What do you think of American cars

US imports of new and used cars

It always starts with the desire to import a car from the USA. But for whom is it worth buying a car in America anyway? For V8 fans only? Clearly: no! It is more about special models or equipment variants that are not offered in Europe or are much cheaper in the USA. For example, an automatic transmission or air conditioning is usually subject to a surcharge in Europe, but standard in the USA. Buying a used car is particularly worthwhile, since new cars have not been allowed to be exported directly since 2007 and therefore various additional costs are incurred, for example sales tax, dealer fees and registration. In the case of used cars, these costs are all already factored in. Which brings us to the first question.

1. Buy it yourself or have it imported?
Basically, buying it yourself is only worthwhile if you want to take on the trouble with companies and authorities and can speak English well. The bottom line is that buying from an importer - depending on the model - is usually not much more expensive, usually less stressful and, thanks to the dealer guarantee, always safer, because there is usually no global manufacturer guarantee and therefore no rework in the event of product recalls. That can be expensive with new cars.

2. How do I find suitable offers? And where are the really good ones?
The car market in the USA is heavily influenced by local offers. Advertisements like "Auto-Trader" or "Hemmings" are the first port of call. The advertisements are also placed online with a time delay (cox-automart.com / hemmings.com). A visit to "Craigslist" (craigslist.org) could also be exciting. For oldtimers or special vehicles you should look for a fan or club page for the model you are looking for on the Internet and go through the link recommendations. In principle, such forums are always the best source for inexpensive offers. Alternative: the "car flea markets" and meetings that take place on many weekends. One of the most famous events on the west coast is the Pomona Swap Meet in suburban Los Angeles (pomonaswapmeet.com). Due to the level of awareness, many Europeans try to buy cars and parts there. This is not good for the prices, they are rather high.

3. Do you prefer to buy privately or from the dealer? Or right away on eBay?
It's better to buy oldtimers privately. US dealers are very specialized in dealing with them. You have to like that and be able to negotiate hard. Experience has shown that offers on Ebay tend to be overpriced because the whole world can bid. The status descriptions are mostly wasted.

4. Buying a car without having seen it: what is the risk?
The risk increases dramatically with the age of the vehicle. Personally, I would not buy cars that are more than five years old or very expensive cars unseen. You should never buy "cheap" cars without looking, because they are guaranteed to have a catch. The question is whether you can live with it or whether you wanted to change it anyway in the context of a restoration in the case of classic cars. Anyone who wants to buy an American car should know that Americans use their cars as a commodity. Scratches, dents or a worn steering system are irrelevant to them.

5. In which US region are there low-rust classics?
A few years ago, the supply of good cars was particularly high in the climatically favored regions, i.e. Southern California, Arizona and Texas. Not only the Americans knew that, but also overseas buyers, and so these regions were virtually bought empty. Today you can find many cars in California from other regions of the USA, so be careful.

6. What is a Carfax report? Why is it indispensable and where can you get it?
If the desired vehicle has a 17-digit chassis number (from approx. 1981), you can request a Carfax report from the Carfax Europe website, which compiles information on the vehicle from over 20,000 sources in the USA. In addition to checking that there are no accidents, this also includes repairs, emissions tests, changes of owner, relocations, etc. In most cases, this also provides a rough overview of the mileage. The 25 euros are actually always worthwhile and reveal a little bit of the life of the vehicle.

7. How much time does it take to search?
Newer cars are a dime a dozen. You will surely find something suitable in three to four days. For youngtimers and oldtimers you have to take longer. A week is usually not enough. You should allow for at least ten days so that you can search on two weekends. Note: The advertising papers almost always come out on Fridays or Saturdays, and the meetings / markets usually take place on Sundays.

8. Cash, US Account or Travelers Check: What's the best way to pay?
Preferably with cash, of course, but be careful, as amounts over $ 10,000 must be declared at customs. To open a US bank account, you have to have a local address, i.e. a reliable friend or relative. It takes a few days to set up and transfer the first money, so this is more of a solution for the next vacation or the second car. Large amounts of travelers' checks are not recommended. Many dealers, but also private individuals, accept a cash down payment (up to ten percent), and the rest of the money is then sent directly to their bank account using a flash transfer. However, this procedure should be clarified with your own bank beforehand.

9. What papers does the seller have to hand over?
Actually just the US title, a piece of colored paper. Always make sure that no "lien holders" are entered at the bottom left, i.e. the car is free from third-party ownership rights and that all registered owners (in the case of spouses both are often in the title) agree to the sale (1st signature). Also necessary: ​​Enter the mileage (or tick "unknown") and confirm (2nd signature), as well as agree to the transfer (3rd signature) at the bottom right.

