By SCOTT MacLEOD transport reporter
Ten licensed car dealers are among 44 importers who have shipped flood-damaged vehicles to New Zealand in the past two months.
A crackdown by safety inspectors has forced some dealers to strip their soggy cars for parts, while others are trying to send vehicles back overseas.
The Herald obtained details of the importers and 134 soaked vehicles from the Land Transport Safety Authority under the Official Information Act.
The authority said 82 wet vehicles had been shipped to Auckland and 28 to Christchurch since floods swept through Japan 10 weeks ago.
Importing flooded cars is not against the law, but consumer and transport watchdogs are trying to have the practice banned.
Car experts say the vehicles will corrode and are too dangerous even to use for spare parts.
The LTSA papers show that seven of the licensed dealers are based in Auckland, with one each in Napier, Christchurch and Timaru.
Licensed car-sellers belong to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Institute. Its executive director, Steve Downes, said many cars were imported sight unseen and dealers did not realise they were flood-damaged until too late.
But the institute opposed any deliberate attempt to import wet cars.
"It's denigrating the whole New Zealand fleet, putting consumers and dealers at risk."
Nine of the dealers brought in one soggy car each. Collins Autos, of Penrose, imported three.
Director Craig Collins said he shipped them for a friend, and they were never meant for his yard. His friend, who would not be named, said he sent one car to England and used the other two for parts.
Vlad Levada, of Best Deal Cars in Grey Lynn, said there had been a "mess-up" with papers relating to a vehicle. His firm was trying to send a Toyota back to Japan, but the Japanese were "not being very cooperative."
A phone call to DRB Investments about a wet Mazda Roadstar was answered at Cartwright Auto Wholesalers, of Glen Eden. A spokesman said the car was "ex-Tokyo and definitely not flood-damaged."
The owner of Lifestyle Vehicles in Takanini, Rhys Mountfort, said he bought a Mitsubishi Pajero through an agent in Japan, finding later that it had been flooded.
He would either wreck the vehicle or have it shipped to Samoa, where "they don't really care" about car quality. He said the Samoans would be told the car had been flooded.
A spokesman at Max Challenge in Auckland said the firm's wet Mitsubishi Chariot had been stripped for parts.
Penrose Vehicle Imports managing director John Osborne said his firm's soggy Mazda MPV was bought by mistake, and would be re-exported.
"Our policy is not to import anything water-damaged. We are very fussy buyers."
The owner of Drury Motors in Napier, Peter Drury, said his Ford Mondeo was tagged as "possibly" flood-damaged when it arrived from Tokyo.
Water had come through an open back window, wetting a floor mat.
"I think they were just being super-cautious," he said of the vehicle inspectors.
The Herald spoke to 24 of the other 34 importers named, but was unable to find an Auckland firm that shipped 16 wet vehicles, and one in Christchurch that brought in 20.
Most of the importers who were not licensed dealers either traded in spare parts or were wholesalers.
One Christchurch man said he was drying out a wet Fiat Punto for his girlfriend's Christmas present.
A New Zealand car buyer living near Nagoya, in Japan, disputed claims that flooded cars had been soaked in sewage and saltwater. He said the water was silty, but otherwise fresh.