Import FAQ

Japanese Imports FAQ

This is not a Q + A session like you see on car dealer websites. That’s because there is  nothing on sale here.  This is an answer sheet for a compilation of the questions I am often asked and the myths I often hear.

In Japan new car Dealers only sell new cars. Used car dealers are kept separate from new car dealers by legislation. When you part exchange your car in Japan it is unlikely it will be at the dealers for long if ever at all.  All the Manufacturers in Japan either have their own auctions for part exchanges or they have deals with the big auction companies. USS the biggest auction group in Japan owns a company called Gulliver which is a major car underwriter.  There are a number of Trade book Publications in Japan with USS’s Green book being the most widely used.  This basically lists every car sold at auction by USS in the last month. Most of the other auctions publish their auction results if not in book form then by access to their website.  Used car pricing is very accurate in Japan; this is because over six million units are auctioned in Japan each year making any monthly movement in prices immediately noticeable.  Of all these cars that go to auction approximately one million get exported to about 70 countries worldwide. Currently the Russian federation accounts for almost half of this figure.

Most Japanese cars, that are favoured only by the Japanese Domestic market will have a steady depreciation,  It is the export market than can change and suddenly increase the value of a car . There are a couple of reasons for this, usually it is driven by market regulations in the importing country.  For example new legislation or lowering of tax brackets for emissions in Cyprus might make a car that was previously impossible to import a runner, and can push the price up significantly in Japan.   In Australia they used to have a pre 1989 Rule and cars that qualified for this rule under Australian law would sell for 4 times the prices of the same car in a 1990 model.  Of course Motor dealers in Japan keep up to date with legislation or market change in the export markets and price their part exchanges using this information.  They can use this information to free up more used stock by increasing their buy in price for cars that are exporting strongly.  It is also a good tool for a car salesman to ring customers on their database with desirable export cars to inform them that due to market conditions they are able to offer an excellent deal on their trade in.

It is uncommon for people to buy and sell cars privately in Japan. It can be done and there is a market on websites like yahoo auctions but because of general red tape with paperwork the main market is driven by young buyers looking for dress up cars or for non shaken scrappers for export. This is why most cars end up at auction

Used car retailers in Japan have two distinct types. The first type sells exceptionally low mileage and superb condition cars. The other market is for tuned cars and dress up cars usually highly modified cars popular with the young.

It is usual for most Japanese cars to be maintained to a high level and serviced on schedule.  Cars do not necessarily get serviced at main dealers, with Companies like Autobacs having large supermarket like servicing centres around Japan.   For example once in Kobe I dropped a car in with Autobacs went into their showroom picked out some new tyres,  went for lunch then came back and collected my car.  It is not uncommon for customers to go into the showroom, select wheels and bodykits, exhaust systems etc and get them all fitted on the same day.

The two questions that I am asked most about Japanese Imports are why are used cars so cheap in Japan?  And why is mileage so low?   Being the domestic producer, Japanese cars are a lot cheaper new in Japan than they are overseas.  Just like the U.K a car is free from any government inspection for its first three years, after that it must get it Shaken renewed.  Shaken then has to be renewed every two years.   Unlike the Mot in the U.K, Shaken is more than a basic road worthiness inspection and will usually cost between £1000 and £3000.  You may be able to justify this outlay on a 3-year-old car but as a car reaches 5 or 7 years of age, coupled with the cars relative worth then it does not make financial sense to keep a car this long.  Another factor is Japanese people like to embrace new things and when new models get released on to the market many people automatically change to the newest model even if the change is very small.   It should also be noted that Japan is a wealthy nation and finance deals can be arranged at favourable rates.

