Hyundai Atos after car accident

Five Tips for Dealing With a Car Accident in South Africa

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.

Hyundai Atos after car accident
My beloved little car, Henrike, with a very sad dent.

car accidentThe guy who hit me probably sustained the worst damage, although he was able to drive away and I wasn’t. Incidentally, the front of my car had no damage and Jaguar guy’s car had only a tiny scratch.

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.

Adam and Denzil at Doller's Panel Beater'sAdam (left) and Denzil (right) with my car at Doller’s Panel Beaters.

My car with stickersI realize this is the wrong side of the car. But check out the awesome magnets that Ray got me for our two-year anniversary.

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.)

Rent-a-Wreck hire carMy rent-a-wreck. I think I rented the same car a few years ago. The staff were fixing a burned-out tail light when I shot this.

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.

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  • Reply Bronwyn Kairuz June 23, 2016 at 7:19 am

    I am South African myself and cannot imagine why an American would want to live there. Your article has confirmed my decision to be away from home.

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2016 at 7:24 am

      Ah, well incidents like this are just small annoyances. The good still outweighs the bad by 1000%.

  • Reply Lani June 23, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Glad you are okay, and that everyone was okay! Sorry for the hard lessons learnt. Will pass along the good info.

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2016 at 7:25 am

      Thanks Lani!

  • Reply Kate June 23, 2016 at 7:54 am

    None of this surprises me but the part about the tow truck company stealing stuff. Didn’t they think you would know who had taken the stuff? And was it an independent operator or a company? I want to make sure I avoid them. I wonder if insurance companies have trusted tow companies that they work with. Anyway, I’m glad you posted this. If I ever get in an accident, I will be taking everything out that isn’t bolted down: floor mats, spare tire, tire jack, etc.

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      I think the towing company was called A+ towing. Haha.

      • Reply Kate June 23, 2016 at 1:29 pm

        😀 How ironic.

  • Reply Caroline Hurry June 23, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Eish! What a drag but at least you were not hurt. Love the magnetic stickers on the side of your car!

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Thanks, I love them too!

  • Reply Stephanie June 23, 2016 at 8:13 am

    Very informative – thanks! I’ve had “find new car insurance” on my to do’s forever now and this (kind of) prompts me to deal with that task. I think dealing with any kind of insurance is always a pain in the a$$ and never fully covers what you think it’s going to (don’t get me started on medical aid!). So very irritating but at least your car is up and running and hopefully you have some tunes to listen to!

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      I agree. Insurance really just sucks generally, everywhere in the world.

  • Reply Timmee June 23, 2016 at 8:40 am

    Yay Henrike! 😘

  • Reply catherine June 23, 2016 at 8:45 am

    or how to turn an unfortunate accident into an informative , humorous piece of writing! this is, once again, you at your best….sorry about the accident and happy you can see the bright side….

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Thank you so much! It’s true that the only good thing about incidents like this is they provide great blogging material.

  • Reply Caitlin Jean Geel June 23, 2016 at 9:16 am

    I laughed so much at your “abc means xyz in South Africa”
    Accidents happen and life goes on.

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Haha. There are so many differences in car lingo!

  • Reply RL Brooksbank June 23, 2016 at 9:22 am

    Can anyone enlighten me about why someone would want to steal an e-tag? I also had mine stolen from my car when it was in the panelbeaters. Is there a battery in it or something?

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      I’m assuming they stole it so they can run up an etoll bill? Which I don’t even care about because I gave up on paying that bill a long time ago (the system won’t accept my payments).

  • Reply Jonnie Marks June 23, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    Thanks for the invaluable tips!

    I hate to add a horror story, but I see you got out of your car after the accident. A friend got out of his car after being rear-ended only to find the “accident” was deliberate. The guy pulled a gun, robbed my friend and his wife, and shot my friend in the stomach. Luckily, he survived, but it was touch and go. (This happened during the day, but I’m not sure how many other people were around. He was driving an expensive car and therefore might have been a target. We drive a crappy car!)

    What really is the safest thing to do in a minor accident if it wasn’t your fault? Thanks!!!

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      Hi Jonnie, what a horrendous story! I’m not sure what advice to give on that issue. I don’t see how one could avoid getting out of the car…I suppose you could try calling the police but it’s unlikely that they’ll come. And staying inside your car after an accident can also pose a danger, especially at a busy intersection like this one. Regardless though, what a horrible thing to happen to your friend.

