What is this box, card reader in my Japanese import car?

I see this asked really often.  Someone finds some sort of card reader device in their new Japanese import car and wants to know what it does. It’s for the electronic toll collection system in Japan.

If you have a voice speaking to you in Japanese when you turn on the ignition in your car, it’s probably coming from the ETC card reader. More on that later!

What does this box look like?

The picture below shows the type of box/device we’re talking about.  About the size of a cassette tape box (if you’re old enough to remember such things!) with a credit card sized slot and a couple of buttons. It’s usually wired in to the car. In this case the box has been installed out of sight in one of the storage areas to the right of the steering wheel. Some cars are less fortunate and are adorned with sticky velcro to secure the box to the dashboard.

Picture of a standalone electronic toll collection system (ETC) card reader

So what is it?

This is an electronic toll collection system / box / device.  Some cars have them built in, but most have them added afterwards. This picture shows the factory fitted ETC card slot on a Toyota Alphard.  The picture above is from the same car, so the owner obviously decided they’d prefer to use a separate device.

Picture of an integrated electronic toll collection card slot in a Toyota Alphard

ETC card warning!

There is generally some sort of audio output from the ETC card reader. You may have heard it in your own car. It’s probably reminding you that the ETC card is not present.

Some ETC card readers have their own internal speaker. Some have an external speaker stuck in a place where you’re more likely to hear it. Others have their audio output integrated into the vehicle’s audio system.

Why do so many cars have an ETC box?

For those who drive on toll roads in Japan (of which there are many) on a regular basis, this little box can save a lot of time and in some cases money too.

Essentially it allows the driver to pass through the toll gate without stopping and the inevitable associated fumbling around for change. They still have to slow down, but there is no need to stop. The toll is deducted automatically from the driver’s ETC card, which is actually a specific type of credit card for the purpose of paying tolls.

Can the ETC box be removed?

Generally these ETC boxes can be removed with no ill effects on the car.  Get someone competent to do this if you’re not sure what you’re doing. There will be a live 12v feed to the device which will need to be removed or isolated correctly to avoid future problems. There may also be an audio output to the car’s head unit.

Don’t just chop all the wires to the device!

Now you know about the electronic toll collection system!

I hope this has helped you understand this little black box that is fitted to many cars imported from Japan.

If you’ve got a question about ETC, or about any other electronic widgets you’ve found in your imported car, feel free to post your question below.

115 Comments

  1. how can i use the nevigation system already installed in my car….its alll in japenese
    how can i make it use full

    • Hi Ali

      More often than not, the original navigation system cannot be converted from Japanese to English, so having an English language satnav in a Japanese import car usually means taking the original out and replacing it with a new unit. Alternatively you could just leave it in place and use separate navigation on a standalone satnav or on your phone.

      Andrew

      • Hi Andrew

        We have one of these devises, the voice is rather annoying each time you use the car. Who can we use to have it removed, central Auckland.

        Thank you

        Alex

        • Hi Alex

          One option might be to turn the volume of the ETC announcements down to minimum. In some cases, this effectively turns it off or makes it so quiet you can’t hear it. Sometimes it can be done on the ETC reader, and sometimes on the head unit, depending on the way it is installed and set up.

          I’m based in the UK so unfortunately don’t know of any vehicle electricians in Auckland.

          Cheers
          Andrew

          • There is usually an eject button. Failing that, perhaps you could pull it out with some pliers? Can’t guarantee that won’t damage card or reader mind you!

  2. Can the ETC system be used to locate the car via GPS Satellites to get exact car location co ordinates?

    • No it doesn’t have GPS, just a sensor for the toll gates/barriers on Japanese roads.

  3. hi i just wanted to know if there is anyway i can turn the headunit from japanese to english without changing the headunit altogether.

    • Hi Grace

      Unfortunately in most cases this isn’t possible, and a change of head unit is required.

      Cheers
      Andrew

      • Go to google translate and type the word settings, you want a 2 Chinese looking character word and the same with the word language. If you can find those characters in your car’s system then by all means it’s possible to change like in my BMW 530i.

  4. Any idea whether the devices are sold seperately? I’d like to add some flair to my nissan.

    • Hi Josh

      Might be quite difficult to find one for sale in the UK – I’d imagine most people throw them out after removing them. I’ll be in touch again if I hear of one for sale, or have one available myself. I’ve always left them in the cars I’ve imported – a reminder of the car’s former life in Japan!

