Thinking about purchasing a Delica or other import vehicle?
Over the years, we have seen more and more grey-market/import vehicles come through our shop doors. While Delicas have been a steadily popular option for those looking to get an adventure van with a little more personality, we have seen everything from imported German Mercedes-Benz ambulances to drop-side truck-bed Kei cars. As one of the seemingly few shops that enjoy working on these, we feel we have some valuable insight on the ups and downs of ownership that you should know about--ideally, before purchasing one.
Yes, they’re cool. Other import owners will wave at you in traffic or flag you down at the campsite. People will want pictures. Sometimes, we even want pictures. Everyone will ask you what it is or be thrilled to tell you that they already know what it is. But all the fun comes at a cost--at times, an unpredictable one.
First, let’s talk money. To be honest, we have no idea what price you bought it for, what it’s listed for, what the importer is asking for it, etc. We don’t know anything about selling cars, and prefer to keep it that way. Used car salesmen are their own breed. But, after inspecting it, we have a pretty good idea what it might cost you to keep it on the road. First things first, you should really get a mechanical inspection (we do these, of course, and they start at $200). This will at least tell you what we see is immediately wrong with it, what systems are showing some wear, and might be coming down the pipe.
You should know that needed repairs may not be cheap or easy. We stock common parts for our most-seen grey market vehicles, but anything outside of the ordinary (if you can call it ordinary) is special order--provided it’s available at all. Most parts come from suppliers in Canada, who may have to get the parts shipped in from Japan if they don’t stock it themselves. For most people, this isn’t a huge deal, since the van is generally for overnight trips and not daily driving. But if you’re relying on your van for regular use, this can present a real challenge.
As a general rule, we tell customers to be prepared to spend $2000 a year on their import vehicle. You may not need to spend that much in reality, but it’s better to be ready for it when and if it happens. On the flip side, we’ve also seen customers spend over $5000 a year for multiple consecutive years just to keep their van running. This is an extreme example, but it can happen. Be ready.
These vehicles will require you to be an active owner. Check your fluids regularly, keep an eye on your gauges, and just know your vehicle. If something seems amiss, stop driving! And especially if it’s overheating--please, please, stop driving. In our opinion, this active,engaged ownership is part of what makes the community inherently cool. It’s not just that you have money to spend, but that you have skills and attentive driving habits to keep these unique vehicles on the road.
When you do need repairs, get in touch; preferably via our website. If possible, have a passenger take a video of your vehicle doing the thing you have concerns about. There are very few vehicles or problems that we won’t look at. However, know that the reason we are one of the few shops that works on these is because nobody else wants to try to navigate the murky grey-market territory of parts and repairs. Most of the parts we have been able to source carry some type of warranty for the part itself, but rarely carry a warranty for labor. A parts supplier in Japan simply can’t compensate an unknown technician in America for their labor when a part goes bad and stay in business. Part of the cost of ownership of a 20-30 year old imported vehicle is taking on a portion of the risk for repairs. We always source the best quality parts that we can--but sometimes, there’s only one feasible option out there, and we have to live with what we can get (your replacement Delica head will always be a Chinese-made aftermarket type, unless you want to spend $3000-4000 on just the head itself for the OE Mitsubishi type). Even so, premature parts failure is rare. But you should know that it’s possible, and if it happens there will be a cost associated--for you, and for us. We’re in this together, after all.
To summarize, if you’re looking at purchasing a grey-market vehicle, consider these key points:
We do not recommend these as a daily driver--you should have another vehicle (or bicycle, or good walking shoes, or dog mushing team...) to use for commuting should your import vehicle wind up in the shop for an extended period of time
Tow coverage is your friend. You may not need it, but you’ll be glad you have it if you do.
Be ready to spend at least $2000 a year to maintain the vehicle--maybe less, maybe more.
Know your vehicle and keep up on your maintenance! Fluids are pivotal. Make sure they are full and clean, and change them when recommended.We are always happy to show you how to do these things
Be prepared for the unexpected. Embrace it. It’s part of the experience.
If you’re interested in one of these vehicles but you’d like to talk about it more, email us! We love sharing information so customers can make informed choices. The right person, when properly prepared, can have many years of fun and adventure with their import vehicle.