HON­ESTY IS THE BEST POL­ICY

EX­CEPT HERE IN NEW ZEALAND , IT WOULD SEEM

New Zealand Classic Car - - Price On -

Those of you who have been around longer than since last Tues­day may re­call the Wahine dis­as­ter of 1968. In fact, April 10, 2018 is the 50th an­niver­sary of the tragedy in which 53 peo­ple lost their lives. Of par­tic­u­lar rel­e­vance to this ar­ti­cle (in part) was the fact that the Wahine car­ried a num­ber of ve­hi­cles — pur­port­edly 60; her ca­pac­ity was 200. Some time af­ter the sink­ing, some of these ve­hi­cles were sal­vaged, in prepa­ra­tion for an at­tempt at sal­vaging the ship, and were sold off. Their reg­is­tra­tion cer­tifi­cates (once known as ‘own­er­ship pa­pers’) were stamped as ‘wa­ter dam­aged’. Back then, all mo­tor reg­is­tra­tion records were kept at the Mo­tor Reg­is­tra­tion Cen­tre in Palmer­ston North. It was a known fact that some un­scrupu­lous buy­ers of these cars sim­ply ap­plied for a ‘ du­pli­cate set’ of pa­pers for said dam­aged ve­hi­cles, and a fresh reg­is­tra­tion cer­tifi­cate was pro­vided — al­beit with­out the wa­ter-dam­age stamp! Cir­cum­nav­i­gated A sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion oc­curred af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing 1984 In­ver­cargill floods. With wa­ter lev­els in some cases be­ing waist deep or higher, many cars were in­un­dated with wa­ter. Again, the prac­tice was to stamp the reg­is­tra­tion cer­tifi­cate with ‘wa­ter dam­age’ — al­though how this was done for cer­tifi­cates that were be­ing held by the re­spec­tive own­ers, I’ve no idea. Once again, this ‘pro­tec­tion’ was able to be cir­cum­nav­i­gated by sim­ply re­quest­ing a du­pli­cate set of doc­u­ments! Part of the prob­lem with these In­ver­cargill wa­ter­dam­aged cars was that there was sewage in the flood wa­ters, and I guess that, fur­ther down the track, you wouldn’t have needed to sight a wa­ter-dam­aged set of pa­pers to alert you to the fact that you were look­ing at an ex-in­ver­cargill car! (A dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on the ex­pres­sion ‘tak­ing your breath away’?). Need­less to say, it was only the dis­hon­est sell­ers who saw fit to try to hood­wink the buy­ing pub­lic. Any­one’s guess It would be nice to be able to say that we have moved on from those days, and, with the com­put­er­i­za­tion of the mo­tor reg­is­tra­tion records, such frauds shouldn’t hap­pen — but they do. De­ter­mined fraud­sters will find ways to get around what­ever pro­tec­tions put in place by the au­thor­i­ties.

Mov­ing ahead a few years and re­call­ing the mag­ni­tude-nine earth­quake and re­sult­ing tsunami in Ja­pan of 2011, there were huge

num­bers of wa­ter-dam­aged cars, and some that were close to the Fukushima nu­clear power sta­tion that went belly-up also had ra­di­a­tion prob­lems. Thus, the au­thor­i­ties here in New Zealand de­manded that any ve­hi­cles be­ing im­ported from the area be tested for ra­di­a­tion. It would have been nice to think that this was all that was re­quired, but it wasn’t. Many ve­hi­cles were sim­ply re­lo­cated else­where in Ja­pan where there were no re­quire­ments for ra­di­a­tion test­ing. How many sub­se­quently ar­rived here is any­one’s guess, but if you bought a used im­port any­time post that tsunami and have been feel­ing a bit crook of late, I’d be high-tail­ing it off to the doc­tors. Re­mem­ber that Auck­land is the port of choice for ve­hi­cle im­porters be­cause ve­hi­cle in­spec­tions are, more of­ten than not, cur­sory at best — if at all.

Un­sus­pect­ing buy­ers

Now, if that wasn’t enough to con­tend with, our Aussie neigh­bours have found a place to re­lo­cate their dam­aged/writ­ten-off ve­hi­cles, which is, of course, over the ditch — here! To be fair, I should clar­ify that some of our Aussie neigh­bours are in­volved in mov­ing dam­aged/writ­ten-off cars to New Zealand. It seems that ‘statu­tory write-off’ cars have been find­ing their way here un­der the radar and on-sold to un­sus­pect­ing buy­ers. In March 2017, Cy­clone Deb­bie dev­as­tated East­ern Aus­tralia, specif­i­cally in and around New South Wales. In­sur­ance com­pa­nies wrote off many wa­ter-dam­aged cars. These days, with all that com­puter stuff that tells the driver when to change gear and when the seat belts should lock up, wa­ter can play havoc with car electrics, so much so that ve­hi­cle safety is sig­nif­i­cantly com­pro­mised.

Here in New Zealand, when a ve­hi­cle is sold through a mo­tor ve­hi­cle trader, a Con­sumer In­for­ma­tion No­tice (CIN) is re­quired to be phys­i­cally dis­played on the ve­hi­cle (or a pho­to­graph of the same in any on­line auc­tion list­ing). This in­cludes im­ports from over­seas.

How­ever, it would seem that the fact that a ve­hi­cle might have suf­fered wa­ter dam­age or ac­ci­dent dam­age while it was over­seas does not al­ways find its way onto the CIN. Those of you with a few years’ ex­pe­ri­ence will re­call that, in the late 1980s, when Ja­panese im­ports started to kick in in a big way, many Mazda RX-7S were im­ported in two halves (sup­pos­edly as ‘parts cars’) then welded back to­gether and sold to gullible buy­ers. Many Nis­san 300ZXS were also im­ported with sig­nif­i­cant frontal dam­age and re­paired be­fore be­ing sold.

