Buying Your Own JDM Car Part 3.5: Where Do We Get All These Wonderful Toys?

Let’s go off on a tangent for a bit and talk about the interesting Japanese used car market so you know where most of these cars come from and why we have this opportunity to own some real rice-burning goodness from the land of the rising sun.

Japan doesn’t have a large used car market like we have here in the US because of several factors. The biggest one is the strict inspection requirement they have. In Japan, unlike in most of the US, you have to get a road safety inspection or “shaken” (pronounced with “sha’ as in sharp not “sha” as in how James Bond likes his martinis) for your vehicle every 2-3 years and this can cost in the thousands of dollars because it bundles together the mechanical and safety inspections as well as other fees and mandatory insurance. Without passing the shaken you can’t legally drive your car.

Add in the higher costs of maintaining an older car together with high depreciation and after just a few years used cars are worth relatively little in the holy land of Nippon. The Japanese also view used car ownership as less desirable than here in the US where it’s more of the norm.
When a car is no longer drivable Japan also has strict rules about disposal so it can be costly to get rid of an old car. Going Thelma and Louise is frowned upon for some reason over there.

Take all that in total and it results in little demand and low prices for used cars, a lot of which are in fairly good nick given the strict road-worthiness standards and the general Japanese penchant for keeping things in good order.

The upside of this is that there’s a HUGE market for exporting these cars to other countries. Many auction houses do big business selling these cars to people who then export them to countries like Australia, the UK, Russia, and so on where they get to live happy lives until they die in a blaze of vodka-fueled glory caught on random dash cam footage.

Some cars brought to the States are from private sales done by individuals or the odd tuner shop but the vast majority come from these auctions. They’re usually very impressive setups with computerized bidding rooms that look like they could double as mission control for the next International Space Station resupply flight. It’s not done in a random parking lot with some guy yodeling at the top of his lungs about it going once or twice or screw it you just drunkenly bought a Peugeot station wagon.
Another round of budget cuts meant NASA decided to work on more terrestrial forms of transportation

Unfortunately for us here in the US, we have to deal with the archaic and idiotic 25 year restriction so it’s harder to find good cars to bring in. Add to that the fact that other countries like Australia and the UK have been buying these cars for decades already and we’re basically picking up the dregs. Even Canada has a more enlightened 15 year restriction so they get to enjoy R34 Skylines already while I slowly weep.

The crazy thing about the US JDM market is that because of the 25 year rule the United States is the biggest untapped market for these cars at this point. With pent-up demand and lower availability because of all the time that’s passed, prices for JDM tin in the US are much higher than other countries. To exporters it’s like the California gold rush - minus the brothels and random gunfights.

So if some uninformed individual tells you how you’ve “overpaid” for your precious JDM car, just politely nod and say “Yeah, you’re probably right”. Then ask him where his awesome car is that he didn’t overpay for and just enjoy the brief moment of smug satisfaction as he walks away to return to driving his mom’s rusted-out Chevy Cavalier. Make sure to be nice and wave when he departs the parking lot in a cloud of blue smoke.

If you want more insight into the Japanese used car export market or just have 20 minutes or so that you could use some entertainment for, check out this Youtube video from Mighty Car Mods:

If I haven't driven you off with all this droning on (I need to work harder then!), next time we'll go back to actually discussing the importation process and talk about what you'll face on the federal side with bringing in a JDM car.