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After a lot of research into models specification etc. and what features I actually want, and what the cost would be to me to purchase a Toyota Estima, I've decided to buy one direct from Japan and do the importation myself. I work for The Post Office, so the thought of a lot of paper work and liasing with different authorities doesn't worry me.

I will be keeping a Diary of Events so you can see how it progresses.

The Dealership

I contacted a number of dealerships in the UK, Ireland and Japan (as listed on my Links pages) and I believe that to maximise the benefits of buying a Japanese import, the best way is to do it yourself.

I have estimated that I should save around 2000 or more by purchasing one in this manner, I reckon UK dealerships make, well let me say a "reasonable" profit on Japanese imports, and why shouldn't they?

After sending e-mail enquiries to several Japanese dealers, and getting varying responses, one in particular stood out. Their reply was prompt, giving excellent details on the service they provide and they have answered all my queries in the same efficient manner. Obviously I felt dubious regarding sending hard earned cash to Japan, but having obtained background on the company, I now feel confident with them.

Their managing director, Mike Ainis is an American and has supplied full and detailed answers to my queries, indeed has supplied more information than I originally asked!

So I have decided to purchase through Angel Motors Japan (AMJ).

The Process

I will keep this brief, as I feel a book could be written on it (now there's an idea!).

  • I send requirements to AMJ, this is used to create a Purchase Order.
  • Once the purchase order details are agreed, half the FOB is forwarded to AMJ (the FOB is the price of the car in Japan including inland transport in Japan, all fees for Japanese customs and clearance, all other documentation and dealer's fee) , which when received will enable them to start finding a suitable vehicle.
  • A suitable vehicle should be found between 2 - 4 weeks.
  • Once the vehicle is found a Confirmation of Purchase Notice is sent by AMJ together with a set of digital images, and then the final half of the FOB is sent to AMJ.
  • AMJ arrange for the vehicle to be shipped, which takes around 4 - 5 weeks.
  • Around 3 - 4 weeks later all relevant documentation is sent by AMJ to me. This should be the point where AMJ's service ends.
  • I liaise with relevant companies/authorities to arrange for:
    • Payment of freight charges and maritime insurance
    • Customs clearance, duty and VAT
    • Legally required modifications to the vehicle and SVA test
  • Car insurance is arranged.
  • I book a MOT and drive the vehicle to the test centre
  • The vehicle is then registered with the DVLA, and new plates fitted to the vehicle.
  • Obtain road tax and arrange warranty on the vehicle (if required).

And that's all there is to it!

Diary of Events

Date Description
15/12/00 The day at last has arrived, the tax disc arrived in the post this morning, we can now put our Estima on the road! But if the transaction could be done so quickly yesterday, and put in the post, why didn't Reading VRO do it over the counter? It would have saved themselves the cost of postage and packing. Still I'm not really complaining, just happy we have the car on the road for Christmas.
14/12/00 Took all relevant documentation to Reading VRO, unfortunately I was politely told that this is not an "over the counter" transaction and that they would post the tax disc to me. Bit disappointed as I had been told that sometimes Reading will do the transaction over the counter. The guy said it can take around 5 - 10 working days - I hope not we need the Estima on the road for Christmas!
12/12/00 Finally got Insurance Certificate with the correct VIN number on it, am planning to take all the documentation to Reading VRO on Thursday.
08/12/00 Was planning to get the Estima registered today at Reading VRO, but the insurance certificate that arrived today had the wrong VIN number on it, despite telling them twice on separate occasions what the correct number was - most frustrating.
07/12/00 Sailed through its MoT with no problems. I noticed the rear wiper blade needed replacing and went to a motor spares outlet a couple of units down from the garage. Pleased to find that the motor spares outlet, Camberley Autofactors also specialise in providing parts for imported Japanese cars. Finally got the car home, on my drive!
06/12/00 Arrived at Southampton in the afternoon and planning to drive it 30 miles back home to leave it at the garage for MoT testing the next day. No problems except they couldn't find my car in their massive car park for a while, this lost us some valuable time. It became dark and we were in the midst of one of the UK's now regular torrential downpours, I was starting to doubt if we could make it back to the garage in time before they closed. Just a note if ever you go to Southampton docks, in my case Eastern Docks Gate 4, you'll see literally hundreds of Japanese cars in the holding yards down there.