10. How do I find a suitable forwarding agent or a local agent?
There are various freight forwarders and agencies in Germany that offer their services. Most advertise in relevant US car magazines (e.g. Chrom & Flammen). You can find various emigrated Germans on the Internet who offer their help on site and then also have a shipping company in their package. Are these more trustworthy? It is best to search for experiences on the Internet, but do not be put off by negative contributions. Make up your own mind and assess the risk. My tip: Book the processor on site as a "tourist guide" and search together. The money is well invested.

11. Ro-Ro transport or container?

Roll-on-roll-off transports should only be considered with newer, reliably driving vehicles, because the wagons are driven onto the ships and back down again. You can imagine that vehicles are not always handled with care. Container transport is recommended for older vehicles. There is the "luxury version", where only two vehicles are stowed in a 40-foot container (approx. 12 meters long). With "wood transport", wooden ramps are built into the container and up to four vehicles are transported. The probability of damage in transit is of course greater.

12. How expensive is the transport from the place of purchase to the coast?
Due to the rise in fuel prices in the USA, you currently have to calculate 1.20 to 1.40 dollars per mile. If the car is more than 150 miles from the nearest port, it is well worth driving the car to the port yourself.

13. Is there any protection against transport damage?
Many shipping companies offer a "total loss" policy (the ship goes under) for around one percent of the vehicle's value. Then there are "limited warranty" contracts for gross negligence (ramp construction in the container collapses; unloading with a forklift) for around two percent of the vehicle value. So read the insurance conditions very carefully, otherwise you will be left with damage despite being insured, as the contracting parties are usually located abroad and protracted legal disputes are not worthwhile. However, scratches and minor dents are not insured. If you want to be on the safe side, you can take out "all risks" insurance, almost fully comprehensive insurance, which, however, costs a small fortune depending on the age of the vehicle.

14. How long does it take for the car to arrive in Europe?
From the east coast about 14 days, from Texas about three weeks, from the west coast about a month.

15. Why is Rotterdam the most popular transshipment point for US car importers?
In addition to the sheer mass of vehicles that arrive there, there are currently two exemptions for customs clearance. If a vehicle can be proven to be more than 30 years old, there is no import sales tax and you only pay a reduced tariff rate of six percent (from January 1st, 2009 probably seven percent). However, this only applies to private individuals. In addition, trucks that are used for personal use, e.g. pickups and SUVs, are taxed as cars.

16. What is the cost of customs duties, taxes and so on?

The customs value is calculated from the vehicle price plus transport costs. The tariff for cars is ten percent, for trucks 22 percent (this may also include pickups and SUVs; so be sure to check with customs beforehand!). The import sales tax of 19 percent is calculated on the total of the customs value and the customs amount. In the related links in the right column of this article, you will find an import calculator.

17. What happens if an attempted fraud is revealed at customs?
Many buyers try to indicate the purchase price lower when clearing customs by having two sales contracts drawn up. However, the customs officers know exactly what the vehicles are worth and may suspect customs fraud. Then the value of the vehicle will be re-assessed by customs. And possibly filed a criminal complaint against you. So: don't even think about it.

18. What conversions does the German TÜV require?
In principle, modifications to the lighting are necessary (US "sealed-beam" headlights are not permitted; no red indicators; separation of indicator and brake light) and the speed indicator (attachment of a km / h scale) as well as appropriate emissions reports . It is best to speak to TÜV (DEKRA in the east) in advance and coordinate the necessary modifications. Exhaust gas reports in particular can become a problem if an identical vehicle has not already been approved and an individual exhaust gas report can quickly cost up to 1500 euros.

19. Where do the data for German car papers come from?
Up until now, it was possible to compile the necessary information for the vehicle registration document from old production documents, sales brochures and car books, especially with classic cars. This is no longer permissible, and the expert organization collects the necessary information itself and invoices the research costs. If in doubt, ask TÜV Augsburg (International Expertise Department) in advance whether a data sheet can be created (cost around 80 to 100 euros so far). Every time the vehicle is registered, the KBA checks whether the car has been reported as stolen. In the past, you had to get explicit information (which took up to four weeks) to register the car. This now happens automatically in the admissions office.

20. How much does the full acceptance cost?

That depends on the number of exemptions, the necessary emissions report, the procurement of the vehicle data and any vintage car report that may be required. 500 euros for classic cars and 2000 euros for newer vehicles are often not the upper limit. Get in touch with the local inspection center early on so that there are no nasty surprises later and the cheap import becomes a euro grave.

Do you have any further questions? Then write to us!

We cannot promise to answer every single individual request down to the smallest detail, but we will do our best to clarify every interesting question. In AUTO BILD KLASSIK 4/2008 (to be published on November 21, 2008) we will then present further information on the subject. Please send inquiries by email to: [email protected]

Conclusion from US import expert Jens Wilde

There are many pitfalls when buying a car in the US, but the risk is calculable if you get as much information as possible beforehand. Then you will usually be rewarded with an inexpensive vehicle - and not punished for good faith or negligence before buying. You can read about how I have fared over the years on the website carsfromusa.de. You will also find an import calculator there.