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Japanese Car Imports: Direct vs Custom import

Getting serious about buying a Japanese import? Let's have a look at a few ways how you can do it.

There’re four ways to get yourself a freshly imported Japanese car in Australia:


This option will suit a microscopic category of people that have lived in Japan (for example, skiing instructors from Hakuba) and have owned a vehicle for over 12 months. When they decide to go back to Australia, they are allowed to import their own car.


You research imports online, then visit a few yards and chose a car. You place a refundable deposit, do mileage and auction report checks, organise mechanical inspection and pick up the car.

This is the quickest and often the safest way to buy as you have access to the vehicle, you can see its condition and you can make sure it doesn't stink of cigarettes or dogs.

There is still a real risk of buying a fake mileage or repaired accident car, however it can be easily prevented by doing your checks.

Toyota Alphards

In case you’ve searched high and low locally, and you still can't find the car of your dreams, you can resort to the following two methods:


You pick a dealership (hopefully after a thorough research) and ask them to import a vehicle with XYZ options at XYZ budget.

You pay a fully refundable deposit before the search begins, and you pay the balance AFTER a vehicle arrives in the country, and AFTER you physically inspect it + organize an independent mechanical inspection.


  • You get exactly what you want (within your set budget)
  • You’re buying with the auction report, with no risk of getting a clocked back or accident car
  • There’s NO risk for your money
  • A vehicle is sold, registered and engineered for the correct seating capacity (if it’s an Elgrand E51 or Toyota Estima)
  • And SUPER important – by law a dealer should sell a fully roadworthy vehicle, so you don’t pay extra for brakes, disks, non-working aircon, faulty electric doors, etc. (unless it’s agreed in writing that mechanical is extra)
  • If something goes wrong with a car, the dealer is responsible/accountable.


  • It takes 2-4 months and if a vehicle is not satisfactory, you will get your deposit back, but you’ll lose time.
  • If your situation changes and you’re no longer in the position to buy a vehicle, you won’t get a refund.

You can read more on Import by Custom Order here


You hire an import agent/broker for a fixed fee, and they find you a vehicle in Japan or give you access to the auctions and you browse cars online. When you find a suitable car, they will place a bid on your behalf. The broker usually picks a shipping company and compliance shop for you. A vehicle is imported directly under your name. In most cases, you pay as you go:

  1. You pay a broker in advance
  2. Once a vehicle purchased, you pay the cost in Japan though your broker
  3. When it arrives, you pay for freight and customs to custom broker
  4. When compliance is done, you pay compliance shop and pick up your car
  5. Next step is blue slip, green slip and registration at RMS
  6. And finally, engineering certificate for Elgrand E51 and Estima



  • You get exactly what you want
  • You’re buying with the auction report, with no risk of getting a fake mileage or accident car
  • You’re saving on a dealer mark-up that varies throughout the industry

Nissan GTR


  • You don’t know in advance the final amount you’ll pay – a car’s cost isn’t known until purchased. Exchange rate with the yen is volatile, there could be hefty extra storage/cleaning fees at the port in Oz and also extra mechanical bills to make a vehicle comply.
  • You will have to liaise to a number of people and do a lot of leg work yourself
  • You’ll be charged premium prices for compliance, engineering certificate, tow trucks and mechanical jobs as a private
  • If compliance shop is not ethical, you may be hit with $$$ in fake mechanical bills (read the story below) Parts stealing/switching is also a common scenario.
  • If anything goes wrong with a car, you’re on your own.

And before I digress, I’d like to run by you the experience of my customer Matt, who imported his first Estima a few years ago by Direct Import. Instead of saving, it cost him thousands and thousands more than if he would just buy a car from a car yard in Sydney.

It’s a must read If you’re serious about direct import, as it will help you to avoid a few pitfalls and work out the best how-to strategy with the import broker.

I’m publishing his email un-edited, just replaced the names of the compliance shop and importer as both are still very active in the industry.

“Hi Natalie, thanks for the update and the photos.

As advised, I wanted to contact you and discuss my experiences and concerns with importation. I woke very early the other morning and remembered the whole process was no fairy tale and I am questioning whether I need to go through some of or any the following story again.

Previously via XXX (Broker fee $1100) it was a similar story whereby I was sent some photos, there was some questions answered and XXX was left to bid on a vehicle with the specs were wanted. Bid price 485000Yen - about $5500 AUS for a 4B 2004 G edition 7-seater, 82000kms. It was discussed that after the auction the car would be looked at and if any problems arose it could get sorted in Japan. Unfortunately, this was not the case mechanically. The car was imported and the compliancing and registration was in the hands of YYY - who XXX recommended. This is where things got worse for us and has left quite a bit of hesitation and doubt as to whether I should attempt importation again.

