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Buying a grey import

Many people fall for grey imports due to the bang-for-bucks factor.

What is a grey import

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


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…


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


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