What is this box, card reader in my Japanese import car? 36

I see this asked really often.  Someone finds some sort of card reader device in their new Japanese import car and wants to know what it does.  A completely understandable enquiry, which I’ll answer here.

What does this box look like?

The picture below shows the type of box/device we’re talking about.  About the size of a cassette tape box (if you’re old enough to remember such things!) with a credit card sized slot and a couple of buttons.  It is usually wired in to the car.  In this case the box has been installed out of sight in one of the storage areas to the right of the steering wheel.  Some cars are less fortunate and are adorned with sticky velcro to secure the box to the dashboard.
Picture of an electronic toll collection system box

So what is it?

This is an electronic toll collection system / box / device.  Some cars have them built in, but most have them added afterwards.   The second picture shows the factory fitted ETC card slot on a Toyota Alphard.  The first picture is from the same car, so the owner obviously decided they’d prefer to use a separate device.
Picture of an electronic toll collection card slot in a Toyota Alphard

Why do so many cars have an ETC box?

For those who drive on toll roads in Japan (of which there are many) on a regular basis, this little box can save a lot of time and in some cases money too.

Essentially it allows the driver to pass through the toll gate without stopping and the inevitable associated fumbling around for change.  It is still required that they slow down, but there is no need to stop.  The toll required is deducted automatically from the driver’s ETC card, which is actually a specific type of credit card for the purpose of paying tolls.

Can the ETC box be removed?

In general these ETC boxes can be removed with no ill effects on the car.  Get someone competent to do this if you’re not sure what you’re doing.  There will be a live 12v feed to the device which will need to be removed or isolated correctly to avoid future problems.  Don’t just chop all the wires to the device!

Now you know about the electronic toll collection system!

I hope this has helped you understand this little black box that is fitted to many cars imported from Japan.

If you’ve got a question about ETC, or about any other electronic widgets you’ve found in your imported car, feel free to post your question below.


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36 thoughts on “What is this box, card reader in my Japanese import car?

  • Ali haider

    how can i use the nevigation system already installed in my car….its alll in japenese
    how can i make it use full

    • Andrew

      Hi Ali

      More often than not, the original navigation system cannot be converted from Japanese to English, so having an English language satnav in a Japanese import car usually means taking the original out and replacing it with a new unit. Alternatively you could just leave it in place and use separate navigation on a standalone satnav or on your phone.


      • Alex

        Hi Andrew

        We have one of these devises, the voice is rather annoying each time you use the car. Who can we use to have it removed, central Auckland.

        Thank you


        • Andrew

          Hi Alex

          One option might be to turn the volume of the ETC announcements down to minimum. In some cases, this effectively turns it off or makes it so quiet you can’t hear it. Sometimes it can be done on the ETC reader, and sometimes on the head unit, depending on the way it is installed and set up.

          I’m based in the UK so unfortunately don’t know of any vehicle electricians in Auckland.


  • Precious Seth

    Can the ETC system be used to locate the car via GPS Satellites to get exact car location co ordinates?

  • Grace

    hi i just wanted to know if there is anyway i can turn the headunit from japanese to english without changing the headunit altogether.

    • Andrew

      Hi Grace

      Unfortunately in most cases this isn’t possible, and a change of head unit is required.


    • Andrew

      Hi Josh

      Might be quite difficult to find one for sale in the UK – I’d imagine most people throw them out after removing them. I’ll be in touch again if I hear of one for sale, or have one available myself. I’ve always left them in the cars I’ve imported – a reminder of the car’s former life in Japan!


      • Matthew

        I have one currently for sale on eBay and two more about to be removed from new imports just arrived
        If you struggle to find it just shout

        • Andrew

          Hi Sufyan

          Sorry I can’t offer any useful advice on how to do this.

          I hope you manage to get it sorted out.

      • Nate Costin

        Hey I’d love to purchase one as well, please let me know ASAP!! I’m actually in the US though.

  • Dan

    Bought one off ebay and it arrived. It’s got three wires, Red, Black and Yellow, assuming the black and red are positive & negative, what would the yellow wire be for?

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Dan

      Sorry I haven’t a clue, I’ve never needed to wire one of these up.

      Yellow is commonly a constant 12v, with red being the switched live, so that could be a possibility.


    • Andrew


      As I often say when answering questions like this, it is difficult to know without seeing the car. However the first thing I would do is to trace the wiring back from the card reader to check it is still all connected up. Sometimes when cars are exported from Japan, the new owner finds the constant voice reminders about ETC cards annoying, so the wires powering the card reader are cut.

      Another thing to do would be to make sure you still have the aerial for the sensor connected.

      I hope you manage to get it working again.

      Best wishes

  • Danilo Dimacali

    Yea i have
    I have that in my car inside the box on my dashboard but i as kso have two small square shape gadget ibstall on the top of dashboard i dobt know if its a signal receiver or sensor.. Can you please educate me about this thanks.

    • Andrew

      It is quite likely that one of the square shaped items on your dashboard is the sensor for the ETC unit. The only way to be sure would be to trace the wire back from it to the card reader. The other one could be an aerial, alarm sensor or something else. Difficult to say without seeing it – sorry I can’t be more definite.


  • George Kaahwa

    I have a Mercedes CLS 350 with a “Check Engine” light on. Diagnostics read a faulty Camshaft sensor which set I have replaced. The Light is still on what could be the cause ?

    • Andrew

      Hi George

      Sorry I don’t know much about Mercedes Benz issues – Japanese cars are more my thing. However if the camshaft sensor replacement hasn’t solved it, I wonder if the timing chain is stretched and needs replacing.


    • Andrew

      Hi Alice

      If I’ve understood things correctly, the Touch N Go card a card used in Malaysia for electronic payment of tolls. I’d be very surprised if the ETC box would work outside Japan, but you could always give it a go and report back!


    • Gintoki

      No, it doesn’t work.
      ETC reader can’t read Touch n Go card, so you unable to use it to pay tolls.

      • Sha

        Do u know any workshop or accessories shop that can modify the ETC reader so it can be use wirh touch n go to be used at Malaysia toll gate

    • Andrew

      I haven’t done a video of this yet, but next time I remove one I’ll video it for you.


  • Simran

    Hi I have just purchased a Audi TT sline 2015 sport in the UK through auction. However when I have received the vehicle I have been told this has been imported from Japan due to several features within such as roll box. My current issue is I cannot find UK radio stations and my navigation is saying off road and only showing Japan. The setup is in English however the maps and radio station do not seem to be finding any connection here. Please could you recommend what I may need to do or whether this is an issue I will not be able resolve?

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Simran

      Thanks for your message. I haven’t dealt with an imported TT before, but the problem you describe with not being able to tune in to any UK radio stations is common to almost all cars imported from Japan. The FM frequency range in Japan is different to the UK. You should be able to tune Radio 2, because there is some crossover with the Japanese FM range at the lower end of our range, where Radio 2 is broadcast. If you can’t even tune Radio 2, that suggests to me there is a bigger problem with the head unit.

      Assuming your head unit is working, you could make a reasonably good fix for the radio issue by having a band expander fitted to the aerial connection.

      The navigation issue is likely to be more of a challenge. You could try a Europe map DVD to see if that solves the problem. I would ask an Audi dealer before buying anything, to make sure the map update would work with your car and head unit. However, these are so expensive that you may decide you prefer to just change the head unit and deal with both problems once and for all.