      Thanks
      Andrew

      • I have one currently for sale on eBay and two more about to be removed from new imports just arrived
        If you struggle to find it just shout
        Thanks
        Matthew

        • Hello Mathew, I am from Kenya. We import about 95% cars from Japan and almost all these cars have this ETC card reader. There is a general belief here that removing it may affect a car’s operation such that it can fail to move! So is there a way it can be safely removed or better still deactivate the welcome announcement? Cheers!

      • i want to connect my mobile with mercdes benz cls 2006 is there any easy way to do so

        • Hi Sufyan

          Sorry I can’t offer any useful advice on how to do this.

          I hope you manage to get it sorted out.
          Andrew

      • Hey I’d love to purchase one as well, please let me know ASAP!! I’m actually in the US though.

  5. Bought one off ebay and it arrived. It’s got three wires, Red, Black and Yellow, assuming the black and red are positive & negative, what would the yellow wire be for?

    • Hi Dan

      Sorry I haven’t a clue, I’ve never needed to wire one of these up.

      Yellow is commonly a constant 12v, with red being the switched live, so that could be a possibility.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  6. This device is already in my car. IBut it is not active. I want to reactive it, how can I do?

    • Hello

      As I often say when answering questions like this, it is difficult to know without seeing the car. However the first thing I would do is to trace the wiring back from the card reader to check it is still all connected up. Sometimes when cars are exported from Japan, the new owner finds the constant voice reminders about ETC cards annoying, so the wires powering the card reader are cut.

      Another thing to do would be to make sure you still have the aerial for the sensor connected.

      I hope you manage to get it working again.

      Best wishes
      Andrew

  7. Yea i have
    I have that in my car inside the box on my dashboard but i as kso have two small square shape gadget ibstall on the top of dashboard i dobt know if its a signal receiver or sensor.. Can you please educate me about this thanks.

    • It is quite likely that one of the square shaped items on your dashboard is the sensor for the ETC unit. The only way to be sure would be to trace the wire back from it to the card reader. The other one could be an aerial, alarm sensor or something else. Difficult to say without seeing it – sorry I can’t be more definite.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  8. I have a Mercedes CLS 350 with a “Check Engine” light on. Diagnostics read a faulty Camshaft sensor which set I have replaced. The Light is still on what could be the cause ?

    • Hi George

      Sorry I don’t know much about Mercedes Benz issues – Japanese cars are more my thing. However if the camshaft sensor replacement hasn’t solved it, I wonder if the timing chain is stretched and needs replacing.

      Cheers
      Andrew

    • You need a Mercedes specific diagnostic done to fix this. There’s codes that won’t show up or aren’t detailed correctly as some manufacturers add functions to a “P code” that some OBD scanners won’t show. You can always take the PXXXX code and type it into google along with your car model.

    • Hi Alice

      If I’ve understood things correctly, the Touch N Go card a card used in Malaysia for electronic payment of tolls. I’d be very surprised if the ETC box would work outside Japan, but you could always give it a go and report back!

      Thanks
      Andrew

    • No, it doesn’t work.
      ETC reader can’t read Touch n Go card, so you unable to use it to pay tolls.

      • Do u know any workshop or accessories shop that can modify the ETC reader so it can be use wirh touch n go to be used at Malaysia toll gate

    • I haven’t done a video of this yet, but next time I remove one I’ll video it for you.

      Thanks
      Andrew

    • Hello

      Thanks for your question – I’ve answered this elsewhere in the comments to this post.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  9. Hi I have just purchased a Audi TT sline 2015 sport in the UK through auction. However when I have received the vehicle I have been told this has been imported from Japan due to several features within such as roll box. My current issue is I cannot find UK radio stations and my navigation is saying off road and only showing Japan. The setup is in English however the maps and radio station do not seem to be finding any connection here. Please could you recommend what I may need to do or whether this is an issue I will not be able resolve?

    • Hi Simran

      Thanks for your message. I haven’t dealt with an imported TT before, but the problem you describe with not being able to tune in to any UK radio stations is common to almost all cars imported from Japan. The FM frequency range in Japan is different to the UK. You should be able to tune Radio 2, because there is some crossover with the Japanese FM range at the lower end of our range, where Radio 2 is broadcast. If you can’t even tune Radio 2, that suggests to me there is a bigger problem with the head unit.

      Assuming your head unit is working, you could make a reasonably good fix for the radio issue by having a band expander fitted to the aerial connection.

