24 May 1996

DOUBLECAB IMPORTS – ITS JUST A PERSONAL MATTER

There is more than one way to buy farm transport, as Andrew Pearce finds out on a visit to Wiltshire

THAT VAT BUSINESS

Import agents bring in cars as commercial vehicles, paying a levy to do so and adding VAT at sale, which may be reclaimed subject to the normal restrictions and rules. Manufacturers bring in smaller-engined cars as private vehicles to avoid commercial duty, then build VAT into the selling price. Only buyers who can prove 100% business use may reclaim VAT on these cars.

DOUBLECAB pickups are all the rage at present.

And it is easy to see why – civilised seats for five, a load bed taking useful size and weight, all-wheel drive and reasonable towing capacity. The trouble is, the UKs only over-the-counter contenders – Toyotas Hilux and Vauxhalls Brava – are something of a wet weekend as our recent head-to-head test discovered (Country Car, Apr 19).

But it is not like that abroad. Other markets get the same vehicles with bigger engines and better specification and some makers offer models which are just not available over here. So how can you tap into this supply and what are the pitfalls?

Personal import is the way and there are two routes to it – either handle the business yourself or use an agent. The latter route is naturally more expensive but should bring minimal stress. You specify the model and colour then the agent helps with the paperwork and the actual import from a country where people sensibly drive on the left – so the vehicle is right-hand drive. And although the final bill will be bigger than for a GB-spec model, VAT can be reclaimed – which it cannot be on the normal product (see box).

Too good to be true? What about warranty, parts, insurance, service, and such? We quizzed John Wildman, whose Urchfont Garage is one of five businesses nationally offering an import service.

lWarranty: Nissan and Toyota provide a three-year/60,000-mile mechanical warranty through a pan-European system but offers no anti-corrosion cover. So although the UK main dealers for these cars may at first be sniffy about warranty work on an import vehicle, they cannot actually refuse to do it – and most are no trouble anyway, says Mr Wildman. Isuzu operates no equivalent, so Urchfont adds £185 for one year, unlimited mileage insurance cover through specialists Warrenty Motor Holdings. Three-year, unlimited mileage cover costs £360.

lService: As with warranty work individual Toyota and Nissan main agents may grumble about service for a start but are bound to do it. Motor Holdings insurance cover allows for service at any VAT-registered garage.

lParts: Expect no problems here, says John Wildman, on service items, mechanical breakdown parts or body panels. Most parts are common to UK versions, so are available over the counter, and the few that are unique to the import model can be sourced within a couple of days. Isuzus 2.8 turbo import engine has a timing chain rather than a scheduled-change belt, which helps with running costs, he adds.

lInsurance: Imports attract no extra premium, so rates will be the same as over-the-counter models.

lFinance: Farming finance companies happily support personal imports – no stigma attaches to them.

lResale: Heavy demand means that forecourt prices for good doublecabs of all types are presently close to new.

So there it is. Buying an import may not be not quite so cut-and-dried as toddling down to your local outlet but the VAT can come back and the end product is generally better. As ever, the choice rests with the buyer.

Urchfont (01380-840276) also imports high spec Nissan Patrols & Terranos.


Urchfont Garage brings in diesel crewcabs. Costs and UK equivalents are:

&#8226 Toyota Hilux 2.8, £15,500 plus reclaimable VAT (£18,212). UK version (2.4-litre engine) £16,485 inc VAT.

&#8226 Nissan 2.8, £13,995 plus reclaimable VAT as 4WD (£16,444). No UK equivalent.

&#8226 Mitsubishi 2.8, £15,750 plus reclaimable VAT (£18,506). No UK equivalent.

&#8226 Isuzu 2.8 turbo, £14,995 plus reclaimable VAT as 4WD (£17,619). UK model Vauxhall Brava (2.4-litre light-pressure turbo engine) £16,925 inc VAT.

Note: £295 delivery charge on all cars.


WHATSONOFFER?

Isuzu. Only turbo motor in bunch, and by far the best for it. Zippy, willing. Ride on heavy-duty suspension has none of Vauxhall Bravas wallowing. Very stable on road and the plushest inside. The one to go for?

Nissan: Softest-riding. Smooth, relatively weak engine gets raucous with revs. Basic interior and an awkward clutch pedal – but a real workhorse.

Toyota Hilux: As bouncy as ever, with 2.8-engine feeling substantially stronger than UKs 2.4. Least straight-line stable of pictured trio. Chrome bumpers not to all tastes.

Skinny steel wheels can be changed

into fat alloys for £680.

Crewcabs to go. John Wildman of Wilts-based Urchfont Garage, with customers imports. Prices rise from £14,000.