Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Had Nandile Yani's five-year-old Audi sedan been in an accident two days before Christmas, she wouldn't be battling without transport now, four weeks later.

That's because the Cape Town-based advertising executive's comprehensive insurance policy has a 30-day car hire benefit, giving her free use of a rented car should an accident or theft rob her of the use of her 2012 model A5.

But it wasn't an accident that forced her to part ways with her car in George while on her way to her family's home in Port Elizabeth for Christmas; it was a breakdown involving a collapsed piston.

The Audi dealership in George, which has just two courtesy cars available for its customers, was not inclined to loan one of them to a one-off customer who would drive it on to Port Elizabeth and then Cape Town.

The car has been at the dealership ever since, being assessed and awaiting approval from Avis Fleet Services - through which Yani has a "maintenance plan" - to go ahead with the repair. That came this week, and only then did the dealership order the parts.

A dealership spokesman said the car would be repaired by Tuesday "at the latest".

Meanwhile Yani, who lives about 4km from the nearest public transport hub, has been getting lifts to and from work from a friend, and doing a lot a walking to and from bus stops, as she couldn't afford to hire a car for an indefinite period.

It's a situation she hadn't realised she was "uninsured" for.

A mechanical breakdown isn't "an insurable event" in terms of a motor insurance policy.

And while the R25 000 maintenance plan she bought from Avis Fleet Services in 2013 is covering the repair, it has no car-hire benefit.

Sadly for Yani, the car's five-year Audi Freeway Plan expired in April, eight months before the incident.

"When a customer has an active Audi Freeway Plan and a dealer cannot provide the customer with mobility, Audi South Africa would be able to step in to assist based on certain case conditions," says Tashta Bhana, Audi South Africa's PR manager.

"Those conditions include a delay in sourcing parts, the customer's location and the vehicle's mileage. It's not guaranteed."

Asked how a consumer can cover themselves in a situation such as Yani's, Bhana says that as the car's Freeway Plan has expired, "there are no guidelines in place to consider an investment in a courtesy vehicle. Normally, the repairing dealer would try to assist the customer in providing a courtesy car, should they have one available."

She adds: "Audi Centre George is one of our smaller dealers and doesn't have any courtesy vehicles available.

"In the case of the larger metro dealerships, the dealer would have access to a larger fleet of courtesy vehicles."

Yani says that when the car broke down previously, in Cape Town, Audi Centre on the Waterfront gave her a car to use during the repair period as a courtesy.

"But this time they said they couldn't help as they aren't carrying out the repair and the George dealership is part of a different company," she says.

Bhana suggested that Yani contact Avis "for possible assistance on a mobility solution in the interim".

Nicole Robinson, marketing general manager at Avis Fleet, says the maintenance plan which Yani has in place is sold by Barloworld Motor Retail dealerships - including Audi Centre Cape Town - and administered by Avis Fleet.

"This is a separate entity from Avis Budget, our sister company, whose core business is short-term rentals," she says.

As for why it took so long for Avis Fleet to approve Yani's claim, Robinson says the claim required parts to be stripped to ascertain the full extent of the repairs required.

"We subsequently received the report detailing the quotation for the necessary repairs on January 10 and issued authorisation for the repairs to be carried out on January 15.

"The delay and inconvenience experienced by Ms Yani is regrettable, but we are not in a position to assist with a loan vehicle for the period of her vehicle repair.

"We will gladly help by making a booking through Avis Budget for the customer's account."

Money asked South Africa-based travel insurance company Travelsafe whether it has a product to cover car hire should a consumer be left stranded after a vehicle breakdown far from home.

It doesn't and acknowledges the gap in the market.

"We will look at the business case and start investigating potential partners before implementing this project around developing a product offering," says Veruschka Diest, business development manager for Surestart Online Financial Services, which administers Travelsafe.

Travelsafe sells a little-known car-hire "excess" insurance product for rental cars hired on domestic and international trips, covering any accidental damage or theft of the rental vehicle and its accessories.

Car-rental companies self-insure, with customers taking out standard or super "waivers" which limit their liability in the event of theft or accident, but this still has them paying fairly substantial sums.

Travelsafe sold 400 such policies last year "without any marketing campaigns".

There were four claims, all settled in full, Diest says.

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