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This section details general buying tips which are appilcable for all makes of car not just the MR2.

Good Buy or Good Bye?

A review of the more popular means by which we buy our much loved motor cars; the tell tale signs to watch out for; the tricks of the trade and an unbiased look at the pros and cons of cars imported from foreign markets - specifically the MR2 from Japan.

FAQ of the year is "I wonder if you can help me? I'm thinking about buying an MR2 - a Japanese import and I was hoping for your opinion of these "grey" import cars." As a rough guess this question (to buy or not to buy an import) is thrown at me two or three times a day and this has been the repetitive pattern for the best part of the last eighteen months. There is little doubt that a veritable army of "independent" traders has drawn a battle line through the country retailing so called "personal imports" from various locations strategically placed from Truro to Thurso. The premises these traders use vary from stately homes to supermarket car parks both of which are to be avoided!

So, what's the answer to the FAQ of 98? (Last time honest!) Well, lets examine the general situation before considering the specifics. The over riding principle in the acquisition of any used motor car must be the elimination, in so far as it is possible, of risk. In particular the risk of, at worst, losing your hard earned (or more likely borrowed) money, probably in the region of £8,000 or more, to some charlatan. Or, at best you ending up being sold - and more importantly buying - a "pup" that spends more time in the garage under or awaiting repair (if you can find a garage to repair it) than Jack Duckworth spends behind the bar of the Rovers!
Remember the principal of car trading is that it is one transaction that may be divided into "three" distinct and diametrically opposed "halves". One half is called a seller the other half is called a buyer and the other half is the gap between the two.

The principal objective of the first is to make the centre of all this excitement appear as genuine and desirable as possible and in so doing ensure that it commands a high premium. The principal objective of the second is to see through all the tricks and dodges employed by the first and, in so doing, to ensure that no matter what excuses, reasons, lies, sob stories or violence is used, the end result is the acquisition of the vehicle at a price below that originally demanded.

But be warned! Saving £50 quids is not that important. What use saving £50 notes if, in your determined effort to reduce the price, commonly referred to as "knocking him down a bit", you have overlooked all the tell tale signs warning you that while you're worrying about saving yourself a few pounds you’ve been duped into buying a "pig in a poke". The result of your so called success at the negotiating table is that you end up buying a car that no self respecting breaker would have towed away! This holds true even if you think you saved yourself fifty notes along the way!

The sad fact is that once you, as a potential purchaser, embark on the used car "Autotrader" hunt - in a very short space of time you can travel hundreds even thousands of miles, go on wild goose chases, be led up the garden path, meet wolves in sheep's clothing, be taken for a ride, and end up more confused than when you started. So, in order to try to bring a little sanity to the whole emotional business, here are a few tips to bear in mind as you do the rounds.


No 1 - Buying a Used Car Privately

Buying privately you might pick up a real bargain of a deal but you might also end up holding a very expensive baby. The basic principle is "Caveat Emptor" or buyer beware! This is a very sound warning indeed and one you should always keep to the front of your mind in considering a used car purchase.

Why? Well, because as a buyer in a private sale you have almost no consumer protection at all - unless the seller answers specific questions with bare faced lies - and even then, to gain any redress, you have to be able to prove that he did! But then again who wants to get themselves into the position where you have to go through all that hassle - better be well prepared and avoid the pitfalls in the first place. Be suspicious of every seller and every car - although we think that you stand a slightly better chance with member's cars sold through the club magazine - at least a reduced risk of getting a duff motor - all the same - stick to these guide lines and you will improve your chances of acquiring the car you really want or keeping your money!

So, you've seen the right car for you but before you reach for the phone, examine the advert carefully for the tell tale signs - look for adverts describing cars as "clean", beware of only mobile phone numbers - honest sellers are more likely to give a home number as well. When you call say, "I'm phoning about the car" but don't be more specific - traders will usually be selling more than one car so they will have to establish which car you are interested in.

If you say, "I'm ringing about the MR2" or "Is the MR2 still available?" - you have fallen at the first hurdle - unless, of course he's got a car park full of them! Take note also of cars that don't fit in with the address or the seller's life style - even his accent, these could all be the tell tale warning signs of a bad 'un.

