Car buyers keen to pick up a bargain following last week's fierce hailstorm have been warned they may not be able to register written off vehicles.
As the damage bill from the storm reaches tens of millions of dollars, ACT Fair Trading has cautioned that cars which are a statutory write-off can only be used for spare parts and scrap, and restrictions apply on vehicles assessed as repairable write-offs.
A spokeswoman for ACT Fair Trading said it was illegal to register a written-off car unless it was judged to be economically repairable and was registered in the ACT at the time of the write-off.
The vehicle must be structurally sound and have passed a full roadworthy inspection, and all structural repairs must be certified by a licensed repairer, she said.
Several car yards in Fyshwick, which was in the path of the January 20 storm, were open over the long weekend and had a steady flow of potential buyers for cars, including some with visible hailstone damage to bonnets and roofs.
The ACT Fair Trading spokeswoman warned that even if a hail-damaged car is successfully repaired and registered, it would likely be worth less than if it had not been written off, and owners might face higher premiums and stricter conditions from insurers.
However, the storm could prove a windfall for car dealers.
Experience shows that car sales can spike in the months following the destruction as vehicle owners use insurance payouts to fund new purchases.
The most striking example is from Western Australia, where a hail storm tore through Perth in March 2010, causing damage to thousands of houses, cars and other property. More than 12,000 insurance claims were lodged and the total bill reached more than $650 million.
In the two months following the storm new car sales surged to 21,966 vehicles, 5796 more than were sold over the same period the previous year.
Any hail-driven jump in sales will be welcomed by the car industry, which in 2019 experienced its weakest performance in years.
The number of new cars sold nationally slumped to 1,062,867 last year, a 7.8 per cent plunge from 2018 and the worst result since 2011.
Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Tony Weber said 2019 was "a tough year ... with challenges including tightening of lending, movements in exchange rates, slow wages growth and, of course, the extreme environmental factors our country is experiencing".
The size of the damage bill from the hail storm is still being assessed, but the Insurance Council of Australia said that, as at January 23, it had received 55,650 bushfire and other disaster-related claims from the ACT, New South Wales and Victoria entailing estimated losses of $514 million. More than half (53 per cent) of those claims have come from the ACT.
The council has added its voice to warnings about the use of claims service providers.
Earlier this month, Australian Securities and Investments Commission urged people making insurance claims for bushfires and other recent disasters to deal directly with their insurers.
ASIC commissioner Sean Hughes said unscrupulous operators target homeowners, farmers and small businesses in the aftermath of natural disasters, and warned people to be cautious of firms offering to help them make a claim.
"Be wary of anyone who asks for payment up front and who asks you to sign a contract immediately. Don't agree to sign anything which prevents you from dealing directly with your insurer, broker, financial adviser or lawyer," he said.
The Insurance Council said using claims advisors may not lead to better outcomes than dealing directly with insurance companies.
It said before using a claims advisor, people should understand the fees and commissions involved, and the time taken to resolve a claim.