I’m deep in an exhilarating Japanese car importation quest. Along with a Honda Beat I’m now trying to buy a ridiculously cheap kei van. There is only one problem: People are now spending an incredible amount of money on vans that used to sell for $200 or less.
When I started this journey, I quickly learned that Japan’s expansive auctions appear to be the place to get the absolute best deal. Forget Goonet and forget exporter sites because auction prices beat them all by a wide margin.
I’ll reveal the full details in an upcoming post, but the Honda Beat I recently won in an auction ended up being far cheaper than any Beat you could buy stateside, even after throwing in shipping and fees. I also discovered how absurdly cheap old vans sell for at auction. To quote myself from my previous entry:
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.
Sadly, I was off on my guess because that van actually sold for $780. Since I’ve written that previous post, average prices on Suzuki Every vans rose from $170 to $470, with that van being one of the most expensive 1996 model year Every vans sold in recent months.
Vans selling for far more than their average auction price is getting a little alarming to me. I see a van that should sell for a couple hundred dollars, throw in my bid, then lose because someone decided that their max bid should be somewhere in the low four figures.
Take this Honda Acty Street Racoon as an example.
Back in January I saw one of these sell for $240. It had lower mileage but was in otherwise the same condition. So I felt safe throwing a $500 max bid on it. How much did this one sell for? $1,700. Wait, what?
Even my contact in Japan was confused, but he chalked it up to the Japanese auction system working in mysterious ways.
I decided to lower my expectations and go for something that needed some work. I found a pair of beautiful Honda Acty Street vans with the double sunroof option.
The one above has very high mileage and the other below has bad rust damage. This thing has rust holes, presumably from sitting in a field. The paint is also peeling and one of the sliding doors do not open. Perfect, no way anyone would pay a lot for these, right?
Wrong again. The one with a Swiss-cheese floor sold for $1,400 while the high-mileage one sold for $1,200.
As an act of desperation, I decided to find the oldest and most damaged, but still interesting van that I could probably win. I set my eyes on a 1991 Suzuki Every Turbo Aero Tune. I love the aggressive body kit and the high roof that goes into a wing. This is a van that doesn’t take itself seriously. Plus it has rad 1980s style graphics.
But this one is branded with the worst possible grade: R.
The van crashed, resulting in slightly kinked a-pillars and lasting front end damage. The radio is missing. The seats are torn and collapsed. The underbody is rusting. Even the headliner is falling down. My contact in Japan thought that this was a real nightmare and that it should be a hard pass. I thought there was no way I could lose this auction.
It sold for $2,000.
I could not find average auction data for this one. That said, a similar van found on Goonet (typically far more expensive than an auction) is $3,300. At the auctions, an Every Turbo in better condition with better options sold for only $650. Either way, it blows my mind that people are buying trashed vans for way more than they should.
Between all of this madness, my contact at the Import Guys emailed me to say that after I posted about cheap vans they received well over a hundred emails and phone calls. Oops.
Thankfully, not every van out there is selling for ludicrous prices. Many still go for hilariously cheap. Perhaps, as my contact in Japan says, auctions really do work in mysterious ways. I just have to find the ones presumably the rest of you aren’t bidding on. If you’re outbidding me, cut it out! Let me have my van!
Updated 3/3/22 with new details.