It’s 2019. Is THIS the year you import your piece of JDM Magic?

Stateside, you can now bring in a 1994 (2004 in Canada). Still not quite ready? Well, why don’t you import vicariously through me first? Get a feel for it? Plus, it’s cheaper this way.

So, picture this: It’s the day before pick-up day.

Your new truck has arrived at your importer’s shop. The “i’s” are dotted. The “T’s” are crossed. You have insurance, a valid plate and registration (sort of like the US version of a title). Your new import has passed its rigorous “Out of Province Inspection” with no deficiencies. Now you have to wait just a little longer. But what do you really know about this vehicle that you’ve spent (my!) time and money to import from Japan?

As it turns out, quite a bit. It all started with an inspector’s report from the auction, along with a mechanical fitness report from an overseas contact who physically looked it over minutes before bidding started. Now I can add maintenance records from the time it was new (these came a few days ago, along with an owner’s manual and spare key). This doesn’t always happen, but when it does it just improves your peace of mind that you’ve pulled the trigger on the right one. Because I used an importer, I also have a total of 92 pictures, from every possible angle, underneath, interior, underhood, showing every fault. Finally, I have a brand new, local inspection which has gone through every single system on the vehicle.

So what’s the problem? Why doesn’t everybody import?

Okay, other than RHD? Well, what I couldn’t do was walk around the vehicle. I haven’t driven it. Some people can’t get past this stumbling block, and I can understand why. All the pics in the world aren’t a substitute for the real thing. What is required here is trust, experience, and a bit of luck. I’ve known more than one person who has imported a vehicle only to end up with something that you wouldn’t buy off a greasy used car lot, let alone have it shipped thousands of kilometers.

Trust the system.

For the most part, the Japanese auction system is in place to protect the consumer, and reduce risk. This enables them to sell more vehicles, since they have credibility. Honour is a tradition in Japan, and this is a big part of the export trade. Auction inspectors have strict guidelines, consistent across all the major houses, and they have a vested interest in reporting all faults. This is not to say there aren’t bad inspectors, or shady business practices, but if you are smart, you can buy something special in Japan that is worth the extra money to get it all the way to your driveway.
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Use an Importer.

I cannot stress this enough. The money it costs you will be made up tenfold when you get exactly what you’re looking for, instead of a misrepresented rusty pile of scrap. Your importer should have contacts on the ground at auction and folks who can quickly translate auction sheets for you. I’ve gotten pictures and info at literally the last minute before an auction that have completely changed my mind about purchasing a vehicle. Your importer should also have deep insight into the industry: where not to buy from, what auction houses have the highest standards, etc. All this is before they navigate getting it to the port, having it booked on a car hauler ship, passing a soil inspection test, getting through customs, etc. etc. The fee charged by a good importer is well-earned, and well worth it, in my experience.

Know your prey. 

So you’ve decided to contract the services of an importer. They probably handle hundreds of cars, from all the manufacturers. Its to your advantage to be the expert. Learn everything you can about the vehicle you’re after. Find out what the weak spots are. Study the previous months auction sales statistics. All this stuff is available online, and your importer should give you access. Study the trends, and get a feel for what you’re going to have to pay to get what you want. Then pay a little more. Pay now or pay later is never more appropriate then when you’re buying from the JDM.

So what can you expect, come pickup time? 

We’ve done our homework, used a fabulous importer, and tried to reduce our risk. We’re expecting to find some little things nobody else noticed, but we’re also confident that our new rig is going to provide us with many years of driving pleasure, because we took the time to pick a cherry. All we have left to do now… is wait.

(JDM Connection is my importer of choice. There are other good ones out there too, but do your homework!)

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  1. Phil, do you have any experience importing car parts from the JDM? I’m interested in putting together a long-term plan to import a 3.2L Diesel engine for my ’03 Montero come the eventual day that the current engine expires.

    • All the parts I’ve bought were brand new, since I tend to buy things in really good shape, and then do maintenance. If you’re importing a 3.2 DiD, I’d suggest getting as much of the vehicle as you can, maybe a wrecked one, in a container, so you have all the little things that will nickel and dime you into oblivion. Beforeward Japan sometimes has bigger pieces that might be affordable? I’d tell you to look north of the border for one, but I only know of three in Canada (I’m sure there are others) and two of them are mine. So not even a little common. Not likely to ever find a wrecked one.

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