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish June 23, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    So glad no one was hurt. When your car was towed, how did you get home? The last time I had a small collision, I rode to the garage in the front seat of the tow truck, called my friends from the garage (panel beaters?), and when they got there, we removed everything I could think of from my car, right down to the mini-screwdriver in the glove compartment. And when I got it back I still found that I’d left a very nice lug wrench in the spare cavity and it was gone. That was in the U.S.! People don’t seem to have much of a conscience anymore. And even though you know who took it, they just grin at you, like “prove it!” For a lug wrench? They’ve got you.
    Many years ago, shortly after it became the law that you had to buy car insurance — and immediately all car insurance premiums went up by a factor of ten — whenever someone tried to fix me up on a blind date and I found out the man was a car insurance salesman, I just said, “No, thanks”. I just didn’t feel that we could have good conversation! As you say, it all sucks.

    • Reply 2summers June 23, 2016 at 5:25 pm

      Ha! I don’t blame you on the ‘no dating insurance salesmen’ policy.

      The tow truck actually gave me a ride to my house, as it was so close to the accident. I totally could have emptied everything out of my car, if I had only thought to do so (my brain wasn’t working very well). Although I doubt I ever would have thought to remove the stereo faceplate – I didn’t even remember that it was removable! So annoying because now I have to buy a whole new radio.

      But as I already said, not a huge issue in the grand scheme of things.

    • Reply Anastasia Smith June 25, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      I know, the States isn’t any different when it comes to petty crime. So many South Africans seem to think the US is the land of milk and honey, when in reality it’s practically the same place with a different dialect.

      • Reply 2summers June 26, 2016 at 4:12 pm

        So true.

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish June 23, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    I have no idea how I had the sense to do what I did, since I was also shook up, and had a nose like Jimmy Durante because even with the seat belt, I hit the steering wheel! Coulda been a lot worse!

  • Reply Anastasia Smith June 25, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Oh, I almost forgot, does your printer do fine art giclees?

  • Reply woozlefrolick July 19, 2016 at 9:17 am

    I know I’m late to the game, but this post comes a the exact same time that I got into a car accident in Joburg! I’m also from the states and made the move here about 3 months ago. My car accident was on the major side, hit by a drunk driver (uninsured, no license, no registration, etc.), airbags, ambulances, the whole deal. Everyone in our car was fine, besides some major bruising and whiplash. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the other car (broken hip, knee). The most surprising thing was that my husband and I were swarmed by tow truck drivers before we even had a chance to get out of the car! The tow trucks go there well before the police or ambulances. Our car was undriveable and the tow truck drivers were making offers to take the car to their respective shops, assess it, and make an offer to buy (free tow to the shop as an incentive). They were giving us ballpark figures that were well above the value of the car. Such an easy thing to agree too when you are in a state of shock! They were truly preying on the vulnerable. Luckily, my husband was wise enough to negotiate that the tow truck drivers tow to our house instead and then come back in the morning to assess when we weren’t so shaken up. We told the driver we would pay him for the tow when he came back in the morning. We called him repeatedly, but the tow truck driver never showed. I’ve heard horror stories from others who have had to pay absurd prices to get their cars back from tow truck drivers. I would say always have the car towed to your house or a shop you trust.

    • Reply 2summers July 19, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      Hey, thanks so much for your comment. That’s interesting! Does your car insurance company offer free towing? Because when my accident happened, I just called Outsurance and put them on the phone with the tow truck guy and he got vetted there. Not that it mattered because my stuff got stolen anyway 🙂

  • Reply Emma February 10, 2020 at 10:05 am

    Very late reply but just wondering if you are still with Outsurance? I’ve been having some troubles with them lately but they keep on telling me they’re the only people the will cover internationals! Thanks 🙂

    • Reply 2summers February 10, 2020 at 10:53 am

      Hi Emma, yes I am. Despite the annoyances outlined in this post, they just seem to be the easiest. And incidentally, a year after my accident happened, Outsurance succeeded in getting my excess back from the guy who hit me and deposited R4000 into my account! That said, I’m sure there are other companies who will insure internationals – I’ve never heard of that before. I have my property insurance through King Price and my health insurance through Discovery.

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