There is a lot of hype and misinformation concerning how good or bad the Japanese Car Import Auctions are.
There are also several different types of auctions. The ones we will cover here will include the more popular and perhaps more respected ones such as USS auctions. We do not recommend Yahoo auctions unless you have a friend or exporter who can physically check the car and in this case you would also have to place your trust entirely in them to make sure the mileage and condition meets your specifications. Also remember that with Yahoo auctions you are dealing with a person and not a company usually.
The reason we recommend that you end up sourcing your cars from the Japanese auctions is because we feel they offer more reliable information and protection compared to private dealers, sellers and Yahoo auctions.
Also, be aware that at one point or another, even if your car was sourced from a dealer, it has probably been originally purchased from auction. A little known fact that dealers don't want people to know is that many cars are purchased from auction, fixed up like new and then sold for profit.
There are certainly pros and cons no matter how you decide to source your car.
One great thing about an auction car is that the auction inspectors are usually good about pointing out the most obvious problems including mileage that may be questionable and they are very specific about the kinds of accidents or repairs made to the car if any.
In fact the Japanese auctions are far more trustworthy in determining the accident history of a car compared to even Carfax or your local car dealership since many accidents may be unreported and some do not have to be declared if the value of the damage was not high enough.
If a car has a * (star) beside the mileage it means the auction house is saying the mileage is unverified or has been tampered with. It's usually a good idea to avoid a car like this.
One key indicator regarding the mileage is the interior condition. We've seen cars with supposedly low mileage that have worn seats and steering wheels. We don't see how this is possible even after 15 years if the car has such low mileage.
There are several different auctions besides USS in Japan and they all have slightly different ways of evaluating, inspecting and grading cars. For example it's commonly known that a car that receives a grade 4 from USS may receive a grade 3.5 from JU or CAA etc. This is all the more reason to ensure there is a thorough pre and post inspection of any car at auction you might be interested in.
You will probably hear this from other Import/Export companies that the inspectors at the auction houses "don't care if the car gets sold". It does raise the question of this, someone must care that the vehicle is sold and who might that be? The obvious answer is the auction house, so whether or not some auction house's are more or less honest or have incentive to misrepresent some issues with some cars is up to you decide. We've seen serious issues of rust and other mechanical and superficial issues left out of the auction sheets. Fortunately any good Importer or Exporter will be able to have the car immediately returned to the auction house at no penalty to you for misrepresenting the vehicle. This also assumes the company you deal with is honest as some companies may send you pictures that make your vehicle look as if it's in good condition but leave out pictures of the trunk being rusted out etc.
Don't let the things we just mentioned scare you too much, it doesn't always happen and some people have had no issues with any of their auction cars (although some have).
In the end we must say the Japanese Used Car auctions in general are an extremely reliable and trustworthy way of purchasing vehicles compared to buying locally in Canada or a North American car auction. Try taking a car back to a Canadian auction after they stated there were no mechanical problems and you find them.
Understanding The Auction Sheet Is The Key
Each car which goes through the auction is given a grade pertaining to the overall condition of the car.
Some sources say this only includes the cosmetic details and not the mechanical aspect which makes it hard to decide which car is actually in good or poor condition.Grades
Each car is given one of the following grades:
First we will discuss the exterior grades.
||Excellent condition. Obviously this is the best you can get
|| This is basically a new car in showroom condition.
We've never seen a 15-Year old car with this grade.
||Very good condition
|| This kind of car is a rarity for a 15-Year old car, assuming the car really deserved such a high grade.
We've seen cars bounce between different auction houses with some giving it a 4.0 and some a 4.5
|| This is usually the highest grade a 15-Year old car will get in the Japanese auctions.
||Average condition with noticeable but not severe repairs, scratches or dents.
|| This grade is a bit of a gray area. Some cars we've seen should have fallen in the grade 3 area, some should have received a grade 4.
Generally this is a good car but remember not to go by grade only.
In fact sometimes a car that would normally receive a Grade 4 receives grade 3.5 just for being over 100,000km
|| Average condition with conspicuous scratches, dents, repairs and maybe some faded/peeling paint or blemishes.
|| Unless you work at a bodyshop and are experienced in repainting and repairing panels you probably want to avoid any of the cars here.
