Friday, June 22, 2012

Buying a car in Okinawa

This topic came from a viewer who was watching a video that I had posted about buying a car in Okinawa and they asked what are some good places to buy a car from and what kind of headache is it to bring a car back? This is another fantastic question. Now I had asked this particular person what ind of car they were interested in and did not get a response back so I am going to go over a number of different car purchasing situations and hopefully one will be what you needing to get your question answered. So basically there are a few different ways to go about purchasing a car here in Okinawa. There are Military dealers who you can purchase from whether or not you are military but they usually have prices in dollars and have all English speaking staff which makes life easier. These dealers are also right outside the bases for super duper easy access. There are then the regular Japanese dealers and finally private parities. What kind of car you are looking for will determine what kind of place you will want to go in order to make the purchase.

If you are looking for a KCar then your best bet is going to be shopping at a regular Japanese dealer. There are hundreds of used car dealers here in Okinawa which will have a variety of used cars. It is important to remember, however, that here in Japan used cars are usually on the new side. What I mean is that if you are looking at a Japanese used car dealer you can expect to see (in the year 2012) cars that are 2010 and 2011 on the lot. You might find something older but the odds are you are going to find something only a few years old. From what we have noticed there is also a bit of pattern that occurs with the prices also. A 2010 will cost you approximately 1,000,000yen; a 2011 will cost approximately 1,100,000yen and so on. It is also important to remember that the prices at some of the Japanese used car dealers do not come with the mandatory inspections in the price so you will need to take that into consideration when purchasing also. There are some perks to purchasing from a Japanese used car dealer and one of those perks is that the car you purchase is going to be in new condition. The odds are this car has only had one or two owners before and you are going to get it as if you just pulled out of the manufacturer's parking lot. Of course the downside is the price. With today's yen rate these cars can be expensive but it is up to you to determine whether you think it is worth it or not.

If a non-turbo'ed standard car (sedan, mini van, wagon. . . . ) is what you are looking for then one of the Military dealers may be the place for you. Of course it always depends on what you are looking for and it is important to have a clear understanding of what you are looking for before you start to head over to the Military dealer. The pros of a military used car dealer is that the prices are significantly lower than the Japanese used car dealers and the cars come with the price of the inspections included. Unfortunately there is no real pattern to the pricing of the cars from a military used car dealer although you can anticipate approximately 5 to 6 thousand USD for a regular car and about 6 to 8 thousand USD for a sports car. They are also usually conveniently located within walking distance of the military bases which make them very easy to get to but unfortunately it is also one of the reasons that they are capable of taking advantage of many people. There are some big cons for using a military used car dealer but luckily a great deal of them can be avoided. The cars from these dealers are roughly in the 10 year old range (some less some more but 10 is a good round about) and a great deal of them have signs of wear a tear. It is not uncommon to have a car with a cracked windshield, dents dings or in some cases busted radiators. This is why it becomes very important for you as the buyer to take time to really inspect the car in great detail before making a purchase. Another con is that a lot of the perks which are available to you from these places have fine print attached which you might not find out about until after you have signed the dotted line. The most iconic example of this is warrantees. At most dealers if you have a car with a turbo (whether or not it is a sports car because there are other non sports cars with turbos as they are more efficient) they will not service the car. What this ultimately means is that once you drive that car off the lot regardless what happens to any part of the car the military dealer is no longer responsible. A friend of mine actually experienced this. Less than 24 hours after the purchase of the car the drivers side window stopped going down. When the car was brought back to the dealer they explained that they would not do anything about it because the car has a turbo and therefore was not covered under the warrantee. At the end of the day it is all up to what it is that you want to do. If you see something that you want and if the sale works out for you then this is a good option for you but there might be other feasible options out there for you as well.

