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Quentin Willson Column: Danger! Jap wreck ahead; PERIL OF THE DAMAGED IMPORTS.

FLICKING through a car magazine the other day, I came across an advert that made me flinch. Half a page and in colour, the ad trumpeted that there was profit to be made from buying and selling accident-damaged cars imported from Japan.

You know the sort of thing - smashed-up Subaru WRXs, mangled Mitsubishi Evos, GTOs and Pajeros. In other words, crashed Jap grey imports.

"Invest in Vehicles and Profit!" bellowed the headline. And beneath it were blandishments like: "Offered for sale for you to make money or save money" and "Excellent profit potential." Now, while there's nothing illegal in openly offering accident-damaged cars for sale - and the ad does not offer write-offs - I worry that these cars won't show up on our UK computerised register and could slip through the net.

If you were an unscrupulous trader, you could buy a Jap wreck, bodge it back together, sell it to an innocent buyer and nobody would be any the wiser.Call me old-fashioned, but the idea of scores of unwitting private buyers ending up with repaired Japanese wrecks appals me.

What if the repairs have been shoddy? What if there's a fractured brake line, a hairline crack in a suspension wishbone?

What if some back-street bodger just stitches the thing together with no regard forsafety or structural integrity? I'll tell you what's going to happen. Someone will get killed. And that's why the UK has the Vehicle Condition Alert Register to flag up write-offs and protect private buyers. UK insurance companies send details of their total-loss cars to either the AA's Car Data Check or Equifax's HPI, so anybody buying a used car can check to see that it hasn't been in a head-on smash. But the thing about these Jap jobs is that they're unlikely to show up on VCAR, so they'll come up squeaky clean.

Which means we could have a steady stream of repaired write-offs trickling onto the UK used car market completely unchecked.

And how well these damaged imports will be repaired will depend entirely on the bloke doing the job, because theywon't be regulated by any official inspection system. And apart from the potential for loss of life, there's the money thing to consider.

A private punter, unaware of the car's chequered oriental past, could buy one of these formerly twisted motors for top money.

When he comes to sell a year later, the next bloke might have the presence of mind to put the thing on a ramp, spot the welding seams or paint overspray and then the game's up.

The innocent seller will be stuck with a written-off, repaired car that's worth half what he paid. Sounds a rum business to me. Which is why these cars must be put on the VCAR register like every other write-off in the UK. So if there's anybody from the DVLA or DTI reading this, I'd have a look at this alarming grey import loophole as soon as you can.

If you don't, it's bound to get out of control. There are already quite enough repaired write-offs on our roads. We definitely don't need any more.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Willson, Quentin
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 2, 2000
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