When it comes to buying a new set of wheels, many Kiwis look no further than the used import market. Offering a wide variety of makes and models from the likes of Singapore, Australia, United Kingdom and more commonly Japan, these vehicles often represent great value for money.

The used import trade enjoyed a record-setting month in August 2017, the best passenger car result for the month since records began up 11.5% year on year to 14,483 vehicle registrations, which shows just how popular used imports are here.

The more favourable imports for August include Mazda Axela, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Corolla and Nissan Tiida – all four-door hatches.

Buying tips

Service history – Unlike New Zealand new vehicles, imports rarely come with a traceable service history. Furthermore, ownership periods in Japan tend to be much shorter than here so regular maintenance may have been overlooked. Vehicles usually receive a basic engine oil and filter change during entry compliance, but other serviceable items such as air filters, transmission fluids and spark plugs could need further attention.

Auction grade – If buying through a Japanese auction, it is important to keep a look out for an auction grading. This is essentially a evaluation given to a particular vehicle, which assesses its quality, and gives consumers insight into the physical condition of its body, paint, interior and general wear and tear. The higher the grade, the better the vehicle.

Winter tyres – Many Japanese imports arrive equipped with snow tyres. Although these tyres can pass compliance, they are designed specifically for colder temperatures with snow and ice on the roads so aren’t suitable for New Zealand conditions. In order to reduce the risk of crashes, NZTA also state that if a vehicle is fitted with winter tyres, they must be fitted to all wheels of the vehicle and meet a minimum tread depth of 4mm. These tyres can usually be identified by their tread pattern or a snowflake symbol on the sidewall of the tyre.

Odometer readings - Verification of mileage occurs on the majority of vehicles overseas through a manual reading as well as assessing the domestic records of the vehicle. Although speedo tampering is less common these days, if you see an older model with questionable mileage, it’s worth investigating. Look for an AA odometer verification sticker on the windshield for assurance of an accurate reading.

Pre purchase inspections – There are always mixed reviews when it comes to a vehicle’s lifespan in Japan and the conditions it has previously been subjected to.

The only way to assess the vehicle’s history is to have a professional give it a thorough check. Relying on a compliance check alone is not really the smartest move, as a vehicle only needs to meet the same requirements as a WoF to pass. Sure, the tyres, suspension and brakes might be safe for New Zealand roads, but the last thing you need is a big invoice down the track for something a little more serious such as an engine or transmission failure.

No inspection can really predict the future operation of a vehicle but it will give you a good gauge of the condition. Assume nothing, and leave with peace of mind knowing you’ve made the right choice.

Used fresh imports are not quite as new as Kiwis make them out to be, however they have given many of us the ability to afford a variety of interesting models, some of which were only ever destined for the Japanese domestic market. Buying from a reputable dealer and getting a check by the professionals will ensure you are kept happy on the road for years to come.

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