Since our last look at the The Crisis (the car shortage, that is, see here) things have not gotten any better: Russia and Ukraine are still punching each other, everybody and his brother are splashing sanctions all over the shop, the European motor industry is looking ever gloomier, and prices of good (if you can find them) used cars bought in the States are still trending up.
“It’s all going to hell in a hand basket!” as my grumpy old father likes to say (and has been saying for years).
To which my mother replies: “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” And she picks up her favourite shopping bag and heads off to the shops to search for bargains.
Hope springs eternal…..and so do bargains and opportunities in the Japanese used car market, whether it’s at the Japanese used car auctions, at the Japanese used car dealers, or from private sales (and we handle all of these sources at Japan Car Direct), the bargains, good used cars at good prices, are still very much to be found here in Japan.
Recap on the Keep Car
In our last blog post on the car shortage we looked at the “keep car,” the kind of car that you want to keep for a long time, the kind of car that gives you the best overall value for these hard times. At that time in our discussion we stayed very mechanical, very technical, and we said that a keep car needs to have good rust resistance, good parts availability, good build quality, and needs to be as simple as possible in its vehicle class. With these things we can expect the car to live a long time.
But do you or I buy our cars based solely on a consideration of these technical points? Of course not. It’s like saying we buy our cars based solely on price. Sure, price is important and getting you a good used Japanese car at a good and cheap price is one of our most important jobs here at JCD, and I’m proud to say (tooting our own horn here) that we are pretty good at it. Working knowledgeably and patiently in the Japanese used car market, you’ll not be paying unreasonable money for what you get and, in fact, you’ll pretty well always be getting a “deal:” a cheap, clean used car.
But money isn’t everything. You’ve got to “stretch out with your feelings, Luke.”
So now let’s look at some of the “subjective” points, some of the “touchy feely” points, your needs and your wants, in your search for the keep car.
What Do I Need? Seats and Load
When I buy a used car, and I’ve only ever bought used cars, never new (let the other guy pay the depreciation!), I look first at what I need the car to do for me, and that always breaks down into two categories: What I need to carry and where I need to go, so: Load capacity on the one hand, and overall vehicle size and drive train layout on the other.
Because I’m settled now, and “of a certain age,” I can have a two seater, open topped, pure sports car, my beloved Mazda Miata / MX5.
This is a car I highly recommend, by the way, if you want to buy a fun, very high quality, and cheap-to-run used sports car from Japan.
But if you have a large family,carry large loads,
then I would not recommend this car.
But, seriously, you need to look realistically at how many people you need to carry and how much luggage space you need.
When you are thinking of a keep car in the station wagon class (and cars in this class are very often kept by their owners long term, my mother had a Corolla Wagon for dogs’ ages), you can’t do better than the Toyota Caldina.
These cars have been in production since 1992 (the one in the pic above is a 1995) and have good parts availability and parts cross over with other Toyota offerings. Typical of Toyota cars, especially from the 1990s, they are high quality, good looking, and not particularly complex machines. We have been exporting many good, clean, used Caldinas direct from Japan to our major markets like the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. (You can find the used car import rules for these countries on our Japan Car Direct main web site just by clicking on the county names.)
Caldinas are classed as compact cars but, for a larger car in the station wagon class, we are also seeing Toyota Crowns becoming very popular now.
These ’90s Crown Stationwagons and Crown Vans, brothers to the lovely 1997 Crown Sedan that I used to have
are very, very well-built machines and will go for ever. In fact, Toyota’s luxury cars are very good deals when you are looking for a keep car, and not only because they are so reliable and long lasting, but also because they have lots of parts cross over in engines, transmissions and even with many suspension components. I am quite a fan of Toyota luxury cars and we’ve now got an eight part series on these classy machines on our Japan Car Direct Blog, starting here with Part 1.
And to see some examples of clean, low miles used Toyota luxury cars that we have exported recently from Japan, have a look at this Soarer, this Crown Majesta, and this Celsior (Lexus LS400). Just click on the car names to see these cars that were all very good deals for our customers doing self import direct from Japan.
I Love 1990s Japanese Cars
Now you’ll see that I’ve twice mentioned good Japanese used cars form the 1990s. This is because I really think, and I have found in my own experience, too, that 90s Japanese cars are generally the best in the world for design and quality at a reasonable price; and they often have lots of parts cross over. For example, the engines in some versions of the Caldina that we looked at above are also to be found in front-wheel-drive Celicas, mid-engined MR2s, and rear-wheel-drive Altezzas; this is the legendary S-series engine. Here’s a pic of the turbo, charged cooled one that nestled in my Celica GT-Four:
My gosh, what a rocket that car was! We recently shipped a gorgeous black one to Australia, have a peek at him here.
