Was going to pen a post about the proper way to import a vehicle to the US from Japan, but this article from oppositelock.kinja.com might be a better lesson, or at least good for a laugh.
NOTE: Keep in mind that the article is from 2014, so the costs will need to be updated.
Read the first (not) legally imported R32 GTR article filled with misinformation and the wrong way of doing things and decided to post my experience.
Why I Did It:
I tried buying numerous cars before this, however prices on enthusiast cars in minty condition were skyrocketing. Skipping everything i looked at and tried to buy right before I finally decided to import I tried to buy two different MR2 Turbos only to have my offers rescinded and this was at a $7000 offer on a non-perfect car with a lot of miles both times. I was on a Canadian forum and I saw how much less money cars like this were up there due to imports, which is when I decided to do it.
I decided to import a Skyline R32 GTS-T
The first two importers I checked with were Right Drive and JDM Legends. Both I got quotes from, the same price at $8000. This seemed like an excessive amount since I saw them selling for much less in Canada. On top of that they wanted me to pay shipping from their location instead of shipping it to LA or San Diego. For Right Drive this is in excess of $2000 and I wasn’t about to drive a newly purchased unregistered car from Ontario to Las Vegas. JDM Legends was in Utah but the quote was excessive so I decided to look elsewhere.
After some searching on Japanese Nostalgic Car’s forum someone said I should contact Derek at Pacific Coast Auto. Derek is a Canadian who lives in Japan and ships the cars internationally. He has an auction tool on his site where you find Japanese car auctions and you tell him which car you want to bid on and how much. Browsing the site there were a lot of very good condition cars being sold for pennies compared to what i’ve been quoted on. He said I could probably get a Skyline GTS-T for $2500 and all his fees including shipping costs were $2000 so I decided to go with him. After watching the auctions and feeling like I missed out on a couple of cars I decided that I was in. Saw a 4 door Skyline GTS-T sell that was in absolute immaculate condition as well as a Mazda Familia GTR that I was also interested in. I wanted to bid so I had to send him a $1000 deposit and set up with a company that wires funds internationally. The time it took to set it up made me miss out on those.
The deposit cleared, at that time there were 3 cars available. A heavily modded GTR and two GTS-Ts one 4 door and one 2 door. I was curious about all 3 of them so i’ll explain how Japanese auto auctions, when using Pacific Coat and I assume someone like him, works.
Japanese Auctions Using The Importer:
Every car has a rating, some images, and an auction sheet. There are also several auction locations throughout the country that list the cars at varying times before they are to be sold and have varying quality of images and inspections done.
Each car has a rating. A number of 1-4 some sites have higher numbers and typically as well as letters like R. The higher the number the higher the quality with R seeming to mean the equivalent of a salvage title car. The cream of the crop are 3.5 and above. 3 and below typically may have rust or other issues. The auction sheet is pretty much an inspection of the car, lists any issues or mods on the car, miles, the Japanese equivalent of a VIN which lets you know how it’s equipped with a tool thats on the auction search engine, as well as listing some of that on the car. These sheets are in Japanese and before you bid you ask the importer, in this case Pacific Coast Auto, to translate it for you. If you approve of you see you tell him how much you want to bid up to and they will bid for you.
What I found:
The GTR was, to me, too far gone. It would make people in 2001 right after watching Fast and the Furious envious but in 2014 to a 30 year old? No. The GTS-T 4 door had numerous issues according to the auction sheet in terms of the body condition and I wanted a coupe anyways. Here’s what I decided on:
In two days –
- USS Hokuriku 7058 (plus 15,000 yen transport)
- 1989 June Skyline GTS-T Type M
- Grade 3
- Interior B
- 131,658 km
- 5sp, AC, AW, PS, PW
- Sales points
- Timing belt changed
- Electric folding mirrors
- Owner’s manual
- Steering wheel and shift knob wear
- Seat cigarette burn and wear
- Right side baffle deformed
- Right front inner panel dented and corrosion hole
- Underside surface rust
- Diagram notes
- Windshield rock chip
The corrosion hole in the baffle is a problem. That should be fixed. I am not sure how much it would cost to have it repaired though. The underside surface rust should not be much of a problem.
I don7t know how much this one will be since it is now legal for the States but maybe around 250,000 yen…?
When it arrived at the shipper the car was of much higher quality than we expected. The rust? Nonexistant. The deformity? The plastic wheel well protector was falling off, new clips fixed it. When it arrives at his holding area he sends a couple gigabyte email of photographs of all angles of the car including engine bay and underside as well as some detailed videos then posts a shorter video on his youtube page.
At this point all was needed was for it to be stored until it could be shipped for a June arrival. Cost to import a Skyline so far: $6000
End of May:
By the end of may we began the process of importing. The person exporting the car, Pacific Coast, did all the paperwork asking for signatures from me as needed. So far this has been an excellent experience. Then we find the customs broker. I had thought up to this point that everything was including, it was claimed that all fees to import the car were covered in the $2000 which I had assumed meant the customs fees. I was wrong. First all the exporter that Pacific Coat Auto used did what’s called a ISF Filing late. I was warned that this would be a $5000 fine and Pacific Coast said if it came to that they would cover it. Here is what the customs broker charged me:
- ISF Filing $ 50.00 <- shouldn’t of had to pay for this, pacific coast covered it
- Late ISF Bond $ 100.00 <- shouldn’t of had to pay for this, pacific coast covered it
- Customs Entry $ 200.00
- EPA Filing $ 50.00
- DOT Filing $ 50.00
- Single Bond $ 104.00
- Customs Duty $ 156.34 ( Estimated )
- Terminal P/U $ 85.00
I also needed the car shipped. I would need at least one other person to help me bring the car back. Unfortunately I work weekends and nobody else I know that would help has free days during the week. I found some shippers who would do it for $230 from LA to Las Vegas, however the customs broker said they will only allow shippers that have the ability to ship from a port, i forget the exact terminology but they had to be cleared to ship by customs. The cost for this? $625.00
Total cost $7270.34
These customs fees I was unprepared for so was quite annoyed at this point but accepted that it is the fault of my own ignorance and moved on. If I were able to pick up the car myself I would have saved a good deal of money. However there is one other problem.
