A JDM Maintenance Cheat Sheet

Okay, you’ve just brought home your new JDM dream, and the clouds parted, and the lights of the heavens shone down and….WHOAH! Hold on there, Trigger. I know: you want to start getting some seat time. Okay, it has really low mileage, and it looks great! But just a minute now…

Most JDM vehicles I’ve taken the time to check history on have been sitting for the last few years. Yes, they’ve had their Shakken inspection done, but this is not the maintenance you’re looking for. This is inspecting vital components for roadworthiness.

I’ve gotten into a routine of maintenance after I’ve brought in a new rig, and thought it might be helpful to share. I’ll try to prioritize, based on need, but honestly, I wouldn’t go further than around the block before most of these things were done. Take all my advice with a drop of snake oil – I am NOT a professional. I don’t even play one on TV.

1.Priority: Check your coolant!

Could be straight water? Rusty, or freezing: neither option is good. Get some 50/50 in there, stat! Oh, yes. A new stat too. I always do this in tandem with a new rad cap, and new upper and lower hoses. With clamps! Check your heater hoses. This even supersedes an oil change, in my opinion. If you get minus temps, your cracked engine block is not gonna care if its oil is clean.

This is fear-mongering, but it’s for your own good.

2.Okay, NOW change the oil/filter.

While you’re at it, finish off the usual suspects: air filter, fuel filter (especially if its a diesel), and cabin air if equipped.  I always do all accessory belts too. If the old ones are still looking good, tuck ’em under the seat in case you need them later.

Now we are getting somewhere. But don’t go cross-country yet. We ain’t done.

3.Timing belt? Timing chain?

Find out, and then see what proof of maintenance you have. If you’ve got nothing, then ask yourself if you’re a gambler? Waiting for a timing belt to break is russian roulette every time you take it out for a drive. If you have a sticker on the timing cover for the last time the belt was done, do the date conversion (2018 is year 30 of the Heisei era – use this converter to figure out when yours was last done). But don’t leave it at that. If the interval seems reasonable, and the mileage hasn’t increased a huge amount, then pull a cover and do an inspection. If all is good, then put your belt maintenance on the back burner for now, but have it done in the not too distant future, if you want to continue enjoying your rig for years to come.

If you are lucky enough to have a chain, check the wear items, like chain guides. These can usually be done by simply pulling the valve cover, and are pretty inexpensive. I’d do the guides at any mileage, since they’re so cheap and “while you’re in there..”

The sky is falling yet again, right? I’m trying to instill fear, because it could save your ride.


All driveline including transmission fluids are suspect, and should be done at your earliest convenience. This includes brake fluid. Japan is a moist country, and brake fluid is hygroscopic. This means it’s thirsty, and will absorb moisture from the air. Can you say sticking calipers?

This list assumes you’ve done due diligence in having your initial inspection performed by a credible garage, and all safety items are in good order. I’d caution you to double check your tires. Even if they’ve passed inspection, check carefully for cracking between the tread. If your rig was sitting a long time, the tires may have 80% tread but be fit for recycling. Sitting is no good for the battery either, so I just assume it is junk, and ready for swapping. If it IS actually still able to pass a load test, then keep your new one in reserve for the first cold day. You’ll thank me later. 😉

Okay, NOW we can take this thing out and give it a blast!

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