Motorists warned of rising theft of car parts at workshops

File picture: Chad Kirchoff / Unsplash.

File picture: Chad Kirchoff / Unsplash.

Published Mar 16, 2023


By: Siyabonga Ngcangisa

Johannesburg - It all started with a controversial social media post last month, when a user expressed shock at how a car mechanic, who was fixing his car, tried to show him a “trick” about the business. The user had taken his car for a gearbox repairs, when the technician asked him to hire the same model as his vehicle, so they could swop the gearboxes.

“My mechanic said to me: ‘Go rent the car you have then come to me will (sic) exchange the gearbox,’” wrote the user, Dungi, in a tweet that received more than 356 000 reads and 527 re-tweets.

This left many tongues wagging, with many worrying that they might be the next victims. Some said they had taken their cars for repairs, only for the cars to return worse than before.

Motor mechanics stealing a client’s vehicle part, to install in another vehicle, appears to be common.

It is no secret that, for years, many motorists have bemoaned taking their cars in for service, only to discover afterwards that either no work was done on the vehicle or components were tampered with.

“I took my BMW to a workshop in Kyalami to replace spark plugs, and when I got there to collect the vehicle, the mechanic was avoiding my calls. He told me he was still waiting for the plugs. He had the audacity to tell me that if he didn’t find it, he’d take it from another vehicle. I was shocked,” said a car owner speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I think this happens when you give them money in advance to buy the parts but they spend the money on personal stuff. They become desperate and replace your parts with used ones stolen from other vehicles.”

In September, Ethel Ngwenya, from Mpumalanga, filed a lawsuit against a Mercedes-Benz branch in the province, after her car was stolen from its premises. She had taken it for a service, six months after purchase.

The Retail Motor Industry (RMI) confirmed that it was not uncommon for the organisation to receive complaints from motorists about finding discrepancies in their vehicles after booking them for repairs.

RMI national general manager Jeff Molefe said that two weeks ago, a Pretoria motorist laid a complaint against a service centre after finding some of the car parts missing following an engine overhaul.

“Some of the parts of the car were missing and upon investigating, only one part was recovered. Clearly, this is a case of theft. We always encourage our motorists to open civil cases against dealers and mechanics in such cases. But we also recommend that they start with us, because we act as mediators between dealer and motorist.”

Molefe said that despite all RMI-approved dealers having disclaimers that cars were parked at the owner’s risk; the law could take its course in a case of an apparent theft of parts. He said that was the case with the Pretoria motorist, who had also considered the legal route.

Nico Lagidze, a mechanic who owns Merc Auto World in Rivonia, has warned motorists to be vigilant when booking their vehicles for services, and tipped them of a few red flags to note when a car has been illegally tampered with during repairs.

“You cannot always prove when your car has been tampered with and parts stolen, so that’s why it’s important that you check the reviews of the place before booking your car in. See if there have been good reviews or not, so that’s your first point. If the reviews are bad, then don’t take your car there from the start,” said Lagidze, who mostly specialises in Mercs.

He advises motorists who suspect that their vehicles have been illegally tampered with, to take the vehicles for a second opinion.

“The second opinion will determine (if certain parts are missing). Also it will prove if the mechanics used old parts. Should one find any wrongdoing, they could always open a civil or criminal case with the police. But one thing about taking your car to an RMI-approved workshop is that all parts carry a six-month guarantee, so you can also settle with the workshop to exchange the parts,” Lagidze added.

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