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3 Common Rookie Mistakes When Buying an Import

In the world of fab Japanese imports, I often have to deal with a very special breed of clients. Bright eyed excited newbies. They’ve just found out about the imported cars from Japan and have been hit with a few truths:

  • They don’t need to strain their bank account and buy a brand-new Kia to have auto sliding doors and a walk through
  • VW isn’t the only luxury MPV that has beautifully appointed cabin
  • It’s possible to get a low maintenance upmarket family car and avoid massive repairs bills ($800 for a side mirror on a VW anyone?)
  • A people mover doesn’t have to be beige and boring and you can easily drag racers off the streetlights if you feel like it
  • The benefits and enjoyment of owning an import are far greater than paying higher insurance rates. If you’re over 25 (and I hope you are!) and keen to spend one-two hours on this matter, you’ll find a good non-NRMA deal, check our FAQ for more info.

To sum up, the neophytes are the ones that are aware of the benefits but often unaware of the dangers of buying an import. And as in any other niche, incomplete information can cost one dearly.

Nissan Elgrand

So, I’ve come up with the three most common mistakes to help you make an educated decision, and more importantly the RIGHT decision.

Rookie Mistake Number 1: Every Single Option in the Universe, Please!

Imported MPVs come with many cool standard features. And there’re also a few very popular OPTIONAL ones. Here’s the Big Seven on Toyota Estima (check P.S. for the Big Seven on Elgrand):

  1. AWD on Demand
  2. Dual Auto Sunroofs
  3. Automatic Tailgate (GSR50/55)
  4. Factory Leather
  5. Three cameras system (GSR50/55)
  6. Drop Down DVD
  7. Electric Rear Folding Seats (GSR50/55)

So, when the newbies start looking for a Japanese import, they usually want every single feature that they heard of.

Sorry to disappoint, such fully optioned vehicle DOES. NOT. EXIST.

Even if it does, you’d need a very expandable budget and unlimited time to find one. And when a miracle happens and we finally spot one at the auctions, it’s going to be the wrong colour. Murphy’s law, remember?

The logic behind this claim is very simple.

Most of those features are FACTORY OPTIONS at EXTRA cost. The first owner would tick one or two on the list that are saying their name and then save the money by omitting the ones they don’t need.

Car Snow

If they never travel on snow or unsealed roads, they’d not pay for AWD. If they drive in suburbs only, why would they pay extra for a radar cruise control? If they already splurged on dual auto sunroofs, chances are they’d skip factory leather or automatic tailgate.

In my 20 years of experience with the Japanese imports, even if we half the options and start hunting for a car in Japan with just the three of the features: (e.g. sunroofs + AWD + full leather), it can take months and months to find a good one within the ideal budget.

And you don’t want a bad one, do you?

My advice here would be to follow the same strategy as when buying a house – BUY GOOD BONES and add stuff later. In order to enjoy a car for a long time, you need to get the one with a healthy engine + presentable exterior + immaculate interior + the right number of seats 😄.

You can install some of the options later on, such as drop-down DVD, 360 cameras, parking sensors, even leather interior. Still want those factory options? Increase your budget and allow (much) more time to find a perfect match.

Rookie Mistake Number 2: “Low Mileage ONLY!”

Everyone wants a low mileage import but not many realize that those are much more expensive at the auctions in Japan. Even on a 2005 Estima the difference can be a few thousands. If you go into newer models such as Nissan Elgrand E52 or Toyota Alphard Hybrid, you’ll need to spend an extra car budget to buy genuine low kms.

Ask yourself a question.

Why would a dealership invest money to import a vehicle that is going to cost them nearly double, will be a hard sell and return on investment will be roughly the same? Correct, they wouldn’t.

Unless, it’s a fake mileage car or accident grade car or just low auction grade car due to some sort of problem (engine, interior, smoking, etc.) Those are cheap. Often, dirt cheap and hence very lucrative for some importers – cars may not be healthy, but profits certainly are.

So, when shopping for an import in Australia, the most important thing you need to do is to research on how to avoid buying a clocked back or accident vehicle. You can read my Three Steps on Mileage Verification. It’s not a rocket science and won’t take long.

This will save you from a potential bitter disappointment and loss of hair due to unnecessary stress.

Determined to get genuine low kms? Increase your budget accordingly. If you keep looking for a CHEAP low mileage import, you may end up purchasing a clocked back lemon and spend a small fortune on repairs in the long run.


Rookie Mistake Number 3: “We Need One NOW!”

“Baby is due next week! We’re going on a road trip in 10 days! In-laws are on their way!” These are just some of the scenarios of taking it to the last minute.

The veterans (people that are buying their second or third, etc import) know that it is MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to find a good Japanese import just by visiting a car yard on the weekend.

Unless, you are one of those really non fussy people that are happy with any mileage, any colour, any options and any condition as long as it is an import.

Not you? Thought so.

Then plan it well IN ADVANCE. Allow plenty of time. Research the model and all the options, visit a few yards. Take your bulky items with you to make sure they’ll fit. Grab a measuring tape. Then research again.

If you can’t find a perfect match, consider importing by custom order. Remember, it takes 8 to 10 weeks (and these COVID 19 days even more) to get a vehicle ready for sale from the moment of purchase at the auctions in Japan. It also takes a few weeks to find the right car and successfully bid on it.

So, these are my Three Rookie Mistakes when buying a Japanese import. Hope you found them useful. And if you’d like to grab a free Car Buyer’s Checklist (or if you have any questions), please email me and I’ll send it to you.

P.S. The Big Seven on Nissan Elgrand are:

  1. AWD on Demand
  2. Dual Auto Sunroofs
  3. Automatic Tailgate (E52 only)
  4. Bose Sound System
  5. Drop Down DVD
  6. Radar Cruise Control
  7. Electric curtains (E51 only and a huge hit with anyone who hasn’t seen them before)

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Here’s what else you’ll get in my weekly emails:

  • How to read auction reports and verify mileage with real life examples
  • Differences between the models
  • Popular models
  • Why 7 seats may be preferrable than 8
  • Possible risks and how to avoid them
  • What to expect from the new import law?

Your JDM addict