Buying a car in Japan

My new wheels. As yet not named so please feel free to suggest a name in the comments. Guidence: My last car was called Bullet

Hey gang. If you’ve been keeping up with my, erm, “weekly” adventures, you’ll know that I recently acquired my Japanese drivers’ licence. And if you’ve been paying attention during my adventures, you’ll also know that your homegirl enjoyed life as a pedestrian for about 11 months before that. This wasn’t by mistake. It wasn’t! (shout outs to @majimbo) When I came here I wanted to take a break from driving like someone who was getting paid to do it, something I’ve spent 7 years of my life doing. So when I got to my suburban town in southern Japan, I kept to that resolve and bought myself a fancy mountain bike (maybe one day I’ll write a post about this process, maybe – actually, forget I said anything).

My life as a commuting cyclist

As luck would have it, when I arrived, the house picked out for me to live in was just a few minutes walk from both my schools so I didn’t need to worry about transport for my work commute. On the flip side, the distance from amenities like grocery stores turned out to be further away. This wasn’t and still isn’t a terrible thing because I wanted to get more active while living here, anyway. What I didn’t realise is that getting active is great in the warmer months, but not so much when winter creeps in. I realised that there was a problem one evening when I had to choose between attending my Japanese lesson and not dying from the cold. Needless to say, my teacher was sad that I wouldn’t be attending that evening. That’s when I decided it was time to invest in a car.

1) The search

It may seem obvious that the first step to getting a car would be to get a licence but the licence is just a rung in the ladder. The absolute first thing you should do when you decide to buy a car is to do your research! So that’s what I did. Knowing nothing about the car market in Japan, it was time for me to get a feel for what was available and what I would need to spend.

In my town, we get offered a lot of help for admin issues, like buying cars, related to getting settled in Japan. They sometimes give us the opportunity to buy the outgoing ALTs car. The car usually comes to you on what we South Africans call the voetstoots clause. What this means is that there are no take-backs. You buy it, and whatever problems suddenly come up after money exchanges hands is your problem now. It’s situations like this that should encourage you to do the work involved in learning more about the car market. Comparing things like the year of manufacture, mileage, and price can tell you a lot about the condition of the car you are about to purchase. If the price is too good to be true, the condition will probably not be so great either.

The outgoing ALT whose place I was taking over didn’t involve any such hand over offers though. If I wanted a car, I had a few different options: Buy through the BOEs contact person who services all their cars; find a car on my own; or lease from a dealership. I didn’t mind buying from the BOE contact as long as he could offer me a good car. Leasing looked great too because it would give me the option to drive a new car at a set monthly price. Unfortunately, the sucky part of leasing is that if you are staying longer than a year or planning to get a car halfway through your contract, this works out to be more expensive than getting yourself a second-hand car. Things fell through with the BOE contact thanks to research too. The guy had a car available for resale but the make model and price just didn’t make sense to me. Kei cars aren’t particularly attractive but this one was both ugly and extra tiny. Unacceptable. Why would I willingly pay so much for a matchbox when I’d seen other people selling the exact same car for a third of the price tag?

2) First contact

As soon as you find a car, it’s important to get communication started with the seller. Having watched a few of the models I was interested in over a few months, I picked up on a pattern of how fast cars sold. The more popular cars sell fast so if you are interested in one of those it’s best to shoot your shot as soon as you see the post go up. That was the case in my situation, I saw the model I wanted get posted online; did my due diligence with price comparisons and checking things like road tax and such; and finally, emailed the seller expressing my interest.

After this I involved my coordinator because my Japanese is still not advanced enough to negotiate such big admin things. After we came to an agreement, I paid a deposit and was told my car would be ready within the next two weeks.

3) Paperwork

There isn’t much paperwork involved when buying a second-hand car here surprisingly – surprising because most of all the other things here involve a mess of admin and paperwork to get through. After I sent through my offer to purchase and my drivers’ licence details, the car dealer handled the registration and car tax situation. The timeline that they initially gave – two weeks – was to factor in these two processes which sometimes take up to 7 days each. So it really surprised me when I got a call from my coordinator, after only 5 days, that my car was ready for collection. I went alone to pick up the car but a small part of me was still apprehensive about how smoothly everything had gone so far. Surely I would get there and the car dealership would spring some unsightly book of paperwork on me! This didn’t happen though.

Japan NOT find a way to make a thing complicated??

When I got there, I showed my licence, received the T’s and C’s and my car’s licence certificate along with the road tax certificate. The dealership people turned out to be a hip young couple, made the experience much smoother as they knew enough English, and me enough Japanese, to get through the mandatory hand over run-down process.

4) Insurance

You don’t necessarily need to have insurance here (it’s a second-hand car and there’s already some insurance somewhere that covers third party what-what – can you tell that I hate the scam that is insurance?) but because I am working under the municipal office; I have to get it in case they change up my current teaching situation and send me to a school further out to which I need to drive. Again, my advice when it comes to insurance is research research research. Figure out why you want insurance and find out where you can go to get what you need. Luckily, I know a few Prefectural office ALT’s, who don’t get as much support as we do (meaning they have to do a lot of this stuff on their own, so more times than not they can connect you to cheaper options), they suggested an insurance broker who could get me a good deal on my insurance. My other option was to go with the insurance company suggested by my coordinators – which was too for pricy my taste (man if I was a person with a business and trying to break into the foreigner community, I’d get in touch with these coordinators because wow).

The insurance paperwork was pretty easy too. My broker requested a meeting where he could explain the cover and to process the paperwork if I chose to take the cover. After that, I was ready to go. Not as efficient as back home – where it’s literally a 15-minute phone call with the agent pulling any neccessary paperwork from the cloud – but I’ll take it. The couple who run the broker firm was even nice enough to invite me for Sunday dinner afterwards. I haven’t had such tasty potato salad since I last ate my moms proper Sunday lunch (i.e. a long ass time because my mom is too old to cook all of Sunday lunch by herself now).

In conclusion, getting a car on your own is less daunting than it sounds. With a little help from someone willing to translate at points of admin, you can have your car within two weeks. If you are interested in seeing what Japan has to offer in the second-hand department, you can check out goo net ( The site is in Japanese but on Chrome, you can easily use google translate to navigate it. That’s it for this week. Hopefully, read yal later.


I'm a writer with some stuff on my mind.

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