I recently purchased two vehicles at auctions in Japan. As one has reached America — and the other awaits its boat — this seems like a good time to answer some of your questions about vehicle importation. Many readers want to know how importing a car from Europe works.
Japan has an entire industry dedicated to selling cars to people in other countries. There are dozens of exporter websites, auction sites and companies that do nothing but funnel cars out of Japan to buyers overseas. Surely Europe would be similar, right?
As our David Tracy remarked last year, Germany is a goldmine for dirt cheap cars like the Renault Twingo. If you watch “Car Throttle” on YouTube, you’ll quickly notice that old cars sell for absurdly low prices in the UK, too. Europe is a continent bustling with vehicles just begging to be brought to America.
Europe does have some exporters in the business of helping you buy and import a vehicle from the Continent, but the industry doesn’t seem nearly as robust. You can go to just about any car buying website in Japan, find thousands of cars for sale and immediately get an estimated cost of putting that car on a ship to the States. You can find, buy and ship a car from Japan without leaving your couch here in America.
The same cannot be said for European car-buying sites . Not only are there fewer cars to choose from, but I’ve yet to find a site that can generate a shipping estimate on its own. The selling platforms aren’t built for export, unlike Japan’s car-selling sites. This means that you’ll have to call the dealership to complete the sale and arrange shipping.
Perhaps even more confusing: I could not find an easy way for a foreigner to access auctions in a country like Germany. Thinking that maybe I was missing something, I reached out to a few sources familiar with importing old cars from Europe.
Orchid Euro has been in the business of importing cars and parts for almost a decade. Orchid’s representative confirms that Europe doesn’t really have a thriving used-car exportation industry like Japan’s. To make matters worse, cars from Western Europe often head east or south, not to America like used Japanese cars do.
Lucas from Team Free Spirit spends a lot of time helping buyers of imported vehicles know exactly what they’re getting. He also confirms that getting a vehicle from Europe isn’t nearly as simple as bringing one from Japan.
So, how do you get that adorable Twingo into your hands here in America?
Lucas tells me that if you want to do the work yourself, you have to contact the private seller or dealership. If you’re lucky, they can help you pay for the vehicle and get it ready for the long journey. But more likely than not, you’ll need to have a local handle the transaction for you. This way, you can also have the vehicle inspected to make sure it’s worth purchasing in the first place.
Once you’ve purchased that vehicle, you have to prep it for shipping and find a carrier to haul it to America for you. Thankfully, Europe does have an expansive shipping industry to help you get your new ride on a truck, then onto a boat.
But if you don’t want to deal with all of that, you can hire an importer to do all of the annoying work. That way, you won’t have to deal with language barriers and playing a long game of Telephone across an ocean. If you want to embark on your own car importation journey, CarsDirect has a handy guide on how to avoid scams in importing cars from Europe.
Keep your vehicle importation questions coming! A number of you have also asked how to import a motorcycle from another country. That is a subject I will cover in the future.