What to look out for when buying a used import car

Buying a used car can be rife with hidden pitfalls – make sure you know what to look out for.
David Hallett/Stuff

Buying a used car can be rife with hidden pitfalls – make sure you know what to look out for.

The Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal has been kept busy for years dealing with cases involving vehicles imported after being declared statutory write-offs in Australia, recently highlighted by Stuff coverage of an Auckland car dealership having now been ordered to refund a customer $16,500 after failing to inform her a Nissan Juke she purchased in 2016 had been written off, due to water damage, in Australia.

In Australia, a statutory write-off means a car has sustained damage serious enough that it cannot be registered again. Commonly because of an accident, flooding, hail damage. Such vehicles are imported here and used for parts, or repaired and sold-on after certification.

In 2016 Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency introduced tougher standards intended to make the practice more uneconomical.

An Auckland dealer had to recently refund a customer who bought a Nissan Juke imported from Australia, as they hadn’t revealed it had been written off there.

Stuff

An Auckland dealer had to recently refund a customer who bought a Nissan Juke imported from Australia, as they hadn’t revealed it had been written off there.

Tracing a car’s provenance is less easy with a current trend for ex-Australia cars to be repurposed back to road going condition in Australia then shipped here. Cars seem as good as new, yet might still hold ugly secrets.

READ MORE:
* Used car dealer abandons appeal over sale of insurance write-offs
* Car dealership didn’t tell buyer that car was a repaired insurance ‘write-off’
* Written-off Australian ute sold by New Zealand car yard in ‘misleading and deceptive’ move
* Mother $18,500 out of pocket after buying wrecked Australian car

One performance car specialist spoken to remains wary about anything ex-Australia, even when advertised as having a clean history. Sure, sometimes cars are genuine, like any bought by Kiwis in Australia that became return baggage. But there are no absolutes.

There are numerous compansy that, for a small fee, will supply you with the full history of any car you are looking at buying.

Michael Bradley

There are numerous compansy that, for a small fee, will supply you with the full history of any car you are looking at buying.

“The word ‘clean’ might suggest ‘everything’s great’ but… I’d be asking for more information. It might be fine, it might not be.”

Waka Kotahi NZTA advises buyers to use tools, primarily the rightcar.govt.nz website, to check the safety rating of a vehicle. It has in the past reminded the term ‘write-off’ is primarily an insurance term and that Australian states had different thresholds.

It and other agencies also promote diverse tips when assessing a used car, from taking your time and carefully examining everything you want to look at to checking mechanical worthiness, beyond checking the dipstick. Bringing a magnet to check for hidden rust repairs, a torch to look under the bonnet and someone with car knowledge is also advocated.

It’s also important to check that the car has a current warrant of fitness – vehicles for sale must have a warrant of fitness less than one month old – unless they’re being sold ‘as is where is’.

Either way, it’s good to ask the seller for any service or repair history; be polite and friendly, but don’t be shy in putting questions about a vehicle’s history and seek hard evidence.

Specifically ask questions: “Is money owing on this vehicle?”, “has it been an insurance write-off” and “what can you tell me about its past?” Take notes; ask for any paperwork. In turn, don’t give away too much about your own compunctions; there’s only one life story you’re interested in: The vehicle’s.

DAMIEN O’CARROLL

Utes dominated March sales as buyers rushed in to beat Clean Car fees, but the Tesla Model 3 also had another strong showing during a record-setting month.

A number of organisations offer reports on a vehicle’s history for a small fee (usually around $10 to $20), that include information on if there is any money owing on the car, whether it has ever been reported stolen, its odometer, WoF and registration history, ownership history and, most importantly in the case of imported cars, information about the importation details of the car – whether it was written off overseas or suffered any water or fire damage to the car which would cause it to fall below the safety standards required by New Zealand law. This is well worth investing a small amount in.

Another good idea is to educate yourself about depreciation. Yes, this levels out as cars become older, but it is always a factor. The Consumer website has excellent information about this.

Above all else, think before spending.

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