Buying a Car in the UK - Where to start?

Well done. You’ve come this far. You’ve weighed up the options and you’ve decided that, yes, a trip across the Irish Sea for your next car is the right option for you. Good choice. Now comes the next question; how do I find the right car?
First off, and we’ve said this before but it bears repeating, make your mind up and choose your car before you travel. If you head for the UK planning to wear out shoe leather and find a car once you’re over there, you’re on a hiding to nothing. Much better to have all your prep work done and dusted long before you log on to aerlingus.com or irishferries.com.
So, first you need to choose the right car for you and make sure you’re looking for the spec that’s right for you. It's always good to get an experts opinion and for reviews of what the car is actually like to drive I'd recommend the venerable autocar.co.uk or whatcar.co.uk. For a unique Irish perspective Bob Flavin's thenextgear.com is a great place to visit.

Comparing Prices

Irish-SitesNow comes the slightly trickier part – comparing prices on second hand models. Get your calculator out, and open the next three windows on your computer. Carsireland.ie is one of the best and most comprehensive Irish used car sites, although it’s also worth keeping an eye on carzone.ie and beepbeep.ie. Remember to only look for cars for sale from dealers, as it’s probably not worth the risks of buying privately from the UK – you really want to be getting a car with some sort of transferable warranty.

Searching in the UK

Then open up autotrader.co.uk and start your search. If you can't find anything in Northern Ireland (cheaper to transport from) move on to the mainland. Tip - the postal code for Holyhead is LL65 1DQ. You can search outward from this as it's likely that this is where you'll be catching the ferry home. Keep track of the cars that match you're requirements so that you can compare the prices the prices being asked in Ireland. To help you along I've created a spreadsheet on Google Docs here that you can use to keep track of the cars you're interested in and the costs associated with brining them home from the UK.
Incidentally, there are some clever technological ways of keeping an eye on specific ads to see if the price of a car you are monitoring is coming down. Versionista.com is a paid-for service that monitors any changes in a specific webpage and alerts you to them, but it can get expensive if you’re watching a lot of ads at once. You may be better of using a free plugin called Page Monitor that I found for Google’s Chrome web browser that does a similar job. Neither are foolproof, but they may be helpful.
Autotrader.co.uk
Just as a rough example, we took one of the most popular cars currently being imported into Ireland, a Ford Focus, and put a 1.6 TDCI Zetec model through the mill. For two similar examples, with similar mileage, one an original Irish-registered car being sold by a dealer and one a UK car being sold by a car supermarket, and the price gap was quite staggering. The Irish car had an asking price of €14,900, while even allowing for a rough VRT calculation, the UK car could potentially be landed here for €9,900 plus the cost of a flight and a ferry.

Negotiating on Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT)

Speaking of VRT, or Vehicle Registration Tax, the next stop on your research trail should be Revenue’s excellent ros.ie site where you’ll find all the tools you need to start calculating the payable VRT on your imported car, and a long and helpful list of FAQs. If you need a quick VRT calculator you can use the free one on Motorcheck.ie. It uses the registration number of the UK car to pull a VRT estimate from the official Revenue site.

VRT Calculator

The most important thing to remember about Revenue is not to be afraid. Yes, they want your money but actually they only want the fair and correct amount. Much mileage is made of the use of the estimated Irish market selling price for the car (as opposed to the actual price you paid) as the basis for the VRT calculation, but if you feel you’ve been over-charged then there’s a simple and easy system to query the amount and a large number of such queries, if properly researched and backed up, are successful.
Take for example the case of Vaidas Kurmuauskas, a Motorcheck.ie user, who queried the Revenue valuation of his imported Peugeot 407. By carefully laying out his case (he’d obviously looked at it very thoroughly) he got a significant chunk of his paid VRT refunded.

I feel Revenue was honest and fair to me, as in all cases I’ve got cheque exactly what I was asking for. In fairness I was fair to them too and didn’t ask for low valuation or unrealistic refund.

See? Nothing to be afraid of, so.
Before you get to that point, of course, you’ll have had a visit to Motorcheck.ie (ahem, cough) to do a thorough history and background check on your potential purchase. It’s a sad fact but there are still some dodgy cars out there and even purchases from a reputable main dealer can have dark skeletons lurking in their cupboards. Check carefully before you buy and don’t simply take someone’s word that the car is fine. Yes it might well be, but this is a significant amount of money you are about to spend, so tread carefully.

Other Routes to Consider

Now, there is another option and that’s the public auction route. Now, this is not for the faint of heart but there are bargains and great cars to be found and if you’re up for the extra research needed, then it’s worth a look. Log on to manheim.co.uk to british-car-auctions.co.uk to have a look at getting started. You’ll find that they’re very welcoming of private buyers and are open to all kinds of questions, plus in many cases they’ll deliver the car to Ireland for you (for a fee of course).
One other interesting service we came across when researching the above was the car-finding service palmdale.co.uk. From what we know about them they will locate and purchase a car for you once you tell them what you want and your budget, and charge a fee of around STG£5-600 for the privilege. They won’t deliver to Ireland but they will hold it at a depot near Heathrow airport for you to collect from.
So, lots of options to be looked at. Lots of choice and lots of research for you to do. Get cracking...Next time we'll be looking at how to make that all important first enquiry with tips on how to negotiate over the phone.