There are plenty of high mileage cars in Japan, but in general mileage is roughly half of what we would expect in the U.K.  Just to skew the figures even further, there are many cars in Japan that really only get weekend use so can have absurdly low mileage. The main reason for this is an efficient train network that is easier to use from city to city than cars.  Traffic in Japanese cities can move slowly and all cities have good underground or urban rail systems, faced with the rush hour you would probably choose the train . The urban layout of Japan tends to be big concentrations of people in cities and then countryside with not so much in between, so there is less need to drive around aimlessly.  Japanese used car dealers love very low mileage cars and mileage is a bigger factor in Pricing than age, for example I would expect a 2005 car with 15K to make more money than a 2008 car with 75K so if you are looking for genuinely very low mileage cars you will probably have to pay.

Japanese cars and clocking. This is a bit of a then and now situation. Clocking used to be pretty rife with Japanese cars, most of these cars came in through the U.K import auctions before people realised you could quite easily check the mileage in Japan. The majority of clocking that took place in Japan was by shady importers, The auctions in Southampton and Liverpool allowed pretty much anyone to land a few hundred cars into the sale without checking provenance and a fair few importers in the early days where flitting from company to company every second month.  For about the last five years it has been accepted that the car should come with a copy of the auction sheet and a service book,  there is no reason why these should not be with the car.  In addition changes made in Japan a few years back mean the mileage of the car when it was de-registered(info will be pre auction) must be printed clearly on the registration documents.  The de-registration document will also list any information held on computer about previous shakens or changes of registration. So if you have an auction sheet,service history and a copy of the de-reg then the car will be correct.  If you are using an agent to buy a car in Japan you should be able to check the auction listings for condition before you bid anyway, any car that is suspected of clocking will have a question mark clearly on the auction sheet beside the mileage.  It should be said that clocking has never been an endemic problem in the Japanese auction network and the vast majority of cars that did get clocked were post auction while down on the port awaiting shipment to their new home.   See auction diary for further info on Auction sheets here.

I often get asked should I get a BIMTA check for my car ? The answer is no. If you have the auction sheet and service books then you have as much info as bimta have. BIMTA were a trade body that was formed to stand up against government red tape and restrictions and in its early days it was well supported and served its role well.  In later years, most of the original members had moved on and its activities became more commercial.  At this stage it is not so much a trade organisation, and as far as I can see exists to re-sell AA of New Zealand mileage checks. They are doing no harm but there is no real point to them.

About ten years ago Quentin Wilson and the BBC aired a programme about how the majority of Japanese cars were stolen.  Subsequent police checks found this to be wholly untrue, but many players in the industry at the time were happy not to speak out.  This was because if you had a professional set up it was an opportunity to say “don’t buy from cowboys deal with us” etc.  Bimta did come out and dispute the figure being mentioned but also offered to do their mileage check for £15 and recommended it as a must have when buying a Japanese car !

So here are my figures on Stolen cars. Car theft is extremely low in Japan.  Yes, like everywhere it does exist but it is not some random act.   It tends to be specifically targeted vehicles, for example very fresh landcruisers or celsiors that are handpicked for consignment to smaller ports.  Stolen cars do not easily get out of Japan unchecked, they must be smuggled.  It is impossible for stolen cars to be sold at auction and if you buy an auction or stock car from a dealer it is impossible that you will get one. A car undergoes checks from highways registration agencies and from Japanese customs before it is de-registered and exported.  In the ten years since that programme was made I would be shocked if anyone could give me ten clear cases of stolen Cars that had been imported from Japan. This information is really only pertinent to the markets I know U.K,Ireland,Malta and Cyprus. There are over 80 countries (yes even LHD) that bring in cars from Japan and I can’t speak with authority for all of them, but most countries employ the same diligence in allowing stolen cars into their homeland.  If it came in with correct paperwork and all duties paid through a reputable car shipper from a known port then it will be legitimate.


This section is for Importers and private customers and is a companion piece to the rest of the Japanese import section on this site which you can read here. I think we have covered most angles but if there is a question you would like answered or a topic you would like us to examine then please let us know.

We have been asked to add an import calculator for people to work out there costs and when that’s completed we will add it here.