“How do I know this low mileage is genuine?”
This subject comes up frequently in discussions about Japanese import cars.
Many used cars in Japan have extremely low mileage. In the vast majority of cases, this is genuine. Public transport is generally excellent and road tolls can be expensive. As a result many Japanese vehicles don’t get used as much as we might expect, based on our own vehicle usage. There are lots of cars available with genuinely low odometer readings. Sadly there are some who want to turn their high mileage vehicle into something it isn’t by winding back the odometer.
How can we check the mileage of a car being imported from Japan?
How do we know it hasn’t been ‘adjusted’ to make the car seem better than it actually is?
This article is going to cover the various approaches to a Japanese import mileage check. There are a number of options. Their availability to you depends on how you are buying your imported Japanese car.
In the case of buying direct from auction via an agent, this could be done before purchase from the auction. I can think of one or two cars I’ve asked an export agent to inspect, where the response has been that the odometer reading is inconsistent with the wear in the car. It doesn’t happen very often, but it certainly has happened.
If you’re buying the car from a trader who has already imported it, hopefully it goes without saying that you should have a good look at the car before buying.
If you’re buying the car from a dealer based in Japan, the inspection becomes more difficult. This is where a 3rd party check (see below) might be useful.
The aim of the inspection (relating to mileage) is to identify any wear that is inconsistent with the mileage. Typically this will be in the following areas:
- Driver’s seat cushion, especially on the door side.
- Steering wheel (if the car has a steering wheel cover, look under it).
- Pedal rubbers.
There may be signs in the engine bay too, but if the car has been well maintained they might be less prominent.
In case you’re in any doubt as to what high mileage wear looks like, the picture on the right is the brake pedal on my old Hiace, with about 160,000 miles on the clock (just under 260,000 km).
Ask to see the documentation
This applies to most of the purchase routes mentioned here. I advise you to try to see as much documentation relating to the car as possible. In particular, I recommend you focus on the following:
Export certificate / Deregistration certificate
Before a car can be exported, it needs to be deregistered in Japan. When this happens, a deregistration or export certificate is produced. This certificate lists odometer readings at various points during the car’s life, along with the date of the reading. If the most recent odometer reading on the export certificate is more than the current reading on the car, you know you’ve got a problem!
On the flipside, if you see the export certificate and the last recorded odometer reading is lower than the current reading on the car, you can gain some reassurance that the reading hasn’t been adjusted.
Clearly it is possible that the reading has been adjusted down to a number just above the most recent reading on the certificate, which is why seeing the auction sheet as well is a good idea.
Auction sheets also show whether the odometer reading showing is different from the actual number of kilometres travelled by the car. Most commonly seen on older, modified vehicles where there has been an odometer/speedometer change at some point in the car’s life.
Your car may come with the service history from the previous owner. I think most unscrupulous people trying to sell a clocked car would remove the service record altogether to hide the evidence but if they haven’t, there may be a clue here. Check for service stickers in the engine bay as well as the paper records.
3rd party mileage verification services and certificates
There are 2 main organisations on my radar that offer a mileage verification service / certificate. These are JEVIC and BIMTA.
Are they necessary? If you’ve seen the export certificate and auction sheet, and believe them both to be genuine, my personal opinion is that these additional checks are unnecessary. However I appreciate it all depends on your attitude to risk and the sums of money involved.
If you haven’t been able to see either the export certificate or auction sheet for a vehicle you’re thinking of buying, or if you suspect either of them aren’t genuine, one of these 3rd party checks could be a very worthwhile investment.
This stands for Japanese Export Vehicle Inspection Centre (Center). They provide an independent odometer verification service for a fee, which can include an in-person inspection of the car for signs of tampering. This can be done before the car leaves Japan and you would usually have some redress with the auction house if the odometer reading on the auction sheet is found to be incorrect.
This stands for British Independent Motor Trade Association. BIMTA offer a mileage check and full vehicle history check for a fee.
There will always be a certain level of risk in buying a used car. However, if you:
- Follow some / all of the Japanese import mileage check steps described above.
- Trust your gut instinct and walk away from any car where something doesn’t quite add up.
I think you’ll be well-placed to minimise your chance of buying a car that has been clocked / had some odometer adjustment.