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What you should know before importing a car

 The prices of vehicles have sharply increased of late as the Kenyan shilling continues to depreciate against the US dollar. [File, Standard]

It's not in question that importing a vehicle personally or through an agent is cheaper than buying it at the car local bazaar.

In the final selling price, car dealers incorporate the amount of money they used in buying it at the country of origin, shipping fees, importation taxes, clearance fees and the cost of transporting it from the port of entry into the country to where it will be sold.

Let's take an example of a 2016 Toyota Axio (DBA-NZE164) sold on cars selling website beforward.jp.

It is white in colour, has a mileage of 83,739 kilometres, a petrol engine capacity of 1,500cc, is four-wheel-drive, and is based at Yokohama Japan.

The value of the car is placed at $5,570 (Sh703,490). The shipping fee to Mombasa from Japan is $2,110 (Sh266,500).

According to KRA's motor vehicle import duty calculator, this model of Axio will set you back Sh742,525 in taxes.

The cost of clearing a car at the Port of Mombasa ranges from Sh60,000 to Sh120,000 based on the size of the vehicle.

If you shipped this vehicle through an agent, he or she will most likely ask for 4 per cent of the total value of the car (including taxes).

If you are an expert, and can do it alone (which is highly discouraged; to avoid being defrauded), then you can evade the 4 per cent extra charge.

Let's now take the total value of the Toyota Axio above.

Sh703,739 (price at country of origin), plus Sh266,500 (shipping), plus Sh742,525 (import duty), plus Sh80,000 (port clearance) brings the total to Sh1,792,764.

That means that, minus any other costs, the owner of the 2016 Axio would need about Sh1.79 million to import and clear the vehicle at the Port of Mombasa.

If he or she imported the car through an agent, then he or she will pay an extra Sh70,000 as agent fees. That means, the value of his or her purchase will be Sh1,862,764.

If he bought it from the bazaar, then the price could be anywhere above Sh2 million after the dealer adds his or her profit margin.

It takes between 25 days to 45 days for the vehicle to arrive in Kenya from Japan.

During shipping, you will be informed once your car has left Japan.

Once the ship has left Japan, your exporter has no more control on what can happen to your car. Along the way to Kenya, the shipping company decides the route, the stops, and everything in between.

When the ship arrives in Mombasa, you will be informed as well. The shipping company decides how long they can hold your car for you while you take care of the clearing process.

There are certain things you must do after the vehicle is cleared at the Port of Mombasa.


Upon receiving the vehicle, the owner has to register it with the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) to be allowed to drive it on Kenyan roads.

The application for registration plates is done through clearing agents.

All clearing agents have unique login identification numbers that enable them to file the application online.

Upon fulfillment of the set requirements, the NTSA system generates a unique acknowledgement number to the clearing agent.

The same number is sent to the vehicle owner on SMS or email.

The acknowledgement number will be used to track the vehicle's registration process until its approval.

Once the registration has been approved, it will take a maximum of 24 hours for the registration number to be generated.

Meanwhile, while waiting for the confirmation of registration number, the owner of the vehicle will be allowed to drive it with the foreign shipping registration.

He or she must, however, produce shipping and clearance documents when asked by police.


To be allowed to drive the car on Kenyan roads, the vehicle must be insured.

However, without NTSA's confirmed registration number, the owner can use a one-month third-party insurance cover to drive around.

However, after receiving the NTSA registration details, the owner can choose to upgrade to comprehensive insurance.

Comprehensive insurance, unlike third-party cover, enables the owner to be fully paid the total value of the car in case of loss, or extreme damage (write-off).

It also puts repair burden on the insurer, especially if the cost of repairing an accident damage is significantly high.

Annual comprehensive insurance cover is, mostly, charged at between 4 and 4.5 per cent of the total value of the car.

Taking an example of the Toyota Axio highlighted in this story, whose total value was Sh1.86 million, the comprehensive insurance fee would be about Sh74,000.

Third-party insurance, which is cheaper, is largely charged at a flat rate of Sh7,000.

The downside of third-party insurance, is that in case of damage (partial, extreme or total), the owner of the vehicle bears the loss.


Before you drive the vehicle from Mombasa, ensure that you check the oil, air filter, automatic gearbox fluid level, spark plugs, coolant level, and oil filter.

This is important because, first the vehicle was not bought at zero mileage, and secondly, the immobility as a result of the one-month transportation, tends to reduce the purity of key enablers such as oil and coolant.

It's also important that the radiator is checked before the journey starts. The radiator enables the vehicle to operate at optimal temperature level.

Remember, Mombasa to Nairobi (for instance) is not less than 480 kilometres, a long journey for even the best-maintained vehicles.

While checking the radiator, be keen on the radiator cap, cylinder head and the head gasket.

Engine heating problems can cause your vehicle extensive damage that could cost you a lot of money in repair, including the need for engine overhaul.

Car tracking

Being in a country where car theft is rife, it is highly advisable that you invest in a car tracker.

The car tracking device would help you locate it in case of theft.

Car tracking device installation costs between Sh20,000 and Sh60,000, depending on the service provider.


Poor wheel alignment leads to uncomfortable driving experience, exhaustion and uneven wear and tear of the car's tyres.

Before you drive the vehicle from Mombasa, ensure the wheels are properly aligned.

It costs at least Sh2,000 for wheel alignment.

It's also important to check the tyre tread to ensure it has proper grip.

Brake pads

Also check the brake pads before you embark on the long journey. Worn out brake pads would make it difficult for you to bring the vehicle to a halt in case of emergency braking.


It's also important to ensure that the shock absorbers, the CV joints, tie rod ends and bushings are in good condition.

Other important checks include battery voltage and alternator output, to ensure that your power needs are fully taken care of.

Driving a vehicle with low power figures could result in unexpected, instant switch-off that could leave you badly exposed.

It's important you have a mechanic accompanying you to do all these crucial checks.


Before you start the long journey, ensure that you have enough money for fuel that would last you hundreds of kilometres, if not thousands.

There are certain scarcely populated areas between Mombasa and Nairobi that even finding a petrol station is impossible.

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