Car imports still a grey area

When is a new car not a new car? Strange question but scratch beneath the surface and the answer can be somewhat murky. Cast your mind back to the days of “rip-off Britain” and a time when car dealers were about as popular as ginger twins. The headlines were all about how cars on the continent were thousands cheaper than over here and, as a result, lots of little import companies sprang up allowing you to save all the money and get exactly the same car shipped over from Europe.

In many cases this was most likely true because of exchange rate issues and supply differences there was probably many buyers who did save money, however there were plenty more who had cars which were the wrong spec, all kinds of technical issues not covered under a UK warranty and no comeback against the importers who disappeared as quickly as they came on the scene.

Of course having been battered by bad press, franchised car dealers took great delight in taunting customers who had dared buy from outside the UK dealer network and were put at the bottom of the list when it came to resolving problems, and the offering of courtesy cars for that matter, in favour of loyal buyers who had stuck with them through all the mayhem.

It wasn’t right and in the long term by being spiteful some dealers may have put their cause back further because, as we all know, if we have had good service or a great deal we will probably tell a few friends and family if we have had a terrible experience we tell everybody! Therefore it has taken much longer to re-build the trust between driver and dealer which continues today.

The importers are very few and far between now as there clearly aren’t the pricing disparities there used to be and therefore it is not really worth it financially or from a peace of mind point of view. However there are certain legacies which still remain from those dark days.

We still receive e-mails from people who have bought cars brand new as parallel imports to save money only to then find that, although they may be the first registered keeper in the UK, the car was actually built 2 years ago and in some cases we have heard even longer.

So if you buy a brand new car with delivery mileage which is unregistered but it was built 3 years ago is it still a new car? Probably not and most people would run a mile if they found out but if the saving was large enough to justify the car sitting around in a field with its brake discs rusting and other components potentially wearing out what figure constitutes a valuable enough saving? Is the warranty still valid if the car was manufactured a lot earlier?

There are many issues at play here but from our point of view it comes right back to transparency; if a dealer sells an imported unregistered car for £10,000 that has a UK list of say £15,000 and tells the customer that the car will be registered to them new but was in actual fact built 2 years ago yet is full UK spec then the buyer has a choice right there. If they think the gamble is worth the saving then fine they have their eyes open, if on the other hand that information is withheld, well you can see the problem.

A car buyer empowering themselves to find out all the facts and figures first will save a lot of potential problems later.

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