JAPANESE IMPORT BUYING GUIDE

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 Buying a Japanese Import Vehicle

We know from personal experience that buying a japanese import car for the first time can seem very scary. Hence, Temple Tuning's Ebay Outlet  has written this general guide which we hope will be helpful when considering purchasing a japanese import vehicle. Buying any car is a major commitment and we would recommend also reading the relevent owners forums to learn all you can before making purchase. Owner's forums are great places for finding model specific information that may not be covered in more general guides. Please note that this is not intended as a guide to importation.

General;
Always view cars in daylight. Avoid viewing in rain and ensure the seller has cleaned car. Dirt can hide a lot of sins.

If the Japanese auction sheet is available ask to see it. Have a look at the condition code given to the vehicle, as this will let you know whether the vehicle has any accident history. R, RA, A or 0 denotes accident damage where vehicle has been repaired or had panels replaced. Vehicles are also graded in terms of their condition from 6 - 1. An auction grade 6 is the highest and only ever likely to be seen on a new car. The grades move downwards with grade 3 indicating that a car has blemishes, scratches or small dents. Grade 1 will generally indicate a modified vehicle that has had certain body panels/trim replaced with aftermarket parts. REMEMBER that the auction sheet is a reflection of the visual condition of a car and does not give any guide to the mechanical workings of the vehicle.

 
Ensure that all relevent paperwork is available with the car. This will include japanese de-registration documents with English copy. An imported vehicle of less than 10yrs old will also require an SVA test to ensure UK compliance. This includes MOT, foglight, speedo conversion, petrol cap, and tyres that comply with UK regulations. It is also a SVA requirement that all vehicles must be as they left the factory. Therefore, any aftermarket parts such as bodykits, performance exhausts, boost controllers, induction kits, racing steering wheels etc etc etc must be removed and replaced with standard items. A reputable import company will deal with all this before releasing a vehicle to buyer.

Check any build plates on the car. For instance, imported Nissans have a Blue Nissan Build Plate at the back of engine bay. The plate shows the chassis number and fixed by white plastic rivets. This plate should never be removed except perhaps if the car has had engine bay re-spray so the fixings ought to be original.

Background data on vehicles from Japan is available through BIMTA. More details on BIMTA organisation can be found on the internet.

Bodywork;
Check car close up AND from 10-15ft away paying particular attention to paintwork and panel alignment. Stand at angle to car checking colour matches and for paintwork ripples or signs of blending.
Look round the car and underneath for signs of over-spray. If car has been re-sprayed you want to know why.
Check wing nuts for signs of removal and the front support bar to see if there are any signs that car has been in accident.
Look under sills at chassis legs that run from back to front of car on both sides. Make sure the small mid-way weld hasn’t split; this can be a sign of repaired shunt.
Check under carpet in boot. Make sure the spare is there. Pay particular attention for rust and signs of accident repair.
Open and close doors/boot/bonnet/windows. Make sure all panels line up as should and look for rust in areas water may sit.
Inspect underneath the car for signs of corrosion. Surface rust may be brushed off and treated.
Check all windows for cracks/chips. Replacing a window on an import can be expensive.

Electronics and Interior;
Make sure that the engine check light comes on at start up but does NOT stay on when driving. Same with other start up lights such as HICAS, ABS or airbags that may be on the vehicle. .
Check all electronics function correctly.
If the car is a fresh import on original stereo it will not function without wave expander (not expensive).
Many insurers will ask that your import has a Cat 1 alarm/immobiliser and some may ask for trackers.
Do the odometer readings appear consistent with any service stickers found on car? Stickers are generally located in door jams or engine bay.
Is the interior wear (seats/steering wheel/gators etc) what you would expect in relation to the mileage?

Engine:
Looked after many japanese engines are strong. Make sure engine has well cared for with regular service intervals, particularly important on a turbo car. Ensure that the current owner has been running on good grade fuel and if it is turbo car, allowing turbo to warm up/idle down. Is there proof positive of  cambelt change? If not, factor the price of changing belt into your budget. Similarily if the vehicle is a fresh import then it is likely that full service and new tyres will be needed. It is often less costly to buy an import vehicle from a reputable import company who ensure that all these issues are attended to on a fresh import before it leaves the forecourt or to buy a car that has been in the country for a while with an enthusiast owner who has already born these costs on your behalf.

Check that the engine appears cared for and ‘looks factory’ with neat wiring and no bodged jobs. This applies to both standard and highly modified cars.
Check for fluid leaks; i.e. Clutch, brake, power steering and ABS. Check under the engine for oil leaks paying attention to area around sump plug.
Check fluids are clean. Pull out dipstick and remove oil filler cap to check for healthy, clean oil. Black oil suggests poor maintenance. Does the oil smell burnt? Similarly check for clean coolant. Be very wary of any greyish or gooey matter in these areas.
Check hoses and belts for wear and splits.

Road testing;
Never road test a vehicle with stereo on. You need to be listening to the car. Similarly don’t let the seller talk all the way through your test drive.

Listen out for whistling noises whilst accelerating as this can indicate air leaks or turbo problems.
Listen out for detonation (or pinking) under load. Detonation can be indicative of poor ignition setting, low quality fuel, or a badly maintained engine.
Watch out for hesitations or misfires. Often these don’t reveal themselves until a higher up the rev range when engine is placed underload. Hence, try to witness the car right through the rev range.
Check for blue smoke under hard acceleration and during deceleration. Can be sign of engine wear or turbo problems.

Make sure that the operation of clutch, gearbox and brakes is smooth. Ensure that the gearbox is not whining and that there are no crunching synchros on gear changes (it is often normal for the box on a perfomance vehicle to be a little stiff when cold).

If the vehicle is a model that comes with an oil pressure gauge then make sure it is showing a nice healthy oil pressure rising under load.
Drive vehicle long enough that any temp issues are revealed.

At normal engine temp leave the car idling and check for;
Blue smoke = can indicate a variety of turbo or breathing related problems.
Black smoke = can indicate fuelling issues.
White smoke = possible engine damage, headgasket or cylinder head problems.
 

Handling, breaking and suspension;

Check for any vibration through steering when driving and that the car doesn’t pull to one side under breaking.
Do a visual check on discs for scoring and check the thickness of brake pads. If these are going to need replacing imminently then try to get the seller to do so or some money knocked off.
Check dampers for any obvious leaks. Also look out for grease leaking from ball-joints. Suspect knocking when driven may be result of dry joints.
Many japanese import vehicles are equipped with Limited-Slip Diff. You should not be able to hear any strange or whining noises from the diff.
Check tyres for wear on the inside edge and make sure front + rears haven’t been swapped.

FINALLY;
Don’t forget that the AA or RAC will check a car out pretty thoroughly for you. Also if not a fresh import , consider a HPI check My favourite moto when buying any vehicle is; ‘If in doubt, leave it out’.  Good luck with buying your import vehicle! Best Regards  Temple Tuning
 
 
Please be aware that this guide was written by proprieter of Temple Tuning and remains the intellectual property of Temple Tuning. We are tremendously pleased if you have found it helpful. If you feel it would be useful to share this information within your car club then we are entirely happy for your to use it. All we ask is that you link it from source. Many thanks, Temple Tuning.  
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