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If you are a car enthusiast, there is a good chance that you have heard of a JDM car or have imagined owning one. If you are not as familiar with the term, this refers to a “Japanese domestic market” vehicle which are designed and sold in Japan. These sought after cars have features you cannot find on the American market. 

One common question that many car owners wonder when is if JDM cars are considered legal in the United States? It is commonly known that Japanese domestic cars were never sold directly here in the U.S. as they do not meet the regulations for American domestic cars. However, you can import these vehicles into the U.S, though it has become more difficult since legislation limiting this was passed in the 1980s. 

Essentially, this new legislation requires any JDM cars imported into the United States to be at least 25 years old or older before they are considered legal. To ensure you are meeting all legal requirements, you should never consider importing a JDM car that was manufactured before the late 1990s. 

Owning a JDM car is a dream for many and importing these cars into the United States can be a very exciting process. Learning more about JDM cars and the purchasing process is key to getting the car you have always wanted! 

What is Classified as a JDM Car?

The key difference between a vehicle that is commonly sold in the United States to one sold in Japan is that JDM vehicles are not regulated the same. JDM cars differ greatly from cars that are manufactured in Japan and built for export. Those cars are built for export and meet the specific regulations of those in the U.S. 

On the other hand, JDM vehicles are designed to conform to Japanese regulations and to better suit Japanese buyers. Comparatively, Japanese buyers look more toward innovation compared to long-term ownership. Most Japanese car owners keep their vehicles for a much more limited time, driving thousands of miles less before buying a new vehicle. 

The biggest misconception that many have about JDM vehicles is that any car with a Japanese origin is considered a JDM. The big reason for this is because similar cars can be sold to an American market. A specific example of these vehicles is the Nissan 180SX, which was never sold in the American domestic market and was designed for the Japanese market. These cars tend to have specific styling trends and feature some of the latest innovations that you may not find in American versions. 

Buying a JDM Vehicle 

Since Japanese domestic market cars are not sold in the United States, there are only three main ways that you can purchase one. You can buy the vehicle from a private seller, import one by yourself, or purchase directly from an importer of the vehicles. Each method has its pros and cons, which we will discuss further, but buying this style of vehicle does differ significantly from purchasing an American car. 

Why You Should Purchase from an Importer?

Often, the easiest way to purchase a JDM vehicle is through a qualified importer who is educated in the area. Most importers will purchase certain JDM vehicles that they offer for sell. The key problem with this is that you may not get the vehicle you are interested in and it can be a timely process for you to find the exact car of choice. Of course, you will want to compare importers to decide which to work with and who seems the most reliable in your area. 

However, some importers will discuss with you directly about which vehicle you are hoping to find and help you get the perfect fit for your needs. Clearly this can be more difficult for them to find and can also take some time if you are highly specific with your needs. Often, this is the best way to get the exact car you are wanting to purchase. 

Safely Purchasing Your JDM Car 

There are a few key things you can expect from working with an importer and should be prepared for. Though this is often the best way to purchase your first JDM vehicle, there are some warning signs to check for and some things you can expect from practically any importer. 

What to Expect: 

  • To pay a deposit – if you are hoping to purchase a specific vehicle, the importer you are working with will probably ask for a deposit to find this car. This is simply so that they are not wasting their time. They do not want to spend time searching for a vehicle that you may not actually purchase. 
  • You may have to travel – if you do not have a reputable importer in your area, travel may be a must. In fact, some hardcore car enthusiast even travel to Japan to see the car themselves before purchasing. Of course, this is not always possible but traveling some distance may be a must. 
  • Seeing your car in person before purchase may not be possible – unlike purchasing a car in America, you may never see your vehicle in person before purchase. If you are importing a specific make and model, you may have to put down a deposit before your dream car is found. To ensure your safety, always ask for detailed pictures, make your desires known, and try to sign a written guarantee on quality. 

What to Look Out For: 

  • Never pay before purchase – the size of your deposit will vary depending on the price of the vehicle you are looking for. However, you should NEVER pay for the vehicle in full before the car is found or purchased. If your importer is asking this, you need to go elsewhere! 
  • Ask for documents and pictures – a reputable importer will have documents that fully state the car’s quality before purchasing. If your importer cannot produce quality images or appraisal documentation, you should reconsider. 
  • Get a written agreement – as mentioned, a quality importer will offer you a written agreement on the quality of the car you are purchasing. If you are not able to get one of these agreements and do not feel completely comfortable with your deal, find a new importer. 

Choosing Quality JDM Vehicles 

In order for a JDM vehicle to be legally imported into the United States, it must be 25 years old. However, there are many Japanese domestic market cars that are still in excellent condition. The key to getting the best import is to understand how your importer will rank these vehicles based on quality. 

In Japan, they give cars a score based on their mileage and condition which ranges between one to five, with five being the highest rank. On average, only brand-new vehicles are considered a five and four is the highest you will find on a used vehicle. Many importers have an associate in Japan that ranks the vehicles they are considering purchasing and it is recommended you purchase nothing lower than a three.

Top JDM Cars 

The cars brought into America from Japan are often from the 80’s and early 90’s, which is when the country was booming economically. Since these vehicles must be 25 years old or older, you cannot buy a car that was designed after the late 90s. Many of these vehicles are still very low on mileage and feature modern innovations, creating amazing sports cars for those who want a unique vehicle you will not find just anywhere. 

As with any major purchase, you should do your own research on the car you are considering and find what works best for your needs. Ten commonly imported JDM cars that many love are: 

  1. Toyota Supra 
  2. Honda Integra
  3. Honda Civic 
  4. Nissan Skyline 
  5. Subaru Impreza 
  6. Nissan Pulsar 
  7. Mazda RX7
  8. Nissan Silvia 
  9. Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI
  10. Toyota AE86

Other People Asked

What should you do after purchasing a JDM car? 

Upon purchasing your new car, it is important that it is as high quality as you had hoped. A great way to protect yourself and ensure the value of your vehicle is to take it to a local mechanic for a multi-point inspection, which should cost around $150. 

How to repair your JDM car? 

Often, these cars are not great for daily use as making repairs can be difficult, since they are not U.S. regulated. However, many JDMs have American counterparts that have parts that may be interchangeable. This is something you will want to look into should an issue arise with your car.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about JDM Engines, then check out this book on JDM Engine Secrets on Amazon.