The population of vehicles on Kenyan roads has more than doubled in the recent past, thanks to second hand imports.
With money in hand and the Internet, it has become easier to import second hand vehicles into the country, especially from Japan, which has made Kenyans an easy prey for fraudsters.
Early this year, at least 30 victims approached the Kenyan embassy in Tokyo for assistance to recover money paid to phony companies who promised to deliver the cars to Mombasa but never did.
This led the embassy to post a notice on its website warning Kenyans to be wary when dealing with online car sellers.
“In the haste to save money, most Kenyans go to the net, find a car and strike a deal without counter-checking the authenticity of the offer. We know who the genuine sellers are unlike first time buyers who are bound to make mistakes,” Charles Munyori, secretary-general Kenya Auto Bazaar Association, says.
Munyori advices first time importers to use the services of established outlets such as the Kenya Auto Bazaar Association and Kenya Motor Industry Association to confirm the firms’ authenticity.
These organisations are able to carry out a background check to confirm whether the company selling the vehicle is genuine.
“If it is your first car, you are better off buying locally from those who have imported rather than risk losing your money in the hope of cutting down cost… fraudsters often open offices, advertise that they are importers and once they have secured a deposit from a potential buyer, they disappear without delivering the car,” he warns.
He advises that once a buyer has identified a second hand car to import from Japan, he or she should pay directly to the dealer in Japan to be sure that the deal has been finalised.
The only money to be paid to local dealers should be the logistics fee to ensure proper paper work for the car to be safely released from the port of Mombasa.
Close to 80 per cent of all classes of used cars imported into Kenya comes from Japan, according to data from the Japan Export Vehicles Inspection Centre Company Ltd (JEVIC) which ranks Kenya as the sixth largest destination globally for used passenger vehicles from Japan.
Since 2008, all vehicles imported into Kenya from Japan must undergo an inspection by JEVIC, which is appointed by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).
Jevic issues a vehicle roadworthiness certificate which is necessary when clearing the imported car from the port of Mombasa
The law says the vehicle must not be more than eight years old from the year of first registration and the difference between the date of registration and the date of manufacture should not be more than one year.
Charles Kariuki, Business Development manager at Toyotsu Auto Mart Kenya Limited, a sister company to Toyota Kenya, says that importing own car as opposed to buying from a local dealer could see the buyer save up to 25 per cent in cost.
“Importing directly is cheaper, but if you are not an experienced buyer, you could lose all your money. You must learn the tricks of the trade before you import a car on your own,” he said.
Kariuki says the savings can range from Sh30,000 to Sh100,000 by cutting out the middleman. The amount saved depends on the type and cost of the car imported.
Data from the Japan Used Motor Vehicle Exporters Association (JUMVEA) puts the average cost for a second hand saloon car at $10,000 (Sh850,000).
The criminals are said to be using computer graphics to create Internet advertisements that display their banners over pictures of stolen vehicles or those photographed from other dealers’ yards and at auctions.
Kariuki says some unscrupulous traders even promise their victims that a car could be delivered in 20 days yet this is not practically possible as ships take 45-60 days.
He also says unscrupulous traders are quick to demand upfront payment before delivering the necessary documentation.
Other crooks even tamper with the mileage records of a car to cheat a buyer into paying more. Usually a car with less mileage costs more.
Kariuki says the easiest way to authenticate mileage information about a car imported from Japan is through the JEVIC website.
Some websites like autoassista.com also advice buyers on the steps they need to understand for a smooth import process.
According to the website, most of the vehicles imported from abroad require customisation for use in Kenya.
Necessary customisation may include fitting security alarm system, marking side mirrors and window with the vehicle registration number to discourage theft, changing tyres and adjusting the vehicle’s ground clearance.