Why are good condition low-cost Land Rover Defenders so hard to find in the USA?

Why are good condition low-cost Land Rover Defenders so hard to find in the USA?

We get asked several times a week why all the inexpensive Defenders in the USA are in such poor condition when there are so many great trucks available in Europe for low prices.  We are hoping that this post will help clarify the costs associated with Defenders available for sale in the USA.

There are several factors that impact Defender pricing in the USA when compared to EU countries:

Firstly there are a small amount of good condition Defenders eligible for import relative to the overall available supply.

As an example, we will assume that there are ~500 Defenders available for sale in a particular market at any given time, of which 50% of them are advertised nationally or internationally, the remainder are available only for local sale in various countries or unlisted altogether.  Of those trucks we will for this discussion assume that 20% are eligible for import to the USA (Meeting the CPB definition of age appropriate with unmodified engine type & original chassis).

So from our example of 500 available trucks in the market, there are 50 advertised trucks, and 50 unlisted trucks for sale that COULD be imported.

Further let us divide this pool of trucks by general condition -
  • 10% are garage kept, low miles, and time capsules of 1983-1993 Defenders
  • 30% are daily driver type trucks being sold-on for whatever reason
  • 60% are trucks that have been sitting for some time due to failed MOT, have serious mechanical issues, etc?
  • The last 10% are total rubbish - parts cars, wrecks, off-road buggies, abandoned projects, etc...

This leaves a count of export eligible trucks as:
  • 10 great trucks
  • 30 trucks that need age appropriate maintenance
  • 60 trucks with rusted out chassis, serious body rot, or worn out/broken engines
  • 10 trucks that are little more than a chassis, engine, and a vin

So while there may be 500 trucks available at any time in the EU - there are only 15 readily available that fit the objective of most buyers, as half are listed for sale only locally across the continent.

Storage, delivery, handling, import duties, canal fees, ocean freight, and customs filing will incur expenses paid to CPB, brokerages, and the destination port of several thousand dollars for shipping to the Western USA*.
(*lower steamship costs an no canal fees to the East Coast)

Unless a buyer has the time and means to do the legwork themselves, finding a truck, verifying condition, negotiating pricing, paying exchange rates, transferring currency, taking possession and transporting the truck to the port of departure, one should expect to pay a business for the large amount of time and capitol it costs them to manage that process.

Importers who bring trucks into the US for sale after import assume the risks of customs delays, storage charges, cleaning, and compliance costs, with no risk to the US buyer; and whether business or individual, all intend to find a financial reward for the assumption of financial risk.

Additionally there are price pressures for the most desirable trucks both foreign (USA) and domestic as the interest in early trucks continues to grow in the UK and other markets due to collectability, status, registration benefits, and when used for international travel the reduced value on a carnet.

Lastly there are restoration shops in the EU and USA who seek vehicles for high value projects and have budgets to buy trucks that both reduce the overall supply and increase pricing as a result. Demand drives cost after all the risk is taken and the work is done.

If the speculative purchase and import process is half of the cost of a $30kUSD truck - how then do we see Defenders for sale in the US for less than $20kUSD?  More often than not, the answer is that the source truck was not one of the top 10% trucks, but is usually a bottom 60% truck with the most glaring of problems sorted out (sometimes) and other issues remaining.

As a result the for-sale inventory in the USA is only a subset of imported items as many are imported for individuals.  Sometimes the truck delivered to an individual was misrepresented by a seller and subsequently listed for sale, or is more of a project than expected.  Sometimes the truck is misrepresented by an importer trying to "flip" for a quick profit leading to mismatched expectations with a new owner.

Fortunately there are a few foreign and domestic sellers who are very clear about what they are selling - apologies and all are presented fairly and openly. But the dream of a low budget - no flaws - Defender in the USA for $15KUSD is just that, a dream.

So where does that leave the interested but overwhelmed future Defender owner who wants a truck but the budget is limited?

Consider these three options to help bring the expectations and reality closer together:

  • The first is the easiest to say and hardest to do - increase the budget  - buy something refurbished by a reputable shop, contract help to find a top tier condition truck
  • The second is to - plan to adopt a project - expect the worst, budget for repairs, and learn to restore/rebuild yourself as 50% of restoration costs are usually labor
  • Last is to - assume the risk yourself and import - We source and import trucks into the Northwest through Tacoma for customers in the Western US only -   please contact us and we can walk you through the process and associated costs.  If you are in the Midwest and East coast, we can refer you to an experienced Defender importer located on the Eastern Seaboard.

*Please note that numbers used above are for discussion purposes only, are not current market estimates, and are severely rounded for ease of presentation of the concepts.


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