      The navigation issue is likely to be more of a challenge. You could try a Europe map DVD to see if that solves the problem. I would ask an Audi dealer before buying anything, to make sure the map update would work with your car and head unit. However, these are so expensive that you may decide you prefer to just change the head unit and deal with both problems once and for all.

      Thanks
      Andrew

    • Hi

      Have a look at some of the comments above about the touch n go card in Malaysia. I don’t think it can be used.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  10. Dear Sir, may I know where is the ETC slot located for Lexus Nx200t 2015 Japanese model.

    Thanks

    Ng

    • Hi

      Sorry I don’t know the answer to that one! If it had an aftermarket card reader fitted, it might have been removed when the car was exported.

      Andrew

  11. Hi Andrew, I just bought a used 2008 Toyota voxy from Japan, the multimedia system is great, I live in the Caribbean, but everything is in Japanese, can I change the language and get the GPS to work in the Caribbean.

    • Unfortunately not, the only way I’m aware of to do this is to change the head unit.

  12. Excellent thanks!! Just found one talking Japanese in my dashboard! Any ideas on the b-cas reader I’ve got in there too!?

    • Hello, does your car have a TV system by any chance? If it doesn’t now, it is likely that it did when it was in Japan. I think the B-CAS card is required to decode TV broadcasts.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  13. Can we wires for this be used for something else? Mine is in the overheard sun visor

  14. Hi Andrew. My name is Victoria and i am from Namibia. Kindly assist me on how to turn down the volume myself. The sound is soo annoying.

    • Hi Victoria

      This is a difficult one to answer as there are so many different types of installation. Some of the card readers have a volume control on the unit and others have it within the menu options on the main head unit.

      The most effective way to deal with your problem would be do disconnect and remove the card reader altogether, if this is possible.

      Andrew

  15. How can I mute the annoying noise coming out of the ETC when I start my car?

    • If the noise is coming through the main stereo speakers, you can sometimes mute the announcements from the ETC box in the head unit controls. Otherwise, the best way is to disconnect the ETC box altogether.

  16. So can I use the ETC if I’m from another country? My car is Toyota Alphard 2018.

    • Disconnect the power to the ETC box or turn down the volume of the announcements on the head unit, if yours has that functionality.

    • Not just for rented cars. Most people have one as it makes driving on the toll roads in Japan much easier.

  17. Hi I recently brought a second hand car with the device already it keeps on saying something is missing would that be the vcard?? Cause I don’t see anything inside of it and if so where could I buy a new one for it thankz

    • It’s probably reminding you to insert the ETC card. Unless you live in Japan, don’t bother trying to get one. The simplest way to stop it talking to you is either to turn the volume of the announcements off (if possible) or just disconnect the ETC card reader altogether.

    • In some vehicles the announcements can be switched off. The more permanent alternative is to disconnect the ETC card reader, which can usually be done without causing any problems.

    • Not as far as I know. Might be best to change the head unit if that’s an option for you. Alternatively just use a smart phone for navigation.

  18. Can I disable the automatic notification of ETC card missing without disabling or removing the card slot or system?

    • Sometimes you can turn down the volume of the announcement on the card reader to the point where it can’t be heard. In other cases this can be done on the head unit. I don’t know of other ways to turn it off, apart from disconnecting the power.

  19. Found your website whilst trying to identify this strange box under the steering column in my Honda Insight which I bought yesterday. I will leave it where it is rather than mess with it, I think it’s kind of interesting to have it there. it really makes sense for toll tags to use regular chip cards, I live in Ireland and Toll Tags here are sealed units, it would be easier to just insert a card rather then move a toll device.
    UK drivers perhaps do not appreciate how fortunate they are to have great motorways that are mostly toll free and low cost road tax.. I grew up in the UK and certainly took that and lots of other things for granted whilst I lived there.
    Love this website, full of great useful info, this is my second Japanese import my first being a Daihatsu Avanzato that I imported imported into Thailand about 10 years ago.

    • Hi Andy, glad you like the site and thanks very much for your comment. Agreed we do take the lack of tolls for granted. This was really brought home to me when being driven around by our friends in Japan. Sometimes when going through a toll gate I noticed how much the toll was and it was a lot! Makes the UK ‘road tax’ seem very reasonable.

      Cheers
      Andrew

    • If the voice is coming from the ETC box, the best thing to do would be to disconnect it.

