In recent weeks I’ve fallen deeply in love with tiny Japanese cars. I recently made it a goal to buy a Honda Beat and am kick-starting the process now. Against solid advice saying it’s a bad idea, my partner and I will import a Honda Beat ourselves. This is car importation on hard mode, but we have some tricks up our sleeves.
I chose a Honda Beat for a few reasons. Unlike its contemporaries, you can still get one cheap and, as we’ve said before, it’s an incredible car. Plus, I absolutely adore its cutesy looks.
Between the two of us, we have incredible resources. Filling out legal documents and dealing with pesky government bureaucracy is part of what my partner does for a living. She has access to a global network of people as well. We even have a horribly expensive translator service just for situations like this. Yet despite our combined skills, this won’t be easy.
Why is importing a car yourself the hard — and potentially stupid — way? Well, I should explain a few different ways you can bring a 25-year-old or older car to America.
The easiest way to buy a Japanese domestic model that wasn’t officially sold in the U.S. is to buy one already here in the States. Dealerships like Duncan Imports have a number of cars to choose from. They do all the hard work of getting the cars here and making sure they’re legal. All you do is fork over the cash and take home your car.
The second way to do this would be to work with an importer. Our friends at Oppositelock recommend Amagasaki Motor. Good ones will have people in the car’s country of origin who can inspect it for you. This way, you end up with the exact car you want and have ample help getting it to your country and in your driveway.
The third and most onerous way to do it is handle the entire operation yourself. This method is cheapest if it’s done right, but there’s a lot of legwork. You will have to find the car yourself. Then you will have to figure out how to get it inspected. If it meets your standards, you will then have to arrange transportation to port and shipping across the ocean. Oh, and don’t think you’ll be done there. You’ll also have to handle any necessary forms in the originating country, a myriad of U.S Customs forms and additional paperwork for your home state.
We stopped counting at 23 Customs forms. My partner projects several hours of paperwork, more if any get rejected. This is why Doug DeMuro said you have to get a Customs broker if you’re importing a car. (Doug worked with an importer and dealer to bring over his R32 GT-R back in 2015.) There’s an entire industry for this. As you can see, doing it yourself is wild enough, but it gets worse from there.
The used car market in Japan is a lot like buying a vehicle from Craigslist, as Hagerty noted. It’s largely unregulated, and there isn’t really an equivalent of a CarFax. There are plenty of stories on the internet of imports turning out to be junkers cobbled together just enough to look pretty. I can’t imagine how it feels to drag a car all the way to the U.S. only for it to suck. It’s imperative to get an inspection.
Using our connections and having a set of eyes to help us with the Beat we choose in Japan shouldn’t be too hard. Language barriers are a non-issue, too. Originally, I wanted to work with an importer to save the headaches and risk. However, we crave this challenge: We’re going against the grain and doing this ourselves.
Will it end in pain, or will we be successful? You’ll find out as I weave through this adventure.