Watch-outs of the week: be careful when buying a car privately

Be careful when buying a car in a private deal.
Be careful when buying a car in a private deal.
Image: 123RF/ Katarzyna Białasiewicz

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

High risk four-wheel bargains

This week online advertising platform Gumtree revealed that it has more than 70,000 used cars on offer on its site, with huge numbers of Volkswagens, Toyotas and Fords, in particular.

“SA new vehicle sales may be down by about 35% compared to winter 2019, but the market for used cars is growing, with SA’s most perennially popular brands leading the virtual sales lot,” Gumtree said. “With online shopping having surged since the hard lockdown in March this year, there’s been a notable increase in used-car listings as South Africans rework their budgets to future-proof their finances.”

If you’re after a VW Polo, Toyota Corolla or Ford Ranger, you’re spoilt for choice on Gumtree, with 3,137, 2,475 and 1,867 of them being advertised for sale respectively.

A word of caution, though: when you buy a car privately, you do not have the safety net of the Consumer Protection Act’s six-month warranty. It’s effectively a voetstoets deal. And that’s a perfect situation for the seller of a dodgy vehicle to exploit.

While writing this, I received an e-mail from a Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal, woman whose fiancé bought a Toyota Rav in June after seeing the advert on Gumtree. It was later found to have major mechanical problems; the roadworthy certificate was fake, the engine number had been tampered with, and when the car was taken to a police station on Wednesday for a clearance certificate, it was impounded.

When they confronted the seller, she became aggressive, hung up and then blocked the couple. So proceed VERY carefully if you opt to buy privately.

What to do:

Car sale scams are particularly rife at the moment, so insist that the seller uses an escrow payment system, which protects both of you: 3PayMe (, Standard Bank’s ( or Paysho (

— Get the car checked by a third-party inspection centre such as Dekra or Car Inspection (Gauteng only, and specifically ask them to look for signs of major accident damage.

— Test drive the car in a variety of conditions from low to high speeds. Be on the lookout for poor handling, alignment and obvious defects like body panels and bumpers which are not symmetrical or aligned, strange engine pitch or noise, rattles or other noises.

— If an engine bay side wall is clean, and the opposite side wall is dirty, be suspicious. Bumper alignment, crooked bumpers indicate trauma.

— Look for messy wiring, non-matching panels, and oil on the engine cover — all bad signs.

— Source the car’s catalogue online or at a dealership to see if the paint colour aligns with the manufacturer’s colour options.

— Some cars such as BMWs store data of the car in the key’s memory: request the key be sent to a BMW dealership for a report.

Sunbeds as a coronavirus preventive?

 Covid-10 has catapulted vitamin D into public consciousness, many claiming that taking vitamin D supplements is effective in preventing or treating the coronavirus.

The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has said there is no evidence to support taking vitamin D supplements to specifically prevent or treat coronavirus, but many experts are of the view that it may have some broader health benefits during the pandemic to keep people as nutritionally fit as possible; 10 micrograms being the suggested daily dose.

The sunbed industry has capitalised on the heightened vitamin D awareness, claiming that sunbed sessions are a good way to boost your levels of the vitamin. But the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority takes a dim view of such claims.

This month the regulator upheld complaints against a Facebook advert for tanning salon Basetan that stated: “Sunbeds and sunlight are the main sources of your bodies' [sic] vitamin D ... vitamin D is essential for good health. It lowers the risk of everyday infections like cold and flu as well as more fatal diseases such as high blood pressure, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and depression.

“Studies suggest that regular, moderate sunbed use will raise the levels of vitamin D in healthy adults by an average of 40% ... Tanning in a sensible manner can create a whole host of health benefits.”

“We considered those claims implied that using sunbeds was the most efficient way to boost vitamin D levels,” the regulator said. “However, Basetan did not provide any evidence to substantiate that claim and we therefore considered that the claim was misleading.

“Furthermore, sunbeds are not recommended by the National Health Service as a source of vitamin D. They state that ‘a tan is your body's attempt to protect itself from the damaging effect of UV rays'. Using a sunbed to get a tan isn't safer than tanning in the sun.

“It may even be more harmful, depending on factors such as the strength of UV rays from the sunbed, how often you use a sunbed, the length of your sunbed sessions, your skin type and your age ...

“And using sunbeds is not a recommended way of making vitamin D.”  

Legal advice, mahala

You can now get free legal advice via a new app called Molao 365. The advice is offered by qualified and experienced lawyers, in most SA languages, via a secure online chat service, 24/7.  “Most people need legal awareness and literacy as opposed to legal representation,” says founder Gugu Gumede.

“But even if you want to make enquiries about deceased estates, wills or types of marriage contract, a lawyer will charge you about R5,000 ‘for the opening of the file and consultation’," Gumede says.

With Molao 365, clients only pay for legal work conducted and/or legal representation in court or institutions. There are no monthly subscriptions. The application can be downloaded free of charge on devices, using both Android and iOS operating systems.

I trialled the service, and got a very quick, helpful response.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: or on Twitter: @wendyknowler


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