How many times have you said to yourself  "I thought it seemed a bit funny"!! Be warned by your own suspicious instincts - no matter how much you want an MR2, don't ignore bad "gut" feelings.

If you view the car, meet only at the vendor's home - do this in daylight, never at night, and in the dry. Never ever meet in car parks or at motorway services even though he claims to be saving you half the journey - check the address on the V5 (registration document) is the same as the one you are at - any difference or absence of the document is a severe warning of danger ahead!

Make sure that it is his home address by seeing if you can get him to go inside for something - ask for a glass of water or better still ask to use the toilet. Also be aware of your personal security - always take somebody with you even if they know nothing about cars - at least they can listen to what is said and - if you are really unlucky - they may be useful as a witness later. Ask them to take notes of the conversation and keep the notes! Safety in numbers.

A mechanical inspection is always a good idea but you have to balance the cost of this against the value of the car. Most franchised Toyota dealers will inspect a potential purchase for you but you will have to get the car to the garage in most cases whereas the motoring organisations will visit almost any address and carry out roadside inspections. Obviously the knowledge of the organisation's inspector will be limited to generalities whereas the Toyota technicians will have detailed knowledge of the particular model.

If there is any hesitation on the part of the vendor to agree to an inspection, then walk away. Don't let the heart rule the head.


No 2 - Buying a Used Car at Auction

A phenomenon that has rocketed from almost a closed shop for dealers 20 years ago to a multi-million pound international forum for buying and selling the maximum number of cars in the minimum time - but now open to anybody if they have the money.

Excluding the dedicated franchised dealers - but even them to some extent - the motor trade buys most of it's cars at auction - similarly it disposes of cars it can't sell in the same way - so that should start bells ringing already!

Auctions can be a source of supply for "almost" new cars through "bangers" to appreciating classics. The auctions can be a regular daily sale or a specialist "Super-car" sale so make sure you find out which auction is appropriate for the type of car you are searching for.
 Now you will be able to buy almost any car at an auction somewhere in the country - the top to bottom of the car world in other words. The principle advantage of a "good" buy at auction is that you cut out the profit taken by the middleman. If you buy a car from a dealer, who bought it at auction, then you can be pretty sure that, say in the case of a nearly new family car, the mark-up will be the best part of £1,000, and so you can estimate the mark up on other cars by applying a sliding scale - the more expensive the car the bigger the mark-up.
Though, of course, a really good car bought at auction by a shrewd dealer could well result in an even bigger "mark up" (or profit) depending on the "market" value of the car in question. Over recent years the public have become quite used to searching for that "bargain" at auction and the bigger auction houses have recognised the value of the public competing with "dealers" and so pushing prices up and, as they take a percentage of the sale, they have made changes to encourage the business.

If you are determined to buy your dream car at auction, make sure you do your homework in advance and discover the "terms of the sale" and having done that make sure that you understand them and that you also understand the terminology.

Many operate on a system of almost immediate payment for a successful bid and, be careful, because you are only afforded a very limited time in which to settle and remove your purchases or else you may find that at best you are landed with some pretty hefty storage charges or at worst you will lose the sale altogether and, to rub salt into your wounds, incur costs as well!

Do a bit of training ready for the "event". Go along to your chosen auction house on at least three occasions before you even consider bidding - look carefully, listen attentively, and stick it out for as long as you can. This may not be as welcome a task as you think - generally they are pretty inhospitable places, the proceedings soon get boring and if you have decided to "watch" a particular car go through you may be there all day.

However, you will learn a lot, the system will become familiar to you quite quickly and you will pick-up on some of the potentially dangerous signs such as the auctioneer saying "Sold without the registration document" or "No V5 - but should be available on application".
Now the absence of a document may not be a problem - HP repossession - but it may be a sign of something more sinister so beware. Without doubt the safest way to trade is to take advantages of the facility whereby you "lodge" money to your credit with the company which is much safer than waddling around with thousands of pounds in your back pocket. Car auctions do attract people of all occupations - including pick-pockets!

