver had never contacted them.

With alarm bells ringing 

we rushed to the towing company where the owner said the driver did not have the authority to offer a free overnight stay. 

The car had been taken to a nearby workshop and we couldn't have it back until and unless Gloria settled the towing and overnight bill for R4 900!!!  NOT covered by insurance. Seems she should count herself lucky. A man, close to tears, told us how he'd been hit with a R23 000 bill because he'd been hospitalised for 10 days before he could release his car!! He'd also been caught by the scam telephone call to his insurance company. The grumpy receptionist was telling him he should have read the information on the back of the form he signed. He was about to lose his car,

If ever there was a case of caveat subscriptor (signer beware) this was it. Gloria didn't have a leg to stand on. With that blank form, she'd given that crook carte blanche to do as he pleased with her car. While she was arguing her case with the towing company, I noticed a sign claiming that the business was affiliated to SATRA. That also proved to be bogus. Good reason why the association doesn't handle complaints unless the tow was arranged through its call centre. The number is 0861072872 and it could be useful on your cellphone as well as permanently in your car.

Dammit! Why do I feel so vulnerable?
Open season for crooks
I am indebted to Georgina Crouth who recently wrote in The Star that the towing industry is not regulated so there are no set rates for towing. However, the various associations have agreed on market related prices. SATRA's website says storage ranges between R200 and R400 a day, depending on the level of security offered.

As she wrote: "The honest Joes remain in the minority because the industry is unregulated. So the disreputable tow truck drivers do as they please - lying and conniving, feeding on shocked crash victims, bullying and effectively stealing vehicles because they have nothing to fear."

She also advised that you should check for an association decal prominently displayed on the tow truck, but we've already learned that's not a hundred percent assurance that the driver adheres to its code of conduct or is even a member.

I think we all agree that signing blank documents at any time is a big NO NO and it's important to know the charges up front.  

The AA
It is important to know your rights when it comes to dealing with tow truck drivers. Here are some helpful Automobile Association tips to keep in mind:
  • Always carefully check any documentation before signing.
  • If you are insured, contact your insurance provider for advice or any other information you may require.
  • Or make sure your vehicle is taken to a repair workshop which your insurance has approved.
  • Get all the relevant details from the tow truck driver (his name, the name, contact number and physical address of the company he works for, as well as the tow truck registration number).
  • Establish exactly how much it will cost to tow your vehicle before agreeing to anything.
  • Remove all valuables from your vehicle before it is towed away.
  • If you are a member of AA, you can contact them for assistance.

Other useful info includes:
It's not enough to know your broker's number (usually only good for office hours). If your insurance covers towing, you need to have your insurance company's incident management number on your cell and in the car. They will handle matters for you. Just as importantly, read the fine print on your policy. Know what is and isn't covered. If you have a "do not tow" sticker put it where it can be easily seen.

All well and good but....
What happens if you are too seriously injured to follow all this good advice? Car decals could prove invaluable but it's clearly time for greater regulation.

There are even claims that the bad guys are affiliated to major crime syndicates, it's time for the good guys within the towing industry to pressure government for better regulations and proper enforcement. 

Monday, 17 July 2017


Imagine saving up until you can pay R93 000 cash for a 2007 Mercedes 220 cdi with a warranty - a car you can safely take your kids to school in. Five weeks later, the car has to be towed into a workshop where the repairs caused by latent defects come to R31 000. 

The guys who sold you the dud say it's not their problem "because you paid cash". The ombudsman can't help because the dealer won't respond to his letters. You can't pay the workshop the R31 000 so you are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  BUT the dealer will buy the now fully repaired car back from you for R60 000. You are so desperate, you accept. In short, all that's left of your original R93 000 is R29000 and you don't have a car to take the kids to school in.

To rub salt in your wound, that dealer now has a fixed car he can sell to someone else, probably at more than you originally paid, and is laughing all the way to the bank.

I kid you not!!!! This is a true story that involves a used car dealer with branches in all the country's main centres. It even has a classy website with great references. 

It’s what happened to Clive (Not his real name because I'm scared of the Nigerian heavies that guard the showroom.) Notably, he's not the only victim, many others have listed similar complaints about the national company on

It could have been you or me.

In a nutshell
Clive bought the car in October last year for R79 900 cash and paid an additional
R12 999 for the warranty. Told that he would be responsible for the roadworthy, he was assured that it had been serviced three weeks earlier.

