This section is a no-nonsense "how and why" guide to buying your car from Japan - or buying a 'grey import'
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say | what owners say | what's
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difficult? | other jap connections | making a purchase | payment
shipping | legality | modifications | what else? | the future
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Originally, this was Mitsubishi's statement regarding Grey
"There is no such thing as a World Car. Mitsubishi produces vehicles to meet the regulations of the country exported to. The EC requires 54 tests (eg. Brakes, noise, emissions, etc.) so unless the vehicle is of EC spec it's 'buyer beware'. Grey imports are only required to need the standard of the country in which they were designed to be used. The Colt Car Company (CCC) doesn't have any information on vehicles they have not imported to the UK or any technical information on grey imports. We are also unable to assist with servicing and product recalls on these cars as we do not have the relevant data. Product liability rests with the country or individual that imported the vehicle into the United Kingdom"
HOWEVER, Mitsubishi and the Colt Car Company have turned
around on this statement and are now selling grey imports through main dealers!
Personally, I can not believe that CCC have turned around so completely on their original standing. I personally think that they have realised how huge the import scene is and have decided "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!".
I think that CCC were very guilty of scaremongering in the
early days but as I say, the import scene has just exploded and it's like trying
to police the Internet - impossible.
The choice such hot machinery as the Mitsubishi FTO
(what else!), the EVO and the Skyline GT-R, Subaru Impreza WRX is already
known to British enthusiasts. But that's not the end of the story. Other
winners include the Soarer Coupe and Lexus GS3000 turbo and the Galant 4wd
from Mitsubishi. All are well specified and offered at prices so low it's
easy to see why official importers refer to the overpriced British market
as 'Treasure Island'. And if that wasn't enough, the steering wheel is on
the right side of the car as well.
It's the structure of the Japanese market that makes
cars so much cheaper than similar models in the UK. They depreciate even
more quickly too which makes it even better for buying second hand,. The
high depreciation is mainly du to the rigorous 'sha-ken' test which takes
place three years after first registration and every two years after. This
'super MoT' usually costs £750 or more! For a three year old car that
has lost half it's original value of £6,000, this overexpenditure
might be worthwhile. But as the years go by, the 'sha-ken' becomes more of
an issue for car owners in Japan, making used cars far cheaper for anyone
who has plans to export.
Japan has its own quirks too, one of which is a law
that obliges the potential new car buyer to prove they have a parking
space before they can purchase a car - the departire lounge ast Tokyo's
Narita airport does not qualify J. There are ways around this barrier but
without trade contacts and fluent Japanese most perple will never discover
them. As a result, if you are not aquainted with Japan and its language
you will have to work with export agents (see Q&A section) who will
set up the whole transaction for you, In reality this is just as well,
Organising for a vehicle to be de-registered, transported to the docks and
shipped to the UK is best left to the professionals - it also means you
can concentrate on finding the right car.
Car owners in Japan are totally in the hands of
motor traders when they want to sell. Cars change registration when they
change ownership (unlike the UK), with the process handled by a government
official who is only allowed to deal with registered motor traders. So
Japanese motorists can either trade in their cars or sell them at auctions
where the only people allowed to bid are registered dealers. Japanese car
auctions are gigantic. Everyone attending gets a detailed list of all
entries and shuttle busses ferry potential bidders around the huge
compounds. Every car is unlocked with the key in the ignition to allow the
engine to be fired up. There is also a single sheet report detailing the
vehicle's age, mileage and specification, together with service history
and engineer's notes on any problems. These reports are so thorough that
many dealers buy without looking at the cars. They rely instead on digital
photos and report forms displayed on screens in auction halls. Technology
is used for bidding too. Registered motor dealers sit at desks and simply
click buttons to enter bids. In some cases they don't even bother to
attend the auction as traders can bid from anywhere in the world via the
Most private UK buyers cannot be bothered with the
time, travel costs and complications of attending auctions in person. It's
far easier to order a car from one of the many businesses that have sprung
up in the unofficial imports industry. These are either exporters based in
Japan or grey importers located in the UK. Before choosing which company
to use, it's necessary to understand what is involved.
If an overseas company is unable to offer cast-iron
security for a deposit, look elsewhere. Established motor import agents in
the UK are a much safer proposition - particularly members of BIMTA. Most
will prefer to sell a vehicle already in stock. Buyers who insist on a
special order have to pay a deposit - £1,000-£1,500 is common,
but it will be higher if the vehicle is in a hard-to-sell-on wacky colour
or specification. Extra care is required on used cars. Insist on a full
inspector's report with details of any extra spec and every blemish. Some
dealers/wholesalers offer a full money-back guarantee on all cars if they
do not match the report exactly. Payment of the full amount should not be
made until after the vehicle has got SVA/MoT certification and is ready
Cars can be ferried in secure containers or on
roll-on-roll-off ferry like ships. All but the most valuable cars will be
safe enough this way (that's how official imports get to the UK), though
minor knocks do occur. More common are blown engines - revved hard after a
cold start - and petty thefts, either on board or in dockside compounds.
