In an accident, or missed an insurance payment? Here’s what you need to know

Consumer 'watch-outs of the week'

Wendy Knowler Consumer journalist
Even small car accidents can be traumatic so print out a checklist of what you need to do (see story) and keep it in the car, along with a notebook and pen.
Even small car accidents can be traumatic so print out a checklist of what you need to do (see story) and keep it in the car, along with a notebook and pen.
Image: Supplied by Netcare 911.

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use. Today’s warnings all relate to cars.

Is your car’s tracking device working? Best you check

Whose responsibility is it to ensure that your car’s tracking device is working properly?

Your contract will no doubt tell you that the responsibility lies with you.

Suhail wrote to me to say he’d been a client of Cartrack since March 2019 and recently, to his horror, he found out when he downloaded the company’s app, that it had not been tracking his vehicle since April 2019. But they had continued to debit his account for tracking services — and, of course, the device itself which is paid off over the term of the contract, if not paid for in full upfront.

“Am I justified in not paying them and asking for a refund?”

Responding, Cartrack said: “Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the customer (as per the contract terms and conditions) for reasons such as contact details that may change over time without being updated on our system. “Cartrack does conduct courtesy unit tests with a SMS notification to the customer on the outcome. Our client was sent numerous SMS notifications to advise that the unit was tested and required maintenance, and to contact Cartrack to arrange a repair.”

And don’t forget that even if you sell your car, you are still required to keep paying a tracking company for full term of the contract — usually three years.

Missed an insurance premium payment? Here’s what you need to know

According to the policyholder protection rules which came into effect in January 2019, insurers must give policyholders written notice that they haven’t received the premium within 15 days of them becoming aware of the non-payment. And from the second month of the policy being taken out, they are required to give clients the benefit of a grace period of at least 15 days after the due date in which to make payment, during which time the policy does not lapse.

The Ombudsman for Short-Term Insurance (OSTI) has urged policyholders to check what their policies state about missed payments.

“Some mention the 15-day grace period, but are silent on how payment of the premium should be made within the grace period,” OSTI warns. “We recommend that the policyholder contacts the insurer to establish what method of payment they accept.”

And here’s something that could well trip up many a policyholder who assumes the 15-day grace period starts from the date their debit order usually goes off. “Your chosen debit day is NOT the premium due date, which is always the 1st of every month,” OSTI warns.

“Though the premium remains due on the first day of the month, the policyholder may choose a later payment date which is inclusive of the grace period. If the payment is missed, there is no further opportunity to make up for it.”

And if a policy lapses, it will have to be reissued, which means the underwriting process starts afresh, and not only could you be paying a higher premium as a result, but the insurer could impose a waiting period.

What if you have a car accident, for example, or your car is stolen during the grace period? “A claim can be submitted during the grace period, OSTI says, “but most policies will contain a suspensive condition saying that if the premium is not received within the grace period, the loss will not be covered.”

When dealing with a claim that was rejected based on the non-payment of premium, depending on the circumstances of the case and the terms of the policy, the policyholder protection rules may apply: “If a claimant submits a valid claim in respect of an event that occurred during the grace period, the value of the claim may be reduced by the sum of the unpaid premium.”

Accidents happen — here are the do's and don’ts

Even small car accidents can be traumatic, and that’s not the ideal state in which to do what you must to protect yourself from legal and financial problems down the line. You may want to print this out and keep it in your cubby. Also put a small notebook and pen in one of your car’s storage compartments.

— Put your hazards on, then check for injuries and car damage.

— Take photos of the accident scene from every angle.

— Get the names, ID numbers and contact details of witnesses and the registration numbers, make and colour of all cars involved in the accident.

— Write down the names and contact numbers of emergency personnel at the scene.

— If there are injuries, call 112 from your South African cellphone.

— Report the incident at the nearest police station within 24 hours of the accident.

— Report the accident to your insurance company, even if you don’t intend to claim for your own vehicle’s damage.

— Do not accept any liability for the accident at the scene, even if you were at fault. It’s best to let the authorities or your insurer handle this, insurer Santam warns.

— Do not allow your car to be towed by anyone other than the towing company that’s been authorised by your insurance company. Don’t fall for the tow truck operator’s “I’ll phone and check with your insurer for you” scam — have your insurer’s number saved in your phone and make that call yourself.

— If you are among the two thirds of motorists who do not have car insurance, do not sign any document handed to you by a tow truck operator unless it has a full quote for towing as well as the admin fee plus daily storage and security fees, plus the name and address of where they are towing the car to. Save one or both of SA’s towing associations into your cellphone — phone them from the scene of an accident and they will give you guidance and details about their members:

  • United Towing Association of SA (Utasa) call centre number: 0861 188 272
  • SA Towing & Recovery Association (Satra) 24-hour line: 0861 072 872

— Never put your signature above the tow truck form’s terms and conditions. Many state this: “By signature hereto, you agree to the terms and conditions on reverse hereof”. Those who don’t read the back of the form get a fright when they release their vehicles — a huge bill made up, for example, of towing rates of R5,500, storage of R250 a day, recovery of R2,300, admin of R950 and security of R950.

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

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