Vehicle import from Japan
August 12, 2018 8:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm seeing these deals for 25 year old vehicles from a company in Japan that specializes in exporting used cars. What could go wrong?

I've been spending some time at Japan Partners website looking at used vehicles. It seems that 25 year old vehicles can imported into the US without having to meet all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards.
My initial take on this is that I can see a 1991 vehicle I'd like to have which would be delivered to Los Angeles for around $6k. The car's got 80k miles on it.
I've had good luck buying used vehicles and can't see finding a comparable vehicle at this price in the used market in the US.

The company seems totally legitimate and would likely do a better job of preparing the car for sale than 98% of the people or dealers I might buy from used in the US IMHO.
So, here I am in Los Angeles about to pick up my new used vehicle. What could go wrong? There are some obvious things... the vehicle doesn't start, something's wrong, or is damaged in transit.
There's the aspect of driving a right hand steering wheel vehicle, which I've never done. There's transiting customs. What about duties and taxes on this import, other fees?

Then there's driving it back to Oregon where I live, getting it registered and so forth.
Then, maybe there's no mechanical support for this vehicle in the US, that might be the biggest deal killer of all, not being able to get it repaired at my local shop. The car is a Toyota and while likely has a lot of similar parts to other Toyota cars, that's an unknown until it comes up.
Here's a MeFi trying to find parts for his Japan market Toyota Hilux Surf.

I'm wondering if any MeFi's have considered doing this? Practically talked myself out of it just writing this up. Perhaps this is something only a collector type would consider doing.
posted by diode to Shopping (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One thing I notice is that the specs list the fuel as "petrol" yet the tailgate badge says "diesel." The engine appears to be a diesel based on the appearance of the fuel injectors, and it has a D-turbo sticker on the manifold which implies "diesel turbo" Make of that what you will. I'd carefully research both DOT and EPA requirements for import. I think there's a one-time "personal import" EPA exemption, but I could be wrong. Do you have another vehicle to use as a daily driver when things break on this vehicle and you need to chase down parts internationally?
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 9:28 AM on August 12, 2018

This is a thing that is done, many people do it without incident, others do. Finding a good company with good references is pretty clutch to the process. Mathowie asked a similar question for German gray market imports a while ago, and not much has changed.

What are your reasons for going through an import service through LA instead of a local Oregon import house? There's one sold somewhat recently in Oregon, registered, titled and running, so that circumvents half your questions. There are several doing this very thing, some of whom are very reputable (but design shitty websites, therefore look sketchy). Oregon is a locus for van imports, and there's no reason to go out of state to deal with that hassle. All things considered, that price seems suspectly low for that car, considering import costs. This is one of those areas where a 'good deal' is nigh impossible to find. These 25 year old imports are like houses: if they're cheap, it's because someone is cutting some corners that you're going to pay for later.

But yeah, owning a Weird Car™ is different in almost every way than owning a regular import car because of what you've already outlined. It becomes your hobby if you like it or not. You will become a parts hoarder (or probably end up with a separate parts car) You will likely become a mechanic, because lots of regular mechanics won't want to touch your Weird Car™ (some will, and you should ask them, some are enthusiastically excited to charge you the hours and hours to figure out how to work on it, and you should tip them generously with a smile). You'll get to know some cool people, but if you can't work on your own van, you'll also get met with alot of scorn.

Perhaps this is something only a collector type would consider doing. Usually. Yes.

People often import these because they're cool, but if you cross-index the functionality of the vehicle, you can almost always find a decidedly not-as-cool version of what you're looking for on the market already. Just go into it knowing that you're just paying for cool.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:35 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Given your posting history about your dealings with mechanics, I would strongly advise against this in every way, shape, and form. You'll be repeating that experience in spades, even with a good shop. It's just part of owning a Weird Car™.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:38 AM on August 12, 2018

Right-hand drive is a problem.
On such cars speedo is generally labelled only in km/h and will need to be converted.
Overall I"d sayit would be better to find a car that's already here, and is a bit newer, so that it obeys emissions rules.
posted by w0mbat at 10:04 AM on August 12, 2018

My ex husband brought an old Delica van into the US. He bought it from someone who imported it into Canada so he had to drive it across the border. He had some trouble (had to stay in Canada another day and try the border the next day. He did get it in (our teenager drives it and gets major cool points.)

Msg me if you'd like me to put you in touch with him re the process.
posted by vespabelle at 2:40 PM on August 12, 2018

A good article on Arc Technica about this:
A beginner’s guide to the world of weird and wonderful Japanese import cars
posted by ShooBoo at 2:51 PM on August 12, 2018

I have purchased three cars from Japanese exporters. I am pretty sure that one of the cars was from Japan Partners. I have had no issues with the cars being something other than advertised. My observation has been that the cars have been in excellent cosmetic condition and decent mechanical condition. My one big caveat is that I was shipping to nations other than the US, so I can’t vouch for the import process at all.
posted by eulily at 5:06 PM on August 12, 2018

Oy vey, my posting history with mechanics. I ended up getting refunded for that job gone wrong, thanks in good part to the feedback I got on MeFi that I included with my complaint letter. That's not my usual M.O., just an unlikely circumstance. The business acknowledged their error.

I'm getting from this thread that my instincts about Japan Partners being a good deal are probably sound, but even with the best outcome of the vehicle when it arrives, it's a potential rabbit hole with no end. I would not be happy elbow deep in a vehicle running down and fixing problems.

I wouldn't be dealing with an import service, I would be the importer so would have to solve all the customs angles, taxes and so forth at pick up. Los Angeles is the cheapest delivery port. Oakland is $1k more on delivery.

Some really good tips here. I will probably pass on this an perhaps focus on import services in Oregon as suggested.
posted by diode at 7:11 PM on August 12, 2018

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