Once we decided to drive the Pan-American Highway, it was a no-brainer that we both wanted to take a Mitsubishi Delica. They have adventure written all over them! Ready with four wheel drive, locking center differential, great clearance, a narrow body and are ‘easy’ to convert to a camper. We began saving while researching the many models available, narrowing it down to the ‘white unicorn’ or ‘yeti’ of Delicas: the PF6W (Long Wheel Base, Crystal Lite Hi-Roof, 3000cc V6 Petrol). Most people gravitate to the diesel models for fuel economy & torque, however we went the other way for abundance of replacement parts. This 3000cc Mitsubishi engine is a very popular engine found in over 30 other vehicle models throughout the Americas.
Below is the picture of the van that inspired it all. Once we saw this, there was NO TURNING BACK.
With high demand in Vancouver for these adventure mobiles, there are now a handful of companies in BC specializing in importing, repairing and selling them. For those who would rather avoid the hassle or uncertainty of importing a vehicle, purchasing through one of these companies is a great option. I had imported a couple of other RHD cars from Japan, so I wasn’t too reserved about it and we figured we could save a few thousand dollars by managing the import and upgrades to make the van compliant ourselves.
We familiarized ourselves with a few online auction sites before committing to one and putting down a deposit of USD$1000. Now we were neck deep. After a couple weeks of scouring the website daily for new listings, we found Diego. A 1998 L400 Super Exceed PF6W Mitsubishi Delica with white finish, to boot! The only problem was that the auction sheet was BLANK. [Auction sheets note vehicle damage and grade the type of condition a vehicle is in] When I asked our auctioneer helper, Boris (great name, I know!), for more information he advised that the unit was parked in the corner lot with the damaged vehicles. The navigation system didn’t work and the shifter was broken. That was all he knew. He could not confirm if there was any rust or body damage or even if the engine was in decent condition, but he did say it was too risky and recommended we lower our max bid. So, I changed it from 350,000 JPY to 300,000
… a few hours later he emailed back confirming that we won the vehicle with a bid of only 96,000 JPY (approx. $910 CAD)! This same van, once compliant in Canada, would be worth upwards of 10k! Of course, there were additional fees that go to the auction company, shipping, insurance, import fees, etc. These added up to a couple thousand dollars.
Clearly we had some work to do with Diego to make him more “overland beast” and less “fresh of the boat”… but for the price we won him for, we had some extra funds to rig him for an expedition of a lifetime!
Once we settled up the remainder owed, it wasn’t much more than 3 weeks later that he arrived at one of our local ports. We still had no idea what shape he was in but could only assume he ran (otherwise they would have charged us more for shipping a non-runner). I spent half a day running around to customs, into town for insurance and then back to the port for the moment of truth. While waiting in reception submitting all the documents, I could see the van waiting outside. They finally approved my paperwork, told me the keys were inside, and that I was free to go.
I was pumped and couldn’t help wonder, “Would he start?! .. will he smell?”
My boss, Matt, had given me a ride to the port and as I walked outside, anxious to turn the key, I could see him bouncing on the back ladder proclaiming, “This thing is awesome, it started right up!” Disappointed I missed the climactic moment but relieved to hear the engine running (and not knocking!). So we slapped on a day permit and threw it into gear to rip back to the office. As I merged onto the highway, this thing had more body roll than Chris Farley dancing on SNL! Matt followed close behind and texted warning, ‘that thing is not looking safe!’ … Not what I wanted to read as I was cruising down the highway doing 100kph in a van that had been sitting for who knows how long!
So, what wisdom can I pass on to you? Here’s the basics.
1. Once you’ve decided on a make/model, start by doing some basic market research: How much does the vehicle sell for locally? What is the estimated cost of handling the import and making it compliant to government standards?
2. Talk to people who have imported the same vehicle type. You can usually find good info and sources on internet forums.
3. Familiarize yourself with reputable auction sites to determine which has the best selection in the make/model you’re searching for (An easier route is just purchasing from a dealership in Japan that stocks vehicles strictly for export).
4. Get familiar with Auction Sheets.
5. Talk to the Auctioneer Helper. Get intimate. They’re there to help you! Have them translate your auction sheet, answer your questions, find suitable vehicles based on what you’re after and they’ll also bid on your behalf.
6. Once you pull the trigger and transfer your hard earned money into the abyss overseas. You will (hopefully!) receive a couriered package in the mail with all of your ownership documents, insurance certificate as well as the auction sheet. Keep the originals.. customs doesn’t like photocopies.
7. Consider hiring a broker to help with the import if you’re too busy, scared or rich. Alternatively, if you’re feeling confident, you can save a few bucks by doing this yourself.
8. When the vehicle arrives, check it against your auction sheet. If there are major issues/damages, take pictures and immediately follow up with the seller. If it’s minor damage, it’s likely that the insurance deducible is more.. sooo don’t be a complainer. You just bought a used car off the internet and then shipped it across the Pacific Ocean. Get off your high horse and into your newly landed RHD. Turn it over, put your foot down and drift out of the lot leaving nothing but smoke, dust and rubber (the tires likely aren’t DOT approved so you have to replace them anyway!).
9. Before you can fully insure the vehicle it will need to pass a compliance and safety inspection. Do what you can in advance to make it compliant to avoid fees adding up for each time it is checked. And as much as I love Canadian Tire. DO NOT GO THERE to inspect your car. Take it to a specialist to get it done right or to that guy you know you can grease to pass your sketchy ride.
10. Lastly, confirm with your Autoplan broker what documents they require to draw up the paperwork. Trust me, the phone call is worth the time saved from a couple trips back and forth!
Importing a vehicle doesn’t guarantee you’ll save a few dollars, but it did work out for us. More importantly, when shopping overseas you can get a ride that is either very rare or even non-existent here! Check out our following posts for info on making the van compliant and converting it into a camper.