A Tokyo-based Kiwi car dealer says he's alarmed that an increasing number of used vehicles, including electric cars, that have been in accidents in Japan are being imported into New Zealand.
Kevin Dobbs of Tokyo Euro is urging New Zealanders to do their homework before buying, claiming some dealers are misrepresenting the history of Japanese imports, by denying, or omitting to declare to prospective customers, that the cars had been in accidents and had been repaired - usually in Japan.
Northland farmer Lyall Preston, who has bought vehicles in from Japan through Dobbs, has backed up his claim, saying he has experienced the problem twice in Auckland while seeking a used Japanese import for his daughter.
Dobbs claims some New Zealand dealers are going to Japan's huge car auctions just to buy repaired vehicles because they are cheaper. Japanese auction sheets clearly show a large "R" for repaired.
New Zealand's imported car industry advocate VIA says 97 per cent of all Japanese imports to New Zealand are bought at auction in Japan.
Dobbs said Japan's record keeping on every car is impeccable so it's relatively easy to research the history of a car on a New Zealand sales lot.
He said he's been doing this on the internet for some months, partly prompted by demand from New Zealanders for imported electric cars, and the results have alarmed him. He's "copped a lot of abuse" from within the New Zealand imported car industry for his subsequent claims on social media, he said.
Dobbs has been in the car sales business in Japan for 19 years and said he has nothing to gain by speaking out. Importing an accident-repaired used car is not illegal. Dobbs said he's simply concerned about trusting Kiwis being misled.
VIA chief executive David Vinsen said he was "very aware" of Dobbs claims but strongly believed in the robustness and integrity of New Zealand's compliance inspection system.
Vinsen said a car can be repaired to good standard in Japan and pass the border compliance test - just as a New Zealand-new car can be damaged in an accident, repaired and returned to the national fleet.
"There's no requirement (by dealer) to make any announcement about that (in either case).
"I've had long discussions with Kevin. He thinks he is the policeman for consumer issues in New Zealand," said Vinsen, implying Dobbs had a commercial agenda.
Dobbs supporter Lyall Preston said he's imported two cars through Dobbs for his private use and the integrity of the Japan-based dealer could not doubted. Dobbs pursued, and produced, only top quality used cars in Japan, he said.
Preston said his first experience of the issue Dobbs has claimed was last year when he looked at a low kilometre 2009 Honda Accord, on a North Shore dealer's yard.
He asked for the auction sheet and was told the car wasn't bought at auction, but from a Japanese dealer. An independent inspection costing $165 showed the left side had been repainted. Using the car's chassis number, Dobbs researched the car's history for Preston. The auction sheet, which the Herald has seen, showed an 'R' for repaired.
The Preston's did not buy the car.
"The second vehicle was a 2011 Subaru Legacy in Penrose. The first question I asked the sales person was to get a copy of the auction sheet....after 20 minutes I got the same story...the car was not bought at auction.
"The sales person showed me the window card which stated the car was not imported accident-damaged which was true but misleading because it was repaired in Japan after it had been bought as an accident-damaged car.
"How I know this is (because) I advised my daughter to get a Carjam report on it, approx $50, which takes 10 hours to get the Japanese history."
Carjam is a service that tracks and reports on a car's history for a fee.
Preston said as he suspected, the report said the Subaru had been bought as an accident-damaged car.
He said his daughter spotted both cars on Trade Me. They looked to be well-priced with low kilometres and were a couple of thousand dollars less than similar advertised models, he said.
VIA's Vinsen said the definition of a damaged vehicle was "completely objective".
"It's either a yes or a no when it comes across the border....if it's not picked up at the border, if it's not classified by NZTA-accredited inspectors, then it is not construed to be imported as damaged.
"The only people to make that determination are the NZTA (NZ Transport Agency) inspectors either in Japan or in New Zealand...they flag the vehicle in the system and they decide it has been damaged or got rust any other reason that deserves further scrutiny when it arrives in New Zealand."
Vinsen said if prospective buyers were being misled or not given full and frank advice prior to purchase "specifically when they ask questions, that is a problem".
"That is a consumer affairs issue. It's no different whether the car is sourced from Japan or locally. It's exactly the same."
He said such a case could be taken to the Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal.
"The real criterion and what needs to be taken into account is what happened at inspection at the border? How was the vehicle determined then, because it's what decides the issue. That is what requires a yes or no answer on the window ticket."
The window ticket needs to say 'yes' or 'no' to whether the car was imported damaged - in other words, damaged and not repaired.
"A car can be damaged in Japan and repaired and put through auction and it may or may not have an 'R' on it. It comes through the Japanese process. But if it's purchased for New Zealand and comes through the NZTA system and it's not picked up as a damaged vehicle, and they don't pick it's been repaired or they consider it's fine and safe and it come through (the checks) it is not classified as imported as damaged," Vinsen said.
"It's exactly the same as going to an auction or dealer in New Zealand - you don't necessarily know all of (a car's) history."
Would he advise aspiring car buyers to use a history checking service?
"Not particularly. I'd advise people to deal with a reputable registered trader and make sure they get all the documents that are required ....the most important thing is to have the vehicle inspected for themselves.
"It's incumbent on the purchaser to make suitable inquiry to satisfy themselves the vehicle is in the condition they expect and that it's safe."
Vinsen said a dealer didn't always know if a vehicle had been damaged.
"And if they do they're not required to tell people - we've had this discussion with (transport) ministers for years. The question is what should you tell a prospective purchaser?
"Should you tell them about a minor ding a car had in a carpark or minor damage like a replaced panel?
"When you sell it you don't have to mention it unless you specifically know about it and the customer specifically asks."
But Vinsen said the legal requirement on traders is to disclose on the window card prior to, and at point of sale, whether the vehicle was imported as damaged.
"That's the very strict criteria. It's either yes or no and you have to have that on the window card."
VIA said 150,000 used cars are imported into New Zealand a year - 95 per cent of which are sourced from Japan.