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What It Takes To Import Your JDM Dream Car/Vehicle From Japan

General Requirements


Here is a quick breakdown on the steps you need to follow to avoid problems and get the best quality car for your money.
  1. Research what vehicle best suits your needs and tastes. Make sure you will be able to make it comply with Canadian standards (more on this later in the article).
  2. Vehicle must be at least 15 years old to the month according to date of manufacture/production.
  3. Find a reliable and honest local Import Company or a Export company from Japan.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the costs involved from beginningp to end (don't just look at the initial purchase price).
  5. Purchase your vehicle from your local Import Company or Export company from Japan.
  6. Have the car shipped (usually your Importer or Exporter can arrange this for you).
  7. Ensure your car meets Canadian standards and make modifications as necessary.
  8. Vehicle must pass the OOP (Out Of Province Vehicle Inspection).

What To Do Once You Get Your Car

You're probably wondering why this would be first, but it's important that you don't forget.
There have been some stories or cases of overzealous owners taking their cars back from the dock or shipping/destuffing yard and thrashing their cars to death.

Remember that whatever vehicle you just brought in has likely been sitting for a number of weeks at best.  Even before that you have no way of knowing when key things like the radiator, engine and transmission fluid have been replaced or if your importer used the inappropriate ones. 

For good reason you should take it very easy on your car to avoid unnecessary failures such as your engine.
Another note especially for high performance vehicles, is that you should be very familiar with how the car's ECU works and if it has been modified or replaced with an aftermarket part.

Some cars straight out of Japan with a stock ECU and no modifications are already setup and assuming you're running 100 Octane fuel.  Especially since the best fuel most of us have locally is 94 Octane this is a recipe for detonation and quick engine failure if you thrash your car.


Step 1. - Research The Car You Want

The above may sound like a simple process but it can be a difficult and stressful process if you've never done it before and depending if you handle the Import process yourself or have the company handle nearly everything for you.
There are many ways to import your dream car but you also need to be make sure you do your homework.

Every car no matter how reliable will have some problems whether small or big and every car has known problems so you should keep this in mind when deciding what car you want.

You should also familiarize yourself with the specifications. For example a car like the Nissan Skyline or Toyota Aristo have quite a reputation but many people who aren't familiar with these cars don't realize there are many different models.

The Skyline's come in different models and most don't have AWD (All Wheel Drive) except the GTR or GTS-4 models and some don't even come turbocharged. As for the Aristo there are 3 completely different models, and out of them only 1 is turbocharged and has the JDM MKIV Supra engine inside (2JZ-GTE). This should be a good enough example that you really need to know as much about the car interested in or you may be in for a surprise when it gets here.

Just as the mechanical specifications in different models of the same car vary, so will the problems. Another example is that the Toyota Aristo is known to be extremely reliable in the NA (Normally Aspirated-Non Turbo-charged version), whereas the Turbo version is known to have valve seal issues and Toyota has quoted us approximately $2400 for that job alone.

We hope the above examples have convinced you enough that you really need to do some digging and researching about the cars you buy. This will also allow you to pinpoint and hopefully avoid the most likely potential problems when looking at a car for sale in Japan or a JDM import.


Step 2. - Meet The Age Requirements (these vary depending on your country and some do not have any)


        For the requirements of other countries please visit our forums.

        Canadian Age Requirements
In Canada the current 15-Year law requires that any car being imported from Japan must be AT LEAST 15-Years old to the month before entering the country. There are no exceptions to this rule except for track use and perhaps car shows (don't think you'll get away with registering the car and driving it). You may have heard otherwise, but it's not possible to legally import a newer car from Japan and register it for normal road use.

Make sure your car is at least 15 years old to the month of manufacture before it enters Canadian waters.
If your car is even 1 month or 1 day away from being 15 years old customs will seize your car and export it back to Japan.
Don't count on being reimbursed either.

If your importer or exporter can't tell you the date of manufacture in writing then walk away from the car because the last thing you want is to have your car seized because it is ineligible for import.

