Dec 15, 2015

A Guide To Buying A Used Car In Japan

A Guide To Buying A Used Car In Japan photo

Key word:  中古車 (chukosha) - used car.

Let’s get two things clear right away; I know little about cars, and have even less interest in them, other than as something to get from A to B.  So, better to consider this a reluctant novice’s experience of buying a used car in Japan.

Furthermore, it has to be said, there are two things that are going to make buying any car in Japan infinitely smoother; 1) Having a car already.  2) Having a Japanese partner be the legal owner.  All will be explained in due course.

Finally, the car being purchased here is a kei car (軽自動車/kei jidousha); a small car with an engine up to 660cc.

The Research

In our case (that’s me and the Japanese partner), research began on the Internet.  One of the most popular resources in Japan for picking out prospective motors is Goonet クルマ ポータルサイト (Car Portal Site).  In fact, there is an English-language page with simple search functions that can take you all the way to buying and picking-up a new motor.  As always though, if you can read Japanese, you’ll have access to more search options.  From here, we set our budget, engine size, and sourced potential purchases in the local area.

The Dealers

You can buy used cars online in Japan.  In fact, when we visited a Gulliver dealer, that’s essentially all they did; sit us down, drip feed us coffee, and show us screen after screen of thumbnails, from which they somehow expected us to find the car of our dreams.  Needless to say, it didn’t happen.  No, if I'm going to buy a car, I at least want to sit in it first!

Next step, visit dealers.  This is where already having a car comes in handy.  These places are usually out in the suburbs and tend to be a loooong march from train stations.  

Two dealers to be aware of …

Specialists of a certain make:

- More expensive but more reliable.  

- Offer better support/coverage should your car need early repairs.

- Can get repairs done in any branch nationwide (within the period of coverage).

Dealers that pick up motors at auction:

- Significantly cheaper.

- On the surface, at least, more likely to have ‘the’ car that you were looking for.

- More likely to lie to you in order to sell it.

- More likely to stock cars that have been involved in accidents/undergone extensive repairs.

Internets forums are full of people pulling their hair out in frustration at the latter.  A local mechanic friend strongly advised us to go with ‘specialist’ dealers (given that neither of us knows a great deal about cars).

Most of the dealers we visited were pretty relaxed.  Little pressure was put on us to make a purchase.  We were free to poke around the lots (sometimes supervised, sometimes not), checking out cars, opening doors, playing with cup holders, and all the rest.  Dealers were happy to turn on engines, demonstrate sound systems, and fold/unfold rear seats to reveal storage space.  Test driving is another issue, though.  Insurance, gas, and other factors may prevent it, but you should be able to have a quick (sorry, slow) spin up and down the lot.  Pick out two or three motors of interest and staff will give you a printout detailing costs and conditions.  Go home and have a think.

A Guide To Buying A Used Car In Japan photo

The Things To Consider

First of all, as with many big purchases in Japan (flights, property, furnishings) the price that is advertised most prominently is only part of the story.  After all essential add ons are made, expect to be paying significantly more.  It varies depending on the dealer.  Could be anywhere between 50,000 yen and 300,000 yen!

Here are the very basics you should look out for ...

初年度登録/shonendo touroku - Essentially, when the car was made.  Or, how old it is.

車検有効期限/shaken yuukou kigen - When the car is due another maintenance check.

走行距離/soukou kyori - How many km it has done.

修復歴/shufuku reki - Repair history.

Shaken is the big one here.  A car may look cheap, but if the shaken is up just a few months after purchase, well, it’s not as cheap as it looks.  Cars have to go in for shaken every two years.  Finding one at the start of this period is the best case scenario.  Of course, the car in the lot may have no shaken at all.  Add this to the price on the windshield!

Ask about the car’s history of repair (you may not be told otherwise).  How much you can trust of what comes out of a dealer’s mouth at this point, I’ve no idea.

A consideration for those trading in old motors.  Will they do this, and complete the necessary paperwork for free?  If not, you’re looking at 10,000 - 20,000 yen.

Don’t be afraid to gently bargain with a dealer.  Not so much about the price of the basic car. Rather for the little extras; GPS, covering of light scratches, installation of ETC, err, e.t.c.

The Documents

No surprises here.  There are a lot of forms to fill out when buying a used car in Japan. This is where it comes to the second of our initial considerations.  Having the Japanese partner.  I honestly have no idea how keen dealers are to flog motors to foreigners, but even if they’re fine with it (which they should be), having someone Japanese to handle the form filling will help.  A lot!!!

I can’t remember how many forms we filled out (I was more concentrated on my free coffee and nibbles), so here’s a picture of SOME of them...

A Guide To Buying A Used Car In Japan photo

I do know that these were the documents the Japanese partner needed (i.e. the legal owner of the car) …

住民表/jyumin hyou - family register

印鑑証明/inkan shoumei - proof of ‘name stamp’ (if you’re handing over an old motor)

車検証/shaken shou - maintenance certificate/records, if you’re selling your old car

車庫証明書/shoukou shoumeishou - certificate from the garage/dealer

自賠責保険/shibaiseki hoken - vehicle liability insurance form

委任状/inin jou - document giving permission for the dealer to get a number plate (by proxy)

It probably took around 30 mins for the form filling (although we did take some home with us). We also paid a 20,000 yen deposit.  The dealer said any amount would be fine for this.

The Exchange

As I write this, we are yet to be in possession of the new motor.  This is a busy time of year, and with holidays approaching we won’t be able to pick it up until early January.  In the meantime, it will be checked, serviced and spruced up (hopefully).  When the time comes, we’ll drive in our current motor to the dealer, hand over cash/credit card and ‘old’ car, and whizz off in a shiny new ‘used’ one.


The first thing to say here, is that the form filling required when buying used kei car in Japan, differs significantly from other types.

Parking:  We rent a space near the crib.  Consequently, we have to fill out forms (together with the owner of said space) and present them to the police, notifying the change of car (Yes, really!).  I’ve heard that in more rural areas there is no need for this.

Costs:  I don’t want to get into specifics, but at the lower end of the scale, cars over 10 years old were going for 300,000 - 400,000 yen.  At the upper end of the used kei car range; something within the last 5 years and in good nick, 800,000 yen - 1,000,000 yen.

I’d say to get to this point has taken 2 months(?).  It’ll have been 3 months when we’re in possession of the new car.

NB.  We now are in possession of the car.  Read about the final steps of the process ..

A Guide To Buying A Used Car In Japan: The Switch

Twitter: @City_Cost_Japan




A Q&A and blogging community about life in Japan (plus a load of life-in-Japan stats!). Get your questions answered, share your experience! | Inquiry -> KyodoNewsDigital International Media | Tokyo, Japan | +81 3 6252 6402


  • Higgins

    on Dec 15

    Saving this for later! Thanks!

  • City-Cost

    on Dec 15

    @Higgins You're welcome. I will say, it was a smooth enough process but the paperwork is quite a bit to get through. Or it was in our case.

  • Higgins

    on Dec 15

    @City-Cost I would love to hear from some foreigners about getting a car loan. It seems like it can be a pretty difficult thing.

  • alphy

    on Mar 15

    I have bought 2 cars in the past 7 years in Japan - first was from a foreign friend. He was friends with a mechanic in the area who spoke English and took care of all the paperwork and setting up my insurance... if you are teaching English on JET or Interac (or know people who are) they probably know of such mechanics in your area who are used to helping foreigners for a small fee or even free (mine just wanted to practice English while we were filling out the forms). You can probably get a very good deal from other foreigners in your area (my first car was only 30,000 yen, with one year before shaken!), and save yourself a lot of paperwork through this method.