Yeah, there are just so many good Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) cars that are available if you go the direct self import route (you can read more about the whole JDM thing here) and you can easily find yourself a good keep car, and yet have a car that is fun and affordable, too; and the good parts crossover of many ’90s Japanese machines helps to keep your car running for a very long time, indeed.
And, thinking here about used ’90s Toyotas that have good carrying capacity, think: Hiace. A total winnerman’s van. Take the Hiace Regius, which is now 25 years old and cleared for easy import to the USA. Here’s a lovely, and rather cool-looking, camper version:
These vans are tough, yet civilized, come with up to eight seats, and offer either two-wheel-drive (rear drive), or four-wheel-drive. They have serious load capacity; yet their external dimensions are not elephantine.
They are actually quite trim externally, say four and a half meter long, two meters tall, and less than two meters wide. They are certainly not road hogs.
And vehicles like the Hiace are also available with either gasoline (petrol) or Diesel engines. The well-deserved reputation of Diesel engines for good fuel economy and long service life is an important factor in choosing a keep car for hard times. In fact, the other day, I was talking cars with one of the guys on our sales team here and he told me: “Anything Diesel + Toyota will have a good resale value.” Something to keep in mind when we think about opportunities in times of crisis: Guys who want to source good used cars here in Japan for resale in the USA are finding successes when they source the right vehicles. One of our regular dealer customers told us: “….campers, quad cabs, 4WD trucks and vans bought right (and that’s the key) are guaranteed great sales.”
But a word of warning here, again from our own sales team: “People who are interested in reselling to make money, but have no idea what to buy, typically don’t work out.” So, just like with choosing a keep car, with buying for resale, you need to analyze clearly and accurately what is needed.
On a related note, the folks who are interested in importing a camper from Japan might want to have a look at our posts about Japanese Campers. You’ll find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
What Do I Need? Drive Train and Vehicle Size
Let’s get back to how we choose our own keep car. So, we need enough seats and enough load capacity. Check. Now, what about drive system? To answer this question we have to consider where we have to drive. Do we drive in places like Location A
If you chose Location A, I guess you’re looking at having 4WD. No brainer there, eh?
And for Location B, two wheel drive is enough, no? Simple, eh?
Aaaaaah……but what if your beautiful, well-paved roads are sometimes like this:
Hmmmm…..yeah, we may need 4WD, or we may be able to get by with two wheel drive if the car has a front wheel drive layout. (My old FF Mitsubishi Minica Dangan
was excellent on snow with the narrow 145 tyres, and I live in the mountains. I was never not able to make it home at the end of the day.)
So the choice of drive train for our keep car is not so simple as it may seem at first. If your car can’t deal with all the road conditions that you have to face, you are going to start to want to replace that keep car, aren’t you? This negates the whole idea of a “keep” car. So look honestly at the conditions you and your car are going to face.
Same with size. Most of the roads I drive on are modern and wide enough, but THIS IS JAPAN and there are still plenty of frighteningly narrow roads
and, for me, there is this one stretch going into town from my house in the hills here where the road narrows and curves at the same time; I can slip through in my Miata but, in anything wider, I begin to sweat.
So, if you choose a keep car that is too wide, it’s going to become a “bye-bye” car before too long.
But, again THIS IS JAPAN, the home of small but high capacity cars, the home of the tiny but triumphant Kei cars, Kei tricks and Kei vans. This is a class of machine that you’ll find can easily become your keep car. They are small, simple, capable, cheap to run, have good parts availability, are often very cute and good looking and, in the case of Kei sports cars and Jimnys, fun fun fun!
For more on these wonderful little vehicles check out our blog posts on Kei Sports Cars (part 1 here), our website page on the mini but mighty 4WD Suzuki Jimny here, our blog posts on the best Japanese Kei trucks (starting here), and our website pages on Kei vehicles and Kei trucks here, here, and here.
What Do I Need? Love and Lust
These last two points here, fun and good looks, lead us to the last area in which we need to be honest with ourselves and accurate about our needs in order to choose the right keep car.
For me, good looks are very important in the car I drive. On those days that I feel uninspired and have to drag myself to work, or when I’m burned out and have to drag myself back home, walking up to my good looking car makes it so much easier to face the coming drive. And when the car is fun, fun to handle, fun to accelerate, fun even to put the brakes on, then I look forward to my time with that car and it will put a smile on my face, even on a dark and miserable day.
If there is love and lust in the relationship, if there is charm and choice, you’ll want to keep that car for a long time; and if your car is well built, cheap to run and service, carries the loads you need to carry and deals with the roads you need to deal with, then you’ve found your “keep car” and you’ll get the best, long term motoring value from that machine. You’ll not only beat The Crisis and beat the car shortage, you’ll ride it out in style.
There are many really, really good, low mileage, clean used cars available from us here in Japan. Drop us a line and register here and let our team at Japan Car Direct work with you to get you the right car, the best car, the keep car.
Leave your questions and comments, we look forward to replying!