Why are Japanese cars more reliable?

If there is one more thing Japan is known for, its technology. Japan has one of the most advanced and innovative technologies in the world. They have produced several products that are considered “game changers” in many industries, including automotive and transportation. 

In the 1990s, Japanese car brands led the international market in automobiles. They produced high-quality products, and brands such as Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Isuzu, Kawazaki, etc., were considered “giant” companies worldwide. 

Why are Japanese import cars cheap?

Most Japanese cars are cheap because they are exported to “scale economies” such as Southeast Asia. Japanese cars also have competitive prices because of their manufacturing processes and the car’s features. 

For this reason, Japanese import cars can be one of the cheapest ways to buy a car. However, the price varies for each country and the distance from Japan.

Most expensive car makers don’t normally do in-house manufacturing. When they do, the manufacturing costs skyrocket because of expensive labor and material procurement. On the other hand, Japanese car companies can produce and assemble cars independently without relying too much on outside sources. 

Japanese car companies also have their own manufacturing sites outside Japan in countries where they project to sell well. 

Because Japanese cars in Japan are cheaper than in average developed countries, most Japanese buy cars frequently, making the automotive industry in Japan even more successful. And because more and more Japanese buy cars, the number of secondhand vehicles is also increasing.

While many of these secondhand Japanese cars available at auction are still in pristine condition, they need to be disposed of to make room for the brand-new cars that the Japanese government encourages people to buy. Requirements around getting old cars regularly checked by a mechanic are a put-off for many people. The solution for this is the exportation of used cars to other countries. 

Why don’t the Japanese buy used cars or keep using their old cars? 

One of the biggest questions of foreigners about car ownership in Japan is why most Japanese prefer new cars instead of keeping their old cars. 

If you haven’t lived in Japan, you might be oblivious to the “Shaken” (car inspection) system. Car ownership in Japan is not as easy as in any other country. When you buy a car, you’ll have to go through a rigorous and strict inspection before you can get a permit to own the car. 

A brand-new car often gets a 3-year permit to use before it gets inspected again. After the first 3-year permit, you’ll have to have your car inspected every two years again. The older the car, the harder it gets to pass the shaken.  

The criteria for passing the Shaken becomes more and more difficult as the car ages, and the cost of getting the Shaken incrementally increases as well. Thus, it’s more economical and less hassle for a Japanese person to buy a brand-new car than to keep an older one. 

How long do Japanese keep their cars?

Aside from the Shaken car inspection law, which prompts many Japanese to sell their cars after 2-3 years, there’s another reason why Japanese don’t keep their cars for too long. 

The Japanese are highly averse to risk, especially regarding safety. They tend to avoid situations that might cause them trouble altogether, which breeds a risk-preventive mentality. They believe that old cars tend to cause more problems, so they avoid using cars that are too old. 

Of course, this is only true for some Japanese as some still keep old vehicles, especially those living in rural areas. 

For those who live in highly urbanized areas, when a vehicle reaches a 50,000-kilometer mileage, it is already considered “old”. I know it sounds absurd, but that is the case for most second hand imported cars from Japan. 

While some statistics suggest that the average usage of cars in Japan is around 13.5 years, a significant number of imported second hand cars from Japan are still relatively new and in very good condition. 

Which Japanese car brand is most reliable?

Several websites have different brand recommendations regarding the reliability of Japanese cars. I gathered some of the brands they have recommended, and here are the top 5 brands of Japanese cars (in no particular order) that are considered reliable and highly recommended:

  1. Lexus
  2. Toyota
  3. Mazda
  4. Suzuki
  5. Honda

Other Japanese brands are considered reliable according to some users but vary according to car model. Here are some other brands that have reliable car models:

  1. Nissan
  2. Subaru
  3. Hyundai
  4. Infinity

What Japanese car sells best?

For the last three years, there have only been three car brands in Japan competing for the top spot of most cars sold, and these three brands have maintained their standing since 2019. 

The top 3 places for most cars sold in Japan are held by Toyota, Suzuki, and Honda, respectively. Toyota maintained the no.1 spot of having most cars sold while Honda kept trying to chase after Toyota. 

In 2019 Honda N-Box car became the most selling car. However, Toyota Yaris took over the spot for two consecutive years, from 2020 to 2021, leaving Honda’s N-Box only in second place with only 188,940 units sold, while Toyota Yaris sold 212,927 units just in 2021. Of course, this data is only for brand-new cars. 

Currently, it’s hard to get data for most sold used cars from Japan since only a handful of people care for such data outside Japan. However, according to some websites, the Mitsubishi Pajero and Suzuki Jimny are some of those Japanese imported cars that sell well in the USA. 

In Southeast Asia, the box cars from Suzuki and the Honda Fit are selling pretty well, especially in the Philippines. 

See more here:

Best-selling car brands in Japan 2021 | Statista

Japan: best-selling car models 2021 | Statista

Toyota Yaris Surpasses Honda N-Box as Top-Selling Car in 2021 | Nippon.com

Top 9 Most Popular Cars in Japan (2022) | House Grail

Are cars from Japan good quality?

Japanese and German cars are among the best in the world, mainly because German and Japanese engineers make sure that their products can knock the socks off their target market. 

