Fri. Sep 23rd, 2022

Car importers know that Japanese car auctions are a good place to find low-mileage, high-quality used cars at a good price. My goal in this article is to help you better understand these car auctions in Japan so that you can make an informed decision about whether to buy from them and how the process works.

Why consider buying from a Japanese car auction house?

That’s a good place to start. After all, you’re probably reading this thousands of miles from Japan right now. So why are you importing cars from so far away?

There are two good reasons to consider buying a car at a Used car auction in Japan.

First, the choices are huge and you can view all of these cars online remotely. Car auctions outside Japan typically bring hundreds of used cars, but only at Japan’s smallest auctions can there be such a small selection.

In terms of individual auction sites, we are usually talking about more than 1,000 vehicles per site, sometimes more than 10,000 vehicles (in the case of USS Tokyo) clustered in one place and auctioned there every week. It’s really not unusual to put all of these individual car auctions on the Internet, over 30,000 a day.

So there’s a wide range to choose from. But that’s not all. The depth of mass is also great. The truth is, Japanese people don’t drive as much as people in other countries. Excellent public transport systems and high levels of community walkability, as well as the simple fact that Japanese cities have very low driving speeds, all work together to prevent people from using their cars a lot.

On top of that, the Japanese are very picky when it comes to maintaining their vehicles, but after a while, their cars seem old to them and they want a new one.

So a car with low mileage and good maintenance costs a dime. But ironically, the Japanese themselves don’t really like second-hand goods, so they don’t really want these used cars.

You can see how this works: Japanese car auctions have a lot of good condition, low mileage cars, but Japanese people are really not interested in buying them, so the prices are relatively low and there is a better chance of competing for buyers from outside Japan.

Japanese car auction groups and sites

Private auctions are rare in Japan. They are usually part of a larger auction group. Here are just some of the groups that stand out:

United States Marine Corps
TAA (Toyota)
Japan Airlines Association
The civil aviation administration
USS Tokyo is the largest single used car auction site in Japan. The car auction is held every Thursday and can sell up to 20,000 cars a day in high season.

Aucnet, an auction group without multiple auction sites (known as Kaijo in Japanese), held its auction on Monday. Their model is a little different because they don’t have a physical auction house that collects all the cars.

Instead, they send inspectors to car dealerships, who then keep their cars on their lots until they are sold. Because these dealers still want to sell to ordinary consumers at retail prices, their reserve prices at auctions are usually slightly higher than what similar cars sell for at regular auctions.

How do you visit car auctions in Japan?

So far so good. But wait: How on earth can you buy a car at a Used car auction in Japan? You don’t know anyone there. You don’t speak Japanese. Even if you could buy a car, how would you ship it?

You need a Japanese car exporter to help you with this problem.

Japanese car exporters handle the bidding process for Japanese car auctions, transport the car from the auction lot to the port, complete the paperwork and deliver the car to you.

There are a lot of car exporters shipping used cars from Japan, so that begs the question of how you find your own good car. After all, we’re not talking trivial money here, so finding someone who can do a good job for you is crucial.

Here are some things to look for:

How many auctions can you buy from, and can you access them online from one place?
Can you handle a native English speaker who is fluent in Japanese? (Nothing is more stressful than overcoming a language barrier.)
Does the exporter provide a professional translation of the car auction inspector’s report and help you really understand the condition of the car at auction?
Does the exporter in Japan have good communication skills to keep you informed of what is happening to your vehicle so you don’t have to worry?
Does the exporter make an effort to ensure that your car gets to you as quickly as possible from a Car auction in Japan?
Who will bid for you at these car auctions in Japan?

In order to buy a car at a Japanese auction, you first need o to be a member of the auction.

This usually requires registering a business in Japan and having property as collateral and a guarantor. That makes it impossible for ordinary consumers to access these car auctions directly, so they tend to be where Japanese car dealers and Japanese car exporters buy at wholesale prices.

Japanese car exporters are usually registered Japanese companies and thus can participate in Japanese car auctions.

Japanese car auction vehicle inspection

Car auctions in Japan are subject to strict inspection. Obviously, the quality of inspections can vary between auction houses because they are independent companies, but overall the scoring systems they use are very similar and easy to understand.

The cars and other vehicles were registered for next week’s auction, after which they were inspected by qualified mechanics.

Now, it’s important to remember that these inspections are very thorough, but they don’t involve any vehicle dismantling, nor do they involve a test drive. They usually do a good job of solving mechanical problems, although problems that only occur when the vehicle is traveling faster than you would expect at your parking place may be missed. It’s not the inspector’s fault, it’s just the limitations of inspections that don’t involve road tests.

The inspector wrote his report on an auction list. He rated the cars overall as well as interior quality. He also wrote about the details of the problems he found. He wrote some comments in Japanese, and then questions about scratches and dents related to the car’s external condition, which he wrote on the “Car Map” – the car’s exterior drawing.

Keep in mind that when buying from a Japanese car auction, you shouldn’t just rely on the overall rating: a good car exporter should give you a detailed translation and help you understand what the Japanese car auction inspector wrote on his report.

How does the bidding work at these car auctions in Japan?

As we mentioned above, only those members of the car auction can actually bid. They do this in two ways: either at the auction site (Kaijo) itself, or online from anywhere.

The computerized bidding system is the same whether you bid on a machine at an auction house or remotely online.

Bidding is very fast. Typically, a car will be sold in about 10 to 45 seconds. The actual process may look like pressing a button in a video game, but doing it properly is a real art to avoid paying too much for the car – or similarly letting it get away with delaying it too much.

Sometimes the car will not reach its reserve price and the bidding will stop. An offer can then be made to the seller under the auspices of a car auction. Fewer cars are sold in negotiations like this than in on-site bids. A good Japanese auto exporter will seamlessly handle the on-site bidding and negotiation process to get the best price for his customers.

What happens when the car wins at auction?

The first thing that happens when you buy a car at a Japanese car auction is that it is transported to the port by a car carrier. Upon arrival at the port, cars wait to be loaded onto RORO ships or loaded into containers.

As soon as the car passes through the auction, the car exporter will start looking for the earliest boat reservation and do the paperwork to cancel the car and clear customs on the Japanese side.

Once aboard, the car will take anywhere from a few days to more than a month to reach its destination. It depends on how far the destination country is from Japan.

The car exporter will send the end customer bills of lading, invoices, cancellation documents and any other documents the customer needs to import the car into his country. These import laws vary from country to country, so it is vital to check them before buying anything.


Car auctions in Japan are a great place for car dealers and car importers from around the world to find really good used cars at prices lower than expected in the region. The abundance of used cars available at Japanese car auctions, which can be viewed online, is another big advantage.

The key to successfully doing this is to find a top-notch Japanese car exporter who can communicate well and safely guide you to purchase from a Japanese car auction house.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more, I have a number of in-depth articles and videos covering all aspects of buying from Japanese car auction houses, including detailed information on Japanese car auction inspections on my company’s website.

About expert Authors

Stephen Munday has 12 years of experience living and working in Japan, including 5 years buying car auctions and World for clients in Japan. His company, Integrity Exports, was set up with the goal of making buying a car at a Japanese car auction an easy and smooth experience.

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