You may also find that the "lots" are structured so that the "direct" cars (the best and safest overall buys as they come from fleet users) are sold together. Unless you are a mechanical expert - there are no test drives of cars sold at auction, only a static visual inspection and a pretty worthless "inspection" report usually attached to the screen - then stick to the "direct" cars. They have the potential to be high mileage, but there are exceptions and you can be pretty sure that it's not stolen, or a repaired write-off and that it will have been serviced regularly probably by a main dealer garage - check the service schedule if you can find it!
Forget a warranty on a car bought at auction - at best any warranty on offer will last about an hour or if your lucky 2 hours after the hammer drops and even then it will only apply to major mechanical components. The chances are that you won't have had a chance to move the car by the time the "guarantee" expires.

Buy only at an auction house that is a member of the Society of Motor Auctions (SMA). Examine the bodywork of any car that grabs your interest (in the dry and in daylight) very carefully. Look for overspray on door and window rubbers or chrome, check for dents and variation in colour. Look out also for any dings or even more subtle shallow dents and distortions in the panels and also the light lenses and the windscreen for cracks and chips - even a small lens could be expensive to replace.

You can usually get inside the car -but you may have to ask - so check the condition of the interior for damage and stains and a dirty or damaged headlining is a particularly bad sign.
On sale day stay close to the car you are interested in so that you can hear the mechanicals when it is started up to be driven in - it will probably be the only chance you get to hear the engine running - check the exhaust for the tell tale "blue smoke" of oil burn. Traders often try to "tart" up cars and a sure sign is to check the tyre sidewalls - are they all black and shiny? Newly blacked and a dealer's gofer has been at work.



1. Check the suspension by using your hand to check the distance between the tyre and the wheel arch in a couple of places - the gap should be the same each side.

2. A neat way to spot a car that really has been cared for is to look for those tell tale circular scratch marks left by the swirling brushes of automatic car washes. If you can't find them the car has probably been lovingly hand washed by a caring owner and therefore generally well cared for, or alternatively, its never ever washed at all!

3. Stick to "one owner, nearly new, warranted mileage, direct cars with a full service history" anything else and you increase your already excellent chances of ending up driving around in a real "dud".

4. Do your research, establish the value of the car, then calculate what you are prepared to pay for it. When you have worked this out take £500 off that figure and make sure you don't bid one penny over that amount.

5. To start chasing a car over your predetermined price ceiling is absolute folly and guaranteed to end in tears!

6. If you are still determined to try and defeat the odds against finding a real bargain at auction and you have enough confidence to mix it with the trade then wait until late in the day. Why? Because generally traders are a lazy lot and they tend to slope off home early - there are a lot of near identical cars sold for a good price in the morning but for a lot less late in the afternoon!

7. If this all sounds too daunting then you could try one of the increasing number of "Car Supermarkets" around the country or find an auction broker. But..........on no account ever buy a car outside an auction - you can guarantee cars on offer on the road outside will be stolen or seriously dodgy in some way and remember - take little cash with you.


No 3 - Buying from a Franchised Dealer

Most franchised main dealers (Toyota included) are really garages who are independent of the manufacturer or importer though obviously there is a very heavy dotted line of responsibility between the manufacturer/importer and the retail garage. The manufacturer/importer can demand certain standards, investment, colour schemes, standardised documentation, showrooms, etc but in other (business) respects the franchised dealer is the same as an independent garage so there is some difference from garage to garage and make to make.

The more up-market the manufacturer's image (Mercedes-BMW-Porsche) the more capital investment the franchise is required to make and the prices charged to customers in hourly rates, etc tend to reflect this. The main advantage of the franchised outlet is that they will usually have the largest stock of vehicles of the appropriate make and in all probability they will also have the best examples for sale in the local area. This is a direct result of loyalty that one makes with customers trading old models for new with their local dealer. These are the best cars to buy but first check it's local by reference to the registration because some dealers also buy at auction - and you can do that! (See relevant chapter) The other obvious advantage is the manufacturers warranty and specialist used car warranties offered by many manufacturers/franchise garages -Toyota have a standard 3 years warranty (transferable) on new cars and this can be extended by realistic additional payments - talk to your local dealer. The other benefit is (usually) top class customer service - there will always be instances of differences of opinion between customer and garage but overall the levels of customer satisfaction are considerably higher from motorists dealing with franchised garages as opposed to totally independent garages. At first sight the price sticker on the screen may seem expensive at a franchised garage but it may not be a bad deal when taking all aspects into consideration - remember to haggle hard and long - always compare prices with other local outlets and remember that you may pay more but also get more for your old "trade-in" - it's the overall cost of changing that matters not the price you actually pay for the new car.


