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  • Japanese Van Import – real world experiences?
  • Premier Icon mrchrist
    Full Member

    Evening, thinking of getting one to haul bikes around in and days out with my kids.

    They seem to cheaper to buy then a VW etc and was just wondering about running costs, reliability and spare – anyone on here got one, what is your experience of them?

    Premier Icon couchy
    Free Member

    6 years ago I bought a 2003 Nissan Elgrand when my new T5 went in for a 6th warranty claim !. The elgrand cost me £5k and had done 70k miles. I still have it and it’s just clocked 120k miles with nothing more than routine servicing. It’s carried motorbikes and is used for family outings and mtb days out these days. It’s till worth around £5k too. It’s had 2 sets if discs and pads and 2 lots of front suspension bushes, nothing expensive though. The downside is an average of 23mpg but offset that against no depreciation it’s been cheaper to run than a new supermini. It’s slightly smaller than the T5 it replaced but is faster, comfier and quieter to be in. Since I bought it others have realised and you’ll need the same £5k I spent as a starting point. Issues, they need rear cats removing which is a £100 job but most will be done, also rear air con can go but again it’s only another £100 fix.

    I’ve been looking to replace but there’s nothing on the market that has swivel seats in the middle row and the third row is removable or van be lifted to the sides out the way….that’s nothing this side of a £30k vehicle.

    Highly recommended

    Premier Icon mrchrist
    Full Member

    Super thanks @couchy.

    Premier Icon simon_g
    Full Member

    Have a 2006 Honda Stepwgn. Self-imported via a broker, so I could pick what I wanted. Got it undersealed and full service done when it arrived, nothing more than an oil change in the couple of years since. No issues at all.

    Usefully smaller than a T5 for city use (it’s as wide as a Jazz) but plenty big enough for kids, bikes, camping gear, etc. Seats all slide and fold away, rear passengers well catered for with proper ac vents and controls, fully opening electric windows, etc too. Always fun opening the electric sliding doors from the key next to a fancy new T6 too.

    It’s a 2.0 petrol auto so mid 20s mpg in mixed use. Same engine as CRV and Accord of the time so easy to get parts for, the specialist I use (automatrix) keeps most other things you’d need in stock. Honda dealer can get anything with a part number, or places in Japan can ship stuff albeit it can take a while and cost a bit.

    Main headache is body parts, wife dented the tailgate badly and insurance just paid us cash instead of the months of waiting for bits. Was lucky to find one being scrapped with a good tailgate but obviously something like a T5 would be no problem to find.

    I wrote up the importing and a few other bits (including how bikes fit) on http://stepwgn.uk/

    Premier Icon mrchrist
    Full Member

    Amazing thanks. Will have a good read of the blog.

    Premier Icon brads
    Free Member

    I’ve owned a number of jap imports. From camper vans to 4×4 to 400bhp 4wd rally slags

    Never had an issue with spares and loved owning every one of them

    Premier Icon mwleeds
    Full Member

    We have an Mazda Bongo imported and converted by JAL. It was (and still is) a very low mileage and very clean for its age (2003). It’s a 2l petrol and has been generally faultless. We’ve had it for about 4 years. It was expensive but definitely worth it. The quality/ease of ownership is partly down to JAL who find the good ones to import but mostly down to the garage that looks after it/services it. I think having a garage that knows Japanese vans inside out helps with stopping any problems before they appear and with sourcing parts. We’ve been reversed into several times and replacing front and rear bumpers hasn’t been too difficult. The garage we use is Worcester mobile mechanics. If I imported a Japanese van and lived within a 2hr drive of Worcester I wouldn’t hesitate to get them to service it.

    Premier Icon adscatt
    Free Member

    We had a Mazda Bongo, absolutely loved it, great for carrying my bike, we camped in it, days out, never had an issue with spares as you’ll find specialists if you join forums/Facebook pages. We even went to France in it one year, Paris then to Nice, did Nice to Manchester in one hit just stopping for a couple of hours rest and then the euro tunnel. It was pretty thirsty but easy to drive, lots of toys on it too, front and rear air con, electric blinds for rear windows (handy for hiding the bike inside), electric soft close sliding door. Only problem was rust and uneconomical to repair, I would still have it today if it was properly protected against English weather and salted roads. I’m a vw mechanic but begrudge paying scene tax for a bare van! Just do lots of research first is my advice.

    Premier Icon ibnchris
    Full Member

    Bought a Mercedes Vito import that was converted for me by an outfit down near Chichester.