Firstly - Our car was forgotten at Sydney docks for over 3 weeks - I had to locate it myself by phoning Auto Hub ($2834 o'seas freight, delivery, import duty) in Sydney and get things moving again

The car is put through rego via YYY - its advised that it requires rear trail arm bushes, front lower control arms, top engine mount, tyres, service and including labour a total bill of $2343. So, they have me in a corner, I'm not sure if all this is required but I have to believe them as they are meant to be the professionals. I now have some serious doubt after my experiences with them and am thinking it was a bit of a money-making machine for them. The labour costs were quite inflated after checking locally for the same job.

Compliancing is completed with 3 months rego, blue slip, CTP and an admin fee from YYY - total $3400 - main component is the compliancing cost of $2500

So, I am eventually told my car is ready for pick up 5 weeks after it arrived in Australia and that all is good and it looks great-ready to go. So I fly down to Sydney with my daughter with much anticipation and we arrive at YYY the same day.

After a fairly unexciting meet and greet by some young wannabe he hands me the keys - one of which has the plastic casing smashed to bits- great start. I check over the car - engine starts great - no smoke. I smell inside the car and am not impressed- smells like cigarettes - great to put my family in. I check the rear sliding doors and find one of them is faulty. It opens and then closes by itself. not safe at all - I find a broken wire at the bottom of the door. I check the engine bay and find an air hose? connected to the air con unit disconnected. I enquire with the young man about these things, and he has no idea. I get to speak to the owner, on the phone. He thinks I have left the site, driven off and come back to complain. He didn't have much to offer. So, at this stage I am pretty pissed off at the whole experience so far. I sign the paperwork and drive off very unimpressed.

Here's where it gets even better. I notice straight away a slight knocking noise at every bump and crack in the road as I leave YYY. I am no mechanic, but I know when something's not right. We stay the night in Sydney and carry on towards Coffs Harbour the next day. This is where we are required to stop as the noise has turned into quite a serious worry. $640 later we have replaced the front left wheel bearing and CV joint and very fortunately have not incurred any further damage. Had to hire a car and stay overnight in CH till the car got fixed. The mechanics at CH say this car should never have left Sydney. I said it should never have left Japan. Amazingly this car also got through YYY? checks and a complete tyre change at Jax tryes.

Finally make it home very disappointed.

Other expenses incurred; Had the air con cleaned as it smelt very stale, right front headlight played up, had them repaired, also had the fog lights checked as they were not working (How this got through rego is very questionable via TSI). It was found the wires were cut and no bulbs present. I also did the engineering for the 7 seats. Installed a stereo. So, about another $1000 plus rego transfer $260.00

In total we spent about $17000 (not including insurance) on a vehicle that was not anywhere near our expectations.

Natalie, I understand buying 2nd hand cars will never be perfect especially at auction. At least if I buy a car already in Australia, I can get it checked out by MTA/NRMA which is comforting. We do not have the original monies available to spend $17000, didn't really have them back then either. So yes, we could again import and it's all quite exciting but at the end of the day there are no guarantees what costs will be incurred once it is here and it is my vehicle, not the importers responsibility when it arrives to be road worthy.

I have found there is a dark side to importing a vehicle and it doesn't get told in all the flashy websites of importers. I am not saying that Best People Movers is not an exception, and you could have the right processes in action to create the right experience and outcome for your customers. I hope you do, but at this stage unless there is some kind of certainty that we would be able to avoid just about everything above we may consider using your services.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Much appreciated Matt”

Sad, isn’t it?

What is the main take-away from this real-life story?

The most obvious thing is that with the direct import scenario, no one controls the entire process from start to finish.

It means that no one is responsible for the end result. No one is invested in customer’s satisfaction.

Matt was paying money to various independent parties BEFORE he could even test drive the car. So, when he was faced with serious mechanical issues with the vehicle, it was not clear whose fault it was and who was responsible.

Both companies washed their hands of him and refused to help. If you decide to go this way, I’d say you need to have a lot of confidence in the agent and also in the compliance shop.

So, there you have it, the four main types of how you can get yourself a fab import from Japan, with the focus on custom and direct car import.

Hope this blog helps you to make an informed decision. Reach out if you have any questions or if you’d like to import by custom order:

P.S. We imported a beautiful Toyota Estima for Matt, using method #3 😊

Matt Review


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