car importers checking out their product quality

questons of import can the quality of service and the quality of car offered by independent japanese vehicle imports really be as high as we've a right to expect? jonathan crouch puts it to the test

If buying an imported Japanese car is one of these things you've thought about but decided against, then it's understandable.

After all, it's hard enough to choose the right model without wondering whether it legally complies with the complicated process of Single Vehicle Type Approval (SVA). Moreover, as a buyer, you want a proper UK registered vehicle, which means steering clear of companies who expect you to complete the registration process yourself. Others will fob you off with an Irish-registered vehicle, recognisable by funny number plates and strange paperwork that makes re-selling the car a nightmare.

Even if you do find a reputable operator, it's hard to know whether the cars they stock will have been properly prepared and what kind of dubious past history they may have had. Plus any doubts on either score must usually be tempered by the realisation that with the limited stock available at most operators, you either take what's there or take a walk.

As a result of all this, that would normally be that. Case closed, too much hassle. Were it not for the huge savings and choice to be found by going this route. Which leaves that nagging doubt. Is it possible to marry peace of mind with performance at low prices?

There are plenty of importers who will promise to do it, though a few well-judged questions will whittle down the list. Get them to explain in writing how they comply with SVA. Ask how the car has been converted to UK Spec. What kind of guarantee do you get that mileage and history are as described, and will Full UK Registration, MOT, Road Tax and a decent warranty be included in the advertised price?

If the company you're talking to can satisfy you on all those questions while still offering substantial savings, the clinching factor may be choice. Assuming that like most buyers, you want a used car, then the buying experience should be just like buying a new model from a franchised dealer. In other words, a wide choice of specs and colours and sensible delivery times.

Reputable importers with the clout to carry this amount of stock are few and far between - but they do exist. Which leaves only the question of the quality of the cars they sell. Importers can talk about pre-delivery inspections and verified vehicle histories until they're blue in the face and very often do. For the most of us however, it's still difficult to shift that nagging doubt that somehow, the quality and reliability of a Japanese import won't be quite up to the standard of an identical car bought through the ordinary UK dealer network.

The market has changed considerably over recent years with many importers going out of business as supply in the UK has improved and prices have come down. The remaining importers tend to be specialists concentrating on a single model or manufacturer and only importing vehicles that are not generally available in this country. I you decide to go this route then do your homework and don't rush your decision. It may turn out to be a costly one!