MotorCheck: UK car sales surge means bargains aplenty

With a massive increase in the number of cars being imported into Ireland from the UK this year (the figure has surged by 56 per cent compared to the same time last year, and total UK imports are set to top 90,000 units by the end of the year) the fact that sales of new cars in Britain surged by 8.4 per cent in March is a significant one for Irish buyers.

UK - Single digit growth

8.4 per cent may not sound like much, but with the size of the UK market, that’s 500,000 cars registered in March. That’s half-a-million used cars due to enter the market in the next one-to-three years, and half-a-million (or thereabouts) cars being traded in against these new one, which are now ripe for importing into Ireland.

The figures are being driven by a significant change to the UK car tax system, which changed on April 1st. Previously, owners of low-emissions cars could pay no annual motor tax at all in the UK (for cars of up to 100g/km Co2 emissions) and very little tax (STG£20-30) for cars emitting between 100 and 130g/km.

Impact on the UK market

That has changed now to a flat-rate STG£140 motor tax cost, with an additional loading of £310 for cars costing above STG£39,999 and extra costs for high-emissions vehicles. The system has been described as a dreadful muddle in the UK (with many criticising the fact that it effectively takes away any incentive to buy an electric or plugin-hybrid car) but one thing is certain — UK drivers decided to buy before the changeover kicked in, reassuring themselves that a car registered before April 1st will stick with the old, more affordable tax system.

Impact on Irish market

That in itself opens up an avenue of bargains for Irish buyers. Some of those cars will be unfavourably rated in tax terms with the April change. Certainly anything costing more than STG£40,000 new will be significantly penalised, in terms of residual value, by the new system so those looking for a bargain executive car could do a lot worse than have a ring around UK dealers and see what unregistered stock they have on offer. You could well pick up a luxurious car which will cost less to tax in Ireland that it now will in the UK.

Secondly, the glut of trade-ins and used cars coming onto the market as people trade in and trade up will doubtless temporarily soften the prices of used cars in the UK, even if only temporarily. The fact that the older cars will still on the old tax system may actually bring their prices up a little in coming months, but in the short term there may well be bargains for the canny buyer.

Fuel "driven" bargains?

Then there’s the question of diesel power. In spite of the bad publicity surrounding diesel, and the announcement this week that London will bring forward its extra pollution charge to 2019 (adding STG£12.50 to the cost of driving a car into central London for cars that don’t conform to Euro6 emissions regulations) UK buyers still bought a lot of diesels in March. Although the overall market share for diesel power in the UK market fell to 43.4 per cent, March still saw 244,263 diesel cars registered, and diesel sales in Britain are 96,000 units ahead of where they were this time last year.

Again, that means the potential for bargains. With petrol power reassuming its old pre-eminence in the UK, and the shadow of extra charges and possible changes in fuel tax and other possible penalties being imposed by the UK government, it follows that prices for diesel-engined cars will quite probably soften somewhat over the coming months. That again could mean better prices for Irish buyers, especially with the predicted continued fall in the value of Sterling.

Little impact of fuel type in Ireland

Those worried that buying a diesel car could be a bad idea should probably not worry. While it is true that the Department of the Environment here has launched a consultation paper on improving air quality, and that does include discussions about what to do with diesel pollution, there’s (probably) no need to panic yet. For a start, a consultation paper means that any legislation is still some time away, and secondly any action taken against diesel power will focus, at first, on older, more polluting vehicles. In spite of the scandals, there’s no question that cars which conform to current Euro6 regulations are massively cleaner than their predecessors, so anyone buying a diesel car now should still be able to count on a solid residual value in two-to-three years’ time.

The future of diesel

After that? Well, there the picture becomes rather murkier. While some, such as notably Mercedes, are still investing heavily in diesel technology, and it will still be an important form of propulsion for larger cars travelling longer distances for some time to come, there’s no doubt that regulators and governments definitely have diesel in their crosshairs right now.

Increasingly tough legislation will put pressure on diesel values, especially if buyers start to look back to petrol, or forward to hybrid and electric power instead.

In the meantime though, those strong UK car sales mean bargains for the taking for Irish buyers willing to travel to shop. Just remember that it’s hugely important to carry out a thorough history check on any potential purchase from the UK, as any problems can be that much harder (and more expensive) to sort out after purchase. We at Motorcheck, of course, stand ready to help…