Importing rare and exotic Japanese cars is an exciting hobby for many automotive enthusiasts. Who wouldn’t want to own a right-hand drive Nissan Skyline GT-R, Toyota Supra, or Mazda Cosmo Sport? While there are legitimate ways to import these rare vehicles to the US, dealers and importers wouldn’t necessarily want the average consumer to know the tricks of the trade.
After years of experience in importing unique Japanese classics, we’ve learned a few insider tips that can make the process smoother, and cheaper and help avoid getting ripped off. Here are 5 secret tips for importing rare Japanese cars that dealers don’t want you to know:
Go Through a Private Seller Instead of a Dealer
Importing through a dealer often means paying significant markups and inflated costs. Dealers act as middlemen and have to make a profit, so they will understandably charge you more than what they paid for the car.
Cut out the middleman by buying directly from a private seller, either locally when you are in Japan or through an online auction site. You will get a better price and the seller has more incentive to provide documentation, service records, and a transparent history. Dealers often hide problems or details to make a sale.
Look for Cars in Rural Areas Away from Major Cities
Rare and unique sports cars are often snatched up quickly in Tokyo or Osaka. Competition is fierce and prices are higher in urban areas. Searching in rural prefectures can uncover hidden gems that may need a little work but often have lower mileage and lower cost.
Cars tend to be driven less frequently and stored more often in small towns. The lack of demand equates to better-negotiated prices. You can find great deals on tucked-away cars that just need minor servicing and reconditioning.
Research Thoroughly and Know Import Regulations
Do your homework when it comes to import regulations. Know the required forms, any modifications needed to make the car U.S. road legal, and emissions and safety requirements. The last thing you want is to pay for a car to be shipped here only to incur hefty compliance fees or have it turned away completely.
Thorough research will also help you spot shady dealers who try to bypass rules and sell non-compliant cars. Stick to reputable sellers and you’ll avoid legal issues and extra costs down the road. Remember- knowledge is power when importing unique vehicles.
Hire a Trusted Inspector for Pre-Purchase Inspections
It’s key to have a mechanical inspection done before finalizing a purchase. With rare classics, chassis and engine numbers should be confirmed to match import documentation and avoid fraud. Hire a trusted inspector fluent in both languages to thoroughly review the car.
Vintage Japanese cars often have issues not disclosed upfront.
Don’t rely on the seller’s promises and descriptions or photos provided alone. Paying a few hundred dollars for an inspection is insurance against getting stuck with lemon once it arrives stateside.
Get Picky to Negotiate the Price Lower
Cosmetically imperfect cars can make negotiation easier. Be picky and use minor flaws to politely ask for a lower price from private sellers. Faded paint, interior wear, minor dings, and more can help motivate a seller to reduce the asking price.
Most private owners in rural areas need to sell and don’t have the means to recondition cars before selling. Use this to get a better deal but avoid cars with mechanical or structural issues, then fix minor cosmetic issues yourself after importing it.
Know Your Way Around the Import Process
Importing a vehicle can be complex, but is manageable if you do your research. First, find the right car in the Japanese domestic market and negotiate the best deal possible. Arrange for the car to be delivered via RoRo (roll-on roll-off) transport to an arrival port in your country. Use a reliable broker to handle import paperwork and clearance to avoid any hidden fees or hang-ups.
Once the JDM car has arrived, register it with your local DMV and make any modifications required to be street-legal. Address any emissions, safety, or compliance issues early on to get your imported car on the road faster. While importing takes time and effort, soon you’ll be cruising in your rare Japanese classic!
The thrill of owning a rare Japanese classic or “forbidden sports car” is worth the effort to import it properly. By following insider tips like sourcing privately, researching thoroughly, and negotiating tougher, you can get your dream car home for less. Take things slow and protect yourself to avoid sky-high dealer markups and compliance nightmares.
With a perfect combination of quirky style, performance pedigree, and innovative engineering, coveted Japanese classics are worth pursuing. Just make sure to use the secrets dealers and importers don’t want you to know!
What rare Japanese gem will you target next?