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For those of you who are thinking of buying a new car then I would like to introduce you to a way of avoiding paying the over-inflated UK prices and that is to import your own car.
I had heard before that it was much cheaper to import a car from Europe than to buy it here but I always thought that it meant travelling to Europe to pick it up and lots of complicated paperwork for the import process. However, more recently a number of car importing agents have appeared on the web which make the process a lot easier than you might imagine.
So when my company decided it was no longer going to give me a company car I was faced with the prospect of taking my allowance and buying my own. I wanted to get a good car that would last and as I had been well impressed by driving one before I decided to go for a Saab.
At first I looked through all the various options for buying and decided to also have a look at the option of importing. However, initially I did not take the importing option seriously as the whole idea scared me a little.
But whilst looking I chanced upon a site called “AutoSource” which specialised in importing cars from the continent, specifically Audi, BMW, VW, Ford, Seat and Saab.
At this point I should mention that there seem to be a number of sites that have in some way got the name “AutoSource” and this can lead to great confusion. The one I am talking about can be found at http://www.autosource-uk.co.uk/.
Whilst browsing this site it became clear that cars could be obtained for significantly less than the UK price. The site has a number of examples, deals of the month etc, showing great reductions.
So I clicked on the ‘online quote’ link to see exactly what I could get only to get a page that said “We are Sorry but the 'Online Quotation' system is currently offline for maintenance, please try again later, or alternatively use our contact page to get in touch with us”. Undeterred I went on to request a quote by email but I would mention that at the time of writing, 6 months after my initial enquiries, the online quote facility is still not available.
That said the site as a whole is very helpful and provides a lot of detail about the ordering and delivery process.
What I was looking for at the time was a fairly standard Saab 9-5 Vector Estate but the price I had been given by dealers etc started at £23,000 for the most basic model which was a bit more than I wanted to pay. But just out of interest I asked for a quote on the top of the range 9-5 Aero Estate which is over £31,000 on the road in the UK. The reply I received indicated that I could get this car factory built in Sweden and shipped to me for approximately the same price as the basic model I had been looking at – a massive saving of over £7000!
Now this got me interested. Could I really have a dream car for the price I was going to pay for a standard model? I suspected that there were many catches to this approach and came up with a stream of questions which I fired back at “AutoSource”. I will paraphrase my questions and the answers given below. Most of this information (and more) can be found on the AutoSource web site but I wanted to be absolutely sure so often asked the question again anyway.
Q. Would the car be the same as I would buy here or would it have some Swedish peculiarities? A. The car would be factory ordered and to full UK specification. It would be indistinguishable from a model bought through a dealer here. The handbook and all documentation would be in English.
Q. How would the car be ordered? A. AutoSource would order the car to my requirements through a registered Saab dealer in Sweden. The dealer would receive and check the car over.
Q. How long will it take from order to delivery? A. Saab aim to deliver an order in 8 to 12 weeks. It will then take only a couple of days longer to get it shipped and delivered to you.
Q. Who do I pay the deposit to? A. The deposit of 15% of the purchase price should be paid directly to the dealer in Sweden when the order is placed.
Q. How do I know this is safe, that the dealer is real, that my money will not just go missing? A. AutoSource can give references from previous satisfied customers. AutoSource will give you the address, phone and details of the Swedish dealer and you can check them out as much as you wish. The dealer I contacted spoke perfect English and I could also email him with queries.
Q. When do I pay the balance? A. When the car is delivered to the dealer I must pay the balance to the dealer before it is released for shipping.
Q. How would I get the car back to the UK? A. AutoSource would arrange for the car to be shipped from the dealer to the UK for a cost of approximately £325.
Q. And how would I get it to my home? A. The car will be shipped to the nearest suitable port (in my case Harwich) and I would be free to collect it from there myself. It would have no plates etc but it is permitted to drive a car from the port to your home. Alternatively, AutoSource could arrange for the car to be delivered to my door by transporter. This is the option I chose which cost £165+VAT from Harwich to the South coast.
Q. What if anything happens to the car in transit? A. The car will be fully insured by the shippers and transporters. You only need to worry about insurance from the point that you take delivery of it.
Q. What about the paperwork? A. AutoSource would provide all of the documentation and forms required and fill them in. The forms would then be sent to me along with the car.
Q. What about tax? A. No purchase tax is charged at source but the car is liable for UK VAT at 17.5%. One of the forms provided will be a VAT declaration which you take when registering the car. Customs and Excise will then send a VAT demand to you within a few days and you just pay it.