Finally, the most anticipated car class for those coming to Okinawa sports cars. To cut to the chase you are going to most likely find yourself buying from a private seller. The reason? There is more variety from people trying to sell their cars than there is at the dealerships out in town. This is not to say that there are not dealers who have sports cars nor is it to say that there are not specialty dealers who only sell sports cars but you are going to get the most bang for your buck buying from a private party. There are some words of warning that I have about buying your sports cars here though. Let's go over a few:

1. Know the difference between a "sporty" car and a "sports" car. A good example of this is the Nissan Skyline. Contrary to popular belief not all Skyline's are created equal and no they are not all "sports" cars. Some are non-turbo some are not even stick. And please don't believe the few people out there who say "non turbo but you would never know it". Trust me you will know it. There is also an entire breed of car here that is "sporty" but don't perform when you put the pedal to the metal. One of these cars is the B4 Legacy. Don't let the twin turbo fool you it's piggy back system that they put in place with those turbos don't give you the power of a twin turbo but rather just a ton of turbo lag.

2. Don't just see the bells and whistles and get excited. If you are looking at a car that has a laundry list of modifications it is always important to take special care before making the purchase. Take time to talk to the seller and ensure that they are able to explain all of the modifications that they have done to the car. This will give you peace of mind knowing that they were not just someone poking and prodding at the engine during the weekends. Also make sure that the car comes with all original and JCI (Inspection) parts. This could include everything from headlights, tail lights, springs, struts, down pipe, cat back exhaust, rims and steering wheel. This will ensure that when the inspection comes due on the car you will not have to purchase parts. (And yes anyone who had modified their car and has a good solid knowledge of cars here on Okinawa should still have all of these parts for you) Also consider that some sports cars have been modified to not take low octane gas meaning you will not be able to purchase your gas on base and will need to buy fuel off base for approximately $10.00 per gallon. This can be costly.

3. Know what you want out of your car. What are you going to want to do with the car? Also consider what you are required to do with the car on a daily basis. Some cars like the Mitsubishi Evolution do not have back seats that fold down potentially making it difficult to move things in the trunk where as the Nissan 300zx 2 seater has a huge trunk. Of course this might not be important to you but if you are someone who enjoys scuba or other activities where you need to take around a lot of gear this might be something to consider. Of course there is the style of "sport" car that you are looking for. From drift to drag to rally everything is available here so know what you want and you will have an easier time finding a car that you can work with.

The second part of the questions was about the headache of bringing a car back to the US . To be completely honest a few years back when we were toying with the idea of going back to the US I was planning on bring my Evolution back to the states and so I did a ton of research on this and therefore I feel that I can give you a decent answer for this one. The short answer is that sadly the odds are stacked against you and your chances of getting a car back to the US are slim. I do want to make myself completely clear here, this is not to say that people don't do it. They do. And they get caught. This is also not to say that there are not ways to get parts of cars back to the states. That is also possible but for the sake of this post let's talk about getting an entire car back to the US. There are four ways to get a car back to the states. The first is if the car is an antique. I do not particularly know the process for getting an antique car back to the US because I did not have one but I am 100% aware that this is the easiest way to get a car back. The second is if the car is for the purpose of race only. This method is by no means easy nor is it cheap. There are a lot of things that need to be done in order to make this happen and it starts with having a license to race in the US and having competed in a certain number of events over a period of time. These events have to be sanctioned and Okinawa's competitions do not count (sorry). The car then has to be a special type of car which was designed to race (homologated) to prove this you have to obtain information from the car manufacturer to ensure that this is the case. This can be difficult if your car model was not released in the US. You then need to ensure that your car meets a set of standards which ensure that it is a race car. The list is incredibly long but it includes things like removing locks, removing glass (windshield needs to be replaced with shatter proof windshield, same goes for the rear, windows are to be replaced with mesh) there needs to be a fuel cell also and the list goes on. Once that has all been completed the car then needs to be shipped back to the US and inspected before it can be released to you. You then will need to prove that you are racing the car actively which is a set number of sanctioned races within a set length of time) and if you decommission your car it them has to be sent back to Japan. You are not allowed to break the car down or anything of the sort. Although this comes with a lot of rules and regulations the most troubling part about this is modifying it to be race ready. For my particular situation by the time that the car was modified so that it was accepted upon inspection prior to shipping the car back to the US we were looking almost at $10,000 to $15,000 just in parts not including the price to actually get it back.