I was told that the car would arrive at port on June 6th. If I were picking it up I probably would have taken a 3 day weekend and drove out there to grab it and bring it back. This would have been a mistake. The ship arrived at June 6th but customs had held the car for week not telling me when it would be released. I was also told they will need to inspect it due to the late ISF filing and that they might need to x-ray the car and that would be charged to me. That, fortunately, never happened and I received the car on the 16th without issue.
I live in Nevada so obviously this will be different state to state. Make sure you know exactly what your documentation is when you bring it. The DMV doesn’t get many of these cars despite them saying “we get a lot of military people bringing foreign cars” they still don’t know what they are talking about. If you have all the paperwork and the car is legal don’t take no for an answer, they have to register it and they just don’t know what they are talking about. Make sure you keep all the stickers and everything that customs put on the car with the car when you get it inspected, they will need it. I took mine off and they registered anyways.
Was It Worth It? Would I Do It Again?
This car had 80,000 miles, which is low compared to what i’ve been looking at but I could have picked up a newer car for the same price or less. I just had to accept mods on the car. Cars I could of got in a similar condition for same price or less? E36 M3, 300ZX, Starion, E30, 944, 924S, any of the 3 MR2s, 240SX, MX5, Mazdaspeed Miata (someone wanted to sell me one for $7000), S2000, etc. In my searching I found all of these cars for $7000 or less.
The Price? This Skyline let’s say is a 90s turbo car. Cars in that category command a premium especially in mint condition which this car turned out to be. Even cars like the 240SX at a mint condition command a price like this now and the Skyline is a “better” car. The 300ZX Twin Turbo is a larger, much heavier, harder to work on car and in a condition like this would command a similar price if not more. Keep in mind that I paid ~$600 for shipping as well and this car sold for higher than usual.
The upside to this all? I got a much higher quality car. The Skyline has double wishbone suspension, weighs 2800lbs, has 50/50 weight balance, tons of aftermarket, and is stock turbocharged. Aside from being only 220hp the only car that probably compares to this is the FD RX7 which costs significantly more than what I paid. All this plus the fact I have tens of thousands less miles than other cars I was looking at most of which were in the 130ks or higher. Plus no rust, no mods, no defects. Almost unheard of in USDM enthusiast cars over 10 years old. In the end I am pleased with my purchase.
Would I do it again? Yes. Now that I have the experience and know the process I feel like I could shave a large sum of money off of what I feel I lost out on in this deal. Here’s what will save you money that I learned from this:
- Buy cars that are not just newly legal: Don’t buy a car that just became legal. The prices go up, as you see here. What was a $2500 car is a $4000 car. I saw later R32s and cars like the Pulsar GTIR that are a while off yet for legality being around the $2000s price range in similar condition to my car. I ended up paying what they pay in Japan for a 90s Supra.
- Find your own customs broker: Find someone who will hold the car for you so you can get a reasonably priced shipping or time to come down and pick it up yourself. The people Pacific Coast found refused to do this for me and I heard there are some that will. I was forced to use their choice for a shipper who charged a good $400 more than who I wanted. That or take your vacation to Disney or Hollywood around the time the car is about to arrive and drive it home.
Pacific Coast did say they couldn’t use their usual shipper yet for US imports. They have a shipper they use in Canada that is supposedly much better that has a US subsidiary and the paperwork to import with them hasn’t been completed yet. It could be done by now as this was a month ago.
I’ve had to pay a few fees that I wasn’t told about. Never had to import before and thought the customs fees were included in what I was quoted from Pacific Coat Auto. You can chalk this up to my lack of knowledge but I also wasn’t informed of this. On top of that the customs broker they used refused to let me pick my own shipper for the car so I had to pay a good $400 over what I would otherwise of had to pay. Then on top of that the remaining customs fees I was made unaware of.
I think in the future I will do this again, I want to buy a Pulsar GTIR eventually, however there has been NO info about this process online at all and I think I suffered some minor setbacks because of this. I hope all this information helps people here.
*Sorry I do not have proper pictures at the moment, my camera is damaged. Here is what I was able to take with it anyways.
Epilogue: (about a month of ownership)
A month later I’ve been driving the car weekly, not as a daily the Mustang in the pic above is for that. The car is in excellent mechanical condition, did some standard maintenance and changed the coolant was all that was needed.
Despite it being a 25 year old car and a car that isn’t from this continent aftermarket parts were easy to find. I was able to get intercooler, downpipe to fit the exhaust housing of the turbo (6 bolt that’s unique to this car), easily. Bought from FRSport, Nengun (in Japan), and Japspeed (in the UK), all had parts for this car.
Nengun’s parts are comparatively cheaper even with the shipping still ends up costing less than buying locally, shipping just takes a month. Also the shipping from the UK for the downpipe was not much more than shipping between the US on similar parts plus they give you a “discount” off their listed prices which includes VAT which foreigners don’t pay. Most everything else, OEM replacement parts for example, was available locally since this shares parts with most 90s Nissans. 300ZX and 240SX especially.
Fit my old 350z’s wheels, got new tires, and going to autocross next weekend. I’ll be the slowest car in modified.