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Michael's Speed Zone

15th January 2001

By Michael Knowling

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There are many ways you can get burnt after you've purchased a car. You can end up with a mechanical lemon, the re-po people might come and rip it out of your hands or - as many high performance enthusiasts are finding out - you may buy a car only to find out it'll cost you a ransom to insure. But there's another consideration not many people give much thought to - what sort of person will be buying the car from you when you want to unload it?

Selling a Japanese import?

I know when you're handing over $15k to buy a SR20DET Nissan 180SX it might feel like a ripper bargain, but you should force yourself to consider who'll be buying the car from you in - say - two years from now. How much cash will they be handling over?

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We all know the buyer of a 180SX will be somebody keen on owning a fast, sexy coupe - that means we're talking, invariably, a young male. Young males are notorious for several things, one of which is attracting ridiculously expensive insurance premiums on imported high-performance cars. And if they can get insurance at all they're the lucky ones - most insurance companies won't cover an import turbocar if the owner is less than 25-30 years old. And, of course, the outlook won't be getting any sunnier for us in the future.

So - in my all-telling crystal ball - I can foresee many 180SX sellers enduring a string of young hoons coming around for a full-throttle test drive, never to be heard from again. Who needs that?

Okay, so getting rid of a 180SX in the private market might prove difficult - but what about selling or trading it in at a car yard? Good idea. A car yard is considered a guaranteed way to off-load a vehicle - but is it really? The fact is, very few car yards like dealing in Japanese grey market imports. Most businesses turn their nose up at the mere mention of the word 'import'. To make things tougher, those yards that do sell imports usually have their own compliancing stream that gives them a healthy profit margin. So why on earth would they want to buy your car at wholesale price?

"Sell it privately," they say...

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At this stage you'll realise you're stuck. Your only option will be to slash a big chunk off your asking price - and that always hurts. Especially if you're one of the many people who've had to take out a loan to afford the thing in the first place...

I should also point out that the future price Japanese import vehicles will be affected by many factors. One of the most worrying is the current instability - what if the rules are changed to allow cars pre-1990 to be driven on the road without a full compliance - won't that just turn the market onto its head?! Prices would tumble like you wouldn't believe.

Selling an officially imported high-performance vehicle?

Okay - now that I've established hi-po grey market imports might be a bastard to sell a little down the track - what about ridgy-didge officially-delivered performance vehicles? Well, these cars are certainly a lot safer prospect, but there are still a few ways that you can get caught with your pants down and a light breeze blowing up your inner thigh...

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Sticking with turbocars, something like a KF/KH Ford Laser TX3 might seem like a vehicle that'll hold its value rock-solid. This is true to an extent - small cars tend to retain much of their value. But, again, who'll be buying a Laser turbo in a couple of years? A young lad on his P-plates who will, again, not be able to get insurance. Even today, I bet there are lots of TX3 turbo sellers who've had a 'sure thing' keen-as-punch young buyer pull the plug on a sale at the last minute due to insurance hassles.

Insurance for young drivers really is the killer when you're talking high performance.

Selling such a vehicle to a car yard might not be all that promising either. While a Laser turbo doesn't have all the drawbacks of an import, a turbocar is often not something yards want to take in. Especially if you're young yourself - they'll look at you and conclude that you've thrashed the hell out of it and maintained it on a shoestring. That's not the sort of car they'd ever want to offer any kind of warranty on. Bye-bye...

Again, this is a foreseeable situation that might cost you heaps.

Selling an officially imported Q-ship?

Alrighty then, what do I think will happen if you want to sell a high performance car that's a bit less 'lair-arse'? Something like a Golf VR6, Calibra turbo or a quick BMW.

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Well, AutoSpeed Editor - Julian Edgar - has recently found out the problems associated with wanting to sell a Q-car. When it came time to ship out his 1995 Audi S4 (of which there are only 12 - or is it 20? - in Australia), many car yard buyers showed very little interest in it - because they didn't know what an S4 was.

This isn't such a tragic situation, however, because - with a bit of perseverance - you can usually find a buyer who will understand and appreciate the vehicle. This might be in the private market or at a yard. A bit of hunting and waiting is all you might need to do before you get a reasonable price.

But what if your car has a really, really narrow appeal? I came across a classic example of this the other day when talking to the seller of an imported Daihatsu Mira TR-XX. He used the approach of, "You won't find another one," to bump up its value, while my position was something like, "Sell it to me for what you can get - nobody else will want it!" We are, after all, talking a 1990 three-cylinder turbo that is probably not even legally complied.

So you can see how an 'oddball' car - unless it's a genuine collector's item - can get its asking price severely knocked around.

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I use the term 'collector's item' loosely - because what exactly does that mean? Yes, a 1960s Ferrari is a collectible, but what about cars like VL Walkinshaws, GT-R V-specs and STis? They aren't so clear-cut. I guess a lot of the 'collectability' comes down to the latest fashions and trends...

It's bloody hard, ain't it?

And there are many more considerations that I could go into. Like, is there a newer or better model of your vehicle that can be bought? If so, be wary of its consequence. Spare a thought for those poor souls who bought a Series 1 VT SS with the Aussie 5.0 - they're getting disproportionately less dosh for their cars than those with the later Gen III 5.7 models. As I said, a lot comes down to public perception and fashion.

Often, though, it's impossible to foresee how people will regard a particular vehicle. Remember the Seat Ibiza GTi - not a bad car, but who would be caught now buying a second-hand one? With Seat gone bust in Australia, there's no parts back up or 'proper' servicing. That means anyone that, by chance, does want an Ibiza GTi will have some tremendous bargaining leverage. Good for them; not so good for the seller.

Are there any safe bets?

So - at the end of it all - what are the safest cars to buy? In short, I'll be buggered if I know!

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As a guide, it always helps to stick with the brands that are already established with a good resale record - cars like (most) Toyotas, Subarus and Mercedes. We're talking preferably mid-to-high spec, not too 'cutting edge' in its appearance, low kilometres and well maintained. Quick late-model Beemers also usually hold their value well, but some of the less fashionable models depreciate at a rate that would make you cry.

These are some of the things you should think about when you're considering buying a car.....

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