SAIA launches online tool for consumers to check the status of a second-hand vehicle

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The South African Insurance Association (SAIA) has launched an online tool for consumers to check the history of a vehicle they intend to buy.

The free web-based facility, called VIN-Lookup, queries a car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) against the insurance industry’s vehicle salvage database (VSB).

Zakes Sondiyazi, SAIA’s manger: insurance risks, said VIN-Lookup was non-life insurers’ contribution to addressing the problem of purchasing unsafe repaired cars from vehicle salvage houses.

“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.”

In addition to VIN-Lookup, buyers of used or damaged vehicles should refer to expert service providers, such as roadworthy test facilities. The physical inspection of a salvage vehicle by a trained professional remains the best option, he said.

To use VIN-Lookup, consumers must complete three fields: their name, their identity number, and the vehicle identification number (VIN).

If the VIN is found in the database, the user will see a short narrative about the vehicle. For example, text that looks similar to the following:


“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 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)
  • Scrap – permanently demolished (Code 4)

The second phase of VIN-Lookup will consider including Code 2 (written-off) vehicles, which may become available by the end of 2023.

The database is limited

The VSD from which 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, an agency of the Department of Transport.

SAIA’s chief executive, Viviene Pearson, said it is important that consumers note that not all written-off vehicles will be in the database.

“Of the 14 million registered vehicles in South Africa, less than a third is insured – less than five million. Therefore, the industry’s VSD will likely have less than 3% of vehicles that are written-off, and most of these are vehicles that can be rebuilt, or can only be used for spare parts, or should be demolished. This means that access to this small database against the population of registered vehicles in South Africa is not the silver bullet as mentioned in some reports written on this topic,” Pearson said.

Not a report on the quality of the repair

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 information owner, the insurance company. The status does not reflect the quality of the repair or the roadworthiness of the 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,” Sondiyazi said.

SAIA further advises users of VIN-Lookup to note that use of the information is at their own risk with no liability on the owners of the information or the administrator of the VSD-shared information.

SAIA said it consulted widely with industry stakeholders in developing VIN-Lookup. This included the Department of Transport as custodians of the National Road Traffic Act, and which provides guidelines to determine the life-cycle status of a motor vehicle as implemented on the NaTIS system. The South African Police Service was among the other stakeholders consulted.

Code 2 vehicles should be included

A report by Engineering News quoted Jacques Viljoen, the national director of the South African Motor Body Repairers Association (Sambra), as saying that although his industry welcomed the release of VIN-Lookup, the facility failed to “get to the heart of the problem”: previously written-off Code 2 vehicles that find their way to salvage yards, are repaired, and sold to unsuspecting consumers.

“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.”

Without a transparent record, there is no way to inform prospective buyers of used motor vehicles of the status history of the vehicle, he said.

The report also quoted William Miller, chief executive of DealersOnline, a vehicle valuation and auction specialist, as saying his company receives at least one complaint a week of an incorrectly coded vehicle.

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

The vehicle had been bought as new from a dealer and sold to 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 scrapyard in Cape Town,” Miller said.

“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,” Miller said.

Sambra entered the vehicle’s details on VIN-Lookup, but its status did not reflect.

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

12 thoughts on “SAIA launches online tool for consumers to check the status of a second-hand vehicle

  1. I would like this for my client as I am a broker

  2. I agree that the Code 2 ‘Uneconomical to repair’ vehicles are definitely a major problem.
    Art the beginning of August a client of mine’s vehicle was written off after a collision with major structural damage to the front. My client neglected to de-activate the tracking device and lo and behold, approximately two weeks ago the client received notifications that the vehicle is frequently and daily travelling in Pretoria region. The only conclusion is that vehicle has been repaired as Code 2. Surely this borders on scam artists as the unsuspecting buyer is bamboozled into believing that he/she buys a second hand vehicle.


    Website dies not work

    1. True, used valid VIN number and a valid statement where the vehicle was scrap and the website returned…. VIN number not found, checked several other valid VIN numbers, same result, VIN number not found.

  4. why do you require the identification of the person making the inquiry ?

  5. Useless website, article is a waste, cheap advertisement.

  6. Useless website if someone consider buying a car and look up with the VIN NO. It requires your I.D. and name (Suggesting you already bought this car?.)

  7. Good evening sir.i just rent to buy a car two weeks ago,so i would like to check the history of this car because there’s other things happening that make me doubt to continue with this contract.can you please check if it never been in an accident before.

  8. The idea is good and will help a lot in buying a used car but I tried to find my own car’s vin and my parent’s and it only shows “Vin not found” although I know my mom’s car was in an accident and was insured. Where else can we find information about a vehicle we want to buy?

  9. What a waste of time….. “Vin Number doesn’t exist”……. Oh yes it does, as confirmed by AA and AutoTraders checks
    So if anyone is reading this… Don’t waste your time here, rather pay the R90 for a history check from the AA or AutoTrader…. ot visit the dealership and they should run a history check for you

  10. Would like to find out who this vehicle belongs to vin number YV1VW17F2YF558118

  11. I would like to know about this vehicle my house burglary used a car to stole the house items. Number plate is AC 198-009
    Please check it for me, your help is much appreciated.

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