Japanese import car tax

Introduction – car tax, CO2 and a minor indiscretion from Volkswagen

Pictures of old Japanese import car tax discsApologies for mentioning a German manufacturer on a site about Japanese cars, but VW have been in trouble recently over their use of clever ECU programming to cheat emissions tests.

This has prompted me to write about Japanese import car tax (or vehicle excise duty to use the proper term).  Why?  Exhaust gas emissions are linked to car taxation in the UK. The majority of cars in the UK are now taxed according to how many grammes of carbon dioxide they produce per kilometre.  Broadly speaking, you’ll pay anything from £0 to £500 according to how much CO2 your car produces.  This is the case for all cars registered after 1st March 2001.

‘Dieselgate’ is mainly about nitrogen oxides (NOx), but a key concern is that ‘fixing’ the NOx emissions problems with these fiddled cars could put their CO2 emissions up and therefore put them in a higher car tax bracket.  Our transport secretary recently reassured worried VW owners that this wouldn’t happen.

Diesel cars aren’t so popular in Japan.

Is Japanese import car tax based on CO2 output?

I can understand why you’d be concerned about this.  A lot of the Japanese imports mentioned on this website either:

  1. Have large capacity engines.
  2. Have a turbo.
  3. Are fast.
  4. Are heavy.

Some have more than one of these:  Subaru Forester STi – large capacity engine, turbo, fast.  Nissan Elgrand – large engine, heavy.

These don’t sound like they’re going to have low CO2 outputs, do they?

Fear not, imported Japanese car enthusiast!

Most Japanese imports are not taxed on their CO2 output

The majority of cars imported to the UK from Japan are not taxed according to their CO2 output.  Most of them haven’t even had it measured.  This is a good thing.

CO2 isn’t on the agenda for cars over 10 years old

Let’s consider a car over 10 years old.  Before we do, why do I keep going on about cars that are 10 years old?  This is the point at which they only require a standard MOT before registration, instead of a more complex test for ‘younger’ cars.

The MOT doesn’t test a car’s CO2 output, so this will not be on the agenda in the inspection and registration process.  Instead, owners of Japanese imports over 10 years old are charged a flat rate of £255 or £155 per year, depending on whether the engine is over or under 1549 cc.  You can check the most up to date figures here.

A Subaru-based example of the tax differences

Subaru Forester STiI mentioned the Subaru Forester STi earlier and will now use this as an example.  The annual tax for this car would be £255.

What if you bought a UK market Subaru Forester XTE instead?  The STi is better of course, but bear with me for this example 🙂

Like the STi, the XTE has a  2.5 litre turbocharged engine.  How much tax would you pay on this car?  Well, UK taxes are rarely simple and this is no exception.  If it was registered between November 2005 and 23rd March 2006, you’d pay £315.  If it was registered after 23rd March 2006, you’d pay £540.  Either way you’ve saved some money on vehicle tax with the imported car over the UK car.

CO2 also doesn’t feature for most cars under 10 years old

Younger cars under 10 years old will need an individual vehicle approval (IVA) test.  I’ll go into more detail in a separate post, but think of this as an extra hard MOT.

Does the IVA test cover analysis of CO2 output?  Again, generally not.  In many cases, this is a good thing.

IMG_9109What if you’re buying a kei car or hybrid?  Will you reap the benefits of their small engined / battery powered environmental loveliness?

I’m sorry to say that in most cases, you won’t.

Some cars have something called a ‘model report’ available, which contains specifications for a particular model of a particular car (I think I can see how it got its name).   If a model report exists, it may specify a CO2 output against which the imported car’s CO2 emissions can be checked at the IVA test.  This route can be used to get cheaper car tax than the rates I described above by basing it on the car’s CO2 emissions.  If there isn’t a model report, or if the car is over 10 years old you’ll just be charged the cubic capacity based rates described above.


If you’re buying a fast/heavy/big car from Japan, you could pay a few hundred pounds less in car tax than you would if you were buying an equivalent UK market car.  Of course a lot of the time the whole reason you’re importing a car from Japan is because you can’t buy an equivalent car on the UK market.

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