What Car? Q&A - What are the risks of buying an imported

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Want to buy an imported car? THere's a lot to read up on before you do...
Want to buy an imported car? THere's a lot to read up on before you do...
Q: I'm thinking of buying an imported car. The savings are huge, but I'm worried I might get ripped off. What are the risks?
Ruth Jay


Cars that have been bought elsewhere in the European Union and then imported into Britain are known as parallel imports.

Differences in trim and specification may exist between these and those sold by UK dealers, but they should be mechanically identical and will have been through the same EU 'type approval' tests as UK cars.

Cars which have been ordered to match the UK specification hold on to their value best, but even so, some franchised dealers will turn their noses up if offered a parallel import in part-exchange. You may have to sell the car privately to find a fair price.

Some dealers may also try and scare you off by telling you that you won't be able to get repairs done under warranty. Although a dealership may prove awkward when it comes to doing work on an import, it would be illegal for them to refuse to do it.

In 2005, Subaru tried to claim that the warranty on imported cars was worthless, but bowed to pressure from What Car? and subsequently confirmed that they were protected in the same way as UK cars.

'Grey' imports
Things aren't quite as clear-cut with grey imports, which arrive from outside of the EU - the majority of them from Japan.

Although they may have European equivalents (the Mazda MX-5 and Eunos Roadster, for example), they have been built and tested for markets outside Europe.

That means the heating system may be less effective, a cold-start system might not be fitted and corrosion protection could be less comprehensive.

It's also harder and more expensive to check the history of the car, because the usual databases won't cover the car.

The British Independent Motor Trade Association offers history-check services on imports. A Certificate of Authenticity check from them costs £41 and, if issued, will pay the buyer back the market value of the car if it subsequently proves to be stolen.

It also checks to see if there is any outstanding finance on the car, while a mileage check costs a further £23.50. Call BIMTA on 01892 515425 or visit www.bimta.org.

Servicing and repair can also be more problematic if specific parts are needed from Japan, and you won't be able to get work done under warranty. All of these potential pitfalls mean a grey import can be had for very little money.

If you want to avoid one, or suspect a car you're looking at is a secret grey import, take a note of the VIN or chassis number and call up the manufacturer concerned. They'll be able to tell you where the car has come from.

For more on importing a car, download our checklist - you can get it by clicking here.
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