I’ve been on a quest to buy a Honda Beat from Japan and honestly, it’s been a ball of fun. My new-to-me Beat will come from one of the many auctions in Japan, and that means reading inspection reports and condition grades. There’s a lot to understand here, so let me show you the way.
If you’re bidding on third party sites like I am, you’ll likely notice that most cars are listed with a condition grade. You’ll commonly see cars graded with a number or with the letters R or RA, but what the heck does that mean?
Japanese auction houses have their own teams of inspectors who will look at a car top to bottom. When finished, these inspectors assign the car a condition grade depending on blemishes, faults, mileage and modifications.
It turns out Japan has a highly complex grading system of used cars. Car From Japan has a neat chart with the grades that the auction houses in Japan use:
Grade 6 or higher or “S”: Considered as brand new, less than 12 months of old, and/or with under 10,000km.
Grade 5: As good as new, with exceptionally low mileage.
Grade 4.5: Very slightly used, mileage of up to 100,000km.
Grade 4: Used with the slightest visible flaws.
Grade 3.5: Good condition with visible flaws.
Grade 3: Average condition with light damages.
Grade 2 or 1: Poor condition with significant damages, but the car is functional.
Grade R or RA: R stands for vehicles with repair history or major modification. RA is for minor accident cars that has been fully repaired.
R can also mean a vehicle is still damaged from a crash. So cars with an R condition grade are less desirable and should always be avoided, right?
Well, there are some caveats. Nowadays, cars that are graded R may not be as they seem. As JDM Auction Watch notes, many auctions have sort of changed the grading system while using the same letters:
This is still the case with some auction houses however to complicate things in recent years the auction grading system has changed slightly for many of the larger auction groups, now we see cars that may previously have been Graded 3/2/1/0/-1 simply being graded as ‘R’ which depending on the type of car you are looking for will mean that buying a Grade R, particularly if its older or heavily modified can often be the only option…, This sets alarm bells ringing as a lot of people will tell you to that the car you are looking at is essentially a write off and should immediately be taken to the nearest junk yard. – Sometimes they are right, but often to take this view can mean missing out on an exceptional car.
In short, cars that were once given a decent grade like 3 may now earn an R or RA simply because of modifications or damage repaired long ago. An R-Grade car isn’t necessarily bad. There are gems hiding between the wrecks.
So what if you just wanted to ignore cars with an R condition grade and avoid the hassle? Well, maybe not easily. From JDM Auction Watch:
Where possible we advise our customers to purchase Grade 3.5 or above vehicles. However given the nature of the majority of vehicles which we purchase (Mostly high performance JDM classics) telling our customers to avoid Grade R’s would be foolish and severely limit the amount of cars which a customer has to choose from;
To give an example, of a total of 84 AE86 Toyota Corolla Levins which have come up for sale in the past 3 months 72 of these cars were Grade R or RA and it is a similar story with most other performance models, Lets take another example – Toyota Chaser JZX100’s out of 465 MT models which have gone through in the past 3 months 182 were Grade R or RA – To say that all of these cars were accident damaged and should be disregarded would be completely wrong. Many were graded as R due to heavy modifications or because of very minor damage at some stage in the vehicles history... However you will also of course have the cars which have been heavily damaged, badly repaired and should be avoided at all costs.
But how do you avoid a beater when you’re looking for something in better condition? Read the auction inspection report. This will usually be included with the set of pictures of the car you’re looking at.
You’ll also likely see exterior and interior grading on the report. Here’s what those mean, via Car From Japan:
A – New vehicle’s condition.
B – Car is in good condition, the interior looks nice and tidy.
C – Small food’s stains or cigarette’s holes could be found inside the car.
D – Inner vehicle consists of cigarette’s mark, stains, tears or smell.
E – Interior of the car is in bad condition. Grade E means all mentioned above and even worse.
A – A pristine exterior condition.
B – Some small scratches up to 15cm could be found.
C – Scratches up to 30 cm or dents could be seen.
D – Visible scratches, rust or corrosion are detected.
E – The car is in bad shape. Rust, corrosion and exterior breakdowns are plenty.
The inspection report you can see with the car’s pictures will generally include a graphic of a car with markings from the inspector. This is there to note damage from rust to a cracked window. These have a handy breakdown, as well. Here’s an R-Grade Honda Beat:
A1 Small scratch
A3 Big scratch
B Dent with scratch
E1 Few Dimples
E2 Several Dimples
E3 Many Dimples
U1 Small dent
U3 Big dent
W1 Hardly detectable repair mark/wave
W2 Repair mark/wave
W3 Visible repair mark/wave
S2 Heavy Rust
X Must be replaced
B1 Distorted radiator back panel or core support
B2 Highly distorted radiator back panel or core support
Y1 Small crack or hole
Y2 Crack or hole
Y3 Big crack or hole
X1 Small windshield crack
R Repaired windshield crack
RX Repaired windshield crack (must be replaced)
X Windshield crack (must be replaced)
G Stone chip in glass
C2 Heavy corrosion
P Marked paint
H Faded paint
For the example Beat above, it has problems like some small scratches on its doors and some dents and scratches on its bumpers. It was graded C for interior and exterior.
But it gets even more complex the further you dig. If you want to know more than just where there’s a scratch (and can’t read Japanese) then you need a translated auction inspection report.
I purchased a translated inspection for a Grade-RA Beat from the Import Guys just to see what it looks like:
Finally, the inspector will write down comments in the report about the car. These comments go into extreme detail and will include everything from knocking from ball joints to if the stereo works.
These inspections are pretty comprehensive, but sometimes the inspectors miss problems and you can occasionally run into translation errors. Thankfully, many importers and auction sites offer third party independent inspections that can fact check or dig deeper on the auction inspection. And sometimes, you can get multiple inspections and still end up with a car that is not quite as described. So be prepared to make repairs, anyway.
If a car doesn’t meet your desires, don’t worry, the auctions are fast-paced and it shouldn’t take long for another example to roll onto the auction block. In my case, Honda Beats roll across the auction blocks daily.
And that’s how you figure out car condition in Japanese car auctions. If you’re looking to bring a new toy home, have fun bidding and let us know what sweet car you’re bidding on.