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 auction agent sites like I do, 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?
(Update: February 7, 2022: It’s been over a year since I embarked on a journey to import two cars from Japan and I’ve learned a lot. I learned that you can import a car yourself and the 25-year import rule isn’t as clear-cut as some would have you think. Unfortunately, I’ve also learned that auction grading also doesn’t work how many sites say it does.
So let’s dive back into this with updates on how this really works.)
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Japanese auction houses have their own teams of inspectors who look at a car top to bottom. When finished, these inspectors assign the car a condition grade depending on age, mileage, blemishes, faults, accident history and modifications.
This is a decent start to figuring out what’s a good car and what’s not.
When I originally wrote this, I sourced third party auction agent sites. These agents give everyday people across the world access to auctions. However, the people running these sites are often not even in Japan. All they’re doing is submitting bids for you. They cannot for sure tell you whether a car is in good shape or not.
Importers on the ground in Japan have reached out and told me that the information provided on sites like Car From Japan and JDM Auction Watch are at best misleading buyers in what grades mean. So, to cut through the confusion, here’s what to look for on an auction sheet.
Here is the USS Auction rulebook, which is the actual rating system used to grade cars. The ratio between mileage and age has a huge impact, but there are some condition notes as well.
If you can’t translate that, Elite Auto Export Japan has definitions roughly translated from the rulebook:
S – The car is less than 12 months old from the first registration date and under 10,000km. As good as new. The exterior and interior are in immaculate condition.
6 - The car is less than 36 months old from the first registration date and under 30,000km. Basically a very late model and new car.
5 – The car is under 50,000km. The exterior may have some very minor scratches/scrapes and dents. A very difficult grade to obtain, the unit will be in near perfect condition with very minor imperfections.
4.5 – The car is under 100,000km. Again, a very high grade that you can be confident in. The car may have some very slight imperfections in the body work, but will not need major repair. Grade 6,5 and 4.5 are the top grades you could expect for a used car, and as such attract the top prices in the top 10%.
4– The car is under 150,000km. The exterior may have some scratches/scrapes and dents. The car is in above average condition. No Crash history. The interior may have some tears, cigarette burn marks, and/or stains. They will require some minor repair. The auction sheet will tell us in more detail.
Generally a 4 grade car is a good target and the most popular for export. Price range will be in the top 30%.
3.5 – The exterior has some noticeable large scratches/scrapes and/or large dents. They may require some minor panel beating work and/or painting.
The interior may have many tears, cigarette burn marks, and/or stains. They will require repairs. Auction sheet will explain in more detail. The car is in average condition taking in to consideration the year and ks on the car.
3 – The exterior has many noticeable large scratches/scrapes, paint blemishes, and/or large dents. They will require major panel beating work and/or painting.
The interior has many tears, cigarette burn marks, and/or stains. They will require many repairs and/or interior parts will need to be replaced.
2 – The car is in very poor condition and often denotes the presence of corrosion holes – PASS!
1 - The car which has one or more of the following:
1. An aftermarket turbo
2. An automatic transmission converted to manual transmission
3. Flood damage
4. Fire extinguisher damage
RA – The car which has had accident damage which can be ranked MINOR, and has been repaired.
R – The car has had accident damage and has been repaired. The auction definition “A car which has had accident damage” is a car that has accident damage to the following area(s) which parts were repaired or replaced : 1. Lower Tie Bar or Frame 2. Windshield Pillar (A Pillar) 3. Center Pillar (B Pillar) 4. Rear Pillar (C Pillar) 5. Strut Housing 6. Roof Panel 7. Trunk flooring Panel 8. Floor Pan. These cars can be good buying, and the repair work can be of top standard. Thorough inspection at auction and the car can be purchased if the repair is good. Repair may be invisible…or could be bad! We will be onsite to check and give you our opinion.
*** / 0 /無効/ Blank Grade – Any of these marks indicates one or more of the following: 1. The vehicle has not been inspected by the auction house 2. The vehicle has been in a major accident 3. The vehicle is not running 4. No claim.
# / $ / * – Mileage not confirmed. If any of these symbols shows beside the listed mileage, then the auction house is not confirming the vehicle’s mileage. This could be due to an odometer swap, 5 digit odometer or simply because it is very old. Many vehicles with unconfirmed mileage have accurate clocks, it is just an auction formality.
Also check out this explainer by AmaMotor, one of the auction experts that was the inspiration for my import journey:
As mentioned before, auction agent sites can get misleading with the grades, saying that a car may earn an R grade just because it has modifications. However, the importers I’ve worked with and talked to say that this is simply not true. An R grade means that a vehicle has recorded accident history.
You’ll also likely see exterior and interior grading on the report. Here’s what those generally mean:
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 replaced panels. These usually 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. And the R grade means recorded accident history.
But it gets even more complex the further you dig. If you want to know more than just where there’s a scratch 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 detail and will include everything from knocking from ball joints to if the stereo works.
However, please keep in mind the limitations of these inspections. They do not drive the cars.
These inspections are pretty comprehensive, but sometimes the inspectors miss problems and it’s hard to tell how bad something is in print. Thankfully, many importers and exporters offer third party independent inspections that can dig deeper on the auction inspection. If you want the best shot at getting the best car, get an inspection. A pair of eyes on the car is always a good idea.
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 rolled 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.