Thoroughly enjoyed my drive, although I nearly forgot to fill up with diesel! As expected it had next to no fuel in the tank. Left the Estima with the garage, who locked it up overnight ready for it's MoT tomorrow.

05/12/00 Found out at 11:30 that my Estima had undergone it's SVA test and failed!! A couple of minor adjustments to the lights and most seriously, my nearly new tyres as supplied have to be replaced. Nothing wrong with them except they do not bear a suitably acceptable 'E' standard mark. Even though Michelin made them, they obviously don't mark them for the Japanese market as is done in Europe. So, four new tyres required, although I do get to keep the Michelins, so I'll have my next replacements readily available. Hopefully, the modifications/tyres will be sorted out ready for me to collect the vehicle tomorrow afternoon.
04/12/00 The little mishap could work in my favour, as it appears they are pulling out all the stops to get it through the SVA test. The preparation work is finished and it should be SVA tomorrow.

Set my insurance deal up, eventually! I had had a very good quote from Frizzell, and contacted them to start the policy, only to be told that they will no longer provide cover for imported Japanese vehicles. I frantically rang around again trying to arrange cover. I eventually went with Bell Direct, but even they wanted 83 more than a quote I got from them a couple of months ago.

01/12/00 Phoned to see how the SVA preparation was getting on, and was shocked to hear that they couldn't find my car!! A detailed search ensued of the relevant car holding areas of Southampton docks. For about an hour, I was wondering if I was ever going to see my car at all. I then received a phone call, the car wasn't lost at all, and it just hadn't been moved to the SVA preparation area due to a misunderstanding with the freight agent. It was all sorted out in minutes, the car moved and they started preparation work on my Estima immediately.
28/11/00 The vehicle completed customs clearance today, and should be moved to the SVA preparation area of my agent for work to commence on that, either today or tomorrow.
24/11/00 My Estima arrived yesterday, went to Southampton today to pay the freight and duty/VAT, which were almost to the penny to my calculations (thankfully!).
15/11/00 Got my number plates made up ready. I'm able to do this as I'm transferring an already owned retained registration mark. The plates look excellent, with the blue GB logo down the left hand side, ready for our trip to raid the hypermarkets of France! Also I only ordered them yesterday, that's what I call service!

I've also been in contact with the agents in Southampton, they HUAL Tribute is expected in on the 23rd now all being well, and I now believe that I should be able to pick it up by Friday 8th December. This is providing there is no unforeseen problems with shipping/freight, customs/duty or preparation for and the SVA test.

07/11/00 Delivered all the necessary documentation to the agents in Southampton by hand.
03/11/00 Received all the relevant documentation today from Japan, i.e.:
  • Bill of Lading
  • De-Registration Document (Masho) in Japanese
  • De-Registration Document (English translation)
  • Customs Invoice
  • Marine Insurance documents

I will be delivering these to the agent in Southampton hopefully on Tuesday.

The vessel (HUAL Tribute) is currently expected on 22nd November, having set sail from Kawasaki on schedule.

18/10/00 The transporter ship should have set sail today, with my vehicle on it. It's current eta. is 20th November. If everything goes to plan, I should have it on the road around about a week after that.
13/10/00 Mike of AMJ took the last digital photos in Japan before it passes customs, and is loaded early next week (see My Estima page).

The vehicle is serviced and ready for use (SVA and MOT permitting) once it arrives. The next time I expect to hear from AMJ will be once they have all the export documentation ready to send.
11/10/00 Received 3 more photos from AMJ, it's starting to sink in that we've finally got what we wanted. The photos also show a little of the workshop where the Estima was serviced.

AMJ confirmed that they have received the balance of our payment, and added that we should receive all relevant documentation about the 3rd week of the month after the vessel has sailed.

