What to consider when importing a car : treasure hunt abroad

Some sought-after used cars are not so easy to find in germany. If you extend your search to other countries, you often have a better chance of finding what you are looking for. And importing such cars is not that difficult – if you follow some important rules.

Bargain from the USA: Jochen Thoma paid the equivalent of 6000 euros for his Plymouth Fury. The transport, however, did not go entirely smoothly

There it stands, a brown plymouth fury of the first series. After a long search, Jochen Thoma finally found what he was looking for in the USA a few years ago. The car is almost 50 years old and cost the equivalent of 6000 euros. A bargain. The goods were shipped to bremerhaven by freight forwarder and properly cleared through customs, so the transport was no big deal either. But when thoma picked up the car at the ship, more than just a hubcap was missing.

On closer inspection, thoma, a classic car expert for ADAC klassik, also noticed dents and scratches on his plymouth. Finally on the highway from bremerhaven to munich, the oil check lamp soon lit up. Whether the oil was partially drained for weight reasons before shipment, thoma does not know exactly, he had handed over the car in the USA in any case roadworthy.

Don’t forget to search for evidence

He later filed a warranty claim with the forwarding company to which he had handed over the car key at the US port. Despite the problems, thoma would do it again. "The handover certificate drawn up before shipment serves as proof of the condition of the car when it is exported, he says.

According to thoma, people often forget to ask the seller or dealer for further evidence and information about the history when they make their purchase. This makes the search later difficult. "Cars from the USA come unfortunately very often without provable history to europe."

The law of the country of origin applies

A purchase contract and the handing over of the registration papers belong in any case also with the purchase in the USA to it. Otherwise it will be difficult to make claims for defects later on. The purchase is governed by the law of the country in which the contract was concluded. "If the seller is a company that has also advertised in germany and the purchase resulted from its advertising, it may be possible to file a lawsuit in germany as well", says michael eckert, lawyer in heidelberg and specialist in classic car law.

"You should ask the salesperson to show you his or her identification card and preferably copy it," recommends eckert. All vehicle documents should also be available. it is particularly important to have a certificate of ownership in which the seller is registered. "In france, this can be the registration certificate, the so-called ‘carte grise’", says eckert. In the USA it is usually the "title". If necessary, the seller must assure in the contract that the vehicle is his unrestricted property and that he may dispose of it.

Arrival usually in bremerhaven

All information and assurances that the seller has given about the vehicle should be repeated in the purchase contract. "And you should determine who will take care of the transport, insurance and registration, as well as the transfer to the new location.", advises eckert.

From the desert state to northern Europe - to get their hands on the coveted classic, classic car fans sometimes accept long transport routes

After purchasing a car in a non-EU country, it is best to have professional export shipping companies take care of all the formalities and bring the vehicle to the desired destination. shipping is usually done via bremerhaven. There the car must be presented and registered at the customs office. The forwarder can also take care of this on request. Andreas heuer, head of the bremerhaven customs office, says: "in 2013, around 9500 used vehicles were imported via bremerhaven, about a third of which were classic cars". Used cars from BMW, mercedes and porsche are popular. The oldtimers are often porsche, the ford mustang and other classic US models.

Less tax as a collector’s item

A car imported from a country that is not a member of the european union is subject to a 10 percent import duty and 19 percent import sales tax. "In any case, the customs office checks the customs declaration, which can also be submitted via the Internet, including documents and, if necessary, carries out an inspection", explained this year. The findings are documented in the customs declaration.

This determines whether a classic car may be imported as a collector’s item at a reduced tax rate of 7 percent. After the documentation, the official issues a tax notice, which is given to the declarant of the vehicle. "Only if the import duties have been paid and a clearance certificate has been issued by the customs office, the vehicle may be accepted for further transport", says heuer.

no import duty for cars from europe

It can also be interesting to import a car from switzerland, where there is a large market for well-maintained used cars. Importing a car is cheaper than from the U.S. because, as ADAC expert thoma explains, "european brands are subject to the so-called preference agreement there and in norway, for example." cars of these brands are not subject to customs duty upon importation.

Imports from the EU do not require customs or border formalities anyway. Here the effort is limited to the transport. "The buyer can choose to hire a freight forwarder, get a towing vehicle with trailer or apply for an export license plate on the spot", according to thoma. No matter how you do it, the import can make sense. Not only because of the cheaper purchase price. Because, according to thoma: "the effort is even rewarded with an increase in value for some models."

Design icon: The VW Scirocco - shown here with chassis number 1 even before its market launch - came onto the market in 1974. Volkswagen had been looking for a new coupe for years - until Italian star designer Giorgio Giugiaro came along

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