The au­thor­i­ties tried to close this gap with in­creased and more de­tailed bor­der in­spec­tions, and many im­ports (par­tic­u­larly from the US) were flagged for struc­tural dam­age and/or rust is­sues. This meant that, of­ten, sig­nif­i­cant work was re­quired to bring the ve­hi­cle up to cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stan­dard prior to be­ing regis­tered and al­lowed on New Zealand roads. While struc­tural dam­age and rust are usu­ally rel­a­tively easy for a bor­der in­spec­tor to spot (un­der­seal will be re­moved if it is sus­pected that it might be cov­er­ing up a botched re­pair job), wa­ter dam­age is much harder to de­ter­mine, as the ve­hi­cle may well have been dried out prior to im­port, and a de­cent strong air fresh­ener could dis­guise any rem­nants of a damp smell.

Pro­tect­ing buy­ers

De­spite the fact that the New Zealand Trans­port Au­thor­ity ( NZTA) said as far back as 2015 that about 60 per cent of sec­ond-hand im­ports from Aus­tralia were writ­ten off, the prob­lem didn’t seem to have been re­solved. Ear­lier, in 2013, the NZTA re­quired all Aus­tralian write-off im­ports to have a Per­sonal Prop­er­ties Se­cu­ri­ties Reg­is­ter check. And, to pro­tect buy­ers fur­ther, even if a write-off im­port were re­paired and sub­se­quently cer­ti­fied as suit­able for use on New Zealand roads, that ve­hi­cle would still re­main on NZTA’S list of bor­der-iden­ti­fied dam­aged ve­hi­cles.

Then, as re­cently as Septem­ber 2016, the NZTA changed the re­quire­ments for the re­place­ment of elec­tronic and py­rotech­nic safety com­po­nents in wa­ter­dam­aged ve­hi­cles. All wa­ter-dam­aged light ve­hi­cles now re­quired the full re­place­ment of all elec­tronic and py­rotech­nic safety com­po­nents such as airbags, sen­sors, seat­belts, and seat­belt pre-ten­sion­ers, and wiring. Pre­vi­ously, only those items be­low the wa­ter line were re­quired to be re­placed.

The NZTA said that the safe re­pair of wa­ter dam­age re­quired all af­fected elec­tronic and py­rotech­nic safety com­po­nents to be re­placed to guard against com­po­nents fail­ing or not func­tion­ing prop­erly in the event of a crash. It went on to say that, when wa­ter-dam­aged ve­hi­cles are re­paired prop­erly, they are safe, and that they had con­fi­dence in ap­pointed re­pair cer­ti­fiers to safely im­ple­ment the pre­vi­ous re­quire­ments. The NZTA also stated that de­ter­min­ing the ex­tent of wa­ter dam­age had be­come dif­fi­cult to achieve with cer­tainty when ve­hi­cles had been groomed prior to be­ing pre­sented to re­pair cer­ti­fiers. There have been cases of peo­ple mask­ing or mis­rep­re­sent­ing wa­ter­dam­age lev­els in or­der to re­duce the ex­tent and cost of re­place­ment re­quired.

As al­ways, de­spite the NZTA’S best ef­forts, some noddy man­aged to get the new re­quire­ment, which might have eroded seller mark-ups, wa­tered down (no pun in­tended), and, as a con­se­quence, the new re­quire­ment ap­plied only to ve­hi­cles im­ported post Septem­ber 2016. Ve­hi­cles ‘on the wa­ter’ had to be in­spected by Oc­to­ber 2016 and then only had to com­ply with the ear­lier cri­te­ria (be­low-the-wa­ter-line dam­age). In the five years up to 2016, some 3500 ve­hi­cles im­ported to New Zealand were in­sur­ance write-offs in other coun­tries. Most were Aus­tralian im­ports dam­aged by hail or floods.

In an ideal world, if ev­ery­one were hon­est, none of this would be nec­es­sary, but, un­for­tu­nately, that is not the case. Hark­ing back to the old clocked-odome­ters fraud, dig­i­tal odome­ters were tam­per-proof — un­til some­one de­vel­oped a com­puter pro­gramme that ‘wound back’ the odome­ter read­ing be­fore the ve­hi­cle was pre­sented for odome­ter ver­i­fi­ca­tion as to its ac­cu­racy.

So, if you are con­tem­plat­ing buy­ing an­other ve­hi­cle, and it is an im­port that takes your fancy, I would rec­om­mend find­ing out the ve­hi­cle’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber ( VIN) then go­ing to the NZTA’S web­site to check it out against the 545-page (and grow­ing) list of dam­aged im­ported ve­hi­cles — which the NZTA knows of! For Ja­panese im­ports, you must have the ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­turer’s chas­sis num­ber. Or, you can wait un­til the new min­is­ter has ‘ had a dis­cus­sion’ with the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties about the prob­lem. Yeah, right!

Fi­nally, re­mem­ber that old adage, ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it prob­a­bly is’. Caveat emp­tor ap­plies in all ve­hi­cle pur­chases, as ‘ hon­esty is the best pol­icy’ has long since dis­ap­peared into the ether.

To be fair, I should clar­ify that some of our Aussie neigh­bours are in­volved in mov­ing dam­aged/writ­ten-off cars to New Zealand. It seems that ‘statu­tory write-off’ cars have been find­ing their way here un­der the radar and on-sold to un­sus­pect­ing buy­ers.

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