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Your insurance should cover service centre risk

25 May 2007 Gareth Stokes

Imagine taking you motor vehicle for its standard 15,000 km service only to find the vehicle missing when you return to collect it in the evening. This shocking occurrence is nothing new to South Africa, where theft of this nature has occurred sporadicall

The trouble is that a motor vehicle service centre is an easy mark for a car theft syndicate. Vehicles of a specific make and model can be easily spotted, keys are available on site and the continued coming and going means that little attention is paid to vehicles when they arrive or depart. This makes for the perfect setting for an uncomplicated vehicle theft.

We are writing this article in response to a report in the Consumer Watch section of the Pretoria News. Reporter Wendy Knowler spoke to a motor vehicle owner whose vehicle had been stolen from the service centre of a Pretoria car dealer. Hers was not the only car stolen on the day in question. The vehicle owner was compensated by her insurance, but felt the service centre should have been held accountable too.

Make sure you are covered

The question arises as to who is responsible in the event of a motor vehicle being stolen from a service centre. Most garages include signs stating clearly that the driver leaves his vehicle at the centre at his own risk. When handing your car to the service centre, you also sign forms acknowledging this risk. Clearly, provided the service centre acts reasonably, you have little hope of instigating a claim against them if your vehicle is stolen on their watch.

A comprehensive insurance policy will compensate the vehicle owner in the event of such a loss. The most likely outcome will be that your insurer reimburses you for your loss before examining further options to recover the funds.

If the insurance company believes that the motor vehicle theft can be ascribed to gross negligence on the part of the service centre, it will probably institute legal proceedings against the service centre to recover damages. Court proceedings remain a time consuming and expensive alternative though, and for individuals without insurance cover, fighting such a claim would probably prove impossible.
Make sure that you are correctly insured

The owner mentioned earlier was also unhappy when her insurance premiums were increased after the incident. While it seems unfair that premiums are raised when the damage was not as a result of the policyholder's negligent action, some increase in premium is probably inevitable.

The current insurance situation is unlikely to change. When you take out a comprehensive policy on your car, you are insuring it for all risks. Whether or not it is fair for an insurance company to increase your premiums in such a case is debatable. If you feel wronged, you will have to fight the matter with your broker and the relevant underwriter.

The best advice to motor vehicle owners is to make sure the cover on their vehicles is kept up to date. Review your vehicle insurance at least on an annual basis and given recent events it might be good practice to give your broker a call before you take the car in for its service too. Prevention is better than cure after all.

Editor's thoughts:
Losing a motor vehicle to theft is never a happy experience. However, this loss is made much worse when you lose your vehicle after leaving it in good hands. Have you had any bad experiences which resulted in damage to or loss of your motor vehicle while it was left at a service centre? Send your experiences to

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