No 4 - Buying from an Independent Garage

It is impossible to generalise about this form of outlet. They range from top quality traders with the ethics and investment of a franchised dealer to a Village Petrol Pump operated by an ex-convict car thief knocking out tarted-up "clockers" at best or really hot property at worst. Ask yourself who would pay the best money for a good car you were selling, then ask yourself where the car you are now looking at came from and why it is offered for sale at the price and in the place that it is!

Sadly, we are all tempted by an apparent bargain - but real bargains are few and far between - there is no such thing as a free lunch and (as my poor old Mum used to say) "You get what you pay for" - so - risk it if you want to but somewhere there is a reason for a cars that, at face value, seem to be a bargain.

Word of mouth is the best way to identify a reliable independent garage - in rural areas there are some gems - always look for long established businesses, these often provide unrivalled service back-up and after sales service because in the main they depend on repeat customers. Do not necessarily base your opinion on appearance either good or bad - ignore the wrapping (the premises) it's the contents that matter.

There are independent garages that specialise in top quality cars such as Bentley, Jaguar. Rolls Royce etc., these are up-market cars sold to the well heeled - then there is the village garage selling to canny farmers - so you will see the difficulty in comparing Mayfair with Market Harborough. Look for a personal recommendation - long established business - good workshop - examine the selection of cars - and note if there is a large selection of 3 year old Cavaliers, Escorts and the like indicating the acquisition of ex sales fleet cars.
Any warranty offered will probably be backed by an insurance company - examine the small print carefully - these warranties often exclude more than they include and shop around for finance deals or you may pay more than you need to.


Useful Terminology

"Cut and Shut" - Two or more parts of separate cars welded together to make one vehicle.

"Ringer" - The identity of one car given to another (probably stolen)

"Write-off" - Suffered severe accident damage making it uneconomical in the view of the insurance company to repair to a safe standard.
Who to Contact - AA on 0800 234999 - RAC on 0900 333660 Equifax HPI - 01722 422422 (to check on status ie stolen - subject to HP - written off) Find your local Toyota dealer in Yellow Pages or ring the Club or Toyota (GB) on 01737 768585. But.... beware the information you obtain from a HPI check is only a guide - do not necessarily believe that a car that is "not recorded" is a safe car to buy! Don't believe anything you are told, hear or discover that indicates the car is genuine but do believe the first sign, suggestion or feeling that it isn't - remember that chap - "Mr Caveat Emptor!


The "Grey" Imports

Aptly named or not? One wonders why these "personal" imports (which they certainly are not) that usually come to the UK via ports in Holland or Eire (to defeat higher UK VAT rates legally through EC regulations) are deemed to be "grey" imports. Certainly, there is a stigma attached to these cars as evidenced these day by advertisements for UK specification cars being emphatically described as "Not an Import!", which is a bit odd really when you consider that all MR2's are built at Central Motors in Japan the inference being, of course, that if it's not an import then it's a superior vehicle.

What is the difference? Well the officially imported MR2's that are sold in this country via Toyota (GB) and the network of franchised Toyota dealers are all manufactured to the strict standards of the "type approval" that has been granted for the specific make and model of car by the EC. In effect this is your guarantee that the vehicle conforms to the strict safety standards, involving such things as crash tests-crumple zones, emission regulations, seat belt fixing points, safety glass, etc., as well as legal aspects under the construction and use regulations such as the colour of indicator lenses, fog lights etc.

This "type approval" means a car to approved "European" standards may be more expensive to build. Couple this with the network system that involves all Toyotas that come to Europe being handled by Toyota (Europe), then Toyota of the relevant country (in this case (GB) then you will appreciate that all these businesses have considerable overheads in the form of premises, staff and stock, all of which have to be financed. This finance can only come from the profits made on cars and spares and that comes from the money you, the customer pays for your cars. The effect of these hidden extras is to increase the retail and consequently the resale value of the cars in question.

So, lets look at the pros and cons (pun intended!) of the grey personal import.



