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Japanese Import Problems

Common problems found in second-hand Japanese import cars.

The common problems found in Japanese imports...

Body and paint

Suspension and brakes

Engine and driveline

The availability of second-hand cars outa Japan has been a Godsend for performance enthusiasts. Japanese market Skylines, Silvias/180SXs, MR2, Supras, Soarers and various other machines have given budget-conscious buyers a fighting chance against people who’ve spent a wad on a late-model local performance car.

On a bang for buck basis there’s not much to rival a second-hand Japanese import.

But there are some problems that import buyers should be aware of.

In this article we’ll examine some common problems associated with second-hand Japanese import cars. Anyone planning to buy an unseen car through a Japanese importer should be reading this v-e-r-y closely...

Body and Paint


Rust is a major problem in cars bought from the heavy snowfall areas of Japan. The heaviest snowfall is typically along the west coast of Japan particularly in the north (including cities such as Nagazaki, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kanazawa and Sapporo).

So how much rust are we talking here?

Well, take a look at the wheel arch of this Nissan R32 Skyline – there’s a hole big enough to fit your fist through! This rust area might be repairable with a replacement panel but whenever you see this much rust it should raise concerns regarding the chassis and undercarriage.

If the chassis or any structural part of the car is rusted you will not pass a roadworthy inspection – and there’s no cheap fix. This photo shows the lower sill panel belonging to the same car. Be aware that, in instances such as this, the rust is so major that it isn’t economically feasible to repair and register the car. These cars are good for nothing more than parts – a real blow if you’ve imported the car expecting to get it on the road.

Faded Paint

Be careful when you hand over money for an import car that has freshly arrived off the ship.

Invariably, the car arrives in a layer of filth (including giant sun-hardened bird droppings, as seen in this photo!) and it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that a thorough scrub will bring it back to beauty. This is often not the case. When you blast off that filth with a high pressure hose, you will often find paint that’s in poor condition.

Some cars are merely in need of an extra-deep cut and polish but others will require expensive paint work. Before making a transaction, we suggest giving the car a quick hose off and taking close look at the paint. You’ll find major paint deterioration in cars that have been parked outside for extended periods in Japan (remember, parking space is expensive in heavily populated Japanese cities and few people can afford a proper garage).

Click for larger image

This photo shows the faded paint on the left rear quarter panel of a Eunos Cosmo. At minimum, the quarter panel will require a respray and it’s more than likely the entire car will need a fresh coat as well. Oh, and we hope you know where to find the original Eunos paint colour...

Scuff Marks and Dents

Any second-hand car is entitled to have scuff marks and dents but, by the time they arrive in Australia, Japanese import vehicles tend to have more than their fair share...

Take a look along the bumper bars for scuff marks and broken exterior trim pieces. This photo shows the scuff mark on the rear bumper of a Toyota Crown. It mightn’t look like much but it will be difficult to match the silver pearl paint and you could be up for a whole lot more than you initially thought.

Again, it’s a good idea to hose off the car to look for dents. Some dents (like this one in the front quarter panel of a Nissan 180SX) are easy to spot but you can also identify irregular panel gaps – an indicator that the car has been involved in a collision.

Custom Paint

We’ve seen some truly appalling custom paint jobs on vehicles imported from Japan.

There is often very little time spent prep-ing and the paint finish is poor – this photo shows the new blue paint applied around the original number plate... When this newly applied paint starts to peel (and it will) you’ll be up for a professional strip and spray. And there’s no way around this – when the top coat of paint is as gnarley as this, you need to start again from scratch.

Again, this will cost big dollars.

Body Kit Related Damage

A large percentage of the second-hand cars imported from Japan are fitted with an aftermarket body kit. It makes sense really – we want the high-performance cars and they are the ones most likely to have received some aftermarket treatment.

Frequently, the body kit has been damaged in Japan or during freight. Small splits and tears in the fibreglass can usually be repaired but a totally mangled front spoiler (such as seen here) is virtually unrepairable. This extent of damage is quite common on cars fitted with a ground-hugging body kit and lowered suspension.

In some instances, a car’s body kit will be stripped prior to sale in Japan. This can caused problems if the spoiler holes are left unsealed. In the case of a stripped 180SX tailgate spoiler, water can leak into the rear cargo area causing water damage to the carpet and rust in the wheel well. Be on the lookout for exposed body kit holes and any associated problems.

