Imported Japanese cars = MOT failures?

Picture of MOT test certificates - imported Japanese cars are not always MOT failuresFor this post I’m going to write my own take on Honest John’s response to a reader’s question about importing a car from Japan.  I have always found immense value in the information on his site and it has undoubtedly enabled me to make better car buying decisions.

When browsing the site the other day, a question posed by a reader in 2013 caught my eye.  They asked:

“Is it wise to import a car from Japan?  I’m thinking of importing my own Japanese vehicle and have come across Trade Car View. Do you have any view on how risky it is to go down this route, and have you heard of any positive experiences (trade or private) to recommend them (or otherwise)? Their website is”

This question received the following response: “Don’t know them. The sense of any transaction like this depends on exchange rates. Sterling is now way down, but the Yen is down too. Not worth it for any ordinary car. Would have to be something special. The Japanese Shaken tests at 3,5,7,8,9 and 10 years put most older Japanese cars off the road, and that’s when they get exported to the UK, New Zealand and Australia. So these are not pristine, low mileage cars. They are usually MoT failures.”

I cannot comment on the website mentioned in the question because I haven’t used it.  However there are a few things in the response that I’d like to discuss.

Before I do, for those readers not in the UK, the MOT is an annual roadworthiness inspection required for almost all vehicles over 3 years old.  MOT stands for Ministry of Transport.

“The sense of any transaction like this depends on exchange rates”

I agree entirely.  This reply was written in April 2013, when the exchange rate was 150 yen to the pound:  substantially lower than the current rate.  I’ve written more about the impact of exchange rates here.

“Not worth it for any ordinary car. Would have to be something special”

I think most of the cars I write about on this site would fall into the ‘something special’ category because they aren’t available in the UK.  They offer ‘something special’ in exclusivity, design, performance or practicality.  As these factors increase in number and magnitude, so would my tolerance for a poor exchange rate.  You can read more on why you should import a car from Japan here.

“So these are not pristine, low mileage cars”

The last 2 sentences of the response to the reader’s question are really what prompted this post.

This is true for some of the cars available to buy at auction, but by no means all of them.  I’ll start with the negative bit: there are plenty of high mileage and definitely not pristine cars available to buy from auction in Japan.  With upwards of 80,000 cars for sale at any one time, there are bound to be.  You may even have seen some of them over here – I certainly have.  Cars like this are usually really cheap to buy at auction, so they are often purchased and imported for resale.  These are cars that look good in a small online picture, but when you’re there standing next to them, you’re overwhelmed with disappointment.  Questionable odours and stains abound, every panel has a dent or scratch and there are bits missing from the interior.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  If the Japanese import cars you’ve seen so far have all been a bit lacklustre, don’t despair!  There are also lots of cars for sale at auction in Japan that are pristine, low mileage cars.  You’ll probably have to pay slightly more for them.  You might have to wait longer to find one.  But they do exist.  The Toyota Noah I imported for myself earlier in the year is an example of this.

“They are usually MoT failures”

Again, I think this answer is aimed more at the lower end of the market.  It is true that expiry or failure of the shaken inspection is a trigger for owners to sell their car on.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean the car isn’t roadworthy.  It doesn’t necessarily mean it wouldn’t pass a UK MOT.  Our inspection standards are different (lower in some cases)!  More on this in a separate future article.

Furthermore, plenty of the Japanese cars for sale at auction still have a current inspection in place….and I don’t mean it expires next week!  I see plenty of vehicles come up for sale with months to a year of inspection left.

So are imported Japanese cars MOT failures?

Depends on which end of the market you’re in.  Some may have failed their Japanese equivalent of our MOT, but many still have a current (Japanese equivalent) MOT when sold.

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