Hooniverse Asks: Did you/would you buy a JDM import?

I’m looking for a second vehicle in addition to my Bronco. I have a few requirements: AWD, seats five, safe, spacious, reliable, functional, budget friendly. With that said, I also don’t want something boring. My requirements would be satisfied by a new Camry but I don’t want t drive a new Camry. Complicating things further is the fact that the market is not exactly buyer friendly.

Last weekend I looked at a promising 2003 Land Cruiser. Everything was great until I peeked under it and saw two decades of New England’s best rust. I’ll keep looking, thanks. This search has brought me to JDM importers’ websites. All kinds of Land Cruisers are being imported and they all seem much cleaner than comparable USDM vehicles. But there are a few issues for me:

  • Higher price, which is fine as long as it’s clean.
  • Part availability.
  • No warranty of any kind.
  • Potential registration and/or insurance issues.
  • Recent events of JDM vehicles’ registration cancellations.

Has anyone here bought an imported vehicle? What were your experiences and issues?

12 Comments

  1. “With that said, I also don’t want something boring. My requirements would be satisfied by a new Camry…”

    Does not compute.

    Anyway, if I were in your situation and was considering JDM, I wouldn’t look at importer sites, I would look at private parties that bought a JDM a year or two ago and who now wants to move on to something else. And don’t look at models that are in-demand in US (like Land Cruiser), look at oddballs that somebody’s grandma bought 25 years ago–the Japanese equivalent of a Mercury Grand Marquis. Yeah, that’s not too different than a Camry, but it will be old and RHD, so that makes it not boring.

    Resale for those is pretty reasonable, and they would have been pretty well cared for during the first 25 years, and even in today’s market, $8k will probably buy you something clean with less than 60,000 miles.

    1. you’ll also get the bonus of probably some parts availability. the obscure weird japanese cars are often just the bland boring ones we got, but with frameless doors and angry headlights.

  2. I don’t have any experience with JDM cars specifically but, generally speaking, acquiring vehicles that were and are deeply unpopular in their home market is a great way to eliminate most of the uncertainty surrounding parts availability, in that the answer is pretty much no. If you can find and join a home-market club for it, though, chances are the other members will be delighted that someone on the other side of the planet actually cares and therefore they will be eager to help keep it going.

    If you’ve got room, get a second one for parts. Even if the engine and transmission in the parts car are no good and/or missing entirely, it’s still a nice source for all of the little components that are otherwise a real pain to find and can make the difference between getting the car back on the road in a matter of minutes to hours versus a matter of weeks to months.

    I haven’t had difficulties with registration and insurance but I understand the former, at least, depends greatly on the state involved. All of my stuff is old enough for specialty plates and collectible insurance but I’ve just gone with normal plates and insurance for it all instead. I have no idea whether that helps or hurts matters but, um, at least it costs more?

    1. “I don’t have any experience with JDM cars specifically…”
      I understand your experience is more along the lines of BDM cars. Which sounds similar to, but is not the same as, BDSM cars.

      1. My Austins are British Domestic Market but my RHD Volvo 66 GL sedan and wagon are, in fact, British (Dutch (Swedish)) Market. Then there’s the French stuff…

  3. It might be a small point you don’t care about, but the SUVs in that picture and probably the Gloria won’t have side intrusion door beams unless retrofitting them is required in the US (which I doubt). I’m not sure when JDM cars started getting them

  4. As others have pointed out, the less convenient, but much cheaper route is to buy from auction with an agent. I had found one in february ’20 to buy a Toyota Century, but cancelled that when our currency plummeted by 40% to the yen once corona hit a month later. Got the local Centennial instead.

    When it comes to these cars, I expect to pay 5-8k$ + transport + 25% VAT for a decent-ish example, which would go for 20-25k$ in local markets – the price difference is significant.

    The Japanese used car market is in a bind now because of less exports to Russia. Price falls on some models are two digit percentages by now. I also agree with others that there are much more interesting cars to compliment a Bronco with than just another Landcruiser; a V6 Stagea wagon, Century hearse, a President or a Debonair. But that’s just taste.

