Flooded then flogged as flawless

Flooded then flogged as flawless

Wendy Knowler thought she’d heard it all in her 20 years of investigating dodgy car deals - but then came the flooded Fiat.

Auto business, car sale, transportation, people and ownership co

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In my 20 years of investigating dodgy car deals, Ridwaan Ismail’s experience with a Fiat 500 Abarth convertible, which he bought from a dealership in Klerksdorp, takes the cake. Or maybe that should be 'the soggy biscuit'.

Secrets and lies, misinformation and diversion, this story has got it all.

So here’s the short version of a very long, jaw-dropping story.

Last June, Ridwaan Ismail of Durban bought that little Fiat 500 for R190,000 from a Klerksdorp motor dealership, Daly Selectacar - part of the Daly Group. He signed the papers - including financing it with Wesbank - and drove it home with a friend.  

Things went wrong on that very first trip - as it got dark he put the lights on and noticed that a gauge wasn’t working, and then the auto lights, and then the daytime running lights.

He took it to a motor workshop which found that the car’s computer wasn’t responding, and so began a manual investigation. What they found was water residue in the car’s fuse box and under the carpets.

Ridwaan says the dealer principal at Daly Selectacar asked for the report from that workshop and then said there was nothing he could do for him, because the car wasn’t like that when they sold it to him.

Here’s where the story starts getting very interesting.

Ridwaan tracked the former owner of the car, a Ms Grobler of Klerksdorp, and discovered that she’d bought the car from the same dealership, had similar issues with it, after the Motor Industry Ombud’s intervention, the dealership took the car back.

So Ridwaan also lodged his own complaint with the Ombud, and after six long months, the office ruled in his favour. 
For a second time, the dealership was ordered to take back the car.

But the dealership responded by telling Ridwaan, via its attorneys, that it disagreed with the Ombud’s ruling.

Meanwhile, Ridwaan hadn’t driven the car since he got that water damage report. So he was paying the bank installment and insurance premium and getting no value out of the car.

That made him very cross indeed, so he did some more digging.

And that's when he discovered that the car had been written off in late 2016 after being swept up in a flash flood in Johannesburg.

The then-owner of the car, Iqbal Shaikh, told me how he and many motorists suddenly found themselves floating down the N3 South. 

Luckily he managed to get out of the car and out of that road-turned-river before the car was swept away.

After the flooding incident, Iqbal Shaikh’s insurer, Alexander Forbes, wrote off the car and a report by an assessor reveals that the car was declared "uneconomical to repair”.

“Vehicle has no power and does not start, so possible wiring, electrical, engine, and mechanical damage. Code 3 write off.”
Photos show an engine and interior full of dried mud.

A Code 3 is a car which, according to the SA Insurance Association, can’t necessarily be repaired to the specifications of the original manufacturer. They fetch relatively low prices on auction and both banks and insurers are very loathe to finance or insure them.

Ridwaan approached me for help with all that juicy info, and I asked the dealership to respond.

Through an attorney, they said they’d bought the car from an auction house as a Code 2 - an ordinary used car - not a Code 3, and that after taking it back from Ms Grobler, they had the problems fixed by a workshop, before putting it on sale again.

Alexander Forbes told the Sunday Times that while the assessor’s report did state that the vehicle was a code 3, “After further investigation into the condition of the vehicle, the lack of structural damage (we) concluded that the car should be categorised as a code 2 vehicle.”

“The person or company who bought and repaired this vehicle is unknown to us,” the insurer said. 

The dealership has since cancelled the deal and Ridwaan has since been refunded in full.

I asked both insurance companies - Alexander Forbes and Hollard, which Ridwaan got to insure the car - whether or not they had access to information regarding a car being severely water damaged and written off by another insurer.

The short answer is no. Not yet, anyway.

Here’s the thing - flooding seldom causes structural damage, and for a car to be classed as Code 3, there must be structural damage.

Cars can be assessed as Code 2, an ordinary used car, regardless of any wiring, electrical, engine or mechanical damage.

Iqbal Shaikh is finding it hard to believe that the serious water damage was missed by the dealership. It should have “Interrogated the car better” after the first post-flooding owner experienced severe problems with it, he says.

“The motoring industry needs to seriously overhaul how it works, in order to protect consumers.”

Until that happens, protect yourself by having a second-hand car properly checked out by the likes of Dekra.

The red Fiat 500 (in the middle of the photo) as it was swept away in the Jo’burg flash flood of November 2016.

The red Fiat 500 (in the middle of the photo) as it was swept away in the Joburg flash flood of November 2016.

Also read: How safe is your child strapped into a car seat in the back?

To contact Wendy, go to her Facebook page and click on the send email tab.

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