Most cars from Japan have pretty decent quality, but of course, Japanese manufacturers often only market their products primarily to Japanese people. Thus, the design for their cars is very specific to the Japanese market. 

This is the very reason why Japanese car manufacturers who have factories in different countries cater their designs to the needs of the locals, making most country’s manufacturing design of Japanese brands different from those produced in Japan. 

So those imported cars from Japan might not be ideal for some people. It’s also one of the reasons why Japanese imported cars are cheap and why some car dealers customize some Japanese imported cars before selling them locally. You basically get what you pay for.

However, remember that these imported cars from Japan often only have 50k mileage, and, generally speaking, Japanese people tend not to be abusive of their cars. In fact, many Japanese people in urban areas drive around in their car as their primary mode of transport, since they have access to a very efficient and highly reliable transport system. 

The only famously bad habit the Japanese do with their cars is leaving them to idle with the engine still going too much, which can be bad for the car.

Which car is cheapest in Japan?

The cheapest type of cars in Japan are the SUVs and Sedan type. Here is a list of brand-new Japanese cars you can buy for a lower price.

  1. Nissan Versa
  2. Mitsubishi Mirage 
  3. Toyota Yaris
  4. Honda FIT
  5. Suzuki Swift
  6. Mazda Mazda3
  7. Nissan Frontier
  8. Subaru Impreza
  9. Scion IM
  10. Honda HR-V

Among those on the list, the Nissan Versa is probably the cheapest car in the Japanese market so far. However, when it comes to imported Japanese cars, it seems that Honda Fit is among the most popular ones, along with Honda HR-V.  

Do Japanese cars hold their value?

Japanese cars are some of the most sought-after cars in the world, mainly because of their price and quality. Japanese car manufacturers such as Subaru, Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, etc., have well-made cars designed with ingenuity, making Japanese cars some of the leading cars in the world.  

The Japanese are highly meticulous when it comes to the quality of their products. You’ll rarely see poorly made products in Japan. They fit their technology to their needs, and they understand the concept of “convenience” more than anyone else in the world.

Japanese car values don’t go down easily. If you decide to resell your Japanese car, you can generally still sell it at a very good price. As a matter of fact, some Japanese cars can even have appreciating value, compared to their western counterparts.  

Japanese cars also have great engines comparable to German brands, and their parts are easy to acquire since Japanese car manufacturers have plenty of subsidiary companies worldwide. Some research has also shown the durability of Japanese cars. 

On average, a Japanese car only starts getting problems when it reaches 150,000 to 350,000 miles. This is a pretty good number for a car, making Japanese cars worth investing in. 

Is it safe to buy cars from Japan?

For the most part, buying cars from Japan is safe. However, just like buying cars in your own country, you need to watch out for dishonest sellers. Just because they are Japanese doesn’t mean they are incapable of lying or doing misdeeds. 

Before buying cars from Japan, there are several things you need to consider:

  1. Check the Price. The price for Japanese cars is generally reasonable, especially for certain models and brands. It’s very important to compare prices between secondhand cars and brand-new ones. Some cheap cars may be sold at a higher price by some sellers, and others mark up their used cars despite the quality and model. 
  2. Research the seller. Sellers want to get the most out of their items and sometimes do nasty things to earn more bucks. While the Japanese are generally honest people, you need to watch out for those rotten tomatoes out there. 

Make sure you do your research and check the reviews and documents of the seller before striking a deal. Being registered under Japan Used Motor Vehicle Export Association (JUMVEA) doesn’t guarantee honesty. 

JUMVEA is not a regulatory agency but rather a body that helps exporters with regulations and documentation requirements. Thus, JUMVEA cannot check the legitimacy of the seller’s products. However, checking the seller’s registration in JUMVEA is one step to making sure you have the right seller. 

  1. Car Age. A common misconception among buyers outside Japan is how cars are aged in Japan. Outside Japan, it’s common knowledge that a car’s age is the manufacturing year of the car. However, a car’s age in Japan is based on its first registration. Thus, a car could be sitting in the seller’s garage for a year, and that year will not be considered part of the car’s age. The age of the car starts the day it is officially registered.
  2. Cheap price trap. There are several reasons why a car can be very cheap. Don’t fall for traps, as very cheap cars often may have been through some kind of incident that causes their value to depreciate, such as repairs, parts replacement, having gone through a flood, etc.  

But don’t let this discourage you from buying cars in Japan. These are just precautionary measures to ensure you get a good deal on your purchase. 

So should you buy a Japanese car?

Japanese cars are one of the most reliable cars in the world, comparable to western brands. Some car owners even say they trust Japanese cars more than some American or German brands. Japanese cars surely are worth their value. However, the condition of a car can vary greatly when it’s secondhand. 

Japanese cars are also considerably cheaper than most cars outside Japan. 

If you plan to buy a Japanese car, I recommend considering a Toyota if you are still new to Japanese cars. Toyota car parts are generally easier to get than any other Japanese brands. They also have some of the cheapest models in all of Japan. 

While it’s mostly safe and ideal to buy second hand cars from Japan, check the seller and the car before buying. Make a checklist of what is important to you and always research the seller’s legitimacy. 

Happy driving!


Article by John Salinas.

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