Step 3. - Find A Good Importer or Exporter

Just to clarify for the purposes of this article:

Importer - A company local to you who brings in JDM cars from Japan.
Exporter - A Japanese company in Japan who exports JDM cars from Japan to your home country (they may or may not speak English although many are from the UK, Australia and New Zealand etc).

This is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks that even experienced enthusiasts still have today. It is common for people to go through several different importers or exporters.

Import Vs. Export
The first thing you need to do is decide what kind of risks you are willing to take and whether you want to go the Import or Export route.


Questions To Ask No Matter Which Route You Go

You should always be aware of the origin of the car you are looking into purchasing before anything else.

At the very least you should know the answers to the following questions:
  • What is the source of this car. Is it from an auction, dealership or private seller? (if they cannot or will not tell you with any certainty then walk away)
  • Are any service records available?
  • If the car is from an auction demand to see a copy of the original auction sheet. If they refuse to provide the auction sheet walk away (also be sure that whatever they do show you has not been doctored).
  • Has the car been in an accident? (the auction sheets usually reveal this information)
  • Can they provide the chassis/VIN number? (this will allow you to see if the car was auctioned with a different mileage previously and is a simple way to catch odometer rollbacks)?
  • Will they allow the car's odometer to be inspected by an independent organization for signs of tampering?
Before selecting a company to bring in your car you should understand all of their policies and be aware of what they will or will not to do for you especially in the event any discrepancies in the stated condition of the car.

Our position is that the safest source of a car is purchasing through the Japanese auctions such as USS (we do not recommend Yahoo). For more information about the Japanese JDM car auctions please click here.

Import

Going through a local importer can be advantageous in a few ways. First of all they are local to you and are probably
located in your neighborhood or at least in your country. You have more recourse should something go wrong.

With a local importer you may have the opportunity to bring a friend or mechanic to physically and personally inspect and maybe even test drive an already landed car. This is probably the safest route as it makes buying a JDM Import no more risky than any other used car. In fact one of the benefits is that in theory (if you found a reputable importer) that the car has extremely low mileage and will be in much better condition than any domestic car that is 15 years old, of course make sure your mechanic verifies this is actually the case. Also be sure to have any known problems for your particular car checked for.

If your local importer doesn't have anything in stock they likely have access to the huge network of Japanese auctions and maybe even dealerships and private sellers. Remember that in this case your Importer now essentially becomes your Exporter and you are exposed to similar risks listed under "Export".

If you go this route remember that as good as your importer is, you have less assurance about the quality of the car you are getting since you are depending on them to bring in a good car. Compared to a landed car they have in their stock already, you have no chance to physically inspect the car yourself and this is a less preferred but often necessary way of getting a hold of the car you really want.

Export

The first thing you should understand is that going the Export route is probably the most risky but perhaps most rewarding way of finding the car you want. In this case the company will be located in Japan and you will have less leverage or recourse against such a company if any issues or dispute may arise. Don't let this scare you too much, there are people who have gone this route with no problems at all but you have to carefully select your Exporter first.

The best news is that by going the Export route you will usually pay the lowest price to get your dream car and possibly save money versus buying locally from an Importer or private seller as long as you pick wisely and familiarize yourself with the process. The bad news is that if you are not careful you may end up with a lemon that will cost you far more since you cannot physically inspect the vehicle yourself prior to purchase. However, a good exporter will be able to have the car inspected prior to your purchase (this is only good if the export is honest and trustworthy).

You should also realize that your importer is doing exactly same thing and of course passing on the costs to you to make a profit. One thing to remember is that you should understand all of the costs involved as we'll discuss in Step 4.

Step 4. - Understand The Costs

Ask your importer or exporter what other fees might be incurred.
If the car is not already landed you can be sure shipping will not be free.

Usually most exporters (in Japan) will quote you the FOB rate. That means Free On Board, meaning that they will physically load the car but not ship it to your house for that price. You will need to pay them for shipping. Keep in mind that if you are not located in the Vancouver area and want the car shipped to your own ctiy, there would be an extra charge for that as well.
Remember that if you are shipping your own car, the cost to "destuff" or remove your car from the container will likely average $200-$500 alone.

