Ever wanted to own a Skyline in the US? Follow these expert tips.
If you live in the United States you probably know that some Japanese cars were never sold here. You also probably know that you can't easily import them due to legislation from the 1980s requiring vehicles not sold in the US to be 25 years or older before they can be legally brought stateside. Some R32 Nissan Skyline GT-Rs fit that bill. But how do you get them over? We spoke to John Stagnitta, the owner of Black Ops Performance in Orlando, who specializes in importing and selling cars from Japan to find out.
If you're buying a JDM car in the US, there are really only three ways that you can do it. You can buy it from a private seller, import one yourself, or go through an importer. There are advantages to the first two options, but we'll explain why going through an importer like John is probably the best choice. Unlike buying a normal car, it is very unlikely that you will be able to inspect a JDM vehicle before you purchase it. Unless you're willing to fly to Japan to look at several vehicles, chances are you will be buying one sight unseen. Most importers have someone that they trust to inspect the cars in Japan and recommend which ones to buy and which ones to avoid.
When you do go through an importer there are two different ways to start the process. One is very time consuming but may result in you getting the exact car that you want. Black Ops' head honcho typically knows what his potential client base is looking for and imports cars accordingly. However, if you want something specific you can ask the importer for help. Just note that this process will take more time and require a deposit for the vehicle to make sure that you're a serious buyer. If the importer already has a car that you like you may be better off just buying that. If you do go for the longer, more specific approach, there are a few things that you will want to look out for during the purchasing process.
Again, don't be surprised when the importer asks for a deposit if you want them to find you a specific vehicle, say, a Midnight Purple Nissan Skyline. However, if the importer is asking that you pay for the entire car upfront you should be skeptical. The more expensive the car is, the more money you will probably have to put down. The entire business of importing JDM cars is very new and there are lots of companies looking to take advantage of excited gearheads. Make sure that you ask around to see if the importer that you're working with has a reputable history. Even if the business seems legit, there are a few things in the buying process to be wary of.
First, never completely trust pictures. If the importer is asking you to pay the full amount for the car before you have even seen it, something is probably wrong. Less reputable companies may show you pictures of what appears to be a pristine car but then in-person the car is an absolute mess. One way to avoid this is to get a written guarantee from the importer. This would be an agreement that makes sure that you get the car that you discussed and not one that is in far worse condition. Like buying any used car, you can get an idea of the car's condition from the auction report or certified appraisal. You should always ask to see one of these documents before you buy.
Cars are given a score based on mileage and condition. In Japan, cars are scored from one to five, with five being the highest. Typically a score of five is only reserved for brand-new cars. Four is the highest grade that you can expect to see on an auction report and scores go down depending on condition. Black Ops recommends only buying cars that receive at least a three, so that you don't have a ton of issues to deal with. Even if the car seems perfect, you will still want to have a basic inspection done by a mechanic. Buying a JDM car is not like owning a typical used car, and making sure that you buy a good one is especially important. However, you may not be able to find a mechanic who specializes in JDM vehicles.
At the very least you can take the car to your local dealership or mechanic to do a multi-point inspection. You should budget around $150 to get a good inspection done, but you can certainly spend a lot more to ensure that someone looks at the car in more detail. Once you make sure everything is solid, owning a JDM car still isn't like owning a normal car. You should be aware of whether your car had a US counterpart that it shares parts with. If you buy a car like the Nissan Skyline, which was never sold in the US, you may have trouble finding something like a bumper for example. You can't exactly drive to the local junkyard to get parts. This is why a JDM car might not be the best choice for a daily driver.
If you need a part that needs to be ordered, you may have to hitch a ride to work in the morning. Also, make sure that you look up any common issues on the model that you want to buy. For example, early R32 Skylines are notorious for oil pump failure. Make sure you look at forums to find any common problems, although some JDM cars may not have big communities in the US. Once you know what car you want and are ready to buy, here are some final tips. First, and most obviously, never wire money to someone who you have never met. People can sound very convincing on the phone, but sending someone money for a car that you've never seen isn't smart.
If at all possible, meet the importer in-person. A couple hundred dollars for a plane ticket could save you thousands in headaches. If you did have the importer find you a specific vehicle, make sure that you have written agreements for everything that you discuss so that your dream JDM car doesn't suddenly become a white Honda Civic with mismatched wheels. Also, ensure that you have some kind of written guarantee for a refund if the car doesn't meet the standard that you agreed upon. Buying a JDM car can definitely be a fun experience. Just follow these tips and you won't get screwed in the buying process.