This is bittersweet. You finally got your car! But now you have to figure out if it’s in good shape. If you’re mechanically inclined this is something you can do yourself, however, I suggest you take it to a reputable shop. Having one pair of eyes on your car is good, but having a bunch of highly trained eyes on your car is great. Usually an all around diagnosis will run you roughly $100, and it can save you a whole lot more.
If the shop you use is used to imported cars (as many are becoming this way lately), you’re in luck. If not, here are a few things you should have them check especially well.
Chapter 6: Checking Your Car.
What to Check
Lets get the basics out of the way. Here’s a traditional list of things to look for before driving your imported car:
Alright, so those are the basics, but we all know our car buying experience is different, so that means we have to look for different things. For starters, lets talk about salt water.
Japan can be brutal when it comes to cars. Yes, Japanese owners usually take care of their cars better than most other countries, but the island of Japan itself is not the best place for cars. When you see a car that’s in great shape that almost certainly means it was stored indoors (especially at the age we’re talking about), because salt water is a nasty thing. Anyone who lives near the ocean knows the harm salt can cause to vehicles, and most of that damage is hidden. Thankfully, the auction reports are pretty good at detecting ‘corrosion’ of any kind, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same when it gets overseas. Japan is surrounded by the ocean, the port is next to the ocean, and the boat your car will travel inside is on top of the ocean. If nothing else, check everything you can that salt water can get to. Body, engine, transmission, fuel tank, rotors/brakes, exhaust, etc. I should also add, this is a big reason you should have pictures take of your car at both ports. If you have a suspicion that there was salt water damage on the boat, you have nothing to work with it you don’t have proof. Sometimes it’s not so obvious when damage is mechanical (hint: if there’s water leaking from the exhaust when the car isn’t even on, then something is probably wrong).
So an auction report lets you know if the car is running funny or not running at all, but that doesn’t mean the car is in ‘perfect running condition’. No auction inspector knows about every type of car and how they should sound/feel, so do everything you can to inspect the engine health when/if your car is running. Compression tests aren’t always easy to do, but they’ll save you a lot in the long run (and give you piece of mind). Vacuum leak tests also help, because these issues are harder to detect just by running the engine.
This might sound crazy, but make sure your paperwork matches the car you just imported. Even if you were sent a picture in Japan of the VIN plate, that doesn’t mean it belonged to your car. You don’t want to end up trying to get your car registered and not even have matching numbers (especially since the car already left the port).
Where Damage Could of Happened
The bad stuff. This isn’t what you want to think about, but it’s essential to figure out where damage happened if it did end up happening. There are, essentially, three times unprecedented damage could have happened: Before your purchase, during transportation, or after you pick your car up. This means you’re looking at three potential people to blame. The damage may be Japan’s fault, it could be the shipping company’s fault, or it could be your fault.
How to Tell if Damage Happened in Japan.
If your damage is visible from the outside, look at your auction photos. Can you see the damage in those photos? If it’s small, is there any indication on the auction map that you missed before? You’d be surprised how much you can look over when you find your dream car. If it’s obvious the damage isn’t in the auction photos, or the photos that were sent to you before your car left Japan, then you need to consider the shipping company.
What if the damage is mechanical? Mechanical issues don’t appear in photos, obviously, but they should appear in the auction report. If a car idles low, cuts off, or doesn’t run, it’s very clearly written on the auction sheet. If you suspect your auction agent didn’t tell you something, have another person translate the report (still, it would be obvious on the sheet, even if you don’t read Japanese, if there was serious mechanical failure). If you trust your agent, let him know the issue and see if he/she is able to contact anyone who drove the vehicle. A vehicle that doesn’t run is much harder to get on a boat, so they’ll remember if it didn’t run.
How to Tell if Damage Happened During Transportation
I should warn you, this is very hard to prove. This is why photos before and after are critical (along with anything else you can have that proves your case). The easiest way to tell something odd happened during transportation is if your experience doesn’t follow the expected experience. For instance, you shouldn't have to wait 2 weeks to have your car inspected at the port (yes, this happened to me, but I’ll get to that later). If your vehicle had to be towed off the boat, they should tell you (and if they don’t, yes this happened to me, then that’s a bad sign). If the shipping company tells you they won’t transport you car on land because there’s so much mold the car, but then when you confront them say they’ll clean it for you at no cost and never mention it again, that’s a bad sign (again, this happened to me).
Just because your car doesn’t run at the port doesn’t mean it’s the shipping companies fault. In fact, it’s pretty likely that your car won’t run at the port just because of cheap batteries. So don’t worry if everything goes smoothly and your car doesn’t run. I also had this happen to a car that I imported very successfully, and even though it didn’t run it was very healthy once it was jumped.
If you suspect damage was caused by the transportation, and you have good proof, you’ll need to seek legal help. These shipping companies are incredibly large, and have good lawyers, but they also have a lot of money. If you have enough proof there’s a good chance they’ll help you out, but make sure you’re not a jerk about it (as hard as that is).
How to Tell Damage if Caused by You
Alright, this is where you have to be real with yourself. There’s a chance the damage is your fault. If you’re too hasty and try to turn your car on, and your car isn’t ready to turn on, then you’re not going to be compensated. If your car gets hit by the gate on the way out of the port, then you’re probably not going to be compensated. This is why I highly suggest you have your car transported straight to a mechanic shop so they can check it over. Plus, this is why you need a transporter you can trust (or that will at least tell you when something is their fault). The main lesson in me saying this is to remember that you shouldn’t automatically blame someone else if your car isn’t perfect. This isn’t a normal car buying experience, and there’s going to be more risk involved.