  20. Hi, can the 12v feed be used for something else? I have unplugged the connectors and removed the ETC device but want to know if I can use the power leads for anything else?

    • I don’t see any reason why not, but I wouldn’t put too much load on it as I doubt the wires will be up to carrying much current.

  21. Can this reader cause shit with my electronic system now that I imported my car from Japan to New Zealand?

    • No it shouldn’t do that. It will just keep reminding you to insert your ETC card!

  22. Merci pour ces renseignements , j’avais peur d’avoir fais une bétise en le suprimant.

  23. I have just purchased a Toyota Estima 2012 Areas , it only has 1 key fob . How do I go about getting another because it’s keyless entry and push button start, I would feel better knowing that I have a spare.

    • I would contact some local independent automotive locksmiths. You should find one who can do it, although you’ll probably also find several who say no!

      There are a number of locksmiths who specifically mention keys for Japanese imports on their websites.

  24. Just bought a 2005 mazda axela has a panasonic navigation system sitting on dashboard in Japanese, turns on. I want to replace this, can it be done easily in nz

    • I don’t know for sure, but from what I’ve seen NZ is very well set up for working on Japanese import vehicles. I’m confident you’ll be able to find someone to replace the head unit.

  25. Hi my friend has a 2010 Audi s4 with a ETC box fitted and he would like it removed which I was going to do for him, he is worried about raising other faults from removing, would it just be as simple as removing the device and wiring? Is it a separate system or is it wired in to other systems also? Any advice would be great

    • It should be a separate system that can be removed without causing fault codes, but it really depends on how it has been installed in the first place. Most of them have an antenna, a power feed and either an input into the car’s audio / navigation system or a standalone speaker.

  26. Can you change the Japanese words regarding the hybrid information on the dashboard to English in a Toyota Corolla 2014 Hybrid?

    Cheers

  27. This is nice content from you. I really appreciate for that. Thank you so much for that.

  28. Hi,

    I recently bought a japanese import that comes with one of these. I see there are a few people who are looking to buy one, and I am happy to sell mine as I will remove it.
    I am located in NZ, feel free to reply this message and I will be in touch.

    Regards,

  29. Hello Andrew. i would like to ask to you about japan exported cars.. i live in cyprus and i bought a volvo s60 from japan. can i change my navigation to cyprus map ??

    • In most cases the navigation can’t be changed like that, but I’m no expert on Volvos unfortunately.

    • Hello Melih. I am an Electronics Engineeriner based in Cyprus. I know how maps can be installed on your Volvo S60. If you still have not solve the issue with the Cyprus maps let me know.

  30. I got from Japan volvo V90 Cross Country 2019,amazing car fully specification.
    They car show me ,no ETS card,,
    My questions if I get sim card connected I will get Internet on my car?

    • Hi Tom

      No, that won’t give you internet. It’s just for a credit card to take toll payments automatically in Japan.

      Andrew

  31. In UK SOUTH and have Alphard/ Velfire 2008. I have the original head unit which I want to keep. However, I have been asking everywhere about turning off what I thought was the satnav which shows and obviously is all in Japanese. However, now reading your thread, I feel this may be the EC box making announcements although nobody local even the dealer knows about this.

    Being a rather elderly lady, I am in no way, mechanically or electrically savvy the screen on my head unit tilts outwards in order to access behind where there are a couple of slots for maybe SD cards. Would this be the ETC unit and if so, where or how could I disconnect in the hope of quietening that annoying voice down ? I would like to be able to close off the satnav picture as well, but there is nowhere near as annoying as the voice. I need to keep the head unit as More importantly the cameras and the video and I know that there are no replacements for this and I will lose functionality on the switches on the steering wheel once this is replaced. If I were to take this to my mechanic, would there be any information I could pass on to him so that he may be able to do this for me. Thank you

    • Hi Patricia

      Those SD slots won’t be the ETC reader, ETC cards are generally credit card sized. The reader may be stuck on a lower part of the dashboard, or in the glove box, or you may have one integrated into the dash.

      Some ETC readers have a volume control on the top/front of the reader. Others have the volume control integrated into the head unit. The latter is more likely with your Alphard.

      I recommend using Google Lens on a smart phone to translate the various menus on your head unit. If you navigate through those you should be able to find an option to turn down/off the ETC announcements.

      By the way, in many cases it is possible to have replacement head units fitted that will integrate with the steering wheel controls and reversing camera.

      Thanks
      Andrew

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.