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Buying a grey import

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    Many people fall for grey imports due to the bang-for-bucks factor. Cars such as the Nissan 180SX offer great looks and performance for a bargain basement price in comparison to a Subaru WRX of the same year.

A guide to grey imports ? sometimes called parallel imports. What they are, why people want them, what to look out for when you are buying one and which are the top ones.

What is a grey import

It’s a vehicle – new or used — that is legally imported outside the manufacturer’s official import channels.

History

In the mid 90’s the various state motoring regulatory authorities and the federal government agreed that a scheme — should be put in place to allow Australians to buy used vehicles from overseas that were never sold in Australia.  The initial focus of the scheme was performance vehicles such as the Toyota Supra Twin Turbo, and Nissan Silvia Turbo. 

The cars became known as grey imports due to the vast number of grey-coloured cars arriving here as they were often the cheapest available in the auction houses of Japan.  The scheme now also covers any car manufactured before 1989 as well as many people movers, and various diesel models.

The rules

Cars brought in using the grey import scheme must go through a compliance process on arrival in Australia to conform with ADR requirements, including changing to Australian standard tyres, emissions control gear, and AC gas.

Only certain models that are in some way different to any locally delivered example are allowed to be imported under the scheme.  Any other models are hard to comply as the car must go through full ADR testing including a full crash test process.  Some regulations have been relaxed in recent years – for example, the forced replacement of every seatbelt.

Why buy a grey import?


Most of the models available through the grey import scheme are heavily optioned compared to comparable models in Australia.  High performance turbo engines, rear wheel steering, all wheel drive, and multi-zone climate control air were all common as early as the 90s on even basic models in Japan. 

Basically, if you could buy a comparable model in Australia you would have paid more-for-less.  The cult status of many grey imports also makes them appealing.  The current plethora of Nissan Skylines on Australia’s roads attests to grey imports popularity.  Choice of turbodiesel powerplants has also driven the grey market when looking at 4WDs and people-movers in car yards.

Owning a grey import

Back in the early days of the scheme, when grey import dealers were few and far between, it was extremely difficult to acquire spare parts for many of the plenty of spare parts dealers and many manufacturers such as Nissan are able to bring in brand new parts from Japan to suit.  There are also a multitude of specialty vehicle clubs and web forums devoted to these cars with members who are only too happy to help out with parts — or even help with entire engine swaps — for a very reasonable price.

The true costs

Many people fall for grey imports due to the bang-for-bucks factor.  Cars such as the Nissan 180SX offer great looks and performance for a bargain basement price in comparison to say a Subaru WRX of the same year.  The trade-off comes when you look at the lack of any service history, and possibly wound back odometers.  A full mechanical check (pre-purchase) is a must!

Most non-diesel grey imports coming from Japan will require premium unleaded as the quality of fuel in Japan is higher than Australia. And like any performance car they will also need love and attention in the service department too with frequent oil changes.

One of the biggest turnoffs for people looking to buy a grey import is the cost of insurance.  There have been a lot of insurers who simply cannot insure them due to their underwriters refusing them. 

In recent years the situation has relaxed with even heavily modified performance grey imports being insured by several big name insurers.  You should expect a slightly higher premium, or excess at least, than an Australian delivered model, especially if the ‘T’ word – turbo — is added to the end of the model name…

Summary

Due to the number of grey imports in the country now and the cult status they have gained no one should be turned off buying an import.  Do your research, trawl the information, get a proper inspection and you could be driving away with a unique, and extremely well-equipped car at bargain price.

Top 10 grey imports

Nissan 180SX and Silvia variants
Nissan Skyline and Nissan Stagea Wagon variants
Nissan Elgrand People Mover
Toyota Supra
Toyota Hilux Surf
Mitsubishi FTO
Mitsubishi Delica
Mistubishi Evo IV and V
Honda Civic Type R EP3
Toyota Soarer / Lexus SC400

 

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 10 comments

  • I have to agree with Roy from Herberton, NZ has a flood of selected imports,thereby lowering quality motoring I bought a Maxima 30G for $3000, it had full leather plus all the xtras from an import. You cannot get the same quality in Aus at the same price and as mugs we keep on buying from dealers who have over-inflated the prices for some pretty standard models.