07/10/00 Thursday 05/10/00, 06:30 alarm went off - I got up. 06:42, received phone call from Japan, it's Mike of AMJ, he's at his local Toyota auction, he's seen another possible Estima for me. A very high spec. Emina, just as I want or near enough. I at first thought "here we go again!, another car that fits the bill, it's bound to go above our maximum bid." Yet there was something in Mike's voice that gave me a bit more hope, I had a gut feeling this might be the one. Mike said he would contact me later with the result.

This would prove good timing as someone rear ended my other car with my wife driving the previous evening at a roundabout, and drove off. Fortunately there were witnesses and my kids weren't hurt, although my wife is suffering from whiplash.  We won't be able to get the car repaired until we get our Estima on the road, as we need to have at least one car for us both to get to work. I hope the police catch up with the miscreant, and give her a hard time. By the way she was using her mobile phone at the time - I hope none of you do!

I arrive at work, expecting to hear bad news sometime in the afternoon, along the lines of "Sorry Paul, but it went for a million plus." At about 12:15 my phone rang, I thought someone else who wants me to attend a meeting at short notice (I'd already attended two in the morning). But no it was Mike again...............

"Good news Paul, we got it........" At long last, I now knew that I'd have an Estima to ferry the family around in instead of the trusty Vauxhall Cavalier. Apparently, the vehicle didn't sell during the normal auction phase, but Mike went to the back, "haggled" and won!

Mike later e-mailed the Confirmation of Purchase Notice, but no digital photos as it was already too dark to take any in Japan. They would be with me tomorrow.

Friday, just after lunch, I received the digital photos (see the My Estima page) and it really started to click that we'd got almost exactly what we originally specified - well worth the wait, if it's as good in "the flesh" as it looks in the photos.

It should be shipped from Japan on October 18th arriving Southampton on November 20th

We also arranged for the balance of funds to be transferred to AMJ via telegraphic transfer.

02/10/00 AMJ found three suitable models last week that were perfect in year & specs with ABS as well, but due to the fact that the mileage was very low, one was 59,000 km (36,500 miles) and sold for 990,000 (click here to see the detail), and two were 49,000 km (30,300 miles) which sold for just over 1,000,000 yen, which were outside my proposed budget. However, given the pounds recovery against the Yen and my reworking of cost calculations (I made a bit of a boob here) I've decide to increase the maximum I'll pay. AMJ have again proved extremely flexible in my change of spec. requirements and what I'll pay - "The Customer is King!"
25/09/00 Still waiting patiently. AMJ found EXACTLY what I was looking for last week, but the bidding went too high, indeed the car wasn't even sold, maybe the seller was just asking too high a reserve price. AMJ have been in regular contact, and I've widen the range of spec. that I'll accept to hopefully find a suitable vehicle soon.
15/09/00 Received my weekly update from AMJ, still no luck in finding a model that meets all of my spec. requirements. Will I ever get one! Maybe this week, I guess this sort of thing is not for the fainthearted. I know I could of had a vehicle a  least a couple of weeks ago if my spec. wasn't so strict. Still I appreciate being kept in the picture fully by AMJ.
01/09/00 AMJ sent me a written update. Basically the J-Top roof I would like is difficult to get on a 1995 model. AMJ checked with Toyota Japan who confirmed this and said that the J-Top was more prevalent on 1993/4 models. I have agreed that whilst still a desirable feature for me, I will settle on a vehicle without it. The auctions are now back in full swing, so maybe a suitable vehicle will be found soon.
21/08/00 AMJ telephoned me over the weekend, to discuss, requirements, timescales etc., and I'm hopeful now of them buying me an Estima that meets my specifications by the first week or so in September.
14/08/00 The search for my Estima should continue soon, after Japanese businesses get back to normal after the O-Bon holiday. O-Bon is a traditional holiday remembering and honouring the dead, their deceased family members. Companies and businesses close down for up to a week.
09/08/00 Telegraphic Transfer received by AMJ's bank. AMJ have sent receipt for partial payment.
03/08/00 Agreed final specification of Estima Emina/Lucida, and arranged telegraphic transfer of half the FOB to AMJ. AMJ now begin to source the vehicle.
01/08/00 Made decision to place order with AMJ. Finalising desired specification.