  5. I have had a lot of JDM imports over the years, but was usually not the first owner in-country, such is how common JDM imports in Ireland are. However, on the three occasions where I was to be the first owner in-country, I got stung on both occasions by Irish-side importers. First was an importer that had a cash flow issue and shut up shop and disappeared with my deposit and I never saw my dream AW11 MR2 SuperCharger, second was also an MR2, but a 3rd gen car (badged MR-S in Japan), engine failure with a few months and just washed his hands of it. Moral of the story is do a lot of research on whatever importer you are using if using an own-country side importer.

  6. I’d advise doing a lot of research on parts availability before springing on a JDM ride for actual, regular transportation needs. But, then, I daily drive a 40-year-old car, so my advice on such matters is questionable to begin with.

  7. My wife (via me) bought a Figaro a couple months ago. It is in pretty good shape but missing all service records so I wouldn’t let her drive it until the timing belt was replaced. She’s since spent thousands from the Figaro Shop in England shipping parts over to get it done. It’s been in the shop since Monday (5/9) because the previous service was messed up and the thermostat housing was damaged. So we had to order replacements for that which are on their way. The parts prices are… ok, but shipping is brutal. And since there were only ever 2 cars made, in low production numbers, that use the engine and 1 that used any other parts on it, it is proving to be quite the challenge.
    Then there’s the fact that we discovered the odometer has been tampered with, most likely before it left Japan to go to England over a decade ago so it has about 30k miles more on it than it shows.
    Registering it and insuring it were a breeze. By now it seems like there are enough imports being processed that people are at least somewhat familiar with the process.
    Despite all the pitfalls, I would still like to import a Legnum – or buy one that’s been imported – but like with all cars right now, it just doesn’t make financial sense to pay the premiums for any cars.

  8. As you all are probably tired of hearing by now, I lived in Japan for close to 10 years, some decades back, and I had a series of cars during that period; none of them new.

    Here are a couple of things I gleaned from that experience – note that they spring from anecdotal evidence from someone whom the courts deem “an unreliable source” so take them with a shot of soy sauce.

    1. The Japanese safety inspection system (Shaken) is ridiculously severe, and expensive – it involves, well, just about everything. It must first be done when a car is 2 years old, and subsequently from the third year on, every year. (NB: This has had the unintended consequence of improving JDM car quality). Now Shaken is a good thing for a JDM export buyer if the car purchased has a valid inspection. Everything involving safety and emissions is going to work. It is also good for export buyers because as cars get older, the cost/benefit ratio of keeping a car gets to where Japanese people won’t pay much for an old car because of the annual costs of keeping it on the road even if everything works perfectly as you have to prove that every year in Japan at considerable cost. It’s worth noting as an aside that Kei class car inspections are less frequent and trucks are every year, and really severe. It don’t know whether a Land Cruiser is a “car” or a “truck” but they’re rich-kids cars so that additional expensive may not matter to JDM buyers -if you can afford a Land Cruiser you can afford the inspections. Anyhow most older cars will have been inspected within the last 12 months and are generally going to be safe.

    2. You need to know where the car comes from, in Japan. If it is from the countryside, then you can guess mechanical (as opposed to safety) condition from mileage. If it comes from an urban center – mileage is dangerously deceptive. Where I lived in the Tokyo metroplex was some 10 miles aka 16 kilometers from my office. Close, huh? No so fast: literally. Traffic crawled on the streets. You spent a lot of time idling and accelerating. Further in the 10 miles there was a traffic signal at an average of every quarter mile. This means that engine wear and clutch/transmission wear cannot be measured by traditional American standards of distance. You need to think more in terms of hours like aircraft. Also consider that safety inspection only checks safety – not mechanical wear. I had a 4 year-old Nissan on which I had to replace the turn signal switch because the contact in the lever wore through…. think about how many turns were signaled to do that – in four years. Idling the car’s life away in traffic is also hard on auxiliary systems – the engine runs hot so the fans are on all the time. Everyone is using the a/c constantly. The alternator is getting a workout at such low speeds because everybody watches tv while they drive (hey it’s legal!).

    So for what it’s worth, you can’t judge a used JDM car’s mechanical condition by your traditional standards. It may have only covered 10,000 kilometers a year, but (quite seriously) it may have only averaged 10 or 15 kilometers per hour to cover that distance…. after all the general urban speed limit is only 40 KPH (25 MPH) and I defy you to average the speed limit in the city.

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