Q. And registration? A. You will need to register the car yourself but the process is quite simple. The forms are all provided by Autosource and you simply take (or send) the forms to your local DVLA office along with payment for initial registration (£35), first year’s road fund licence (£160) and your insurance certificate. You should receive the registration within 48 hours. All you need to do then is buy some plates and you can then drive your car. Plates are available from Halfords but remember to take your registration documents and identification along with you. I bought stick on plates so I did not have to take the car with me.
Q. But how can I insure the car before I have a registration number? A. Your insurer will provide insurance with just the chassis number which can be provided before the car is delivered. Once registered you simply tell then the registration number.
Q. Are there any other costs? What do AutosSource charge for their services. A. There are no other costs. AutoSource take a kick back from the dealers and make no charge directly to the customer.
Q. Will the car have full warranty? A. All cars bought in Europe come with a 2 year pan-European manufacturers warranty. This is 1 year less than the warranty I would have got from a Saab dealer here.
All the above questions were answered by one Adrian Purdey who seems to be the backbone of the AutoSource operation. Adrian was always extremely polite and very helpful. I never had to wait more than an hour or so for an answer to my emails.
So that is what I was told at the start of the process. But what was the reality?
Well, the whole process was much easier than I first expected it might be and went largely without problem. The only glitch in the process was when Saab made an error in manufacture and the dealer received a car with some incorrect options. I had the choice of taking the car as built with a suitable discount or waiting for an expressed rebuild. I went for the rebuild option as I wanted the car I ordered. Saab gave compensation for their error which was sufficient to cover the additional cost of car rental whilst I was waiting. The rebuilt car was delivered 4 weeks after the original delivery date. Some delay also occurred because I chose to buy at the busiest time of the year when Saab were releasing new 2005 models. However, to be fair, I think the manufacturing error and subsequent delay could have just as easily occurred here and was not really anything to do with the import process. The advantage was that AutoSource dealt with the whole problem acting as a go-between with Saab so the pressure was not on me to sort it out.
Other than the delay mentioned above everything went remarkably smoothly:- 1. I got references and reassured myself that I was not going to be ripped off by investigating the dealer on the internet and calling them up to chat about the purchase.
2. I paid my deposit by Visa so I had some protection in the deal (this did incur a 3% overhead but I did it just for peace of mind). When the car was ready I transferred the balance to the dealer’s bank account in Sweden. One thing to note is that I had to pay the deposit and balance in Swedish Kroner and I did lose out on the exchange rate in that it was a much better rate when I ordered than when I eventually paid the balance. The AutoSource web site does explain how this can be avoided by ‘fixing’ an exchange rate at the time of order if you want to avoid the risk of sharp currency changes – but of course this can go either way.
3. After delivery to the dealer I received the car about two days later. The paperwork all arrived the next day and I dropped it at my local DVLA office. I got the registration back 2 days later and went and bought some plates and I was on the road.
And so how much did I save?
Well, for a Saab 9-5 Aero auto estate with parking assistance the recommended retail price at the time was £31,185 and a Saab dealer would not have given you much less than this. The price I paid was:- Price paid to dealer in Sweden = SEK 255,865 = £19,849 (at the time I ordered). Shipping – paid to AutoSource = £325 UK delivery – paid to transport company = £190 VAT – paid to HM Customs and Excise = £3473 Road Tax and Registration = £195 TOTAL = £24032 Giving a total saving of £7153!!
Obviously, this is a pricey car but similar savings can be achieved on cheaper models.
Autosource also have cars available for quick delivery. These are usually ex demonstrator models with very low mileage. An example from the web site at the time of writing is a Saab 9-3 Vector Sports Saloon 2.0t 175bhp automatic with lots of added options for £18,750 (UK list price £28,210 - SAVE £9,460) .
Other service AutoSource offer are:- 1. Extended Warranties (via a company called Warranty Direct) if you want to top up your warranty to 3 years. 2. Fixed Exchange Rates (via a company called Currencies Direct) to avoid costs dues to fluctuations in the exchange rates.
Summary -------------- If you are thinking of buying a new car then I would highly recommend considering importing your own as substantial savings on the ‘rip-off Britain’ prices can be achieved. You could do it all yourself but a good importing agent like AutoSource make the whole process very easy.
I would also highly recommend AutoSource who were highly professional and very helpful throughout the whole process.
Update - 4th April 2005 ------------------------------- I have just had another look at the web site and the auto quote mechanism now works and is very good - but it only works for Saabs. The prices have gone up a bit since the example I gave above but I would still make a saving of at least £5000 on the car I bought. The auto quote now shows an AutoSource fee of £350 which was not explictly charged when I did the import.
Update 2014 : Sadly this company no longer seems to exist but there are still other car importers out there so you can still consider the option.