    It was crap. I should have got it checked out properly before I handed over the cash but he was a good salesman. The tyres were perished, suspension knackered and a random red light on the dash. Ended up selling it back to the guy who sold it to me for a loss. Did want to be responsible selling it on to someone other poor sod.

    Premier Icon miketado
    Free Member

    Rk5 stepwgn here – imported it via bhpcars in Newcastle last year – love it!
    Swallows bikes, rear seats fold into the floor, v comfy and high 20s mpg. As mentioned above my experience of Honda dealers has been great for parts (have 2 30yr old kei cars too!) Never had any probs with parts direct from Japan / yahoo as long as you understand the process and that things can take time if you ship by sea etc to save on costs. Body parts and screens are trickier but not impossible. RK model Stepwgn is still pretty ‘new’ to the U.K. so folk are still learning their way round them, plenty of the earlier ones and places like Automatrix are great for support and service items.

    Premier Icon miketado
    Free Member

    @mrchrist – your blog was very helpful when we were looking at stepwgn/elgrand/alphard etc! Thank you!

    Premier Icon butcher
    Full Member

    No vans here but from my import experience, if its anything at all unusual, be prepared to source parts yourself. It’ll probably mean becoming involved in owners clubs, and when nothing is available locally you can find yourself importing parts from around the world. Not entirely ideal if it’s a daily driver, but there’s numerous car clubs for pretty much everything these days, usually with a wealth of knowledge, it just means ownership is a bit more involved than with your average motor.

    As noted above some parts are trickier than others. I’ve seen a cracked windscreen write a car off because it could not be sourced by the insurance company or the owner.

    Premier Icon miketado
    Free Member

    Apologies – I meant @simon_g re. The blog! 😂

    Premier Icon andylc
    Free Member

    I have owned 2 Toyota Hiace Japanese import camper vans over the years. Both have been incredibly reliable. The older one (1992 reg) did late 20s mpg but had 4×4. The newer (2006) doesn’t have 4×4 but does mid 30s mpg. Much cheaper than VW and far better in terms of usable space as the cab is tiny and you are sitting on the engine. The particular value of importing these is that this shape of Hiace is not actually available in Europe. If you’re importing a standard van this would be less of an advantage so you’d be mainly getting the advantage of cost, very good condition and lack of corruption. I believe the Japanese version of an mot is very detailed and expensive. Bear in mind if importing yourself the underside needs wax oil treating as they are not manufactured with damp environments in mind.
    I didn’t do the actual import so no experience on that.

    Premier Icon andylc
    Free Member

    Corruption was meant to be corrosion…

    Premier Icon Northwind
    Full Member

    Not a van, but a car- my daily is a JDM Subaru Legacy turbo model. It’s a bit simpler for me since some parts are the same as the UK models (though that can be a bit of a temptation, there’s bits that look the same but aren’t), but I can pretty reliably get the japan-only parts from Importcarparts and they’re a popular enough option for there to be used spares etc.

    Are you planning to import yourself/get one imported, or to buy one in the used market here? I did the latter, they all have advantages and disadvantages. Main possible disadvantage of doing it my way is you might not be so confident that essential work’s been done- like, how well a Km/mile conversion’s been done, or mapping for UK fuel, or an elgrand that needs the cats sorted, or undersealing, or whatever. But it worked out way cheaper.

    (mine had probably suffered more from 3 years in the UK than from 14 years in Japan- it’d been undersealed but not amazingly and the exposed parts hadn’t had any protection on them. Not how i’d have treated a new-to-the-UK car, it seems a waste, all it needed was a good coat of lanoguard or something. Still, despite that it was in amazing condition for a 2004 car, what a pleasure to just go under it and have bolts undo without needing the gas axe, and not have a constant rain of rust scale and crap, like my slightly younger Mondeo was- everything’s so much easier to live with, jobs don’t tend to snowball the same.)

    As long as you’re buying something reasonably common you’ll have way less hassles- insurers and garages are less scared of them too, and UK user groups are very handy.

    Eh one thing to add is that LPG conversions are very popular on the vans- my car has one too, I love it. But shell pulled out of UK LPG a while back so stations are way scarcer and that’s only going to get worse- it’s totally possible that roadside LPG’ll be gone in a few years. So it’s much less of a selling point than it used to be, but still pretty useful today.

