The rising number of cheap, illegally imported used cars on South African roads could corrode the local car manufacturing base.

The rising number of cheap, illegally imported used cars on South African roads could corrode the local car manufacturing base.

It is estimated that up to 20 000 used cars were imported illegally in 2003. Though it is illegal to import used cars, many of them enter SA through Durban harbour in terms of agreements with landlocked neighbouring countries like Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho.

As CARtoday.com reported last year, this was confirmed by the deputy director of the Kwa-Zulu Natal Motor Licensing Bureau, Sue Grobbelaar, who said: : “The vehicles are landed here and in terms of the National Road Traffic Act, we give them 48 hours in which to get roadworthy certificates.

"They get their certificates from the local testing stations and we are then obliged to give them a 21-day permit to travel to their place of registration."

"The problem is that many of these units never reach those destinations. They are sold in SA," Gary McCraw of the Retail Motor Industry told on Thursday.

While at the moment, illegal imports represent a small portion of the 700 000 to 800 000-strong used car market , if allowed to proliferate this could have dramatic repercussions for South Africa’s car manufacturing sector, McGraw said.

When New Zealand opened its market to imported used cars several years ago the ensuing massive switch to cheaper imported units almost destroyed the country’s car manufacturing base.

The police, together with customs authorities and Business Against Crime (BAC), have intensified efforts to curb illegal car imports, said Lee Dutton of BAC.

He warned that illegally imported units would be seized from owners without compensation, regardless of whether they were aware of the legal status of the vehicle when they purchased it.