Finally there is the ability to take a car back to the US just to drive. I must warn you this sounds ridiculous but it is all information that I received from immigrations and the people in charge over in the US. Let's suppose you want to bring back your Skyline to the US to drive on the street. Regardless if the car is made in the states or not it needs to go through vigorous testing to ensure that it is safe to be on the roads in the US. To accomplish this you will need to provide the US with 3 more of the same exact make and model car that you plan to import. This will allow them to complete the necessary crash tests to determine whether or not your car is safe for the roads in the US. Once that is all good if the car passes the tests you then have to modify your car to make it fit within the US standards which includes changing it over to left hand side drive. This needs to be done by an approved shop in the US from start to finish. Once that is done it is then inspected again and once you have paid the bill if it is approved it's yours.

Of course each of these items may be slightly dated because I got my information a few years ago so please consider that when you are reading. Also please consider that I have given a brief description of what I have learned over the time that I was researching taking a car back. As far as my opinion goes just getting the answers of what you need to do is a headache I cannot imagine actually going through with is. To be completely honest what is the biggest turn off for me is that amount of money that is potentially lost for the CHANCE of getting your car back to the US. With the money you spend you could be half way to your dream car.



  1. You should include the fire sales people tend to have on sites like People from all over the island, not just military, tend to use it, so it can have a real wide variation in car types available.

    Most of the base/English speaking dealerships only do trades once you buy from them at their inflated prices, so people try to sell in a hurry on sites that. Personally, I sold my perfectly fine white plate for less than half of what we paid a year before from Payless. Just be careful as people leaving do not give a crap about the state of their car, and you should have someone with you who knows what to look for or just be okay with maybe buying a lemon.

    There are also Japanese classifieds and magazines you can check out to see if the price you are getting quoted is standard or inflated, too.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion! I am actually in the process of preparing a blog and video regarding "second hand stuff" featuring information regarding the various sites which one might find helpful here on Okinawa.

    To be completely honest there are good and bad in all these places and it is important to know what you are looking for or you are going to get a good deal on a hunk of junk. The biggest problem with private sellers on Okinawa is that they know that they are not here for long and so they do not maintain vehicles just use them and try to get some money back when they leave. This is problematic because the regular maintenance which allows these cars to run and function properly is not done. You can find yourself buying a car which is a ticking time bomb and going to cost you three or four times as much just to get it back up and running when the engine finally decided that this 4 year old oil is no longer doing it's job.

    On the flip side there are private sellers out there who are trying to get someone to purchase their car for the same price they paid for it although they have never done anything to it as far as maintenance goes. Again it goes back to knowing what you are looking for.

    Although the prices that you pay at a dealer are higher (in some cases) than you would pay from a private seller there are benefits to purchasing from a dealer, as mentioned above, that you don't get from a private seller depending on what you are purchasing. One of the things that I find beneficial is that they cars usually come from the auctions and had previous owners who were Japanese (who tend to take better care of their cars). Again it depends on what dealer and what car particularly but with some consideration for what you are purchasing you can find something that it worth the money they are asking for.

    The Japanese classifieds and magazines are also very helpful at seeing what cars are being sold for at dealers and from some private sellers out in town although I think it is important for people to remember that the prices are not one to one. It is also important to remember that many of those cars do not accommodate for transfer of title, cost to get plates, inspections and transferring from a kanji plate to a Y plate if you are sofa.

    There is probably someone on here who is going to read this and think that purchasing a car is going to be a terrifying experience but it's not. The fact is you need to just know what you are looking for. There are some basic things that you can do even if you are not a car savvy person which will prevent you from getting something which is trash.