    Premier Icon trail_rat
    Free Member

    all it needed was a good coat of lanoguard

    Not likely. That’s a short term yearly way of slowing down the damage….looks good on the face book adds when it’s newly applied

    There is no easy substitute for factory underseal short of stripping the underside and doing a proper job with an epoxy of some kind.

    The lpg issue is getting real. Even using althe lpg app it’s getting harder to find…which is ok for me who needs a fill once every 2/3 weeks when on the road but if I was using it for driving. Fuel it would be a considerable pain in the arse.

    Premier Icon Northwind
    Full Member

    Nah you misunderstand, like I said I’m mainly talking about exposed parts, things that can’t be undersealed. The underseal job itself was good enough for that side of it (I topped it up and improved it a bit but only because I’m anally retentive) but things like the coilovers were just left to suffer.

    That doesn’t make sense to me- if you’ve got an older car in time capsule condition it doesn’t take much effort at all to keep it good, but it’s quickly irreversible if you don’t. For sure now I’ve got it it’ll age less in the next 3 years than it did in 1 before, and it’s a shame.

    Longwinded way of saying if you get a fresh import you can control more stuff- which is a hassle but also a gift. Whereas with a UK-used-market import someone else has already made lasting decisions.

    Premier Icon winston
    Free Member

    If roofbars/rack are important to you then you might need to get creative. I.e you can’t buy an off the shelf set of roofbars for an Elgrand anymore as Thule were the only company that made them in Europe and they have sold out and stopped making them.

    Premier Icon Northwind
    Full Member

    Oh yeah, towing- imports often don’t have UK-style tow/train weights. This makes towing a shitshow basically. People get totally contradictory answers from the authorities too. Obviously not an issue for most people.

    Premier Icon mrchrist
    Full Member

    Wow. Thanks for all the input. It will be our 2nd car so if it is out of action for a month we could manage.

    Premier Icon alpin
    Free Member

    Uncle has a Honda something.

    All rear seats fold flat or to the side.

    2.4(?)l V6. Thirsty, but not stressed.

    If I were still in the UK I’d get one.

    Premier Icon seventy
    Full Member

    If roofbars/rack are important to you then you might need to get creative. I.e you can’t buy an off the shelf set of roofbars for an Elgrand anymore as Thule were the only company that made them in Europe and they have sold out and stopped making them.

    Really? I have a 2003 Elgrand (awesome BTW, love it) and had no problem getting a Thule kit for it last year.

    Premier Icon simon_g
    Full Member

    I got feet and fittings (PIAA/Terzo) from amazon.jp, arrived in a week. Bars are generic Thule / Halfords Exodus square ones.

    Premier Icon DaveT
    Free Member

    Just starting this journey with a 2010 stepwagon, should be very good value compared to going through a UK dealer or buying a UK car. Just a long wait now til it lands in Southampton.

    Premier Icon willard
    Full Member

    Wow… RHD, so not really any good to me, but wow.

    https://www.japan-partner.com/Auto/22404/Toyota/HIACE+VAN/car-for-sale.html

    Premier Icon mattbee
    Full Member

    Perfect for bikes. Just sit them on the shelf at the back!

    Premier Icon doomanic
    Full Member

    Late model vans seem almost non-existant, is there any particular reason for that? Export restrictions or something similar?

    Premier Icon TheGingerOne
    Full Member

    The rust and corrosion issue is because they don’t use salt on the roads in Japan, so the cars are not protected for it. Once in the U.K. they need protecting or they will rust more quickly than a U.K. spec vehicle.

    Premier Icon wzzzz
    Free Member

    Wow… RHD, so not really any good to me, but wow.

    https://www.japan-partner.com/Auto/22404/Toyota/HIACE+VAN/car-for-sale.html

    Is that cliff richard?

    Premier Icon 5lab
    Free Member

    Late model vans seem almost non-existant, is there any particular reason for that? Export restrictions or something similar?

    japans MOT equivilent mean that newer cars are worth a lot, older cars are so difficult to get through MOTs that they’re worth relatively little, and worth importing. You could import anything, but given the cost of newer cars there, plus all the import costs, its not worth it.

    Premier Icon simon_g
    Full Member

    UK also has a 10 year cutoff. Anything younger needs to go through an IVA test – not a big drama for any standard road car but quite expensive, there’s only about a dozen test centres in the country and you do need things like mph conversion.

    Over 10 years and it just needs a foglight adding then an MOT test before registering. Can leave speedo in kmh if you want.

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