Personal Finance: BMW (bargain motors wait)

There are big savings to be made from buying a car on the Continent.
THOUSANDS OF Britons already sail to the Continent just to save money on the cheap alcohol and tobacco they can buy there. Now British car-buyers can do the same thing.

As with beer, wine and tobacco, the savings can be considerable. Broadspeed, which started its car cruise trips to the Continent this week, says it can supply a brand new right-hand drive BMW 528i for under pounds 25,000. The UK list price for the same car stands at pounds 30,880.

For Brodspeed's Holland trip, customers take a Stena Line ferry to the Hook of Holland, where the company introduces them to English-speaking dealers who can supply RHD cars for British drivers.

The ferry package - which costs pounds 322.50 - includes two return trips to Holland and two nights' accommodation. On the second trip, you bring your new car back to the UK with you. The cars supplied have a warranty which applies throughout the European Union, and should come with all the papers needed for registration in this country.

Big savings are possible on imported cars partly because of the higher taxes charged on car purchase in countries such as Portugal and the Netherlands, where taxes can add as much as 60 per cent to a new car's list price.

Manufacturers respond to these high taxes by reducing the base price of their cars in those countries. This allows British importers to get the best of both worlds, with both a low base price and British VAT at just 17.5 per cent.

Other importers, such as Domporto International or the Eurocar Import Agency, will deliver the car right to your door. Its owner, Kris Doms, says: "There's a 10 per cent deposit to be paid by cheque, banker's draft or credit card, and then the balance has to be paid on delivery of the car."

Depending on the make and model you select, he adds, delivery could take as little as a week or as long as six months.

The savings on luxury cars are particularly striking. Doms says he can supply a new Mercedes S500L for an on-the-road price of pounds 58,000, against pounds 74,040 from a UK dealer (see table, right).

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders suggest that about 6,000 cars were personally imported to the UK last year. The Eurocar Import Agency brings about 1,200 cars from Europe to the UK every year, at an average price of pounds 10,000 each.

But Eurocar owner Clive Worth warns that there are dangers awaiting the careless buyer. "One pitfall is the resale value of the vehicle. If the dealer knows the vehicle was imported, then he'll know that you bought it cheaply, and he'll try and knock down the price he offers you," Worth says.

"The other thing is how your local dealer decides to treat you. Some dealers will accept an imported car for servicing and get on with it, but others will try and put you to the back of the queue.

"They are obliged to look after the car under European law, but what they're not obliged to do is to give you the service that really you would normally expect."

You should also be careful to see that you are truly comparing like with like when you go about examining European prices.

The SMMT warns: "Consumer offers have traditionally been the most generous in the UK where instances of long warranties, free servicing, free insurance, subsidised finance and more generous trade-in prices on second-hand vehicles all present considerable benefits to the buyer. Many of these features are completely absent from other European markets."

Guide prices on imported cars. Specs and extras may vary.

Importer`s UK dealer`s Save

price (RHD)price

Broadspeed (LHD*)

Vauxhall Astra 1.6 pounds 7,976 pounds 12,820 38%

Volkswagen Golf 1.4E pounds 9,177 pounds 12,735 28%

Ford Mondeo 1.8 pounds 10,521 pounds 15,680 33%

Vauxhall Corsa 1.5 pounds 6,448 pounds 11,370 43%

Domporto** (RHD)

Mercedes S500L pounds 58,000 pounds 74,040 22%

Alfa Romeo 156 1.8TS pounds 17,500 pounds 20,173 13%

Fiat Coupe Turbo 2.0L pounds 21,000 pounds 24,022 13%

Euro Continental (RHD)

Volvo V70 T5SE pounds 25,716 pounds 29,470 13%

Landrover Discovery

GSTD5 automatic pounds 25,260 pounds 30,895 18%

Alfa Romeo 166 3L V6 pounds 24,800 pounds 29,170 15%

*For RHD drive add between pounds 300 and pounds 800. Broadspeed prices do not include price of ferry trip. ** All Domporto prices and UK comparisons shown on- the-road.

Source: Importers` quotes