There I was, minding my own business at a red robot (robot means “traffic light” in South African). Suddenly — crash! — a sickening crunch from behind, and I sat helplessly as my car slid into the Jaguar in front of me. Car accident. Aaaarrrrggggghhhhhhhhhh.
My beloved little car, Henrike, with a very sad dent.
I collected myself and got out of the car. Jaguar Guy was already berating Nissan Guy. “Really, boet?” said Jaguar Guy to Nissan Guy. (Boet means “dude” in South African.) “Do you have insurance?” Nissan Guy looked sheepish and shook his head.
And thus began my journey through the maze of South African car insurance and auto body repair.
Things I Learned When I Had a Car Accident
Although I’d had a couple of minor dings before, this was my first time dealing with a multi-car accident and South African car insurance. I learned a few things that I think are worth passing on.
1. Don’t expect the police to show up.
Cops don’t come to the scene of minor car accidents (i.e., nothing is on fire and no one is hurt) in South Africa. No one even bothers to call them. Instead, the people involved are expected to exchange details, take lots of pictures, and go to the police station nearest to the accident (in this case the nearest police station was Hillbrow — I tried to go to Parkview but was turned away) within 24 hours to file a report. Be sure to get the other drivers’ full names, license numbers, and car registration numbers, and take note of exactly how the accident happened, where the cars were positioned, what street you were on, etc. You will be expected to provide all of this information in your police report.
I didn’t take very many pictures. It didn’t occur to me to do so since the accident clearly wasn’t my fault. Ha! See below.
2. Don’t expect “the other guy’s insurance” to cover your damages.
Liability insurance is a legal requirement for all automobile owners in America. If you get into a car accident in the U.S., and the accident isn’t your fault, then your repairs will almost certainly be covered by the insurance company of the other driver. This is not the case in South Africa. Insurance coverage is a choice here, not a law. So if you get hit from behind and the driver who hit you isn’t insured, then too bad for you. I suppose you can sue for damages but again, this is South Africa, not America. Small claims lawsuits really aren’t a thing.
My insurance company has informed me that Nissan Guy agreed to pay back my damages in installments and there’s a chance I’ll get my excess (excess means “deductible” in South African) back eventually. But I’m not holding my breath.
3. Don’t leave ANYTHING in your car before it’s towed.
I initially thought I could drive my car away from the scene. But the dented rear bumper was scraping against my back tire. As I got into my car to (try to) drive away, a tow truck driver magically appeared outside my window. My accident occurred at an intersection where tow trucks camp out waiting for hapless people like me. “This car isn’t drivable,” the towing guy said, knowing he was about to get lucky. He was right.
I had just come back from my fine art printer and had a bunch of delicately printed photos in the car. I was so worried about getting those out safely, and so shaken by the whole incident, that it didn’t occur to me to empty the car of everything else. Big mistake. When I got my car back two-and-a-half weeks later, it was missing its car stereo face plate, a set of jumper cables, and an e-toll tag. In other words, everything in the car that had any value whatsoever.
I suppose there are several people who could be to blame for this theft, but I blame the towing company. I know the stereo face plate was already stolen before it reached the panel beater (more on the panel beater below).
4. Don’t expect your insurance company to actually fix your car.
Nissan Guy doesn’t have insurance, but I do. I’ve been faithfully paying my monthly premium for the last three years, secure in the knowledge that my insurance company will cover me if anything goes wrong. What a relief, right?
Well, sort of. Two days after the accident, I received a report from Outsurance informing me that my car was a write-off. (Written off means “totalled” in South African.) “What???!!!” I yelled, inside my own head. How could my Henrike be totalled after such a minor fender-bender? (Literally, it was only a bent fender.) Outsurance estimated that my car would cost R22,000 ($1500) to fix and the value of the car was only R31,000 ($2100), hence the write-off. I knew this was outrageous and told them so, to no avail.
Outsurance offered me two options: 1) they keep the car and pay me out for the full value (R31,000); or 2) they give the car back to me and pay me “the value of the car minus the wreck value” (R10,300), and I can do what I want with the “wreck”. I went with option #2 because, duh, I love my car, I don’t want to buy a new car, and this car is still perfectly fine.
So I got my car back and Outsurance gave me some money to go toward the repairs. But I had to do the legwork myself.
5. Take your car to Doller’s Panel Beater, because it’s the best.
In their defence, Outsurance was quick to process my payout and they offered to tow my car to the panel beater of my choice for free. (Panel beater means “body shop” in South African.) I called Lucky, whose brother Walter works in the panel-beating industry. Lucky and Walter recommended I take the car to Doller’s Panel Beater and I took their advice.
Doller’s (not a typo) turned out to be the only ray of sunshine in this process. Adam and Denzil, who I dealt with at Doller’s, are the two loveliest people I have ever met in the automotive business. They were honest, polite, and got my car fixed quickly (less than a week!) at a reasonable price. I paid only R2000 more than my payout from Outsurance, and the car looks and runs exactly the same as it did before the accident.
Doller’s Panel Beater is at 17 Hubert Sttreet, Johannesburg. The number is 011-834-7828.
Bonus tip: If your insurance doesn’t cover a rental car (mine doesn’t) and you want a super-cheap replacement, hire a car from Apex Car Rental, aka Rent-a-Wreck. I’ve written about Rent-a-Wreck before and nothing has changed, except the office has moved from downtown Joburg to Orange Grove and the cars are even crappier than I remember. (I guess my standards are higher than they used to be, but I like my headlights to work and my sideview mirrors to stay in place.) But you get what you pay for with Rent-a-Wreck and I’ve yet to find another company anywhere near this cheap — rentals start at about R100 a day, including insurance. (Car insurance doesn’t carry over to rentals in South Africa. But that is the subject of another post.)
I realize now that I was lucky. No one was hurt in the accident, I didn’t have to pay a huge amount out-of-pocket, and I found an excellent, trustworthy panel-beater. I just wish my insurance company had been more accommodating and the towing company (or whoever) hadn’t stolen my stuff. I’ll know better next time an hopefully you will, too.