Car Choice: 'I need a big and reliable car for a growing family'

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Darren Griffin needs a reliable, outdoorsy, large car to accommodate his growing family. It will supplement an Audi A4 and replace a reliable, tough, but now too small Ford Fiesta diesel. Darren has been looking at the Toyota Hi-Lux Surf 3-litre diesel, which is a Japanese import and is unsure of what to look for and would consider any alternatives.

Darren Griffin needs a reliable, outdoorsy, large car to accommodate his growing family. It will supplement an Audi A4 and replace a reliable, tough, but now too small Ford Fiesta diesel. Darren has been looking at the Toyota Hi-Lux Surf 3-litre diesel, which is a Japanese import and is unsure of what to look for and would consider any alternatives.

Buying a car that has been imported from Japan can be problematic, especially if the seller is private. Darren is better off finding a good dealer - one that is associated with the British Independent Motor Trade Association (Bimta) 01892 515425 who issue certificates of authenticity for grey imports. This will give the buyer an underwritten guarantee that a vehicle has not been stolen or on finance, prior to its export from Japan. So if the vehicle later proves to be stolen Bimta will provide a refund.

Bimta checks the make, model and date of first registration in Japan and the VIN number against lists of stolen cars in the Far East before issuing that certificate. Each document is individually numbered, with the same number appearing on a decal attached to the windscreen, which will disintegrate if tampered with. Bimta has recently responded to accusations that cars arriving in the UK have higher mileages than shown on the speedometer. The association can now check the mileage of cars sold at auctions at the time of the sale in Japan.

A car for the head

One area of grey ownership that can cause a problem is insurance. The Association of British Insurers confirms some models are always going to cost more because of specialist parts supply and the truly exotic will only get fire and theft cover. Otherwise imports are categorised as code Gs and in the majority of cases there will always be a specialist broker who can secure cover. Because the documentation is in a foreign language it doesn't tell you anything. Modifications carried out in Japan can cause problems when it comes to parts and servicing.

Also some cars have not been adapted for use in the UK with the wrong size number plates, no rear foglamps, incorrect headlamps, radios that don't work and speedometers reading in kilometres. So if you are buying any car, unless it is virtually new, getting an engineer's inspection is absolutely vital. Darren is right that the Hi-Lux Surf will be reliable, after all it is a Toyota. He should ensure the four wheel drive system functions properly and the overall cosmetic condition is good. When buying from a dealer he should check that the warranty is for a minimum of one year. Finding someone who will service and insure the vehicle is also essential.

A car for the heart

The Toyota Hi-Lux Surf is not the only import that Darren should consider. Mitsubishi make a wide range of reliable, comfortable and well-equipped offroaders.

The best known is the Pajero, which on the UK market was known as the Shogun. Maybe Darren has seen too many of those around. There is though the Challenger and Shogun Sport which was sold in the UK and has a similar Hi-Lux look, but I would argue that it looks a lot more handsome. The important thing to remember is that the ride on these vehicles can feel harsh and they do not drive like normal cars on the road.

I came across two 1996 2.8 TD GLX automatic models with climate control air conditioning, a good CD player and even folding door mirrors for £6,495. One was being sold privately, the other by a car dealer. There is also a more commercial model called the L200 which features a double cab for passengers and a pick up rear deck, although many fit a hardtop cover for security and practicality reasons. This vehicle may be too basic for Darren and his family.

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