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Environment Second-hand Market Condition of Vehicles
Equipment Level Buying Guidelines Buying a Car in Japan


The following is a short article written by a very good friend of mine, who was fortunate enough to visit Japan recently to visit his son who is currently working out there. When I knew he was going I jokingly asked him to get me some photo's etc. Instead Gerry very kindly put his observations into words for me:

"I did see some very beautiful Estimas in Japan - one parked near where I was living was white with really dark windows, a 3.0, and looked very swish.  I noticed a couple of things  - all people carriers have a rear mirror fitted at the end of the roof, looking down at the bumper - must help when reversing into a tight space and you want to get as close as possible to the car behind without actually having intercourse. Second thing I noticed was that in Japan nearly all cars are black/white/grey/silver. Hardly any reds, blues greens etc.  Odd exceptions tend to be imports - e.g BMW's in post office red. Oh yes a 3rd point, all vehicles are kept absolutely spotless, not just cars but trucks and even cement mixers drive around gleaming in the sun. Trucks tend to have an amazing array of mirrors to each side of the cab and the cab itself tends to be finished in chrome plating which is polished until it gleams. With a few lights for decoration most JP lorries look like fairground vehicles.

Although I prattled on at length about the cars etc. I did not mention the single aspect that will most  typify the visit for me - that is the kindness & politeness of the people I encountered over the 2 weeks. It is the thing that will be my undying memory of Japan and which draws me back for a second visit. They really deserve to be the wealthiest nation on the planet!

Sayonara" (Special Thanks to Gerry Mewton)


Japan, as I'm sure you'll know suffers more than most countries from dreadfully congested roads in their urban areas. They also have fairly regimented holiday periods, which combined with expensive toll road systems results in potential chaos for those who wish to travel by road. A result of this is that the Japanese rail infrastructure is very efficient (lucky Japan!), although I'm sure if I was a commuter in Japan that I'd hate the way guards push passengers onto the subway trains. Still, their public transport is a real and viable alternative to travelling by road, especially added to the fact that their world famous Bullet Train (Shinkansen) will take care of most longer distance travelling requirements.

The result of the above is that Japanese cars generally are mainly used as short range shuttles, this applies to the sports supercars as well as 4WD's and MPV's. This in turn means that you can expect Japanese cars to do less miles per year (around 30 to 50% is quoted) than their UK equivalent, and apparently around 97% of 4WD models have never been used off-road (so why do they buy them?). Click here to find out how the average Japanese person goes about buying a car in Japan.

Second-hand Market

Japan has the second largest domestic automobile market in the world, with the five major manufacturers (Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi and Mazda) competing furiously for sales through large and comprehensive new and used car networks. To stimulate domestic sales, most automobile models undergo a full model change every four years with minor front and grill changes every two.

All new cars are sold with a three-year "shaken" (warrant of fitness) which must be renewed after expiration at an average cost of almost a 1000. A renewed "shaken" is then good for 2 years, but must be renewed every two years for the life of the vehicle. Consequently, most vehicles available on the used market are 3,5,7 and 9 years old as they are usually traded in or sold by the user when the "shaken" expires. Purchasing vehicles with 6 months or more valid "shaken" increases the value of the vehicle domestically and generally is more expensive than units with no "shaken" left.

Consumers in Japan must provide proof of parking space for each vehicle when registering new and used cars. This is mandatory and strictly regulated to the extent that in most areas police will physically measure the parking space to ensure it is appropriately sized for the intended vehicle. Due to acute land shortages in Japan, private parking costs anywhere from 60 to 300 a month for those who don't have space at their homes (the majority don't!). These types of costs make two-car families the exception and severely limit the number of cars on the road.

All these factors and others (including strict taxes) make new car purchases very attractive to consumers and contribute to sharp depreciation rates on used cars domestically. It is this very steep depreciation, which make used cars in Japan inexpensive enough to be viable for export throughout the world.

Condition of Vehicles

Japanese cars are virtually always low mileage, by UK standards, and the mileage can be relied upon. It would actually be very difficult to find a car in Japan that had done 12,000 miles per year - the British average. One rarely sees a vehicle with more than 100,000 kilometres (62,000 miles) on the clock.

Japanese cars have almost certainly never been driven hard. Even vehicles equipped with performance accessories such as spoilers, air dams and skirts were prepared by their proud Japanese owners for show rather than for being thrashed - Japanese road conditions and traffic habits just make fast driving impracticable.

Japanese drivers generally keep their cars in immaculate condition and well serviced. Before any dealer in Japan offers a car for sale (private sales are quite unusual) he makes sure it can pass the Japanese MOT (so-called 'shaken') which is very severe, and he has to be ready to support the car, since consumer protection is fierce. Accordingly a buyer doesn't have to be concerned about its mechanical condition. A car, which would be considered to be in 'fair' condition in the UK, is just junk in Japan and no trader would try to sell it to the public - to do so would cause them grief. New cars are inexpensive in Japan and because of their standards, cars are seldom driven when in need of attention.

Equipment Level

Cars sold in Japan generally have a higher equipment specification than UK equivalents. This often includes air conditioning (an expensive UK option) electric windows and alloys.

Buying Guidelines

There are however a few guidelines I would recommend to follow before leaping in and buying a 'Grey Import'

  1. Always use a reputable/specialist importer that has knowledge and understanding of the problems of non-UK spec vehicles unless you are sure you are able to import the vehicle yourself, there is a lot of work involved
  2. Always have the vehicle inspected by a recognised motoring organisation (if the company you buy from does not’t offer this as standard)
  3. Always insist on minimum of 6 months warranty (a good warranty will cover everything except consumables i.e. brake pads, exhaust, tyres etc) . So make sure you check the inspection report thoroughly for impending problems.
  4. Try to buy something, which has as many UK spec parts as possible (like the Estima) - this will inevitably involve doing some homework - try contacting other import owners or searching the net information.
  5. Check that you can get insurance before signing on the dotted line. Insurance is not as hard as to arrange as it used to be. Insurance companies, as a rule have 'loosened up' when it comes to covering grey imports so shop around (don’t loose faith because a few companies won’t quote - remember it's their loss!)