Within a fortnight, the front window motor had packed in and he decided to have the vehicle checked for the roadworthy while it was being fixed.  Under that bonnet lurked the beginnings of his nightmare:

1.    A bubble in a front tyre.
2.    The tensioner belts were loose.
3.    No front mud flaps so wiring was getting wet in the rain
4.    The engine cover was lifted to reveal a huge carbon build up and the number 1 injector was blowing back - a major threat to the cylinder head.

If, like me, you haven't a clue what all this means. Noel de Robillard, the Motor Traders Organisation marketing manager says "It's ser-yi-as."  And here's the scary part - the workshop manager told Clive that his Merc had had these problems for a long time. They would have been picked up IF the car had been serviced and the used car dealer would certainly have known about them.

Clive approached the folk who had sold him the car. That's when he was told that, because he had paid cash for the car, it wasn't their problem! A few weeks later, the car finally broke down and had to be towed to the workshop.

After the ombudsman gave up, Clive approached Noel at the MTO, who advised him to take his complaint to the CCA where it now sits.

Hello hellopeter
As I scrolled through the many similar tales of woe on (about the same dealer) it struck me that it's a good place to start BEFORE buying a car from any dealership. Admittedly, not something I've ever thought of doing until tracking Clive's story. His dealer's website would have impressed and reassured me. I'd give you the company's name but, besides the heavies, our libel laws won't allow it until and unless the crooks are found guilty in court.

SA Consumer Complaints
Duón Odendaal is involved in alternative dispute resolution, conflict management and negotiations for the past twenty years and founded SA Consumer Complaints. She advises: If you hear or see any of the following clauses in your document, please do not continue with the transaction as you are surely going to regret that you ever entered into it.
  • The vehicle is sold “voetstoots”
  • You buy it as it is.
  • I will give you R 3000-00 discount if you do the roadworthy and registration
  • This vehicle is a code 3 but it is in a pristine condition.
  • Our vehicles are guaranteed for thirty days.

She adds, "When signing a document with any of the above clauses you will struggle to prove that you are entitled to the protection of the Act, rather be safe than sorry and shop around for a better transaction."

Know your rights

Duón spells out your rights in terms of the Consumer Protection Act:

1. Pre-Authorisation of repair or maintenance service
You take your vehicle to the dealer for an oil change, when collecting the vehicle, they inform you that they changed your brake pads and discs and you must pay an additional cost of the work done.
The Act is clear, service providers must not charge for goods unless the provider has given an estimate and the consumer agreed to it. The consumer may refuse to pay for unapproved work done.

2. Return of parts and material
Your car is out of warranty and you take it for a service, you accept the quote and you doubt if all the parts was replaced as specified on the quotation.
The Act states that the supplier must keep all your parts in a reasonably clean container and they must return it to you, unless it is a warranty or insurance claim.

3. Right to demand quality service.
The supplier services your car and on your arrival, tells you the work will take an extra two days. They should have informed you timely of any delays in the execution of the service.
Or, your vehicle is returned with oily fingerprints and there is a scratch on the fender, caused by the mechanic’s tools. The dealership must remedy the damages or refund you a fair portion of the price paid.

4. Right to safe and good quality goods
 Supplied goods must be able do what they are designed for
  • Be of good quality and free of defects and in working order
  • Be durable and useable for a reasonable time
  • Comply with the applicable standards or public regulations
It is irrelevant whether the defect was obvious or hidden or whether the consumer should have detected it before delivery.
Goods bought at an auction are excluded.

5. Implied warranty of quality
Every product must carry a warranty of at least six months and can be returned by the consumer if it does not comply. This must happen within six months, without paying a penalty fee and at the risk of the supplier

The consumer can decide on repair, replacement or a refund the product.
6. Warranty on repaired goods.
A service provider must guarantee reconditioned or new parts installed during any repair or maintenance work for three months.

7. Liability for damages
Consumers can claim for liability in the following instances:
·       In case of death.
  • Injury or illness of any person.
  • Loss of or physical damage to movable or immovable property.
  • Damage or harm, caused by not receiving enough instructions or warnings.

It's a tough world
The more I delve into the motoring world, the more I appreciate the various associations that try to set standards for their sectors. It's not fair on the good guys when the baddies affect consumer confidence.

A different kind of tune
(0ne that made Simon Cowell cry)