Forester STI – My Japanese Import Story and How a Well Known Importer Let Me Down

This is a bit of a long story in which I was really let down by a very well known Japanese car importer, putting me in a situation I’m still not particularly impressed with. But I’m not telling it to vent my annoyance or stitch anyone up it’s just a record of what happened and might inform anyone who finds themselves reading this so that they don’t end up as disappointed as I did.

Before selling the Evo I was trying to figure out what would be best to replace it and be a decent daily drive. I really enjoyed the Evo’s mix of performance and practicality so something similar was what I’d need to find but I also wanted more space and something that could tow a trailer with a lightweight car on it. Obviously there are plenty of German diesel options out there but they just aren’t really my thing and the writing is kind of on the wall for diesel engine cars.

Options included various quick petrol BWM Estates, an Audi S4/S6/RS6 Avant, Impreza Estates even the Estate version of the Evo. There weren’t any BMW’s I found particularly interesting but the Audi options I really like especially the RS6 as I’ve really liked the C5 twin turbo V8 version for ages! The problem with them is they are a pretty large car so would be a bit of a pain with space at home and they have almost all done high miles and I’d be a bit concerned about the servicing costs as I know that even brakes disc for an RS6 can be very pricey plus the air suspension and gearbox failures they suffer with can be costly. I might still have to own one sometime though! Obviously an Evo estate would be good especially as I’m already familiar with their oily bits but they are very pricey and if I decided to mod it up to similar power to my Evo VI and use it to tow a trailer I think I’d be asking for transfer box failure fairly quickly and I can’t be bothered with that! So that left the Impreza Estate which I know my way around already as I had an 02 STI a while back and have spent a fair bit of time under Townies 02 WRX. I also know they can be maintained and modified for sensible money.

Once I had my mind kind of on the idea of a Subaru I started considering the Forester as they have even more space in the back for even more car parts and they are mostly identical to an Impreza underneath so maintenance and modifications would all be the same kind of thing as an Impreza. So that was it decided!

I did some reading about engines and mods and they could be made fairly quick and to look quite cool. The problem I had was the STI version. Every time I found the kind of example standard Forester I’d want I’d then add up it’s value and what I’d want to spend on it and end up at nearly enough for a Forester STI. So I may as well just get an STI then. Obvious right???

So Jem and I went and looked at a few. We weren’t quite sure if we liked the earlier cars or the face lifted version but after seeing some in person we were much more into the earlier cars as they looked a bit meaner, much less like an SUV and more of an estate look. After seeing a few cars and the condition underneath of some that had been in the UK a few years compared to recent imports I knew I wanted a recent or fresh import.

So I ended up talking to a very well known importer who I’d read loads of very good reviews of, saying such things as the cars being immaculate and in perfect condition. Well perfection is what I hope for in any car so if that was what these guys deliver then I was happy to put my trust in them to find me a car. I spoke to them and got all the right answers and chat about the cars being carefully selected, highly prepared and a dent specialist going over cars before they were handed over etc etc. Music to my ears!

I paid my deposit for them to start searching and before long I got offered a car just as I wanted. A 2004 Forester STI in WR Blue on 50k miles. We agreed the price and I then paid half the cars value, a decent sum of cash.

Next was the long wait and inevitable delays with the boat and customs. I waited and waited until it was eventually in the UK so then I agreed for the importer to do the timing belt and fit an alarm while the UK registration was being sorted out and they would add the cost to the final payment.

Finally the time came to collect it. As the car was in Devon, about 6 hours from home, Jem and I decided to take 3 days off work making a short break of it to have a couple of days enjoying the new car down in Dartmoor. So we booked time off work and a hotel. We also booked a rental car so we could just drive it down and drop it off at the nearest Enterprise.

With everything arranged we got our rental car and drove down to drop the car off at Enterprise and be collected by the guy at the importers. This was the first mistake in that I’d told him when we would be arriving so he could come fetch us and I would let him know if we were going to be late at all. Well we got there exactly when we expected so we waited and nobody turned up. After 15 mins waiting I got an email asking how we were getting on with our journey so I called and explained we’d been there a while already as we arrived when I said we would. So now we had to wait another 30 mins to be picked up. A bit of a pain as we had to hang around on a busy street on a stupidly hot day when that could have been avoided but it was good that we could get a ride there and not have to book a taxi.

So we arrived after the 30 minute drive and pulled onto the site and there was my Forester. As we drove past it I immediately noticed the passenger side looked a bit wobbly as the sun reflected off it as did Jem. Not a major problem in itself but not a perfect start. Anyhow the guy got the keys and I gave the car a look over starting underneath. It was as you’d expect with a car from the right part of Japan, very clean and tidy which was great. As I looked around the rest of the car though I just found a bunch of defects like some chips/splatters or something messy on the side of the front bumper that covered an area of 8″ square. The rear bumper had some wobbly filler in it and the lower middle section had been painted black for some reason. The left rear wheel had a large chunk of damage that must have been got from a quite a hit and had been painted over with a badly matched wheel silver. Then the interior had the usual problem of the centre dash section being in a mess, not a difficult thing to fix but not exactly ‘perfect’. The steering wheel was quite worn as was the gear knob which seemed at odds with the 50k mileage of the car as we’d looked at higher mileage cars with almost no wear on the steering wheel. Also the posh deep pile STI floor mats were missing as was a rear load cover. Not the end of the world but thing’s I’d want, so would have to try and find and buy if possible. The paint was also covered in swirls and didn’t look like it had even been polished, so much for ‘highly prepared’. Jem and I both agreed the general state of the car was just not up to scratch and didn’t seem at all like any effort had gone into making it presentable other than a quick wash and rinse down. So not great so far and somewhat disappointing compared to what I was expecting but maybe I was expecting too much and I could probably get these problems sorted without too much expense??? But then it got worse, I had a closer look down the passenger side and spotted a wobbly mess of filler the size of a rugby ball in the rear door complete with paint bubbles! Oh and even better the front door has the same! This was one of the worst repair jobs I’ve ever seen. At this point I was really not impressed and I said to the guy, to be quite honest, if I was coming to view the car in a normal private or dealer sale and seen that mess down the side I’d just be saying my goodbyes and going off to look at another car! But we decided to take the car for a drive anyway as I don’t think they could think of much else to do with me. It drove OK but was making a clonk at the rear on gear changes which was just brilliant! The guy came out with some nonsense about performance cars sometimes making clonks. My cars don’t, performance or not.

