Car transport from Japan

This week, two cars I purchased at auction will leave Japan bound for the UK.  This is a good opportunity for me to tell you about car transport.

Several people have asked me about shipping.  Specifically, they were concerned about damage to the cars and were under the impression that the cars might be shipped on open decks.  I think the following video illustrates an extreme example of their concerns, although as a car enthusiast it is sad to see this amount of damage.

The shipping that most people (myself included) use to transport Japanese import cars does not look like this!

How does roll on, roll off car shipping work?

How does ‘proper’ roll on roll off car transport differ from the above video?

Cars are on fully enclosed transport decks

The cars are transported on roll on roll off ships specially made for the purpose, which are fully enclosed and don’t have any ‘open deck’ parking like the vessel above.

These ships are used by most of the major car manufacturers to transport their brand new stock around the world.  I think this makes them a fairly safe bet for reliable transport of a used car from Japan to the UK.  Do bear in mind though that new cars are wrapped up for transport, whereas your used car will not be wrapped.


Another key difference between the above video and the type of shipping I’m describing is lashing.  The cars are individually tied down to the deck at the front and back.  The cars on the ill-fated voyage above may have been lashed and subsequently broken free in the storm, I can’t tell from the video.

This video showing how a car transporter is loaded gives a good idea of what’s involved.

I hope this reassures you that roll on, roll off car transportation is in general a safe, cost effective and reliable means of getting your car from Japan.

Risks involved in roll on, roll off car transport

You’ll notice I prefaced my reassurance with in general.  Like most things, roll on roll off shipping is not perfect and is not completely risk free.  Remember the Hoegh Osaka?  I do – I had a car arriving in to Southampton at the same time as the Hoegh Osaka was leaving and seeing the news headline certainly made my heart skip a beat until I realised it wasn’t the boat transporting my car.

This is a prime example of when roll on, roll off car shipping doesn’t go so well.  As you will see from this excellent video, many of the cars were flooded and dented.  What you’ll also see in other videos is that many of them were driven off without any damage.  I don’t know the exact proportions of undamaged / repairable / scrap cars from the Hoegh Osaka.

Clearly there is a certain level of risk involved.  In the interests of balance, remember that thousands of cars are transported like this every year without incident.  We never hear about them because everything is fine and the transport system worked as intended.  As an example I’ve seen figures from NYK (another shipping company) from a few years ago quoting a damage rate of 0.04 %.

Thankfully events involving mass destruction of vehicles are few and far between, but the Hoegh Osaka story is not a one off in the world of roll on roll off car transport.  If you’re interested, search out what happened to the MV Cougar Ace and its cargo of about 4700 Mazda cars in 2008.

Some might advise that shipping cars by container is safer.  In some ways (and if the cars are packed into their container properly) I agree.  However, remember that a container with cars inside won’t get special treatment once the doors are closed, and 1679 containers are lost at sea each year.

If this all sounds rather scary to you, insurance can be purchased to cover for damage in transit and total loss of the vehicle.  I’ll cover this in more detail in a separate post.  In the meantime, feel free to ask if you’d like to know more about it.


  1. excellent informative website. Thankyou.
    Looking to import an Alphard (or, do YOU havr one for sale in uk?

  2. Very useful article to read, but do you have any company you can recommend if I want to ship my car from Japan to the UK?

    • Thank you, apologies I don’t have a particular company to recommend. The shipping I use is organised by the auction agent / exporter in Japan and I generally don’t get to know which freight handling company is used.

  3. I’m having a Toyota Tacoma built at the moment, have you any info how they ship and how long please. TB

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