Buying a car and car fees
Deciding to buy a car
If you're considering whether or not to buy a car in Japan, there are a number of considerations. Owning a car is expensive, so it's worth figuring out exactly what you want.
- Where will you be located? If you are in or near a city and on a train route, then you can survive easily without a car. The trains in Japan are reliable, fairly regular, and though expensive, are cheaper than a car if you don't do a lot of traveling. If you're outside a city and not on a train line, then you may want a car, because bus services usually finish early and are more expensive and irregular than the train system. The isolation of a small town Japanese life may seem romantic, but it can be difficult and it's nice to have the option of escaping for a while.
- What do you want from your time in Japan? If you are here mainly to make a living and put some money away and getting to know Japan, then don't get a car. Trains, buses and taxis will suffice. If, on the other hand, you want to explore your prefecture to the fullest extent, it will involve too many places that public transport just won't reach. Japan (and Aomori and Akita) is replete with beautiful hikes, unadvertised but spectacular vistas and hot springs secreted away on narrow mountain roads all of which are seldom accessible without a car. The central mountains of Akita hold some of the most gorgeous natural areas in the country but they are generally inaccessible by public transport alone.
- What's the bottom line? Don't buy a new car unless your office insists (and maybe not even then). Used cars are relatively inexpensive. A perfectly good used car can cost you anything from free to $3000 (0-300,000 yen). The cheapest are "K-cars" -- these have small engines and no leg room. They're a good deal because insurance, tax and gas consumption are low. The biggest drawback is their lack of safety features. If you buy a K-car, drive carefully. It pays to get a good car as repairs are very expensive and difficult to do yourself.
- Shaken (車検) is one of the most important factors when buying a car. Every two years your car MUST go through it. For a regular (non-K) car, Shaken will cost AT LEAST $1000 (100,000 yen) and can be as much as double that. If one person is selling you a car that costs $500 with Shaken due next month, and a second person is selling a car for $1000 with the Shaken due next year, the second car is a better deal. Some Japanese people give away their older cars rather than bother with paying Shaken, or so it is rumored.
- Another Shaken consideration is "When are you leaving?" If you're only staying for a year then a car with more than a year of Shaken may be worth paying more than one with Shaken due that year. But, you may also want to consider the resale value of the car. You might want to time it so that if you are going to have to pay Shaken, it comes as close to the time that you're leaving as possible so when you sell it, it will still have almost two years of Shaken remaining. If this is the case, you should get a lot more money for it.
- Shaken consist of:
- A two year base insurance policy (rate varies a little). In addition to this, you will have to buy a supplemental insurance policy.
- A standard inspection fee of 30,000 yen (about US$285).
- The cost of any repairs needed to bring the car up to standard. There are always repairs.
Other considerations for car owners
Shaken is not the only expensive and difficult aspect of car ownership.
- Car tax varies from about 30,000円 for a kei car to about 50,000円 for a large car, annually.
- The price of gas (petrol) is currently about 155円/litre.
- Highway usage. To drive from Aomori or Akita to Tokyo costs about 9000円 in tolls alone (one way). There are many non-toll roads, but they are slow.
- If you drive somewhere to drink, don't drive home. Japan has a zero tolerance level for alcohol, which means you can't have a drop in your blood stream. If you get nailed, you will probably be sent home at your own expense. On the bright side, there is a great taxi system called "Daikou" which will take you and your car home for about 1/3 again the price of a cab.
- Parking can be difficult. To buy a car, you must first prove that you have somewhere to park it. Your office should be able to help you.
- Your office may try to tell you that you "can't" drive. During work hours, they can restrict your driving but they CANNOT prevent you from buying a car (regardless of what they may try to tell you). They also cannot restrict your driving during non-work hours. This can be a much greater problem for women due to sexist attitudes held by some offices. Be firm and non-confrontational (if possible) up front and you'll have fewer problems later on. In Japan, "never" can quickly turn to "maybe" and then to "OK". The PA can help you with any problems.
Online second-hand car sites
- Occidental Cars Ownership Change Page. Information on changing car owners.
|Traveling in Japan|
|Cars||Driving||Driving • Buying a car • Winter driving • Speeding tickets • Drinking and driving • Roadside Station|
|Licenses||International Driving Permit • Changing to a Japanese license (Car Course Elements) • Renewing your Japanese license|
|Other Transport||Trains • Akita Nairiku Line • Shinkansen • Buses • Ferries|
|Airports||Narita International Airport • Haneda Airport • Akita Airport • Odate-Noshiro Airport • Sendai Airport • Kansai Airport|
|Leaving the Country||Residence Card • Travel insurance • Buying flights & travel agents|