The fact that you’re reading this indicates that you’ve probably at least considered importing a vehicle before – and in many ways, that’s very understandable.
After all, for a lot of car fanatics, the notion of importing a car – or purchasing a vehicle that has previously been imported – gets at the heart of what it really means to be a “petrolhead”.
Whether it’s muscle cars from America or supercars from Japan that many of us fell in love with as kids playing Gran Turismo, there are all kinds of cars out there – often fast, obscure or otherwise interesting – that might have never been officially sold by their manufacturers outside their domestic market.
Let’s take the example of the UK, particularly because back in the 1990s and early 2000s, the notoriously high prices of new cars there compared to seemingly identical models sold in continental Europe led to many independent firms springing up that specialized in importing often exotic vehicles from foreign lands to Britain.
Indeed, as the Honest John website reports, this trend led to many cars being imported to the UK from parts of the world far beyond continental Europe. Japan became especially happy hunting ground for many importers, with such models as the Nissan Figaro, Honda Beat and Eunos Roadster – the latter the Japanese version of the Mazda MX-5 – gaining legendary status as a result.
All very interesting – but does importing still make as much sense in the 2020s?
Two decades on from the height of Britons’ craze for importing vehicles from distant climes, the previous gap between UK and European dealer prices has somewhat narrowed since those days. And as for Japanese exotica, well, plenty of that’s also available on British dealer forecourts now.
So, is there still much point in importing a car from an overseas country to somewhere like the UK? The short answer is… there definitely can be, depending on your preferences and needs as a driver.
Yes, we are living in a thoroughly globalized world now. However, certain car models still exist that are made and marketed in some countries but might not be available in others unless the prospective purchaser decides to import. Nor is it only brand new cars that are imported; many classic vehicles are also brought from one corner of the world to another by passionate buyers.
But the hassles of importing can be very real
So far in this article, we’ve covered a lot of the things that are great and fun about importing cars, but not so much the crushingly mundane responsibilities and barriers you may face when doing so.
If you’re importing a car from Japan as a British buyer, for instance, such vehicles are known as “grey imports”, on account of the fact that they’re made for a part of the world where the technical regulations differ from those applicable to UK and European cars.
This necessitates any such imported vehicle being modified and tested under the Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) process, to ensure its compliance with UK safety and environmental standards; without this approval, you won’t be legally permitted to drive your beloved new Japanese vehicle on British roads.
Then – putting aside such other potential issues as the handbook and service history of your imported car being in a foreign language, and perhaps difficulties with obtaining parts for any repairs that might be needed – there’s the not-insignificant matter of insuring your imported vehicle.
As the experts in import car insurance at MoneyBeach explain, imported cars can be trickier and more expensive to insure than their domestic equivalents for all manner of reasons, such as the aforementioned parts issue, and the fact that imported vehicles’ relative obscurity can often make them more attractive to would-be thieves.
These are all sources of uncertainty that insurers, to put it bluntly, do not like. However, it’s also not necessarily impossible to insure an imported vehicle for a reasonable price – for example, by arranging a multi-car policy if you’re a collector, or turning to a specialist in import car cover.
Imported cars can bring both opportunities and challenges
So, in a nutshell… are imported cars a fun novelty, or more hassle than they’re worth?
Every person will have a different answer to that question, and rightly so. By considering your own priorities and thoughts in relation to the issues we have outlined above, you will be able to more easily determine whether or not importing your next vehicle could be the right course of action for you. Whatever choice you make, good luck!