In Summary
  • The vehicle was towed to a garage that did an assessment and a day later I got a quotation: Sh150,000, give or take a few shekels.

  • Wait, what? A hundred and fifty large for patching a radiator and bumper plus installing a new windscreen?
  • What did they think I did for a living, run a betting company?

Part 1: The Book of Numbers

How much do you expect to pay for repairs when you ding the front offside corner of a L405 Range Rover Vogue? A hundred grand? Half a million? A million? How about the sum total of those three figures – Sh1.6 million?

Right now, you can get yourself a used W221 Mercedes-Benz S Class saloon car in good nick for about three-and-a-half million shillings. So how much would you expect to pay for suspension work and new headlamps? No damage, just what looks like preventative maintenance. Is two-thirds of the car’s asking price – Sh2.3 million – good? That isn’t too ridiculous, is it?

Sticking with the three-pointed star, we now go to one of my all-time favourites: the W212 E Klasse. Picture one with a “Camry Dent”, a phenomenon observed by an American car blogger in which an inordinate number of Toyota Camry cars have a dented rear bumper, with the dent usually off-centre, but only this time on a relatively new Mercedes. How many thousands do you expect to fork out to fix that damage? Six, like I would for my Subaru? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? How about 357, like a Magnum “Desert Eagle”? Sounds fair?

Now that we are talking of rear-end damage, picture a Mk. VI Golf, yes the same Volkswagen Golf we all know and love, in its sixth iteration. Someone rams one from the back, meaning it has to be fixed. It is a small car, it is fairly ubiquitous and it is not a Mercedes-Benz, so it shouldn’t cost too much to repair, yes? You can buy a very good Mk. V Golf for Sh650,000, but that same six-fifty is what it will cost to repair the rear-end damage on the Mk. VI.

(Granted, the Mk. VI is a Golf R, but it’s still a Golf!)

Four wheels good, two wheels bad, I always say, but that is just a personal idiosyncrasy because I have a distaste for heavy bicycles powered by chainsaws. Some other people like motorbikes, and they assure me that the BMW Motorrad 1200 GS Adventure R is a fine example of the breed. It is so good that it is the top-selling model for the marque. A quick online window-shopping spree shows that if I want to get one from South Africa, prices range from about 61,000 rand (roughly Sh412,000) for a 2007 bike, which I can’t bring in because it flouts the eight-year import age limitation, to R209,000 (Sh1,412,000) for a metal horse wrought in 2018 with plenty of bells and whistles. So, factoring in taxes and whatnot, that 2018 bike should cost just under Sh3 million on the (Kenyan) road.

Why then does the repair bill of a similar motorbike add up to Sh7,767,174.78, inclusive of VAT? That’s enough to buy three 1200 GS Adventure Rs of varying ages, by Toutatis!

(Funnily enough, that repair bill includes quotations for a complete engine at Sh2 million plus change, and a frame chassis for about half that, which begs the question: a motorbike is basically the engine and the frame. If you are replacing those two, among other things, you may as well just buy another bike.)

* * * * *

Part 2: F. U., Pay Me!

Those numbers up there are very intimidating and sound fictional – particularly for the BMW – but some are verifiable. I got the Golf quotation from a close friend who should know, so there may be a grain of truth to the rest of them as well. I find it unlikely that anyone actually shelled out those astronomical sums out of pocket to do the needful to their highly covetable automobiles, and for one very simple reason – insurance.

Comprehensive insurance covers exist solely to mitigate such bankruptcy-inducing quotations from ambitious garages (more on this flouting of corporate social mores later) whereby the insurance company to which you pay some guineas every season puts those guineas to good use by stepping in when your goods are no longer what they used to be... or where they used to be, in the case of TWOCcing (Taking Without Owner's Consent, a.k.a. Grand Theft Auto).

This brings to light an open secret that few mention in broad daylight, but everybody is well aware of: when you present a damaged motor vehicle to a garage for extensive patchwork, the first question asked as the vehicle is being booked in is this: is this an insurance case or will you be paying for the repairs yourself?

Yes, many garages have two sets of prices for the same job, the same way some dealerships I know have two sets of prices for the same vehicle: one for government and fleet sales, one for private buyers. You see, these garages are run by human beings who, despite their fleecing ways, have a touch of empathy in them.

They may want to rip you off but not so as to punish you in the process, they therefore go easy (relatively) on you. However, an insurance company is a faceless corporate devoid of feelings and emotions, one that doesn’t have a family to take care of, or loans to pay off or indeterminate job security in these times of pecuniary uncertainty, so when these same garages see a chance to make some free coin out of them, the bloodletting will be as relentless as it is guilt-free.

I have gone through this myself some years ago when thundering down Lang’ata Road in my since-sold Mazda Demio. I took the Mbagathi Way turn a little faster than I should have and understeered into a bollard, splitting the car’s chin and puncturing the radiator, which promptly wet itself, splashing coolant all over the pavement. I had a passenger who smacked the rear view mirror (ouch!), cracking the windshield. It is not a moment I am proud of, needless to say.

Page 1 of 2