How I Bought Two Cars In Japanese Auctions On The Cheap

Illustration for article titled How I Bought Two Cars In Japanese Auctions On The Cheap
Photo: USS Osaka Auction / HERO Auction

The moment you are waiting for is finally here! After many weeks of digging through Japan’s vast auction system I now own two Japanese kei cars. I purchased a Honda Beat and a Suzuki Every for around $3,200 before shipping and fees.

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I started this series in search of a Honda Beat. I added a van to the list after learning about how cheap kei vans are. In doing so, I decided to split my imports up into two separate processes: The first car would be brought here and processed by an importer, while the second would be mostly handled by myself and my fiancé. I chose auction sites because I felt that’s where I was going to get the best deal on what I wanted.

The purchase step of the adventure was easy and fun. Now I have bought both cars and it’s time to move to the next steps: getting the cars here and making them legal. Here’s a breakdown of how everything worked out.

1991 Honda Beat

Illustration for article titled How I Bought Two Cars In Japanese Auctions On The Cheap
Photo: HERO Auction

I chose the Honda Beat as the car to be handled by an importer. Many readers suggested the Import Guys for the task, so I reached out to its team. The purchasing process with the Import Guys was delightfully easy.

After signing up for the Import Guys’ auction service, I sent them a $1,000 deposit and got right to bidding. The company charges only about $1,100 on top of the actual cost of getting the car here. The Import Guys’ representative will ask you how much you want to spend in total on the car and try to make sure that’s exactly what you pay. I set my total cost at $4,700.

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That amount pays the vehicle at auction, auction fees, shipment to port and shipping to the U.S. It also covers the charges for the Import Guys to handle all of the documentation in Japan and here in the States. All I did was have fun playing around in the auction system until I found the car that I wanted. Once I found the car, I emailed the Import Guys and a rep set my bid. When I won, all I had to do is pay the invoice and wait for the car to arrive. The convenience of this method is absolutely amazing.

I chose this beautiful yellow RA condition-grade 1991 Honda Beat to be my new steed.

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Illustration for article titled How I Bought Two Cars In Japanese Auctions On The Cheap
Photo: HERO Auction

It needs some work in a few areas, but it’s in solid daily driver condition. I chose it because I had three weird requirements: The car had to be in a flashy color with its factory radio and factory steering wheel intact. Fog lights were a bonus but not necessary.

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This car has it all, plus some nice aftermarket wheels. Unfortunately, it does have some aftermarket seats that I don’t like and it needs a new convertible top window, but I can fix that.

Illustration for article titled How I Bought Two Cars In Japanese Auctions On The Cheap
Photo: HERO Auction
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Since it’s been marked as an RA grade, it was likely to go for a super low price, too. I won it for $1,910 at the HERO Auction.

The Import Guys told me that this car went slightly over budget to win the auction. However, the higher cost was low enough to discount the extra amount and still charge me what I wanted to pay. All in for shipping and fees, the cost was $4,700. I paid my invoice and now I wait for the car to arrive.

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1989 Suzuki Every Turbo RX

Illustration for article titled How I Bought Two Cars In Japanese Auctions On The Cheap
Photo: USS Osaka Auction
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When I started my search for vans I initially set a goal to pay no more than $500. For the van, we wanted to do everything ourselves. Unfortunately, we found it excruciatingly difficult to arrange things on the Japan side, even with our friend in Japan. If you don’t have the connections necessary to book trucking and shipping, it becomes more of a hassle than it’s worth. We found ourselves spinning our wheels and when we did get quotes, they didn’t seem to make sense. This was something you readers warned us about.

Thankfully, basically every buying platform in Japan offers cheap help on the Japan side. So I decided that I’ll let the company I work with handle everything in Japan and we’ll do the hardest part: Getting it into the States.

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For this process, I chose Japan Car Direct. Once again, this was a suggestion from you, dear readers. Japan Car Direct says it’s an export company for foreigners, built by foreigners. The idea is that since these people know how importation works in a country like the U.S., they know how to make the process painless.

Illustration for article titled How I Bought Two Cars In Japanese Auctions On The Cheap
Photo: Honda Sendai
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This company isn’t handling the entire process for me. Like the Import Guys, Japan Car Direct tells you what to expect. In my case, for about $600 they will handle a long list of things in Japan and get the van onto a boat. Then when it arrives in the U.S., their representatives can help with Customs.

However, this is where we’re going to do things ourselves and see how hard it will be. See how possible it is to cut a Customs broker out of the process.

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I paid the $500 deposit to Japan Car Direct then started my van quest in earnest. Unfortunately, I started losing auctions left and right, and it seemed as if I’d never win one. Thankfully prices began settling not long after I reported that van prices were sky high. I saw vans selling impossibly cheap once again.

I was set on buying a dirt cheap Honda Acty van until a sky blue Suzuki Every Turbo RX showed up in the auction houses.

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This is a van with a turbocharger, 4x4, manual transmission and a killer roof made of glass.

Illustration for article titled How I Bought Two Cars In Japanese Auctions On The Cheap
Photo: MIRIVE Saitama
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Unlike the Honda Acty vans, these Every Turbo vans have fuel injection instead of carburetors. I tossed out the idea of a little Acty van and made it my mission to bring an Every Turbo home. Unsurprisingly, a van this cool was bound to sell for good money and indeed, it sold at a price beyond my budget.

Then, this white one appeared.

Illustration for article titled How I Bought Two Cars In Japanese Auctions On The Cheap
Photo: USS Osaka Auction
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This 1989 Suzuki Every Turbo RX has specs similar to the last one, but it’s a little worse for wear. The R condition grade on this one indicates that it is crash-damaged, but the pictures and inspection didn’t indicate any serious damage. Everything else was an easy cosmetic fix.

Illustration for article titled How I Bought Two Cars In Japanese Auctions On The Cheap
Photo: USS Osaka Auction
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Japan Car Direct submitted a $2,000 bid for me and I won it for roughly $1,250 at the USS Osaka Auction.

Total cost to get this van here is $3,299. In theory, had I purchased one of the super cheap sub-$100 vans I’d be looking at closer to $2,000. But I’m a sucker for a turbo and a glass roof. I may have some more small fees to pay when it gets here.

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Together, I’m spending about $8,000 on these two cars. That’s not too bad, as a single kei car from a dealership will cost about the same.

Why is the final cost high compared to the price to buy at auctions? There are quite a few fees. Shipping alone is about $1,000, and getting the vehicle to port can run up to a few hundred dollars. There are also completely random fees that show up and must be paid, even if you do the importing yourself.

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So what happens now? My Honda Beat is soon to arrive in Washington. When it arrives, I can either drive out to pick it up or have it shipped. Once I pay the invoice for the Suzuki Every, it’ll be prepped for shipping. When it arrives in Baltimore, Maryland, we’ll start the process of getting it through the official clearances.

When all is said and done I’ll have a complete cost breakdown for you. Hold tight, the fun is just getting started!!

Staff Writer at Jalopnik and learning pilot. Loves all vehicles! Smart Fortwo (x4), Honda Beat, Suzuki Every, AmTran Bus, VW Jetta TDI (x2), Audi TT, Buell Lightning, Triumph Tiger, Genuine Stella...

DISCUSSION

alle01
Fix It Again Tony

Can you order parts from Japan and have them put inside the cars for free shipping?