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Buying vs. importing a kei truck

Buying vs. importing a kei truck

You’ve made up your mind that you want a kei truck. Now, you have to figure out how to get one. You’ve looked online, and can see some from private sellers and dealerships, but you’ve also heard that you can import your own. What’s the best way to get one?

The two options differ in risk, price, and time. How you choose to get your kei truck depends on what you prioritize.

Mechanical risk

When you browse Japanese car auctions, you’ll see that each car has a “grade”, as well as notes about corrosion and body imperfections, interior blemishes, and obvious mechanical issues. This grading system is trustworthy, but remember: you’re buying a 15-year old car sight-unseen from 7,600km away. While unlikely, there’s no guarantee that your clean Grade 4 Honda Acty won’t have a heretofore-unknown mechanical issue that’s only apparent when the vehicle comes off the boat.

It might cost more, but buying a car from a local seller or dealer means you can test drive it and get it up on a hoist yourself.

Price difference

Browsing the car auctions can leave you overly optimistic about how much a kei truck costs. “Only ¥230,000 for that Subaru Sambar? What a steal!” Don’t forget all the other costs involved, though, like shipping, insurance, and inland transport. (These are well-covered in our JDM import FAQ.)

Even with those costs, importing your own kei truck can save you money, since you won’t be paying the dealer markup. 

Wait time

And speaking of that dealership markup: what does it get you? Time. Buying a kei truck locally means you can drive it that day; importing one might take anywhere between 6 and 24 weeks. Shipping time is the biggest variable here, but border clearance and vehicle registration are vulnerable to delays as well.

How to decide

If you’re mechanically savvy and not in a rush, importing your own kei truck can be a fun and rewarding process. You get to pick the exact truck you want and potentially save money on dealer markup. 

Or maybe you’re after something special, like the “Little Blue” custom 2005 Suzuki Carry we sold. The best way to get a head-turner like this is by importing your own – they don’t last long on dealer lots. 

But if you’re into kei trucks because you want a reliable, fun truck for chores and adventures, and you're not too particular about a specific make or model, try shopping locally first. Even if it takes you a month to find the right one, you’ll still be on the road faster than importing your own.

Photo credit: MSVG on Flickr