It was clear the terrible repair to the passenger side doors was completely unknown to them or that’s how it seemed. That worried me because anyone with a half decent eye for looking over a car would have spotted it. So what happened to the dent specialist who goes over all their cars? It was obvious the car hadn’t been looked over that carefully at all, despite what I’d been told. It also worried me because there could be other problems or bodged repairs hiding on the car that they’ve not found and I would eventually find.

The really unfortunate thing was we did not have the luxury of leaving to go find something else as I would in a normal car viewing. We were at some random location in Devon having already returned our rental car, not really wanting to drive off in the new car. We’d both booked 3 days off work and a hotel for two nights and the importer already had half the money including my non refundable deposit. I was supposed to just arrive, be extremely happy with my new car, pay the rest of the money and drive off a happy customer. That idea had definitely gone down the pan.

This was now a tricky situation as neither parties were quite sure what to do, it was obvious it wasn’t usual for customers not to be happy with the car. I was either an exception to the norm because I gave the car a far more careful look over than most people do, or this car was just not up to their usual standards. We talked about reducing the price of the car so I could get the bodged repairs sorted myself but the initial offer of £500 off was nothing like enough. I made a phone call to a bodyshop local to me that I know does good work and the guy there was very helpful and told me I’d have to budget for £1000 to fix both doors and paint the side of the car to match but if the damage to the doors was bad that could mean needing replacement doors to do a proper job. This all sounded about right to me so I went to discuss things further. This time I dealt with one of the directors who was helpful but to be honest was a little short with me and kind of ‘car dealery’ if you know what I mean. He tried to tell me the paint bubbles and wobbly lumps of filler could be polished out! That annoyed me a little ‘cos it’s bullshit and concerned me more, plus why try give me that nonsense when I’m clearly no idiot else I’d have already driven off in the car, happy in my ignorance. We eventually negotiated £1000 off the price but I was still not really sure I wanted the car.

We decide it best to have a think about it overnight and come back to things in the morning so they gave us a lift to our hotel with the plan being to pick us up in the morning.

Jem and I spent the whole evening in our hotel on our phones researching the costs of used forester doors, current Forester STI values, what might be the cause of the clonk in the rear end etc etc. Also discussing what would be the best option out of buying the car as it was or trying to get my money back with the chance of having to forfeit the £500 deposit meaning a very expensive pointless few days including the £300 we’d spent so far on the wasted journey down and wasted holiday from work. I was so massively disappointed by the situation and wound up by it all it was horrible. Neither of us slept that night so when the morning came round we felt terrible and still didn’t know what to do.

We’d agreed with the importers I’d call first thing to arrange being picked up but we decided I had too much to say and didn’t want to miss anything important so we wrote them an email.

This basically spelt out that I hadn’t made the decision for someone to import a car for me lightly so had read a lot of reviews and asked lots of questions to make sure I didn’t end up in a situation like this. I was so confident in this particular importer due to the reviews I’d read and what I’d been told by them directly, particularity things said like cars being in stunning condition, ‘highly prepared’ and all cars being looked over by a dent specialist before being handed over. Clearly none of that applied to my car so I was now hugely disappointed but not sure what to do for the best as I’d already invested so much time and money into the car and going home without it would cost us a fair bit of money all for nothing but going home with the car would mean buying something I wasn’t happy with. So both options would leave me unhappy.

I got a reply to my email not too long after in which they apologised and explained that they thought for some reason something had not really gone according to their usual standards with my car so would refund all my money plus a bit extra as a good will gesture to cover our now unnecessary costs. I couldn’t really argue with that! At least we could get back home and break even financially though we’d still wasted 3 days holiday each, 4 months waiting and were hugely let down!

All I can say in summary to anyone having a car imported for them even by the most trusted and well respected of importers is go into it with your eyes open. The cars are still used cars and are just as susceptible to having been crashed and poorly repaired as any UK car so make sure you give the car a proper examination before handing over your cash! I would also suggest asking for a proper appraisal of the bodywork condition with detailed pictures. I received an appraisal of the car with some details and I trusted that would include any information on condition I might want to know. Obviously it didn’t. I could have been made aware of all the bodywork defects and sent some better pictures allowing me to make an informed decision about the car before driving 6 hours to have to find the faults for myself and ultimately waste everyone’s time and money.

So you’d think by the time we’d come to an agreement and decided not to buy the car we’d have had enough of Foresters or anything to do with cars for that matter! But the story doesn’t end there…..

Read the rest of the story here