Japanese car auction grades

Introduction to Japanese car auction grades

A picture of a car auction sheet showing the location of Japanese car auction gradesWhen cars are entered for sale at Japanese car auctions, they are inspected and a grading is assigned.  These Japanese car auction grades are really useful because they give an ‘at a glance’ insight into the condition of the car.  This article explains the grades and gives some guidance on their interpretation.  This isn’t a full guide to reading an auction condition sheet.

Why are auction grades important?

You may encounter these grades in a number of places, for example:

  • They are often included in the sales advertisements for cars imported from Japan, so it will be useful for you to have a basic understanding when looking at adverts.  You could always ask to see the auction sheet for the car in question if you wish to verify the auction grade.
  • If you’re engaging a broker to source a car for you, they will likely have a discussion with you about your desired car condition and part of this will be centred on the car’s auction grade.

Overall grades

The following table shows the most commonly assigned grades for overall car condition.  The majority are numbers, but there are a few based on letters instead.  The mileage limits featuring in the table may seem a little random.  They are nice round numbers in kilometres, less so when converted to miles.

GradeAndrew's Summary
SEssentially a in 'as new' condition. Expect a car under 12 months old, with under ~6000 miles. Likely to still have plastic covers on the seats.
6Again in as new condition, but can be up to 3 years old and have covered under ~18,500 miles.
5Almost perfect. Under ~31,000 miles.
4.5Very good condition inside and out, with under ~62,000 miles on the clock. May have a small scratch or two, or a very minor car park door dent.
4Overall good condition, but may have minor bodywork damage or small electrical faults requiring attention.
3.5Average condition. Will probably need some bodywork. Interior may be worn, dirty or smell of cigarettes. Likely to need a thorough clean.
3Rough, will definitely need bodywork or a thorough clean inside. Probably both. Avoid if you're after something good. Buy if you want something really cheap.
2Very poor condition in a number of ways. The type of car you'd buy for parts, if you couldn't find one that had been crashed. You can do better than this!
1Extensive engine problems or bodywork damage. May alternatively have flood or fire extinguisher damage. Sometimes used to denote extensive modifications or transmission swaps.
***Major engine trouble or accident damage. Unlikely to be able to move under its own power.
RCar has had accident damage, and has been repaired. Might be a bargain, might have a botched repair job. Check the panel gaps and paintwork carefully.
RACar has had minor accident damage, and has been repaired. Might be a bargain, might have a botched repair job. Check the panel gaps and paintwork carefully.

Interior condition grades

As well as the overall grade (usually a number), you may see letters from A to E being used as part of the quoted grade, after the overall grade: e.g. grade 4B or grade 4BB.  What does this mean?

If there is only one letter after the main grade, this is referring to the interior condition of the car.  If there are 2 letters, the first refers to the exterior condition and the second to the interior condition.  The following table explains the interior condition scores.  I’ve not detailed the exterior condition grades here as they aren’t used by many of the main auction houses.

GradeExplanation
AImmaculate. Doesn't need any work.
BVery good. You'll be able to tell it has been used. No work required. No dodgy odours.
CNeeds a good clean. May also be signs of wear. May have a few cigarette burns.
DAny or all of the following:
-Multiple cigarette burns
-Problems with dashboard structure or condition
-Dirt and marks, some of which are likely to remain after thorough cleaning.
EStained, torn and malodourous. Your dog is likely to refuse to sleep in this car.

Which auction grade should you buy?

A difficult question for me to answer as it really depends on what you’re looking for in a car.  I’d also caution that basing your buying decision on Japanese car auction grades alone could be a risky business, because:

  • There is a lot of variation in car condition within a grade.
  • Some cars will have been given a superficial makeover, purely with the aim of getting a good grading.  Under the surface they could well be full of problems.

However, if you’re looking for a good car of around 10 years old, I’d look for a grade 4 or above with an interior score of at least B.  If you want something outstanding, go for a grade 4.5.

If you’re looking for something fairly old or something likely to have had a hard life (e.g. a fast car popular with young drivers), you may be lucky to have the option of buying a grade 4 car, so you’ll have to settle for the best condition car from one of the lower grades.  I’m referring to cars such as the Toyota AE86.

Whatever you’re buying, in my view there is no substitute for a pre-auction inspection and this is how I prefer to buy my cars.  A pre-auction inspection might not spot every potential problem with a car, but it can really help avoid a lot of duds.  Note that in most cases the cars cannot be driven/moved, so anything that could only be identified on a test drive is likely to be missed by the pre-auction inspection.

10 Comments

  1. HI Andrew,
    Great site. I’ve just bought a 2006 Mercedes Viano Van and have been puzzling about the voice message I get when starting it up,
    And also about the little card reader in the corner. Great to know what they are. I’ve also been puzzling about the two connectors in the glove box : one looks like an AUX input, the other some ancient phone connector. Have you come across a list of phone connectors anywhere? I guess I’ll end up replacing the head unit anyway since radio 2 is driving me crazy. The japanese manual indicates a CDC option in one of the menus. I will go and hunt for a CD autochanger somewhere in the car. The unit allows an english language option which changes a bit of the menu display to English.
    regards
    martin

    • Hi Martin

      Thanks – I haven’t come across a list of old phone connectors. I start with Nokia as my first guess but it could take a while to find out which phone it’s designed for.

      You can fit a band expander if it’s just the Radio 2 part of the head unit that is driving you crazy. Or use a bluetooth FM modulator.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  2. Japanese auction holds a large variety of cars and vehicles. These cars come with auction sheets. It is necessary to understand these terms written on the auction sheet including auction grades.

  3. A car got listed in auction as 4.5 grade, 51k kms. Subsequently, there was a correction applied, that changed the grade to R.

    Have ordered USS pre-auction inspection.

    From what it seems, the inspector graded the car based on physical condition as 4.5. then subsequently the HPI ( I mean equivalent) check came up with Repairs. Could the works have been done so well to spot them by the inspector??

    Waiting for pre-auction inspection to come back.

    • It could have been done very well, but more likely that the inspector was rushing and not paying attention.

  4. Hi , Andrew , useful article ,
    biggest concern is what you can’t see .
    as they’re not driven . the Gearbox and Engine ?
    how can you tell ? thankyou very much
    Richard

    • This is one of the many risks of buying from auction. You could pay someone to go and inspect the car. They would usually be able to start it and might be able to move it forwards and backwards a little. Not a full check of the gearbox, but better than nothing.

  5. thank you for sharing information on this topic. Auction sheet verification is crucial to prevent fraud and ensure the vehicle hasn’t been in an accident or damaged.

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