The first time I heard the term JDM, I was confused about what that meant. I was just entering the car-enthusiast world, and I was intimidated by all of the vocabulary and terms that I didn’t know. There are many different types of cars, but the type of car that interested me the most is called JDM, and I didn’t even know what it meant!
A JDM car is a Japanese Domestic Market car. These are vehicles made specifically to be sold in the Japanese market, meeting Japanese standards and requirements. JDM cars differ from cars sold in other markets worldwide due to the regulations required by different governments.
However, not all Japanese brand cars are JDM cars. Due to the strict import regulations, JDM cars are highly sought after, and many owners of Japanese branded vehicles use accessories and modifications to make their cars appear more “JDM.” Therefore, the term JDM is often used incorrectly to refer to cars with modifications and accessories that resemble true JDM cars.
The Difference with JDM Cars
All governments have rules and regulations in place, and Japan is no different. Still, their rules and regulations mean their cars are very different, especially when compared to the United States’ domestic vehicles. In 1988 the JAMA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association), made up of a collection of Japanese car manufacturers, imposed a limit on horsepower at 280 HP and a limit on the top speed of cars sold in Japan at 180km/h or 111.8 mph.
Eventually, in 2004 this limit was lifted on horsepower, but the top speed remains in effect. Because of the max speed limit allowed, most JDM cars’ speedometers only go up to 180km/h (111.8 MPH).
Differences in Japan’s Traffic Laws
Japan’s traffic laws are also a bit different than those in the Americas. For starters, cars in Japan drive on the left side, rather than the road’s right side. This means that the driver seat and steering wheel will be on the right (starboard-side) side of the vehicle rather than the vehicle’s left side (port-side).
This is often a problem for those who choose to import a car from Japan to other locations, as many find it hard to drive in a car on the right side while driving on roads that stick to the right side.
Identifying JDM Cars
One of the larger problems with identifying JDM cars is whether or not it is or is trying to be JDM.
Many fans of JDM will sometimes mod their cars to mimic the styling of a real JDM car. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it can often cause a lot of confusion to people new to the car community on what the term actually means. This may also cause the term “JDM” to be associated with the annoying side of the car community, known as Ricers.
Ricer Does Not Equal JDM
More often than not, you are going to find a car that looks “overdone.” Unfortunately, because Japanese cars are inexpensive and mass-produced, these cars are usually the choice car for these “modders” on a budget. They will often go for visual and aerodynamic modifications and customizations.
It really is not that hard to tell the difference between a Ricer car and JDM car. For starters, the closest they will come to increasing engine performance is when they replace the stock intake with a Cold Air Intake or swap the exhaust system for a high exhaust flow system. These are usually useless mods that, at best, will barely increase any performance, and sometimes, even more ironically, it will lower performance.
Next, Ricer cars love aerodynamic mods. One of the biggest telltale signs of one is a BAW (Big A** Wing). Very rarely are these spoilers actually wind tunnel tested, and if they are, they probably are not a Ricer but an actual Tuner. Air hooks, stick-on lips, poorly installed underglow, lack of a muffler, Toyota Camrys, and Honda Civics are the beacons of Ricer Cars. Beware.
Reputable JDM Brands and Manufacturers
Just about every car brand has vehicles specifically made for the Japanese Domestic Market, just like they all have cars built for the US Domestic Market. Manufacturers make small changes to cars depending on the market they intend that vehicle to be sold in.
Besides the Japanese specific brands, you’ll also find BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Audi, Volvo, Jeep, Porsche, and others that sell JDM vehicles.
Some Japanese-specific brands have luxury counterparts that weren’t even sold in the Japanese market until recently. For instance, Honda’s Acura brand, Nissan’s Infiniti brand, and Toyota’s Lexus brand were originally created for the American and European market. They weren’t sold in Japan until after 2005 (and some not until after 2008).
As mentioned earlier, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association is a collection of car manufacturers in Japan. These are all the companies that produce JDM vehicles. These brands include:
- Daihatsu Motor Co.
- Hino Motors
- Honda Motor Co.
- ISUZU Motors
- Kawasaki Heavy Industries
- Mazda Motor Corporation
- Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
- Nissan Motor Co.
- Subaru Corporation
- Suzuki Motor Corporation
- Toyota Motor Corporation
- UD Trucks Corporation
- Yamaha Motors Japan
More info can be found here.
The Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association was first created in April 1967 as a result of a merger of the Japan Small Vehicle Manufacturers Association and the Automotive Industrial Association. By 1990, JAMA had opened offices in Paris, New York, Washington DC, Brussels, and even Canada. JAMA also did a lot to help decrease the pollution created through car manufacturing.
JAMA started discussing recycling cars to make new ones; joined other organizations to create the Association for Cooperation in Abandoned Car Disposal; combined with Chinese Associations to talk about manufacturing, and lots more.
By 2010, JAMA doubled its participation in PR. They were participating yearly in events promoting a cleaner environment, opening offices in Beijing and Singapore, and so much more!
JAMA is a prime example of what happens when industries come together and work for a better world.
The Big Three
Some of the biggest contributors to JAMA are the more commonly known JDM brands. The three biggest JDM brands include Toyota, Nissan, and Honda. Although each of the three automotive markets in Asia, America, and Europe have their own separate Big Three, the Big Three of the Asian market are thought to be the Big Three of the International Market.
The Big Three have slowly been taking over the market and have surpassed Detroit in car production consecutively for many years now. Toyota, Nissan, and Honda are doing so well because they have perfected their factories’ efficiency and provide cheap, reliable, and fuel-efficient cars.
One of the key components of this efficiency is the perfection of the 2.0 Litre, Inline 4 engine. The Japanese market has heavily focused on this configuration for many years. It offers enough torque and acceleration for a car to reach high speeds quickly while also small enough not unnecessarily to consume fuel.
These inline four engines are typically found in your common sedan, commuter car. These cars are often lightweight and front-wheel drive. This helps add most of the car’s weight on the wheels where power is sent while still being to keep the overall car lightweight. They are also coupled with aluminum frames and plastic finishings, which results in an economically cheap and user-friendly car.
Do JDM cars have VINS?
JDM cars do not have VIN numbers. Rather than VIN numbers, they have Frame Numbers, which can be from 9-12 Letters or numbers. Some cars also use a Model Code. A model code will designate the add ons or the features that the specific car has. For example, if you were to buy a car with extra floor mats for the passenger seats as an add-on, this would be an individual feature that would indicate a different value.
Can You Drive a Right Hand Car in the USA?
It is completely legal to drive in a right-hand car in the United States of America. For instance, most USPS vehicles use right-hand cars to access mailboxes easier. Sometimes, however, when importing right-hand vehicles, they need to be modified to meet safety qualifications and other requirements in the new country.