    Rod Hills Johnes of QLD Posted on 16 February 2013 8:06pm
  • I have to agree with Roy from Herberton, NZ has a flood of selected imports,thereby lowering quality motoring I bought a Maxima 30G for $3000, it had full leather plus all the xtras from an import. You cannot get the same quality in Aus at the same price and as mugs we keep on buying from dealers who have over-inflated the prices for some pretty standard models.

    Rod Hills Johnes of QLD Posted on 16 February 2013 8:04pm
  • Hi there Can anyone answer this question : If my son wanted to buy a non turbo Nissan Skyline from a dealer, has the car a) been complied to Australian standards already b) What will the transfer fee cost if its the first registration in Australia? Any info would be great. Thanks

    Ron of South Australia Posted on 24 November 2010 3:32pm
  • The failure of many Australian insurance companies to insure foreign imports is a restraint of trade imposed by the big auto companies on their own products to force Australians to purchase their own mainstream imports at higher prices. Calling foreign imports "grey imports" is a convenient untruth to actively prejudice consumers against purchase of same by falsely describing them as painted grey thus misrepresenting the vehicles to discourage buyers from purchase. Insurance companies gain by only insuring mainstream imported vehicles for which their repair and parts costs are lower, or by charging higher premiums to generate higher profits.

    Garry Stone of Upwey Posted on 06 May 2010 4:12pm
  • Calling a car A GREY import IS A JOKE. I have had a porsche 965 from Hong Kong and a Ferrari 348GTB from Japan plus a lot of delicas as well. They all come from the same factories as Aussie imports and have not had their dashes split and exterior paint damaged in the blistering aust sun and both Hong Kong and Japan are small by comparison hence low mileage. Finance Co's and insurance Co's change your tactics, nine times out of ten these are better cars bought by intelligent motorists that look for superior quality when purchasing and for that expertise you charge us more, get a grip please on reality and treat all car purchasers as same, they are not grey but instead blue chip prestige cars at the right price for a change,- I say swamp our market with decent tin so Mr & Mrs average can enjoy the spoils. Forget GREY in reality it just does not exist.

    Roy Jaques of Herberton QLD., Historical tourist town Posted on 29 January 2010 6:01pm
  • I have a Soarer V8GT Bought it at 80k absolutely immaculate it been a fantastic fun car to drive The radio was a problem tried a band expander didnt really work went for a new stereo The starter motor was really expensive to change $1500 apart from that it been great The insurance is a bit of a problem but not too bad $700 a yr and Iam rating A1 I was going to sell it for no particular reason looking at a Porshe or TT Audi but you get nothing as a trade Not many want Grey cars the car has only done 140000k and drives like a dream but only offered $5000 so i decided to keep it another yr or so For the money they are luxurious, stylish,handle well and are fairly economical

    Kevin Blaik of Adelaide Posted on 26 January 2010 11:43pm
  • I have Lexus badged Soarer 2.5 turbo '91. Plate states it was manufactured by KHALID KHAN. Any ideas about that?

    Les...Ringwood Posted on 23 January 2010 9:14pm
  • I owned a 4Dr 1995 Skyline R33 GTS-25t. Sensational car and you have to wonder who was managing Nissan while this model [and the R32 & 34's] were being imported in droves. The Australian motoring public are subjected to some very average cars e.g.: Toyota's Avalon being a prime example...where was something like the Chaser Mk II on the local Toyota 'drawing board'?

    Peter Taylor of Melb. Posted on 22 January 2010 7:14pm
  • I have owned a grey import for over 10 years and it has provided sterling service as a beautiful exotic daily driver for the family. It is also a stunning car which manages to delight its owners and captivate those who see it. One of the things that buyers of grey imports, and indeed the buyers of all used cars, need to consider is the type of car they are buying. Sports cars wear out fast. Good luxo barges last forever, with the exception of V12's, which for some reason tend to sulk a lot and cost as much to service as a small twin engined aircraft. A Civic Type R is a great car but by its very nature it is subject to exceedingly high rates of wear and tear and that is providing it has been correctly serviced. A neglected example will simply detonate or die from oil or coolant starvation or bearing failure. A V8 Soarer (SC400) has a big Toyota/Lexus V8 with forged internals. This car is a luxo barge and drivers of luxo mobiles do not bounce their engines off the red line at every gear change.

    Will of Sydney Posted on 20 January 2010 9:11pm
  • It is a British term 'grey import' and is only used now retrospectively. At the time we just called them 'imports' or 'jap imports'

    Purplefaze Posted on 17 January 2010 6:42pm
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