For the past few weeks I’ve been on a quest to import a Honda Beat from Japan. There are some unique challenges to this like finding a car in the first place and learning how to read auction sheets. Before we even get that first car, my partner and I are already doubling down. We’re now going to import a tiny van, too. Why? Because you can buy one for as little as $30.
When I first found myself wanting a tiny JDM car to import, I actually had a few in mind. The Honda Beat sat at the top of the list, however I also had a long list of wants like the Nissan Figaro and a slew of kei-class vans. But importing a Honda Beat is already going to be the most expensive used car purchase ever for me, so there was no way I could swing a second car, right? Right??
Just for giggles I checked out auctions for Kei-class vans and was immediately blown away by how insanely cheap you can buy an old van for. Whatever number you have in your head, these vans are cheaper than that. And these aren’t junkers, either, but vans that are in daily driver or better condition. Don’t believe me, check out this Suzuki Every:
This condition grade 3.5 van has little wear to speak of and yet it will likely sell at auction for well below $500. In fact, current auction statistics say Suzuki Every vans of this grade and mileage average out to be $170. No, I didn’t drop a zero at the end. That’s a running, driving van for less than the price of a rusted-out roller project car.
The Every isn’t alone. Popular 1990s kei vans command average auction prices that seem absurdly cheap. Check out this grade 3 Honda Acty Street Van that sold in an auction for $30.
That can’t be right. Why are so many tiny vans and trucks so dirt cheap? I even saw a slightly rusty Suzuki Carry sell for a whole $20. People want $7,000 or more for these wildly cheap vans in America. I just don’t understand.
I reached out to my contact over at the Import Guys to see if these auctions are legitimate. Maybe these cars were hiding some evil gremlin? They confirmed that you can in fact buy a running and driving van for a little more than the price of a few cups of coffee. It appears these older vans are incredibly undesirable in Japan. Locals can buy vastly more modern ones, so these have value only to farmers and people living in the United States.
Because of this revelation, my partner and I decided to change plans a bit. Now we’re importing two cars. While one car will be imported through the original DIY method, the other car will be through an importer. Before you start scratching your head, there is reason for it.
Since starting this quest, I’ve heard from a number of readers telling me that there wasn’t a point to handling the import process ourselves. An importer will make the process so painless that we’ll wonder why we even considered doing it ourselves. Many even pointed me to Duncan Imports and advised against doing importation of any kind. After all, by going to Duncan I wouldn’t be buying sight-unseen.
We’re not doing the DIY method because of cost or because of ease — because it’s not that easy — but rather to answer the question of whether regular people like us even have a chance at doing it ourselves. It’s a silly challenge we’re excited to do. We hope to answer questions for others along the way.
I am curious about just how much peace of mind an importer buys. In the end we’ll determine if the challenge was as fun as we thought it would be, and if doing it yourself is worth the trouble.
Because they’ve been so helpful in this effort, I decided to use the Import Guys to handle the importation of one of the cars. The importer usually charges a flat rate of $1,100 on top of actual vehicle cost, and it’s a mostly hands-off operation. I choose the car and they get it to America. The original do-it-ourselves plan will still apply to the other car. We’re just waiting for the right ones to roll by our screens!
Of course, even if we bought a van at $30 it still needs to be shipped, go through Customs and all of that fun stuff. So the total price for the van will be closer to $2,000 or a little more. But that’s still pretty amazing.
As of now my top picks are a Suzuki Every, Honda Acty Van and Subaru Sambar like the one above. However, I am open to other vans of the kei-class that I may not know about. The next post on this project will be when I reveal what vehicles I’ll pay good money for, so stick around!