Write-offs: why we need a new clampdown on death-trap cars
* Thinking of buying? Be careful, says our RSA expert, and beware the pitfalls of 'bargains'
LOTS of people are thinking of buying a second-hand car.But how can you be sure it wasn't in a crash or has hidden serious structural problems.
The NCT is a roadworthiness health check. However, the test itself isn't designed to pick up serious issues with the construction of the vehicle. So if you are buying a second-hand car, get someone you trust, and who knows their stuff, to give it a good looking over. There are also websites you can visit to check if the car was 'written off' or returned to the road after a smash.
What would certainly help is the introduction of a system to regulate damaged vehicles. One of the actions the Road Safety Strategy calls for is the introduction of legislation to ensure that vehicles 'written off' and damaged beyond repair, do not make it back onto our roads.
It also looks for the introduction of controls to make sure that 'financial write-offs' being brought back onto the road achieve that high standard.
Vehicles damaged beyond repair should never get back, and where a vehicle can be repaired, it should only be allowed back if repairs meet a certain standard.
As things stand, insurance companies voluntarily notify the Department of Transport of vehicles that are damaged beyond repair and are to be taken off the road permanently. These are statutory write-offs and the department 'locks' them down so there can be no future transactions such as motor tax renewal or change of ownership. Last year, 2,851 vehicles were classified as statutory write-offs and their details 'locked down'.
The current process is administrative and while most insurance companies have signed up, it does not have a legal footing. Categories of vehicle write-offs are not legally defined and insurance companies are not compelled to provide written-off vehicle information to the authorities.
The current register does not take into account 'financial write-offs', where the cost of repair exceeds the value insured. In these cases, insurance companies use their own inspection and certification procedures to allow these vehicles back on the road.
It is estimated that more than 45,000 vehicles are written off by insurance companies each year. Of these, around 18,000 financial write-offs make their way back onto the road.
This is about to change if the proposals from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Road Safety Authority are brought into law. A draft of the new Road Traffic Bill, which includes these measures, recently went to the Dail Committee on Transport and Communications.
The Bill will provide for a system to set qualifying standards and identify those authorised to declare that a vehicle has been written-off and issue a 'death certificate' when it's taken off the road permanently.
It will also give state agencies powers to detain and destroy writte-offs which do not comply with the new regulations. This will ensure that seriously damaged and dangerous vehicles don't make it back on the public road.
It will also prevent them from becoming an environmental hazard through illegal dumping.
For those that are classed as a financial write-off and intended to be brought back onto the road, it is vital that repairs are carried out by a skilled and qualified individual.
As a result the quality of work carried out by vehicle maintenance and repair services will be to a consistent minimum standard.
So if you are buying a second-hand car, get someone who is qualified to carry out an independent check. If a vehicle looks like a great bargain, beware.