1. The particular model/colour may not be available in this country ie MR2 Turbo.

2. Higher specification - the import will probably include "extras" not available in UK - ie air con; retractable rear view mirrors; cloth seats with T-Bar; design of seat and or covering; high level brake light; neither sun roof or T-bar roof; etc

3. Apparently low mileage vehicles available at comparatively low prices.

4. It should be possible to obtain spares without a problem for cars such as the GT and T-Bar from franchised dealers.

5. Accepted by the MR2 Drivers' Club as eligible for membership so benefits such as the club insurance scheme, dealer discounts, RAC discount and dedicated accessories are available.



1. Probably the most important is the total absence of any meaningful vehicle history. Do not believe anything you are told by word of mouth - by anyone - even if they seem really genuine. Anyway, middle aged Japanese nuns always drive a Lexus Soarer! The chances are you are being given the same old cock and bull story they were given by someone else. Some of the imported cars are accident damage repaired - but can you tell which? This absence of history and the differences in type approval standards are the main concerns (see below).

2. There are loads of after market (non-Toyota) bolt on modifications for engine, turbo, brakes, suspension etc. available in Japan. The Japanese love modifying their cars even though there is a 55 mph speed limit and the roads are so congested there is nowhere to drive. If, for example, the suspension has been lowered by the use of after market shockers and shorter springs, what happens when the first MOT test comes round and one of the shockers is leaking? The answer is that you will probably have to replace all four shockers and springs at £'ss - because you will never be able to source a replacement for the particular part that has failed unless you have a contact in Japan and you are able to identify in all aspects the make, size, model number etc of the faulty part. If the engine has been modified, how will you be able to tell? Probably the first sign will be the consumption of about one gallon of petrol every 14 miles! It has happened!

3. There are differences in the manufacturer's specification between MR2s built for the Japanese market and those for EC Countries. For example it may be that the glass used in the Japanese car is not to the same safety specification as that used in cars destined for Europe. Some Toyota models have specifically strengthened floor pans for EU countries, realistically we just do not know all the cost saving measures that are involved. Some of these differences may well account for some of the initial price differential and they may have some bearing on safety and the strict type approval regulations the official imports have to meet. Vehicles imported by Toyota(GB) must, by law, conform to European type approval. The importer will, therefore, be held responsible if you are involved in an accident which subsequently turns out to have been as a result of a design fault with the car. However, a "personal import" is not covered by the same approval so who will be held responsible then - possibly the owner and /or driver of the vehicle. Do not rely on your MOT certificate to resolve a design fault problem! It may also be that the level of underseal rust proofing on imported cars is not to the same standard as the UK specification car. Other differences involve the fuel filler neck; seat belts and seat belt anchorage points and tyres. There are different approval standards in Japan and some standards that are acceptable in Japan are not necessarily up to European safety test standards.

4. The better import traders visit Japan and "select" the cars they import. Others pick up the left overs and see the cars for the first time at the docks in Holland or Eire. How do you know for sure which method the dealer you are talking to uses? Do you or can you believe what he tells you? What would he want you to believe?

5. There is no doubt that Toyota franchised dealers in the UK have been, at best indifferent and at worst hostile towards the servicing and supply of spares for imported cars. This is not the policy of T(GB). It may be that some part numbers will be difficult to identify because only a few dealers have invested in the CD ROM and parts lists that cover the appropriate car. Furthermore, the supply of parts from Japan may be surface rather than air. Ensure you don't rely on your Turbo for daily transport if you don't have a reserve means of transport. Those that will undertake servicing (in the absence of a history) will do so under their own terms and you take the risk if something is missed or goes wrong!

6. Resale value will be a minimum of £2,000 and probably closer to £3,000 below the same age/mileage "official" UK car - you only make a price saving once. Imports have the effect of tending to depress the value of used UK cars - thus the "not an import" description now appearing in adverts.

7. Many insurance companies will not (or are unable) to quote for MR2 Turbos. Those that do will prove to be expensive. If the premium is not expensive the chance is that the quote given is not for a Turbo but for a normally aspirated car. Many UK insurance companies have ratings that do not include the Turbo (never imported into UK), so junior staff often make errors in the premium quotation. Which you may well think is alright - until the first claim! The latest move by the insurance companies is a suggestion that "imports" will only be accepted on a 3rd party risk because of the "unknown" factors.

