Japanese Car Imports – The Truth About Importing Cars from Japan to Australia

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If you want the truth, we Australians have been dudded when it comes to the Japanese cars we’ve had access to over the years. Yes, we have had the opportunity to buy some of the headliners such as the Honda NS-X and the original Nissan GT-R Godzilla, but in other respects we’ve missed out on some truly epic JDM cars.

Why is that? Often it’s simply a case of car company sniffing the air and deciding that the car in question wouldn’t sell here in sufficient volumes to justify the time and effort to get it here. Other times, the rest of the world gets a crack at the car before we do, and then there are the cases where making the car in question comply with our very specific registration and legal requirements is (or was) seen as simply too hard. Either way, the Japanese cars for sale here haven’t always been the pick of the crop.

So what can you do about it? What’s the course of action when a Japanese car you want to add to your collection simply isn’t or wasn’t sold here? You import the thing yourself. The idea of an import car from Japan to Australia sounds simple, but trust us, it’s not. There are legal and logistical hoops to jump through and, if you get it wrong, you can be tied up in legal knots for years. And still with a car-shaped hole in your garage.

These days, it’s not just the high-performance Japanese import cars that are attracting private importers. People movers, high-end luxury cars and even the crazy little Kei-class mini-trucks and vans are popular imports. But remember that Japanese used cars often have pretty tough lives trapped in Tokyo gridlock, so having a good idea of the mechanical condition of any prospect is important.

That’s why some buyers like to actually travel to Japan to make their choice. Failing that, you can try online auctions in Japan, but a Japan car auction is likely to be just as confusing unless you know the ropes.

The laws controlling the private importation of cars – not just Japanese cars – have changed over the years and it’s quite complex. Before the late 1980s, car importation was more or less a free-for-all. But from January 1, 1989, things changed, making the process a lot more complex and expensive. The change was seen as a way of protecting the official imported car brands already operating here by ruling out private imports of cars that weren’t significantly different from those already available. The list of permitted makes and models is a long one and applies to all makes and models, not just Japanese ones. You can check it out here: https://rvcs.infrastructure.gov.au/sevs/sevsindex.htm

These days, the actual importation process is overseen by the Department of Infrastructure and is a Federal deal, so Japanese imports Australia wide are treated the same in every state right up to the registration process, which will vary. Equally, that level of government control means you automatically know importing cars to Australia will be a t-crossing and i-dotting experience.

So what’s the basic process in importing vehicles into Australia (and Japanese car imports Australia bound are treated no differently than imports from any other country)? Your first move is to check the list and find out if the car you want is actually on the green-light list.

Step two is to apply for import approval with the department. This can take up to 60 days (but usually closer to 20). The process can be done online, but it does involve a fee. Details you’ll need for the import approval include the car’s VIN and a receipt for the sale including the car value. Don’t be tempted by a car that’s already in Australia but lacks an import approval certificate. You’ll be buying more trouble than you can imagine.

Step three is to wait patiently until the import approval has been granted. Check the document for any conditions you need to abide by.

Only then can you move on to step four and actually arrange shipping from Japan. You’ll need to talk to a freight forwarding company and it’s wise to check whether the seller of the vehicle can be any help at this stage. Big companies that sell a lot of cars to foreign owners are likely to have good contacts. This is the stage where you also need to have the car thoroughly cleaned, the air-conditioning de-gassed and the vehicle checked for asbestos and any trace of that removed.

Step five involves arranging for the car to arrive in Australia, starting with a customs clearance. To obtain that, you need to lodge an import declaration, pay the relevant customs duty, pay the GST and Luxury Car Tax if it applies, and prove that there’s no asbestos lurking in the car.

Step six is to meet Australian quarantine requirements. This is why the car has to be spotless when it leaves Japan, as any dirt will be considered a risk to our environment. Sometimes the quarantine process will involve a steam-cleaning (at your expense) other times not. You need to arrange the inspection and you may be required to be present for the inspection.

Step seven is to meet the approval conditions which amounts to modifying the vehicle to suit ADRs and arrange for testing of same if deemed necessary by the Feds.

Finally, if you’ve survived all that, step eight is to actually register the vehicle.

You can check out the department’s website and relevant pages here: https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/infrastructure-transport-vehicles/vehicles/importing-road-vehicle-australia

If that all sounds like too much hassle, you might be better off seeking the services of an Australian based importer who is operating as a business importing cars and vehicles. Yes, you’ll pay for their efforts, but since they’re doing this all the time, they’ll have a much better idea of the traps and tricks in making it work.

Even though, geographically, Japan is not too far from Australia, imports of this type won’t be a cheap exercise. Budget on anywhere from $5000 to $10,000 for the actual shipping, then a budget for making the car comply with all relevant ADRs (which can obviously vary enormously from car to car).

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