New SAAQ online portal now causing issues for car dealers as headaches for drivers continue

Hundreds of drivers continue to line up in droves outside of Quebec's auto insurance board offices as issues with the SAAQ's new online portal are now causing major headaches for dealers in the auto industry.   (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Hundreds of drivers continue to line up in droves outside of Quebec's auto insurance board offices as issues with the SAAQ's new online portal are now causing major headaches for dealers in the auto industry. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

Long lineups of frustrated drivers outside Quebec's auto insurance board offices have become a common sight across the province as hiccups with a new online service portal persist.

Now, the SAAQ's issues are causing serious headaches for dealers in the auto industry — some of whom find themselves completely unable to deliver vehicles to customers.

That's the case for Stéphane Laframboise, president of Unik Auto Import, a car importing company in Montreal, whose operations have been paralyzed for days due to the inability to complete the registration process with the SAAQ.

When purchasing vehicles outside of Quebec, dealers or companies must first have them entered into the Quebec vehicle bank through the SAAQ. They must then submit the vehicle to a mandatory mechanical inspection and finally register it in the customer's name.

For a small businessman like Laframboise, all of this requires an average of three appointments at the SAAQ. At least that's how it was before the implementation of the new SAAQclic online portal — a system that's off to a bumpy start.

"Before, it was difficult, but we lived with it. Now, they can't collect my requests or integrate my vehicles. We simply can't do anything anymore," he said.

Laframbroise said he has cars sitting unregistered across the city: multiple stuck at a CN port, a warehouse-full in Lachine (a storage space he rents for $3,500 a month) and eight more sitting near his house.

"I have a small market — It's 100 vehicles a year. It takes all the effort in the world. Right now, I have $100,000 in inventory. What do I do with that? I'm not Lexus," he said.

Laframboise turned to the SAAQ's dealer support line, where he said he spent hours without ever speaking to a human being and where the line automatically hung up on him after almost three and a half hours of waiting.

"We call every day, and we wait three, four, five hours," he said. "We're screwed, honestly."

Deliveries inconvenient for customers

The situation is also problematic in larger businesses and dealerships of major brands, says Ian P. Sam Yue Chi, CEO of the Quebec Automobile Dealers Corporation (CCAQ).

"Yes, we are experiencing difficulties at the level of all [890] dealerships in Quebec," he said.

But for some dealers who are already struggling with delivery delays due to supply chain disruptions, adding more delays due to computer problems at the SAAQ is not an option.

"The number one priority was established from the start: we wanted to be able to deliver vehicles to customers. We're doing it through indirect means," said Sam Yue Chi.

Dealers are doing this by registering the vehicles they sell by issuing temporary paper registration certificates, commonly called "transits," which are placed in the rear window of a car while waiting to be registered.

Érik Chouinard/Radio-Canada
Érik Chouinard/Radio-Canada

Since the new SAAQ systems implemented at dealerships were not reliable enough, the SAAQ recommended that dealerships continue to issue transits until further notice.

But since a transit is only valid for 10 days, the document must be renewed regularly by dealers until the SAAQ is able to process registration requests normally. This is an inconvenience for customers, who have to return to the dealership to renew the document, says Sam Yue Chi.

"Our concern is not in the capability of the SAAQ. It's in its ability to find quick solutions," he said, adding the longer it takes for the SAAQ's systems to be fully operational, the greater the future task of formally registering all these vehicles will be for dealers.

Members of the CCAQ perform 600,000 transactions each year via the SAAQ computer system.

Issued resolved by April, SAAQ CEO hopes

Hundreds of people have been lining up for hours in front of SAAQ service points for more than a week, hoping to make a transaction or complete an administrative formality.

On Thursday, SAAQ CEO Denis Marsolais acknowledged that last week was difficult due to capacity problems with the SAAQ's computer network and people flocking to service points that are overwhelmed.

The new SAAQclic portal is meant to allow drivers to replace their licences, get their vehicle registration documents or access their files without having to call or go to an SAAQ service outlet.

Stating that mitigation measures are being put in place, Marsolais said he hopes to have everything resolved by the end of April.

Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada
Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada

Meanwhile, Gino Desrosiers, the media relations co-ordinator with the SAAQ, also confirmed the existence of technical problems with the SAAQclic dealer portal.

"Our IT teams are at work to make the corrections. In spite of everything, the portal is working and transactions are being recorded every day," he said.

Desrosiers also said the dealer support line is still up and running, but is overloaded. He added other support measures, including an email channel available for dealers to report technical problems, are also in place.

Premier Legault calls situation 'unacceptable' 

Questioned at a news conference Friday about the issues with the digital transition at the SAAQ, Premier François Legault expressed his discontent.

"I am not at all satisfied with what is happening at the SAAQ right now," he said, adding he is demanding changes.

He said he discussed the matter with Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault and his digital and cybersecurity minister Éric Caire.

"There seem to be difficulties accessing the site, among other things the authentication part. We're looking at what we can do to simplify it. And on the other side, since there are more people in the physical offices of the SAAQ, we have to rapidly add employees to respond to the demand," Legault said.

"The current situation is unacceptable and I asked that it be corrected rapidly."