When vehicle import regulations were relaxed in the 1990s, our doors opened to a variety of low-cost and reliable used cars, many of which joined the New Zealand fleet from the shores of Japan. These cars immediately made an impact on Kiwis and changed their perception of used cars, eventually used imports became a staple for budget conscious first time car buyers.

But what are the benefits to owning a used Japanese vehicle in 2020?

Service and parts

As the numbers of both used and new Japanese vehicles increased in NZ, so did the availability of aftermarket spare parts and mechanical support for their owners.

Workshops often have a great deal of experience in servicing and maintaining Japanese vehicles as they tend to be very popular with motorists. This means that, generally, problems with Japanese vehicles are often resolved much quicker (and at a lower cost) than cars made in Europe.

Bells and Whistles

The New Zealand market receives many cars that are relatively unheard of over the ditch. That’s partly because many of the used vehicles we receive are specifically designed for the Japanese domestic market. The only real challenge with Japanese imports is the language barrier.

Features on these cars can often get lost in translation, and months after buying the car you may still be discovering that it comes with features that you weren’t aware of.

Through the Japanese market, we also get access to an array of performance or higher spec models which aren’t necessarily available here as new vehicles.

New options with more to offer

Current new Japanese models available in New Zealand have also come a long way. In the past, buyers often looked to premium European models for the most advanced and safest options, but manufacturers around the globe have been catching up, and you only need to look at the latest safety suite in the entry level Toyota Corolla GX to see how far they’ve come.

The Corolla GX starts from $29,990 and features ‘Toyota Safety Sense’, which includes some very advanced technologies like a Pre-Collision System with Autonomous Emergency Braking, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection and All-speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Indicator-Linked Control and Road Sign Assist.


If you’re looking for a good quality and affordable car from a reputable manufacturer, there is a good chance you’ll end up driving home in a used or new Japanese vehicle.

In Japan, drivers who own a car are required to pay for a costly compulsory safety inspection after three years. Often referred to as the Shaken test, the frequency is increased to every two years after the initial inspection.

To avoid this payment – and because of the lower costs of buying a new vehicle in Japan – it’s actually more economical for Japanese motorists to frequently replace their vehicles for newer models. Consequently, a lot of cars with lower price tags are brought over to New Zealand, in great shape – which is great news for Kiwi drivers.  


Don’t automatically assume that quality is compromised because Japanese cars cost less. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Japanese vehicles were some of the few you could rely on to actually start up the first time you turned the key in the ignition.

If things didn’t work, Japanese manufacturers simply worked on them until they found a solution to improve it and, ever since, their cars have become renowned for their reliability, which was evident in early NZ-new models like the EB1 Honda Civic and Mitsubishi Celeste.

Japanese vehicles have played a huge part in the motoring history of New Zealand. They made cheaper vehicles more accessible to the masses, and new Japanese models have come a long way in terms of standard safety features.

We also shouldn’t forget the spice that some of the used Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) performance models added to our roads in the 2000s, with cars like the Mazda RX7, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Honda Integra.

Find out more on how the AA can help you when buying a used car

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