The strong NZ dollar over the past few years has boosted trade in trashy used imports, especially from Japan and the UK, say garage owners.
Many of the cars are wrecks, insurance write-offs in their home markets snapped up for next to nothing and often badly repaired for sale in New Zealand.
Some are rust-buckets where the damage has been disguised, only to bubble to the surface later. Some are dismantled and shipped here to be used as “parts” to cobble together another set of wheels.
The vehicles – a mix of mostly prestige models like Land Rovers, Jaguars, Audis, Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs – often slide past roadworthy checks here before being sold to unsuspecting buyers.
One Auckland garage owner, British-born Bruce Warburton (above), is a Land Rover and BMW specialist, who over the years has imported second-hand Land Rovers from the UK.
“I would rather buy a 15-year-old New Zealand-new Land Rover with a good history than some of the rubbish I see being imported now,” he said.
“Having said that, these used imports are bringing me more work.
“I have seen many four-year-old Land Rovers in Britain that had excessive rust corrosion hidden underneath from the salt used on roads there in the winter.
“Many of these are Discovery and Range Rover models, where the rust isn’t as easy to spot as it is in Defenders.
“These weren’t worth bringing in when the New Zealand dollar was weak. Now the stronger dollar has helped dodgy used importers to buy such models relatively cheaply, do a patch-up job on them, and sell them on, often at a good profit.”
Warburton cited one such recent example when he was asked to fix corrosion on the chassis of a 1988 Land Rover bought sight unseen from Britain.
The vehicle was tarted up to look like a modern 60th anniversary model from 2008, with a skid plate underneath the front, aluminium plates on top of the mudguards – even 60th anniversary badges inside and out.
But the wheels were over-sized for a legitimate 60th anniversary model and had spacers on the hubs.
“Still, it looked very nice – someone had obviously spent a lot of money dressing it up as a show pony,” Warburton said.
However, a closer inspection underneath revealed major problems – the cross members and underbody chassis rails casino were full of holes.
Warburton told the owner the Land Rover was worth repairing – but the rust had to be cut out. “He baulked at the cost but agreed. It deserved to be repaired properly.”
The Land Rover had a valid British Ministry of Transport certificate of fitness but wasn’t roadworthy for compliance in New Zealand.
“That’s part of the problem,” said Warburton. “Some used importers think because the vehicle has a British roadworthy sticker, it will pass compliance here.
“When it doesn’t they want a quick fix. I have seen used vehicles here, both imports and NZ-new, that have somehow passed inspection but shouldn’t be on the road.”
Warburton has spent the last eight months repairing a 2005 BMW 3-Series sedan that was imported damaged from Japan in 2008. It was sold on TradeMe earlier this year.
Among the car’s many problems: a rusty computer control module; and an air filter unit that was made out of a plastic real estate sign painted matt black.
Motor Industry Association CEO David Crawford said examples like this compromised road safety standards. He is asking government to put laws in place to better safeguard car buyers.
The Motor Trade Association has urged used car buyers in general to get cars thoroughly checked out before they part with the cash.
• See ‘BMW unfit to drive’ – http://www.automotivenews.co.nz/used-import-bmw-unsafe-to-drive/