Does the cost include full compliancing of your car so it will pass the OOP inspection (without this you'll never be able to register your car unless you are comfortable with doing your own compliance)?

If the price does not include compliance make sure you put aside enough money for headlights and replacement tires at the very least (more on this later).

Unless you have a very observant, honest and reliable Importer or Exporter, you should be prepared to set some money aside for repairs such as leaking or broken hoses, brake pads and other things. If you have a good Importer or Exporter they should have verified the most critical things such as your engine and transmission are in good working condition.

Are the brokerage fees associated with customs and clearing your car included or is this something extra (usually Importers include this)? Remember you may have to pay GST on the purchase price just to bring the car in (normally Importers include this).

Remember to never assume anything is included unless you are told so by your Importer or Exporter.

This should give you an overview of the kinds of costs associated with importing and getting your dream ride onto the road.


Step 5. - Purchase Your Dream JDM Car From Japan (or locally)

This should be the easiest part but make sure you've done your homework and that whatever car you are interested in meets your specifications and has been inspected by your Importer or Exporter.

Or in some cases it's a lot easier to shop if you're looking at cars already landed.
Places like the Buy & Sell, Craigslist and of course the websites of local importers are a great way to start.

Step 6. - Arrange For Shipping

If you purchased a car that is already landed then skip this step.

If not usually your Importer and Exporter can arrange this, remember to shop around with other Freight Forwarding Companies and Shippers to make sure you are getting the best rate.

Whoever you choose, you should make sure the company has dealt with used car shipments via container before.

RO/RO (Roll On / Roll Off) Car Carrier shipments are the preferred method as they are the most cost effective and generally safest way to ship your vehicle.  Enquire with your Exporter about the rate for your vehicle.

Usually the rate is charged per cubic metre and the average vehicle is usually 10-11 m3


Step 7. - Prepare the car for local inspection (some countries do not require this)


Please ask in our forums about the local requirements for your vehicle and let us know what country you are from.

              For Canadians
If your car is already landed and has previously passed the OOP then skip this step.

If not we'll go over the basic requirements. You should also be aware that many Provinces, especially BC are very strict about these guidelines and there is no chance of ignoring these requirements. Even the Province of Alberta and likely other Provinces are reinspecting cars to make sure they weren't previously passed without meeting the requirements.

We will give a general outline for most vehicles of what is required and what you will have to purchase.

  • DOT approved tires.
Most tires from Japan although perfectly fine and safe to use, are not legal for use in Canada because they lack the DOT markings and load ratings on the sidewalls. Because of this unfortunately even if you have a brand new set of tires, you will have to replace them with DOT approved tires purchased from your local tire dealer.
  • DOT approved headlights (most cars do not come with DOT headlights from Japan)
Hopefully you've done your research and you've already purchased the correct headlights for your vehicle. If it had a North American equivalent this should be fairly easy but some vehicles like the Nissan Skyline have no plug'n'play headlights easily available.

  • Daytime running lights (usually you can just buy a module from Canadian tire, be careful these modules usually aren't compatible with some manufacturers such as Subaru)
  • Sidemarkers: Front (must be amber) and Back (must be red) sidemarkers (if your tail lights aren't visible from the side, the rear side markers must also light up). They must also be DOT approved and permanently installed (drilled into the car not just stuck on)
  • All bulbs must be replaced with JIS approved bulbs.
As in any standard OOP they will also check your suspension, steering and other safety issues such as the defog, heaters etc...

You should check all of these things yourself prior to going through the inspection. Also be aware that many shops refuse to inspect RHD JDM cars due to a lack of understanding of the procedures required to inspect them.


Step 8. - Register Your Car

Hopefully Step 7 went well and you took your car for the OOP and it passed (if necessary).
The steps to insure your vehicle vary by country by you should always make sure you keep all Export and Shipping Documents with you when visiting your local government, insurance or motor vehicle office.

Enjoy, you've earned it. Make sure you maintain your car properly and drive safely.

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