How to buy a car in Japan (and what not to do!)

After moving, one of the first things we had to figure out was how to buy a car in Japan.   We went car shopping and found our car the first week we arrived.  I left the car lot and told Rob “that was the easiest car buying process EVER!”  Unfortunately, I think I jinxed myself because things got comically difficult from that point on.
How to buy a car in Japan
There are several ways to buy a car in Japan.  You can buy one new from a car dealer (not very common AT ALL) or used from lots out in town, from a person who buys cars from auctions all around Japan, or directly from other Americans on base via Facebook pages like Iwakuni Classifieds.  Cars in Japan are commonly much older than we are used to in America…and also much cheaper.  We walked right off base and bought our first car from a lot (Kaz) where most of the employees spoke at least some English.  At Kaz, they will start the JCI (required Japanese insurance) fresh when you purchase and it is good for two years.  When you buy through a private sale, you have to be sure to check how much longer is left on the JCI and factor that into the price.

After we had an idea of what type of car we were looking for, we just walked around a few lots until we saw something we liked.  It was very low pressure – the man simply asked if we wanted to keys to look inside and the price was listed right on the windshield.  No sweet talking or making deals.  We decided we liked it and he drew up the papers on the spot for us to take to PMO (military police) on base.  We headed to PMO (to confirm that we are allowed to have a vehicle, have our drivers license, etc) and they began the process on the car getting inspected, new JCI, new license places, etc.  This process took about five days.

Once they called and said the car was ready, we were able to go pick it up.  Unfortunately, this is where all of the mistakes started happening for us.  When you pay for the car, you pay American cash.  They called on a Friday afternoon and Rob was at work.  By the time he got home and we walked to bank, they were closed until Monday.  We used the ATM but the daily limit is $600 each.  We figured we would just wait until Saturday morning and get out another $600 each and combined with what we had at home, we would be fine.  Unfortunately, when we walked back to the bank the next morning, our daily limit was not reset at midnight and instead is just a 24 hour period.  We called the bank and unfortunately, there was nothing they could do.

Lesson #1:  When you find the car you are going to buy, get the money out of your account ASAP

We ended up piecing together the money and headed to Kaz to get the car.  We paid, were given the title, registration, and JCI and off we went in our new car.  Super simple!  When we got to the base, we had to get a temporary pass until PMO opened again on Monday.  Unfortunately, when we tried to do this, they told us we needed our secondary insurance on top of the JCI to get on base.  We planned to get it that morning but both locations are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.  Because this is required on base, they would not let us bring the car on base.  Not only that, but they wouldn’t let us leave it in the parking lot and told us we had to “find somewhere out in town legal to park it”.  (We had just arrived to Japan a few days prior!)  I had to run back to Kaz and beg them to let me leave the car until Monday when I could get the secondary insurance.  I will always be grateful to their kindness in my moment of panic that day!

Lesson #2: Don’t wait to get your secondary insurance!

On Monday morning, Rob went to work and I walked to the insurance place to get the secondary insurance and finally pick up our car.  Naively, I was so excited to finally get the car and end this crazy process.  When I got there, they asked if my husband was there or if I had a power of attorney and I said no and they kindly told me that without him or a POA, I cannot do anything – even get the insurance in my name.  (Japanese customer service is SO NICE, it’s hard to even get frustrated!) Of course I rang Rob’s phone a billion times but when he is at work, he usually does not have access to his phone.  Fail!  As soon as you see PMO, go get your secondary insurance.  Who cares if it expires a few days earlier?

Lesson #3:  Get a Power of Attorney as soon as you arrive on base

Most of these issues were things that we could have prevented if we weren’t jet-lagged/thinking clearly/weren’t preoccupied with a million other things.  But at the end of the day, we are the proud owners of Fanta, a sweet orange Cube and all is well.  Now if I can just stay on the left side of the road 😉

  • Wow definitely sounds like a process but so glad you guys have a car now!

First week living in Iwakuni
Yamaguchi Flower Land