Why go for a Grade 3 when you could have higher for the same price in most cases?
There are some exceptions and it appears some decent cars can be found here but we feel it is the exception rather than the rule.
||Repaired vehicle or high modified. A car which has had minor or major accident damage (we find most cars in this category have had major head on collisions) and has been repaired. The grade may appear differently at different auctions and sometimes the car may not have been repaired but is given this grade because it is highly modified.
|| If you see a car that says "A" for the grade it doesn't mean grade A goodness, it means accident.
We don't recommend these cars unless the car was physically inspected and is determined to be in good mechanical condition and that any modifications don't make it unsuitable or illegal for general road use.
Also make sure the repair was good, however there are often cars that look good on the outside that have poor or shoddy repairs.
Usually cars in this category tend to have more problems, just like you wouldn't want to buy a Canadian writeoff we don't advise you purchase one of these unless you verify the condition in and out.
||Like new, brand new showroom condition
||This is what you're looking for but it's a rare find in a 15-Year old car.
||This is easy to find and is still quite excellent and like new in our opinion.
||There is often nothing wrong with a C grade interior and we would still consider many C's like new or in excellent condition.
Note that there is often little difference in reality to a Grade B and C interior.
Sometimes a car will receive a lower grade simply for not being perfectly clean (sometimes we feel a speck of dust may change a Grade B to C according to the inspectors).
||Poor condition and most likely showing signs of wear and damage
||Stay away, even if the mileage is real it means the previous owners likely did not take good care of the car.
Or it could be a sign of odometer tampering.
In either case you need to take the Interior & Exterior grade seriously but don't assume a high grade such as 4 (out of a maximum of 5) means the car is in perfect condition.
To have a better idea of the true condition you need to have the auction sheet notes translated from Japanese to English (or whatever your native language is). Never depend on the grade alone.
Even a grade 3.5 or grade 4 car may have had multiple panels repaired but our assumption is that the repair was done like new, thus differentiating them form a Grade RA car, however it's still best to find a car without serious panel repairs or replacement.
When it comes to interior grades and condition we've seen cars with 48-80K on the odometer with a Grade B where the auction sheet states "Steering wheel worn" or "Seats worn". This to us means the car was treated roughly or that the odometer was rolled. We feel such a car shouldn't get a grade B and should receive an automatic D.
Understanding the body/car diagram markings.
Most seasoned importers have probably memorized what all of these mean after pouring through hundreds of auction sheets to find the car they want.
Extent Of Damage
||Usually this is not an issue unless the car has a very large number of scratches and if some are more severe.
||Dents are fairly normal but make sure there aren't too many and that they are not too big.
Most dents can be self-repaired
||This can be a sign of accident damage but usually it's just a dent and scratch. It's hard to say for sure what it was a result of.
||This is also something we do not favor. A Wave means the panel is not perfectly smooth or even, in most cases this means the panel has been repaired due to an accident.
||Self-explanatory, most cars from Japan don't have rust so we would stay away from this one unless you have a way to verify how much rust there is and how bad it really is
||Usually this indicates a replaced panel due to an accident.
||Needs to be replaced
||Chip or crack in windshield
||Sometimes the auction sheet marking is not marked as G but you will see some Japanese writing on the windshield part of the diagram. If you see any writing on the windshield diagram it usually means a chipped or cracked windshield.
Usually to pass compliance you would have to replace the windshield as far as we know and this can be difficult and expensive to do especially if your car has no North American equivalent.
||A tiny dent, usually not a big deal unless there are a lot of them.
||We tend to see this on lowered cars with body kits. Typically the front lip gets cracked due to a speed bump or going too far and hitting the curb when parking etc.
Each kind of damage shown on the car is usually given a severity rating as shown below:
1 - Minor
2 - Small
3 - Noticeable
4 - Major
We hope that gives you a good starting point to understanding exactly what all those lines, squiggles and marks on the auction sheet mean. As long as you keep these points in mind and bid carefully and understand the auction sheet fully you should be just fine.