The Punch

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Used cars to avoid in Nigeria


For Nigerians trying to ease their anxiety in buying used cars, internet surveys offer little help as EMMANUEL ONYECHE discovers. He talks to stakeholders who looked at the issue from the Nigerian perspective, giving insights into which cars look like trouble and why

Used Car


An internet survey last July on five used cars (2008 models) to avoid and their alternatives carried out by CBS Money Watch listed the Volkswagen Beetle in its avoidance list in the small car category and recommended the Hyundai Elantra as an alternative.

In the midsize category, Volkwagen Passat was listed in the avoidance list while the Ford Fusion was recommended as an alternative

The survey which used J.D Power reliability rating said owners of the 2008 model of the Beetle told Consumer Reports that they had trouble with the climate control system and the power equipment, both of which could lead to expensive repairs. The Elantra was ranked above average and survey respondents were said to have reported no major problem.

The Passat got a below average rating as there were reports of its problem with the fuel, electrical and climate systems and the power equipment. The Ford Fusion was rated above average just as respondents reported no major problems.

Any Nigerian who uses any of the examples above to make a buying decision on a used car could be heading for the path of increasing his anxiety rather than reducing it.

Mr Kunle Sonaike, the Chief Executive Officer of Automedics, a modern auto mechanic workshop in Ikeja, says some of these surveys are not made for Nigeria. He advised Nigerians going for used cars (otherwise known as Tokunbos) to put the following at the top of their priority list: the state of our roads, the kind of fuel available in the country, the availability and affordability of spare parts as well as the technical know-how of the mechanics who would repair the cars.

He says, "These factors affect all 'Tokunbo' cars in Nigeria . When designing these vehicles, there was no consideration, for example, on how rough our roads are. The belief was that all the roads of the countries in the world are the same - fine and okay. But when the cars get here and start going through all the potholes, the flood, water etc - these have effects on the cars."

He adds that the engines of some of these vehicles are designed to run on well refined fuel. "In Western countries, there are three grades of fuel but in Nigeria , we do not even know which grade we have. I remember there was a time people were afraid to buy fuel into their cars because it could knock the engine," he says.

For the above reasons, the Beetle, the Passat (both Volkwagen products) and even their alternatives (Elantra and Ford Fusion) do not jell with Sonaike as the Tokunbo of choice for Nigerians.

He says, "The Passat is still a Volkswagen product and has its own peculiar problem which is electronics. Most of the time you have the climate control which controls the AC. A lot of people also have problem with the fuel system because of the type of fuel we get here which damages the fuel pump easily because we have so much dirt in it that would clog up the system. The alternative which is Ford Fusion is not really made for the Nigerian Market. Yes the car is good but can you get the parts in Nigeria ?"

It is also for these reasons that Sonaike cautions against cars that fall under the category of American Specs which are made for the American markets. Amongst them (also listed on the CBS survey) are the GMC Acadia, Ford Expedition, Chrysler Town Country etc.

"It is not because they are not good but the challenge one would face remains the peculiarity of the Nigerian situation. For the Ford Expedition, for example, the suspension (Shock Absorber), the ball joints - all those lower control arms - go bad easily on Nigerian roads. If you are bringing it to Nigeria , the advice I give to people is to buy the off road version of the parts to make it last longer in Nigeria.

"From experience, what to avoid and the reason why I would say avoid it is the know- how of fixing it," he says.

His favourable mentioning of the products of Toyota , Honda and Nissan (in that order) are also for the ability of these brands of cars to fare well in Nigeria despite the peculiar challenges of the country earlier mentioned.

He says, "Toyota is one of the oldest car manufacturers in the world just like Volkswagen. But the reason why it is so prominent and a lot of people opt for it is the availability of the parts. And as Toyota evolves on its technology, plenty of this information is passed down to an average mechanic out there who finds it easier to pick up and graduate from one level to another. You can go to Ladipo and pick up any of the parts of a Toyota because our boys would go into Japan and break down a car and bring the used parts into the country."

Six dealers in used cars who spoke to our correspondent also (without a single deviation and based on the output of their sales), stated that the Toyota, the Honda and Nissan products (in the order listed) were the top three Tokunbo cars Lagosians preferred.

Mr Iyke Iwuoha, The Chairman and Chief Executive officer of Car Centre Limited, Ikeja says Toyota cars represent 70 per cent of his sales. Honda products take about 12 per cent and Nissan products take about 10 per cent. He adds that the Korean products (Kia, Cerato etc with five per cent) have overtaken the German and American products which share less than three per cent of his sales.

He described Toyota products as friendly and in addition to the points mentioned above, says Toyota products are fuel efficient and command a high second hand value. He urged Coscharis Nigeria Limited which holds the franchise of BMW in Nigeria to toe the line of Toyota so that the product would gain increasing popularity in Nigeria .

Hilary Nwokolo of Adim Motors, Ikeja, also confirms the same trend in his car sales, saying that no Toyota product no matter how bad its condition stays in his sales garage for more than two months while some of the American and German products can stay two years and sometimes have to be assisted with prayers before they are sold.

Mr Humphrey Nwachukwu of Endee Motors praised the car engineering of German cars (Benz, BMW and Volks) as the best in the world but regretted that their parts were neither easily affordable nor available just as there were no knowledgeable mechanics to fix them when they broke down. He says he sells Toyota cars six times as fast as any other car.

Mr. Stephen Aruocha, the Chief executive officer of Aristocrat Cars says another good thing going for Toyota cars is that it has plenty of varieties in the small car category and that there is nothing about it that the local mechanics cannot fix. He says the cost of maintaining the German and American cars are high and that Nigerians do not want anything that would be taking money from them.

Alexander Igwe who sells parts in Ladipo market says sometimes the money you need to get the scarce spare parts of an American or a German car is enough to buy a fairly used four cylinder small Toyota which keeps you going and which any mechanic on the street can fix. "How many Nigerians are ready to spend as much as N300,000 on a part just to repair a car or go to Coscharis where top brand BWM are fixed for as much as N800,000 when they break down?" he asks.