Shopping Online For A Car That's In Japan Will Make Your Head Spin

Illustration for article titled Shopping Online For A Car That's In Japan Will Make Your Head Spin
Photo: Goonet Exchange (Other)

I’ve launched a fun quest to import a Honda Beat from Japan — and do it entirely on my own. Each week I’ll update you on how things are going and what snags I’ve run into. Today I’m exploring different ways to buy a car online — to be precise, a car that’s still in Japan.

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Oh my, it’s a journey.

I started my search on sites like TCV, Be Forward and JapaneseCarTrade.

Illustration for article titled Shopping Online For A Car That's In Japan Will Make Your Head Spin
Screenshot: TCV (Other)

These are sites that host cars for sale by various exporters. Buying from one of these sites can cut out the hassle of finding an exporter. You inquire about the car, negotiate, pay up and arrange shipping all through one site. However, there are a few red flags that wave when buying from sites like these.

Some of the cars can be sketchy. Check out this Beat I found on multiple sites. Accompanying the car is a set of low-res photos.

Illustration for article titled Shopping Online For A Car That's In Japan Will Make Your Head Spin
Screenshot: TCV (Other)

I can see the red paint is faded in places. The car also wears two different styles of wheels. And depending on the site you visit, additional pictures show a rusty underbody. I drilled even deeper and found that while the exterior panels are red, the inner unibody structure is yellow.

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Screenshot: TCV (Other)

This car must have some interesting history, yet none of the sites mention it.

It’s always possible to ask a seller about a car’s condition. However, as I’ve learned in conversations with some sellers, they may not know the car’s history. Trying to arrange an inspection has its own challenges because the seller may not even be in the same country as the vehicle. These sites work a bit like a consignment shop, in that the selling party isn’t the actual owner. The best exporters have independent inspections done and can prove that the car is sound.

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If all of that fails, I could potentially have the car inspected before shipment and get a Japan Export Vehicle Inspection Certificate. According to JapaneseCarTrade, the JEVIC should provide, among other things, information about rust, crash damage or missing parts. If the vehicle doesn’t live up to the seller’s representation, I could demand a refund. As you can imagine, that just makes things more complex.

Some sites also work on a slow first-come, first-serve system. If someone inquires about certain car before I do, I would have to wait until that person bails out before I can move ahead in trying to buy it. I wasted a whole week waiting for someone to buy or bail on a particular Beat. Sadly, the sale to that person went through.

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Alright, what about other places? Goonet Exchange is a decent choice. JDM car fans likely know this alternative.

Illustration for article titled Shopping Online For A Car That's In Japan Will Make Your Head Spin
Photo: Goonet (Other)
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Goonet is like a pumped-up version of Craigslist. A ton of the ads on Goonet come with several decent pictures, and many of the vehicles have already undergone an independent inspection. Goonet is a safer bet, even if it is a little more expensive. However, even Goonet has some oddballs.

One of the Beats on Goonet was listed for about $4,000 and presented in great shape. I mean, check out the interior here!

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Illustration for article titled Shopping Online For A Car That's In Japan Will Make Your Head Spin
Photo: Goonet (Other)

It seemed like a killer deal, so I messaged the dealership through Goonet. For whatever reason, the dealership demanded $1,000 more than its listed price, before shipping and other fees. I found that baffling. Goonet’s representative also informed me that the car experienced an odometer rollback. Pass.

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Another route I’m looking at for buying my Honda Beat is an online auction. Online auctions in Japan are absolutely fun — fast-paced, variety is huge, prices are low.

Based on the recommendation of many readers, I contacted the crew at the Import Guys in Ferndale, Washington. This resource has been an awesome help in guiding me through the auctions. The importer’s website actually pulls in auctions from all over Japan. I can place a bid through the Import Guys, and if I win it will work with me to get the car to the U.S., through Customs and into my garage. It makes auctions less stressful, and I’m told that I’ll get the true wholesale price. I can see why readers love them.

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If you look at third-party auction sites, you may find that auctions from USS Auto Auction will have a hilariously blurry picture of the vehicle:

Illustration for article titled Shopping Online For A Car That's In Japan Will Make Your Head Spin
Screenshot: The Import Guys
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The Import Guys tell me this was a decision on part of USS Auto Auction itself. USS has high-res photos but take them away from the third-party sites. I noticed the same issue on every third-party site. Thankfully, through a dealer log-in they can pull good pictures.

Dealing with Japanese auctions also means you need to learn about condition grades.

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Illustration for article titled Shopping Online For A Car That's In Japan Will Make Your Head Spin
Screenshot: The Import Guys

When auctions perform inspections, the cars are assigned a grade ranging from an S or a 6 down to RA or R. It’s somewhat confusing, and a little scary, so it’s a subject I’ll be covering in a separate post.

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It’s impressive how anal the inspectors are, noting absolutely everything wrong.

Armed with that knowledge, I tried placing a bid on this 3.5-Grade Beat with some clearcoat loss on its hood.

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Illustration for article titled Shopping Online For A Car That's In Japan Will Make Your Head Spin
Screenshot: The Import Guys

It came with a detailed inspection sheet that gave it a clean bill of health. Unfortunately for me, this Beat was removed from the auction, breaking my heart. I have since lost two more auctions on stock Beats. But that’s no big deal, as Beats roll through auctions daily.

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I’ll continue looking for a 3.0-Grade car or an R/RA-Grade car in decent condition. I don’t mind some wear, but I want it to be pretty minor.

So, if you’re shopping for a car in Japan, you have plenty of options. But not all of them are good and if you think too hard, you’ll get a headache.

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As of now I have some picks for Beats from auctions and different sellers on Goonet. I may also be employing some eyes on the ground in Japan to see what they can find. My timeline? I’m expecting to buy a Beat and start the process to getting it home before this month is out.

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

DISCUSSION

Mercedes I know you are doing this the hard way because you want the challenge, and good on you for it. But I really hope this doesn’t bite you in the ass. I hope you enjoy the struggle and hassle of importing and I really hope you enjoy the little thing when you get it.

But you need your own pole barn for your cars. please don’t have a series of articles like Davids about having to get rid of your collection of cars no one else wanted.