Finding a connection in Japan is crucial, and is arguably the most important part of the process. It took me over a month of purely emailing and calling until I found the perfect connection. The more I reached out to people in Japan the pickier I became. This seems counter intuitive. One would think I would slowly become less strict, but I had no idea how many red flags there are when you’re dealing in this kind of business. I’ve listed what I think are the biggest warnings I’ve come upon, and why they’re so important.
Chapter 1: Who to Trust in Japan
At first I thought I knew what I was getting into. I thought I knew what I should avoid, and what I should look for, but I forgot that I was dealing with a whole different culture and experience, so these are some bad signs you should look out for when looking for an exporter/agent.
Buying a car isn’t cheap, and importing a car is no different. If your connection in Japan isn’t rock solid you could be in for a bad time. Broken English (especially on anything written: website, social media, advertisements) is a big problem. The problem isn’t in the fact that you can’t understand them (just because someone has a speech impediment doesn’t mean they’re dangerous), it’s in the fact that this is a representation of their business. Translators aren’t hard to find in Japan, but they make a huge difference. If you’re only somewhat (or even decently) literate in a language, would you feel capable in opening a business that deals with customers who only speak that language? That’s like if you opened a handyman business and you know how to do everything except plumbing. You should claim that you can’t handle plumbing (or hire someone who handles plumbing), but you know you’ll get more business if people think you can handle everything. You should hire a handyman that can handle everything. You don’t want your car to get here and you thought it was going to be a GT-R, and it’s a GTS-T.
A bad website is a pretty general issue when dealing with any company (Note: there’s a difference between a bad website and a not-great website). A bad website isn’t one that isn’t aesthetically pleasing. A bad website is a website that misinforms, confuses, or blatantly lies. A beautiful website that has incorrect information on laws, customs, and final costs is still a bad website. So, when you’re looking at a website, don’t just look for aesthetic quality, look for honesty and knowledge. You can do this by looking at pictures, reviews, and vehicles.
This isn’t a huge issue, but it’s one that should be mentioned since I’ve seen it pop up. When you see a companies logo on the side of a Boeing Airbus (this is something I’ve actually seen, even though there are a million things wrong with this), or a freight liner, but you’re having a hard time believing they’re real, they’re probability not. I’ve seen companies photoshop their logo on almost everything. Run when you see this.
A site having no reviews isn’t the worst thing in the world. A young company with no reviews can be just as good as a company with one million five star reviews. The difference lies in how much work you need to put in. A good company will respond to emails in a timely manner, answer all your questions, and overall make you feel safe. A company with a lot of reviews will give you a goof idea of how they operate before you even contact them. A company with no reviews requires you to figure it all out. You have to contact them, email them, ask them questions, and give them a chance to make you feel safe. So, no reviews isn’t the worst, but I understand why you want to avoid them (if you have other options).
This is the worst. There are export companies that are 1st page Google sites, seem really trustable, but have bad reviews. One particular company I can think of (which will not be named) like this looks totally different when you search “(company’s name) reviews”. Story after story of vehicles that were never delivered, vehicles with blown motors, vehicles that were illegal, and every other terrifying thing that’s in your nightmares. If there’s even an inkling of an experience like this affiliated with a company you should run. You can tell if a review is fake (normally), and you can tell if a company tries to fix issues with previous customers, but bad reviews are the first thing that you should look for. Coincidentally (or not coincidentally), bad reviews are largely linked to companies with ‘stock’ vehicles.
Stock vehicles are how most people think buying a car from Japan happens; a company has a bunch of cars on a lot, you pick one, and it’s sent to you. Stock vehicles are pretty much like a normal car lot in Japan, but WAY riskier. Even if there are a lot of pictures, even if there’s a walk around video, and even if you’re talking to someone about the car and everything seems to check out, don’t trust it right off the bat. It’s not that stock vehicles are all bad, but in my experience they’re just not very reputable. With stock vehicles the only person giving you information on the vehicle is the person who wants to sell it. Plus, returning an imported car just isn’t going to happen. Once they get your money they have all the control. Look up cases where people lost their money, lost their cars, or had their cars destroyed. They’re out there, and they’re scary. The only real way for someone with on connections in Japan to deal with the process of finding a vehicle is to use an impartial and reputable third party, and that’s where the auctions come in.
Note: Trying to sell illegal cars: This is a quick note. Even if a company swears they can get you an S15, RX7 FD, or R34, don’t believe them. They’re illegal (right now, 2016), and just because they can get a car on a boat doesn’t mean the government won’t crush it.
Integrity Exports. They’re the best I’ve ever found in the Japanese vehicle auction business. This is who I use, and while I won’t force you to use them, I’ll tell you the process I used to pick them, and why I think so highly of their company.
I spent roughly 9 months researching and learning before I was ready to bring over a vehicle. This wasn’t a one month endeavor, a seven month break, and then one more month. This was 9 solid months. You know when I first started talking to Integrity Exports? Month number one. You know how long he replied to my emails, answered my questions, and helped me in any way I needed without being paid? Eight months. Stephen over at Integrity exports is a native English speaker, he spent EIGHT MONTH dealing with me without being paid for any of it, his website is solid and not only helps customers search through the auctions but also teaches you how to understand everything, he never once rushed me to make decisions or buy a vehicle, his site and emails had plenty of true customer reviews and reliable experiences, and if there was ever a question he couldn’t answer himself he would lead me to someone who could. I’m not trying to sell you on Integrity Exports, but if you ever run into an export company that puts this much effort into customer satisfaction stick with them! Integrity Exports ultimately truly stood up to their name, and are a perfect example of what you should look for when importing a vehicle.
Author: Elias Hellstrom