Suspension and Brakes

Airbag Suspension

In the case of high-end Toyotas (such as Soarers, Celsiors and Crowns) the factory option airbag suspension is the cause for some concern. The airbag material goes brittle with age and you may encounter a leaking airbag. This can be identified when the corner of the car sags when it hasn’t been driven for more than a few days.

Sagging airbag suspension is expensive to fix properly – and you’re unlikely to find second-hand replacement units that are in any better condition than the current parts...

Brake Corrosion

Brake corrosion is another problem common in cars imported from the heavy snowfall areas of Japan.

As seen in this pic, cars can arrive from Japan with heavily rusted brake discs and, if they aren’t machined or replaced within a few kilometres of driving, you’re guarantied to chew out the existing pads. Replacing all four discs and pads can be quite a costly exercise, so make allowances in your budget.

Engine and Driveline

It’s fair to say that the majority of cars imported from Japan have a patchy service history. However, as a generalisation, you’ll find that the high-end vehicles (such as Celsiors) are better maintained than cheaper cars.

One of the biggest causes of trouble is a worn timing belt (where fitted). If the car has done more than 100,000km and hasn’t had a timing belt replacement it needs one urgently – you don’t want a collection of bent valves and damaged pistons... Inspect the engine for signs of timing belt replacement (new gasket sealant and evidence of timing cover removal) in the first instance and, if you do buy the car, we suggest removing the timing cover and giving the belt a close-up visual inspection.

Oil and oil filter changes are very important in high-performance vehicles and, sadly, we see imported cars arrive with very old filters in use. Check the existing fluids for any abnormalities and be wary of engines with thick, gluggy oil.

Beyond these basic inspections you need to be on the lookout for problems that are specific to certain makes and models. For example, Kei class turbo cars often have worn turbochargers, Silvia/180SX and Skyline turbos often have an abused clutch and Celsiors can have tired front suspension knuckles. And be particularly cautious of cars with inoperative speedometers and odometers – Nissan S13 and Toyota digital dashboards are prone to failure and it can be impossible to obtain an accurate odometer reading. In this case, you are safest to judge the distance travelled based on interior trim wear.

By Michael Knowling

Aristro, Lexus, Crown, JDM, Bentley, SL, SEL, Citroen, Daimler, Austin, Rover, Maserati, Sedan deville, President, USPS, Postal Service, Slyline, Silvia, Towncar, Lincoln, Mark IV, V, VI, Javelin, Comet, Maverick, Mustang, Muscle car, Delta 88, Rolls Royce, Silver Shadow, Mercedes, SL 500, SL450, SL350, Mail Delivery, Class B, Toyota & Mitsubishi Diesels, Hilux, Hilux Surf, Hiace, Townace, Liteace, Pajero, Delica, Megacruiser, land cruiser, Prado, BJ-T (Touring), BJ-R (Radio), BJ-J (Cowl-chassis for a fire-engine).BJ-T (Touring), BJ-R (Radio), BJ-J (Cowl-chassis for a fire-engine),FJ-J (Cowl-chassis for a fire-engine). FJ40, FJ45, FJ55, BJ40, HJ45, BJ42, J70, J60, J80, Land Cruiser 40 Series, land Cruiser  50 Series, Land Cruiser 60 Series, Land Cruiser 70 Series, Land Cruiser 80 Series, Landcruiser 70,  Landcruiser 71,  Landcruiser 73,  Landcruiser 74, HDJ80R, HZJ80R FJ60, FJ62, FJ62, BJ60, HJ60, HJ61, FJ80R/L, FZJ80R/L, Mitsubishi Pajero, Mitsubishi Diesel, Mitsubishi Pajaro, Hiace Super Custom Limited, Hiace GL, Hiace Diesel, Hiace 4wd, Nissan Caravan, Caravan 4wd, Caravan Diesel, Nissan Homy, Homy Diesel, Homy 4wd, Hiace 4x4, Hiace Camper, Hiace Conversion Van, Landcruiser Fire Truck, Hiace Cargo, Townace Camper, Toyota Camper, Toyota Motorhome, Hiace Motorhome, Landcruiser Camper, Landcruiser Motorhome, Landcruiser Ute, Landcruiser Troop Carrier, Landcruiser Troopy, pajero turbo diesel. 2.4 2L, 2.4 2LT, 2LTE

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