Gauging the reliability of a Japanese Imported yet European make of car
February 9, 2015 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Hello, I am thinking of importing a car from Japan to Canada. To import to Canada, the vehicles must be 15 years old, but usually have very low mileage. I have done this before with Japanese models with great results. Now I am thinking of importing either a 2000 Alfa Romeo 156, or a 2000 BMW 3 series Wagon. Both have relatively low mileage of around 75K...

My question is, what resources can I look up online to inquire about that model year's general reliability, and the problems I should expect regarding parts/repair for 15 year old European cars.

Any insights in reliability, repair, preferred European makes would be amazing.
posted by cascando to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
Consumer Reports is the Go-To for this. They have decades of reliability data.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:20 AM on February 9, 2015

Consumer reports have decades of US based data. Car models and specifications built outside the US are often very different, especially in years gone (and in the case of an Alfa 156 - it wasn't even sold in the US). So not much help then or indeed relevant.

You need to look at European/UK publications like What Car or Autocar.

But, again, Japanese models of European cars are likely to differ from European so maybe aJapanese specific survey is better (although unless you read Japanese that may be an issue).

Unless this is a very special car, though, it is almost certainly not cost effective. Importing a non-Canadian specification car can be very difficult and expensive (potentially lots of mods required) as I'm sure you have discovered, so doing this with anything other than a flash car (Nissan GTR, BMW M series etc) is unlikely to be cost effective. Something like a 3 series Touring from Japan will likely be a reliable car, but you'll be spending well above the odds for an equivalent already in the country.

Alfa 156, by the way, were dogs. I'd never buy an Alfa past the 1960's (and only then because they're pretty as hell) never mind spend money to move one a few thousand miles first.

Preferred European/foreign makes:
Merc - but lots available here.
BMW - same
lexus - same.

So unless it is a special version of these (like a BMW M5 touring OMGWANT) then its likely a waste of money and a major headache.
posted by Brockles at 8:33 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would strongly caution against the Alfa option. At least with BMW, you have a network in place that services that make of cars. That doesn't exist for Alfa. Don't count on being able to walk into a new Fiat/Chrysler/Alfa dealer and get parts because that won't happen.

Admittedly there are a few Alfa specialists scattered around, but they won't have much experience working on 156s, and even if they do, getting parts will be both expensive and time consuming (as they have to be shipped over from Italy).

The other issue with Alfa is 156s could be loads and loads of trouble. Even the most dedicated Alfa lovers I know have mostly ditched their much beloved 156s by now. I'm not saying they were bad cars--once you got all of the issues sorted out, a lot of 156 owners really seemed happy with them, but man oh man, the bad lemony ones caused all sorts of grief and anguish.

At this point in time there really aren't too many "modern" (post-Alfa leaving Canada) Alfas here. I've seen one wedge-shaped GTV on the highway. I think I've seen one for-sale posting for a 156. You're really getting into unknown waters if you decide to go this route.

As for resources, you'll want to check out, (European websites), (American website) and your local chapter of
posted by sardonyx at 8:37 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah I'm smiling at what Consumer Reports would say about any Alfa Romeo ever. The image of a skull and crossbones comes to mind.

I would think with something as unique as an Alfa 156, generic reliability data (lol anyway at the very idea for Alfa) would be sort of beside the point. Wouldn't you want to get the actual car you're buying inspected carefully before buying it? I'm not sure how one goes about that without traveling to Japan and looking at it though. If reliability is your main desideratum, it seems like it would be worth a significant premium to buy a car locally so that you can get it fully inspected for current condition, unless, as Brockles says, there is some unique car you can get no other way and you must have, at which point what do you care about reliability?

The other key would be is there a mechanic who knows the car you're buying in loving detail in your area, because even if you buy the most reliable Alfa ever made, you're going to need a crazy man to fix it, and he's going to have a boat payment to make.

Also, parts! If the car was never imported into Canada, you will have the very devil of a time finding the right engine mount or windshield wiper motor.

Aside: I had a long ago girlfriend who drove an Alfa Spyder. She lived in a trailer park and spent what would have been her rent for a better apartment keeping that thing on the road. It was by far the coolest car in the trailer park though.

posted by spitbull at 8:52 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you're in Quebec, be careful: right hand drive vehicles are not allowed anymore (with a few exceptions)
posted by bluefrog at 9:20 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've owned a 156 - lovely to look at, great to drive, pain with faults and getting parts (I'm in the UK). The car wasn't old or high mileage, personally I wouldn't go near one again.

For example - An engine mounting failed, dealer only part, had to be shipped from Italy, very expensive..

The engine management light would always come on after the car was washed - the error code for a sensor that wasn't getting wet or faulty at any other time. My mechanic told me that Alfa's were full of such quirks and I was lucky it didn't cause any real problems.
posted by chr at 9:28 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was speaking from specific experience about Alfa engine mounts, as chr's comment confirms.
posted by spitbull at 12:06 PM on February 9, 2015

Check this out.

Detailed discussion of 1999-2002 AR 156 models including anecdotal but extensive discussion of reliability with owner reports.
posted by spitbull at 6:29 PM on February 9, 2015

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