Losses only hit one or two percent of cars but insurance is essential.
Shipping and insurance costs depend on vehicle size. An MR2-sized car is
around £900 but a big off-roader will be nearer £1,500.
Buyers who can show passport stamps, air tickets and
hotel receipts to prove that they have ben to the country from which the
car is bought have no difficulty bringing a personal import into the UK.
Those who can't have to go through an elaborate pantomime - instead of
coming direct to the UK (where the Treasury would benefit 10 per cent tax
payable on any goods brought into the EU), personal imports arranged by
agents have to enter cia another EI nation. The personal importer is
obliged to take a day trip abroad to prove they owned and used it in
another EU state. The agent's price will normally include a flight/ferry
ticket to make this simple. Check whether the cost includes transport to
and from the airport/ferry terminal. With this formality out of the way,
the vehicle can be shipped over where it faces dock-handling feed of
around £65 and comes under Customs' glare. Imports face a VAT bill of
17.5 per cent on the total price of the vehicle - including all other
costs incurred. Expenses incurred in foreign currencies, such as the car
itself, are assessed using the exchange rate on the day the car is
imported, inless you've proof of the rates used.
Before a vehicle can be registered it's necessary to
prove it roadworthy and legal. This is where things get a bit messy. The
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions rationalise the
law with limited success during 1998. It introduced a test to ensure that
every vehicle not covered by Type Approval was roadworthy and legal before
registration for use on public roads. Single Vehicle Approval (SVA) tests
would last between two to four hours at 16 special testing centres around
the UK and cost £165. This helped personal imports, as it recognised
that vehicles which had been type approved in Japan or the USA were safe
for occupants and other road users - provided certain modifications were
The modifications required for SVA testing are
fairly straightforward. Various companies are now familiar with replacing
speedos (kmh to mph), headlight adjustment, fitting restrictor necks
inside the fuel fillers to allow unleaded fuel only and fitting rear fog
lights (unknown in Japan). They will usually offer to remove the speed
limiter restricting all Japanese market cars to 112mph. Where it can be
more difficult is if the car has been modified with the fitment of a
big-bore exhaust (which may exceed the SVA noise levels) or smaller wing
mirrors. The vehicles facing the biggest obstacle are off-roaders with
spare wheels mounted on the back door. This blocks rear visibility and the
rear lights and usually obliges official importers to fit extra lights in
the rear bumper. It's no good simply taking the spare wheel off the
bracket (the SVA testers aren't stupid) but removing the bracket and
plugging the holes is sufficient to prove that visibility is not
restricted. Putting it back on after the test makes the vehicle
technically illegal, but is a very common practice. The examination for an
MOT (applicable on cars over 3 years old) is less rigorous but a rear fog
light and an mph display on the speedo are essential. Watch out for lazy
importers who will attempt to alter the speedo on the cheap. Simply
sticking a new mph face on the existing kmh speedo is usually illegal, but
this leaves the odometer unchanged and will clock up another mile for
every kilometre the car is driven. The indicated mileage would be roughly
a third higher than it should be.
Make sure you get your car fully undersealed, if the
dealer has not already done so. Also, while an import is being modified
for an SVA or MoT, it is common to fit a waveband adaptor to the car
radio. However the wavebands for Japanese car radios are far more
restricted than radios for Britain, so the choice of stations will remain
limited all the same. Importers of Japanese cars are best advised to
budget for a new, UK-supplied stereo, as well as a new car battery to
replace the weaker Japanese-fitted item. The other big item which is
strongly advised must be the replacement of the tyres. Differences in
runner compounds between UK and overseas markets are invisible to the
naked eye, but can have a dramatic effect on handling. If the car is more
than two years old or there are doubts about its pedigree, inspection by a
specialist company is recommended. It's the same service people use when
buying a new car, although companies are now used to checking out imports
too. Last item on the check list must be what warranty cover you can get
from various companies (see the Q&A section). Like most insurers, they
are very nervous about covering cars that are totally unknown in the UK,
but are otherwise happy to see a warranty that's just as good as anything
you could get from a franchised dealer.
With unofficial importers now able to offer service,
parts and warranties, the official importers have got problems.
Particularly since the new Minister of Transport has suggested that
removing the limits on SVA tests (currently there's a quota on cars that
can be imported by an unofficial importer) would benefit buyers by
increasing competition. When that happens, the official importers will
have to lower their prices - maybe by 15 per cent or more!