8. The Mk 2 MR2 (SW20) being mid engine rear wheel drive is heavy on rear tyre wear. This is a result of the engine being almost directly above the rear wheels with the (175 bhp) drive going to the rear wheels, add to this the effect of "G" forces on cornering and you will see that the rear tyres in particular take a considerable load. In addition the standard car usually comes with Yokohama tyres (unequal size front to rear) of a soft compound giving excellent grip but not a lot of longevity. The consequence is that 15,000 miles from a rear set is about the best you will achieve with any sort of spirited driving so at £130 each you will see that this is an important consideration. It is also vitally important that the toe and camber (tracking) on the rear wheels (yes - adjustable front and rear on the MR2) is absolutely spot on for accuracy or you will see even pedestrian driving scrubbing away a set of rear tyres in under 8,000 miles! Now add to this the effect of a turbo engine developing the average 225 bhp and the tyre wear effect is going to be magnified - can you afford it?


The Legal Position

The main legislation is the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 - which applies to cars and a box of matches!

The law requires that products sold are of satisfactory quality and fit for their purpose, and as described. Unfortunately defining these requirements can be problematical in relation to a motorcar.

The law treats cars somewhat differently to other consumer goods and products so here are the main considerations as far as cars are concerned.

1. Satisfactory Quality - Defective paintwork; a bonnet that doesn't shut properly or a leaking windscreen - then these may render the quality as unsatisfactory. In the case of a new car then you should be able to ask for your money back - but the same aspects are not so clear cut when you move into the "previously enjoyed" market. The older the car the less likely you are to be able to claim successfully.

2. Fit for Purpose - A car should be capable for getting driver and the appropriate number of passengers from A to B in relative comfort, speed and safety. But .. you can't expect the same performance from a Starlet that you would from a BMW and this is the difficult bit. Unless you make it clear - and can prove that you made clear - specific requirements then it will be difficult to prove that a car is not fit for it's general purpose. It is really only when trading in specialist vehicles (4 x 4) that this comes into play.

3. As Described - Obvious - four wheels means four wheels - if it's only got three when it's delivered - you have a reasonable claim.



Dealers - The same legal requirements apply whether buying new or used from a dealer. Any attempt by a dealer to waive your rights in return for the deal of the decade cannot be enforced. However, the law recognises that it would be unfair to expect the same standard of used car as one straight from the assembly line.

The Consumer Protection Act and Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations also apply.

Private Sale - Almost no legal protection other than the car must not be misdescribed - thus the expression "as seen". A failure to tell you something that you don't ask about doesn't count! Buy a stolen car and it may be repossessed by the police, the true owner or the insurance company - you can not buy "title" to stolen property therefore you have no "rights" in it.


If It All Turns To Worms!

If you bought privately - probably best to forget legal action unless you paid a lot of money in which case you may want to seek legal advice in any event. From a dealer you have rights and two courses of action. One is to cause maximum embarrassment and publicity when the show room is full - but you won't make friends that way. The other (assuming a lack of dealer co-operation) is legal advice (costly). Of course the law allows for you to agree to an attempt at repair without losing your right of rejection. Make sure if you agree to this course of action that you put your position quite clearly in writing to the dealer and insist on an acknowledgement. Remember you will be dealing with the garage - it is the garage that is responsible in law, though the manufacturer or importer will be pulling the strings in all probability. If all else fails then you will have to go to court - and depending on the value of the car or the value of your claim, remember the small claims court.


Best Practise

Research the specifications of the particular make and model of car you are looking to buy. Discover all the standard equipment, differences in model years, standard colours, optional extras, weak points and foibles - know the car inside out so that nobody can pull the wool over your eyes in any respect. In your research contact any independent car club catering for the marque - also a good source of cars for sale. Investigate fully the history and origin of any prospective purchase, check dealer's service records for stamps (ring the dealers), check HPI index, check the trader - who is he, how long established, type of premises, stock of cars, what is your "gut" feeling? If anything rings a warning bell in your head - take heed of it over the desire to buy - a fool and his money are soon parted - act in haste but repent at leisure etc. Remember "Buyer Beware" and hopefully you will stand an even chance of at least buying an average car at the right price. Good luck!






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