Buying Your Own JDM Car Part 2: Learning To Be Buy-lingual

Welcome to part 2 of this series of posts on the process of getting your own JDM car.
Yes, you can have your own piece of JDM goodness!

So now that you know what cars are legal to own let’s talk about something a little less dull – how to buy one!

There are multiple ways of acquiring an authentic JDM car whether it be a Skyline or something more esoteric like a Nissan Pao, kei car, or the Japanese version of the Weinermobile (I’m not sure there is such a thing but it’s fun to imagine what it’d be like. A sushimobile maybe?)

First off, we have to distinguish between getting a car brokered versus landed stock. Landed stock is easy to explain – an importer has already bought a car, gone through the importation process and the car’s already in the US just waiting for a new owner. Basically it’s like a used car dealership only with cooler cars, less stock to choose from, and fewer inflatable gorillas out in front with signs saying “Bad credit? No problem!” My Nismo was one of these – landed cars I mean, not inflatable gorillas.

Cars sold by private sellers that have them here in the US, like on eBay, fall in the landed stock category. Contrary to what Fast and the Furious may have taught you though Skylines aren't normally found in random used car lots here in the States - especially R34s!

Brokered vehicles are just like using a broker for a regular car purchase here in the US only instead of scouring local car dealerships they’re searching Japanese ones. They find you a car, you pay the asking price plus their fee on top, they handle the importation paperwork, and you pick up the car when it gets to the US of A.

Landed cars have a couple of distinct advantages. First, they’re already here so you can inspect them and maybe even test drive the car you’re interested in. This can be very helpful since you have to remember, these are 25 year old cars. Many things can happen to a car in that long a time so seeing it yourself will give you a better idea what you’re getting into. Second advantage, the wait will be less long to get the car. For a car to be eligible under the 25 year exemption it has to be 25 years old TO THE MONTH of manufacture. So, a May 1990 car is okay to come in in May 2015 or after. If the car’s already here legally then you don’t have to wait to take delivery since presumably it already passed the 25 year date. Also, buying a landed car from an importer here in the States can mean more support if you run into an issue such as with registering it in your home state (I know all about the difficulties of that from my personal experience and we'll go into more detail on the registration process later).

There’s also the convenience benefit with a landed car since typically after paying for the car all you have to worry about is how to get the car home from their place and registering it. With a broker you might still have paperwork and fees to take care of involving clearing the car through customs and being released from the port. Also, you can’t just mosey into a port, flash a receipt and grab your car – you’ll have to adhere to their schedule and if you’re having your car shipped from port you have to get a company that’s cleared to do so since most ports regulate who’s allowed in. With a landed car all that’s already been taken care of.

With a brokered car you have only pictures and whatever inspections were done in Japan to go by as to the car’s condition. As for the timing of importation, a car eligible for immediate import will probably command a higher price due to demand versus a car that’s still months away from being ready. You could save money by getting a car that's not yet importable and then waiting but that savings may be eliminated by storage costs while the car waits to be eligible. However, if you want a particular type of car – especially one that's uncommon like say, a pink Trueno with Ronal Teddy Bear rims, then broker is probably your only way to go since it's much less likely one will be landed stock and unsold. (Good luck finding that Trueno by the way, you deviant you).
In my case I almost went the broker route because I initially wanted a black 1990 R32 GT-R but nobody had one available at the time. I changed my mind due to the rarity of the Nismo I found.

Generally, a landed car will cost you more however because the importer has to recoup the costs of acquiring and importing the car, storing it until a buyer is found, and whatever basic maintenance and upkeep is needed prior to sale. To compensate for the risks of the car not selling right away, if at all, expect the price to be higher. A broker doesn’t have to worry about those risks but they do still charge a fee for their services. The market being what it is however, you’ll see a wide range of prices because of varying conditions of the cars and what prices sellers think the market will bear.

There are also importers who do a bit of both. They acquire cars in Japan and then offer them for sale before they’ve arrived here so the situation is a mix of the two. It may not offer either the savings of brokerage or the try-before-you-buy nature of landed cars but it widens the potential choices when looking for a vehicle. Given the high demand currently for R32 Skylines, a “mixed” car is still worth considering if it meets your criteria.

Whichever way you get a JDM car, the process boils down to the following steps with the details just varying depending on who does what:
  1. Cars get put up for auction or private sale.
  2. You or an importer pick a car to buy.
  3. Exporter or broker in Japan purchases car.
  4. Car gets inspected and cleared for export. This step includes getting it de-registered and any inspections (and quarantine) required by you or the importing country
  5. Vehicle gets loaded onto a ship and hopefully doesn’t get attacked by Jack Sparrow.
  6. Ship arrives at port, car gets offloaded and customs inspects it. At this point the required paperwork, customs and port fees, and bonds are handled by you, the importer, or the broker.
  7. Once that's done, you set up pickup including possible shipment to your location.
  8. Register it in your state.
  9. Spook out fellow drivers who don't see anyone driving the car next to them.

So which route is best? Well basically, none of them. Pick your poison depending on your budget, risk tolerance, availability of what you want, and how impatient you are about plunking your butt down in a seat that's been exposed to 25 years of Japanese farts.

And that concludes this week's episode of “Pedantic Man Drones on About Stuff”. Next time we'll talk about how...and how pay for a JDM Skyline. Give me a couple weeks while I let my badly abraded typing fingers heal up.


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