Car auctions in Japan are a great way for car importers around the world to source good quality, low mileage cars and other used vehicles at great prices.
However, in order to make the most of the opportunities these Japanese car auctions give you as a car dealer, you have to make sure that you understand the car inspection reports. As a well-informed buyer, you can make sure you sift out the gold and avoid costly mistakes.
In this article, we will look together at who makes these auction inspection reports and what you can find in them.
If you are at at serious about buying cars from car auctions in Japan, you need to read on.
Quick Primer: What are these Japanese Car Auctions?
There are about 86 different auction locations Classic cars in Japan. A typical day will see anything from about 7,000 to over 40,000 used cars and other vehicles sold at these auctions all around the country.
A good Japanese car exporter will give his customers access to all these auctions through an online system. You may be a continent or two away from Japan, and yet sit down in front of your computer and tap right into this huge selection of RHD and LHD cars right away.
Enter a bid at the click of a mouse, and let the car exporter in Japan handle the rest. A few weeks later the car will be arriving at the port for you to pick up.
Used Car Inspections at Japanese Car Auctions
Car auctions in Japan employ seasoned mechanics to inspect all the vehicles they sell. These inspectors work on site in the case of most auctions, or off site at car dealerships in the exceptional case of Aucnet.
The auction inspection covers every aspect of the car, from mechanical areas and chassis, to the exterior and interior condition. The car auction inspectors are thorough in their approach, with the only caveats being that they do not drive the car at any more than parking lot speeds, and obviously they cannot dismantle the vehicle to check out really hard-to-reach places.
The Auction Inspector’s Report
The car auction inspector write his notes on the o-kushon hyo (auction sheet). He will use a combination of scoring systems, written descriptions and a diagram of the exterior to give readers a good idea of the condition of the used car.
Overall Auction Grade
Car auctions in Japan assign an overall grade to each of the cars entered in the weekly auction.
I do not recommend that you rely solely on this grade when you consider whether to enter a bid or not. You will need to check the other detailed information that the inspector has written on the auction sheet as well.
(A good Japanese car exporter will be able to give you a professional translation of these details.)
That said, the overall auction grade has a role to play in helping you narrow down the field of potential bidding candidates. Here is a quick summary of the different grades:
Grades 7, 8, 9 or S – These refer to brand new cars with only delivery mileage.
Grade 6 – This grade can sometimes be equivalent to the grades above, but cars with this auction grade will usually have a little more than just delivery mileage.
Grade 5 – These are vehicles in superb condition, very close to brand new standard, but with several thousand kilometers on the odometer.
Grade 4.5 – A car in excellent condition, but with up to a few tens of thousands of kilometers on the clock.
Grade 4 – A good, solid car usually having less than 100,000 km on the clock.
Grade 3.5 – A higher mileage vehicle or one which will need some work to clean up.
Grade 3 – Either a very high mileage car or one which is generally rough.
Grade 2 – Very rough vehicles usually with corrosion holes being the reason for this low grade.
Grade 1 – Usually a heavily modified car which has had a different engine or transmission fitted, or which has an aftermarket turbo charger. Other possibilities are used cars with flood or fire extinguisher damage.
Grade R, RA, A and 0 (zero) – These are cars that have had some kind of accident repairs. At one end of the scale the repairs will be a single panel replaced due a minor parking ding, whereas at the other extreme there are vehicles that must have rolled in an accident which have had almost every panel replaced.
Ungraded vehicles – These are sold as-is by the auction with no or almost no information about their condition. As such they are very risky and can result in escalating additional costs if they cannot drive or move.
Some of these grades are more common than others. For example, grade 3.5 and 4 used cars will make up about 50% of any given day’s auction, whereas there will only be a handful of grade 1 cars on the same day.
Interior and Exterior Grades
Japanese car auction inspectors assign letters to indicate the interior and (sometimes) exterior condition of the car. Again, these are very broad designations, just like the overall auction grading, and it is really important to read the details of the inspectors’ comments to get a full picture of the condition.
Essentially, “B” is considered “average condition, considering the age and mileage of the car”. So an interior grading of “A” means that the interior is above average, and if it is “C” then it is below average.
The “Car Map”
This is a diagram of the exterior of the car, and is usually found at the bottom right corner of the auction sheet.
The auction inspector will mark this with a combination of letters and numbers to indicate damage to the outside of the vehicle.
Here are some basic designations:
A = scratch
U = dent
S = rust (from the Japanese word sabi)
C = corrosion
W = unevenness in the panel (usually caused by panel beating)
These letters are also usually followed by a number to indicate the severity. So “1” is the least severe, and “4” is the most severe. In practice, the Japanese are so fastidious about these things that something like “A1”, which means the smallest scratch, is really barely visible to the eye.
Japanese Car Auction Inspectors’ Comments
In addition to the above, the inspector also will write comments about the used car as he reviews it. Obviously, the higher grade the car is, the less likely it is to have extra information written about it. So a grade 3 car will have many more comments than a grade 5 car.
The exception to this can be cars that have a large number of modifications and aftermarket parts fitted that the inspector then lists on the auction sheet.
Although it may seem that the overall grade, the interior and exterior grades and the car map give you enough information in order to place a bid, I strongly advise buyers to make sure that they get these comments professionally translated before they make the final decision to bid.
A grade 5 or above car may hold no surprises, but with anything below that it is possible that the inspector has written something which could influence your decision to go ahead with a bid or not. This is why it is very important to look for a Japanese car exporter who offers professional-quality translations of auction sheets.
Car auctions in Japan offer a great selection of used cars to source at good prices, and the auction inspection regime means that you can get a good, detailed picture of the condition of any vehicle prior to bidding.
Although it may seem daunting to be buying used cars from halfway around the world, these Japanese car auction inspection reports make the process of finding good vehicles easier and more reliable.
About the Expert Author
Stephen Munday has 12 years experience living and working in Japan, including 5 years buying from car auctions in Japan for customers around the world. His company, Integrity Exports, was set up with the goal of making buying from Japanese car auctions a stress-free and smooth experience.