UK Import, is it really worth it?

Let me start off by saying, this is not a how too guide, there are plenty of them on the web as it is. This article is about finding out if it’s worth looking in the UK for a used car, and will it really save you any money.

There’s a lot of anecdotal information floating around about people who saved thousands by going to the UK and getting the car they wanted (with a higher spec in some cases) and bringing it back to Ireland. A number of years ago there were loads of Japanese imports on the forecourts of every small dealer in the country, huge container loads of them came out of Japan bound for our shores, but Ireland fell out of love with imports, some were hard to get parts for, and European manufacturers were turning out both reliable and stylish cars. Ireland started to get more money and we got a thirst for that golden word in cars, status. Once Irish people started going to the UK and Northern Ireland to buy their cars our fate was sealed, the Government moved to protect what was a huge income for the State, car sales. Vehicle registration tax (VRT) was introduced, which is a tax that completely goes against all of the core values of the open market that we all bought into when we joined the EU in the first place. The Irish Government was very smart though, the VRT is not applied directly to the car, and instead it’s applied to getting an Irish registration plate. VRT is a complicated tax and since 2008 it’s based on the Co2 emissions of the car, previous to that it was based on the open market selling price of your chosen car in Ireland. If the car you want is from 2007 or before it’s impossible to say what the VRT is going to be it depends on market values, engine size, year, model and roadworthiness condition of the vehicle.

Knowing all this, I gave myself a budget of €22,000 to track down a car in the UK and price it against its Irish counterpart. That’s about £18,500 according to, your bank will give you a different rate on the day you change your money so be aware that you can only use today’s exchange rate as a guideline.

With my budget I selected a BMW 520d SE automatic 2007, might as well get something nice.

Here are the two cars:

The spec seems to be about the same, the Irish one has little fewer miles, now on with the money bit.

The UK one is £12,481 which is €14,800, I need to budget about €1000 euro for flights, boat, inspection, lunch, diesel and other sundries. That means €15,800 which is under budget so far, but the big one is the VRT when I return. Pending an inspection the VRT on the BMW is €5198, so that’s a grand total of €20,998 and presuming I don’t have to do any mechanical repairs to the car that beats the Irish price by €4992! So why don’t we all run over to the UK to buy our cars then?

The variables are the problem, the exchange rate you see above is the current one, but the price you get from your bank might be wildly different. The prices of the cars I’m using are the full quoted price, if you walk into any dealer in Ireland with €22,000 in your pocket and no trade in the price becomes negotiable. The warranty on your car is in Ireland and covered by Irish law.

All the problems aside there is some value in the UK/NI market, but you need to be aware of the problems, below is a list of advice if you intend to import your own car from the UK.

  1. Get your facts right. Check the prices in Ireland and UK for your chosen car.
  2. Factor in VRT and travel expenses to the budget, don’t forget emergency funds in case you miss the ferry and have to stay somewhere.
  3. The VRT to pay is variable, which means it might go up or down from when you use the web site. If you select the BMW SE model and you bring back an M-Sport model the price will almost certainly go up. Don’t make mistakes it might cost you thousands.
  4. Talk to your Irish dealer first. It might seem stupid but you never know what kind of deal you could strike if you just ask; it will only cost the price of a phone call.
  5. Only use a big dealer in the UK, you don’t want to be wandering around some housing estate looking for someone selling a car, most main dealers will pick you up at the airport if you ask.
  6. Get your checks done before you go. can check the UK cars history for €35, whoever you use just do it.
  7. Get the RAC/AA to check over the car before any money changes hands, don’t bring someone who “knows” about cars, don’t “use the force” or chant something, just get someone independent to do the check.
  8. Test drive the car, a nice 20 minutes can tell you loads, make sure everything works, press every button in the car.
  9. Know the price before you go. Don’t wander around with a pocket full of cash, pay a small deposit with a credit card (refundable) and use a bank draft for the balance. Ask about a service and a full tank of fuel, get something for free.
  10. Give yourself plenty of time. You don’t want to pick up a load of speeding tickets on your way to the ferry.
  11. Don’t forget insurance, get it transferred to the new car for the drive back.

It’s not all that hard to import a car, and if you look hard you’ll find the car you’re looking for. If the VRT wasn’t there we would all be driving cheaper cars that would have the same spec as the UK models but, alas its going to be with us in one form or another for the foreseeable future, they might change it to some sort of environmental tax but there’s no sign of our greedy little island ever giving an even playing field when it comes to the free movement of goods in the EU.

Both the dealers and the cars were chosen at random, I cannot recommend either the dealers or the cars I’ve chosen for the examples above as I don’t know them. Do your own research on the best dealers to use but as always, shop local but shop smart.

Links: (Need a postcode? BT11AA should work) (really worth a read) It’s old now but still worth a read

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