Your Money: Driving a bargain on car imports
The fall in sterling makes buying a car from the UK attractive - but take care
Retail sales figures give a very good idea of what analysts call 'consumer sentiment'.
Far from being some wishy-washy indicator, they are a real snapshot of where the economy is going based on what people are actually prepared to spend their money on, rather than what economists think they should.
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Those figures dropped very sharply between March and July - they were down 4pc in one month alone over last year, which would be alarming if it wasn't for one big outlier - car imports.
Strip that out, and retail spending is actually up.
So what? Well, apart from the threat to motor industry jobs here, it shows the huge effect of the drop in sterling since Britain voted to leave the EU, and consumers are clever - they know when there's a bargain to be had, and it is possibly the only positive from an otherwise terrible mess. Positive for motorists, anyway - not for the car industry here.
With the highest level of imports ever now revealed, I'm looking this week at how valuable it actually is: are there savings and what responsibilities, both tax and legal, do they come with?
More than 100,000 cars were brought in from the UK, including Northern Ireland, in 2018 according to the Society for the Irish Motoring Industry, compared with 125,557 new cars bought in Ireland, a decrease of 4.4pc on the previous year.
Why do it?
UK cars are well maintained and the sterling differential is in our favour.
The big disadvantage is that you are moving away from after-sales support. There are hefty tax implications though, as vehicles are a protected product, so you need to do your sums carefully before committing. The best deals are usually for higher-end cars with better specifications.
It's even more important to buy from a reputable known dealer abroad.
Buying privately online can cause huge problems down the road. "If you just read a small ad then ring 'Nigel' on a mobile and meet him at a motorway service area, you are asking for trouble both here or in the UK," says the AA's Conor Faughnan. The equivalent of the SIMI in the UK is SMMT (www.smmt.co.uk), which provides quality assurance and reputable garages.
Sterling fluctuates daily. You may not be able to trade in your current car, so you'll need to sell it first, or pay in full in advance and sell later.
You have a very short period to complete the registration forms and comply with VRT.
Vehicle Registration Tax
VRT is payable on all car imports within 30 days of importing. It is collected by Revenue and strict rules apply to its calculation. Any challenge for non-payment could result in the car being seized.
VRT is based on open market selling price which Revenue has determined and has an excellent calculator on its site (www.ros.ie/evrt-enquiry). The average tax is 13.3pc, but there is an added 1pc for diesel cars.
A 2016 Opel Astra diesel with 50,000km on the clock has VRT of 37pc (€3,109), while a Mercedes C-class Kompressor petrol, with the same details carries 27pc (€6,138) at time of going to press.
Values change regularly based on the OMSP and you cannot cherry-pick or challenge. So it is definitely worth calculating this in advance so you know whether, in fact, you are getting a good deal.
There will be associated costs at the NCT centre, for plates and to physically get the car back. For a step-by-step guide, see the panel below.