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JDM cars: All your questions answered

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March 22, 2023
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There’s recently been increased interest in JDM cars here in the UK. If you’re curious about JDM cars, read our article as we delve into the wonderful world of Japanese domestic market cars by answering all your burning questions.

What is a JDM car and what does JDM stand for?

JDM stands for Japanese domestic market and refers to Japan’s home market for vehicles and parts. Strictly speaking, only cars that are made specifically for the Japanese market fall under this term. Although many believe that all Japanese cars are considered JDM, this is not the case as many Japanese cars are produced for countries outside of Japan.

Are JDM cars legal in the UK?

In general, JDM cars are legal in the UK, so if you want to import a JDM car from Japan to the UK, you’re allowed to do so. However, the vehicle will need to pass the individual vehicle approval (IVA) test before it’s deemed road-legal. If it doesn’t, you might need to get the vehicle modified before you can drive it on UK roads.

What JDM cars are in the UK?

There are a number of dealers that are purely focused on providing customers with used Japanese imports. This includes Jap Import Cars, which is based in High Wycombe, and All Japanese Motors, which specialises in 7 and 8-seater Japanese vehicles. Torque GT also offers a range of JDM cars on their website.

You’ll find a lot of the cars that are stocked are the “usual suspects” when it comes to Japanese cars for the UK market. This includes the Subaru Impreza STi, the Nissan Skyline GT-R, the Honda NSX, and the Toyota Supra RZ-S.

Buying a JDM car that’s already in the UK has a number of advantages. For example, it’s likely that the car would have already passed the IVA test, and you probably won’t need to register it with HMRC as you would with a JDM vehicle you import yourself.

What car makes are JDM?

Japanese car on streets of Tokyo
All car brands manufacturing Japanese vehicles for the Japanese market fall under this. The most famous are Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Subaru. Note that some Japanese brands still also produce cars that are exported to other countries, so not all of the vehicles from these brands are considered JDM cars.

Are Japanese-style plates legal in the UK?

The UK follows strict guidelines around number plates and what can and cannot be used. However, there are some websites like JDM Plates that can help you get BSI, BSAU 145e and DVLA-compliant number plates that are smaller in size to better suit your Japanese import.

Are all Japanese cars JDM?

No, not all Japanese cars are made for the Japanese domestic market. Many Japanese manufacturers produce cars that are then exported to the rest of the world. The only distinction between Japanese cars and JDM cars is that JDM cars are vehicles made exclusively for the Japanese market.

Are all JDM cars right-hand drive?

Yes, because Japan drives on the left and is a right-hand drive (RHD) country, all cars made for the Japanese domestic market are right-hand drives. This suits people looking to import a JDM car to the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and other commonwealth countries as, like Japan, we drive on the left and use RHD vehicles too.

Why are Japanese cars right-hand drive?

JDM cars in Tokyo
The answer goes way back before there were even cars on the road. Samurais used to sheath their swords on the left-hand side, so pedestrians were told to walk on the left so that two samurais passing each other wouldn’t accidentally cross their swords together.

The UK also played an instrumental role in getting Japan’s train system up and running, so trains were also set up to drive on the left hand side of the track. These two developments are thought to have influenced Japan to drive on the left and therefore use right-hand drive vehicles.

Are JDM cars cheaper in Japan?

The price of a JDM car in Japan varies depending on the make and model you’re after. Many rare vehicles can go for tens of thousands – and even hundreds of thousands – of pounds. You should also factor in the costs involved with importing the car from Japan to the UK, as well as getting it tested to ensure it’s roadworthy in the UK, as this process isn’t cheap.

If you’re still after the real deal from Japan, it might be cheaper to get the car of your dreams from a UK-based dealer focused on Japanese imports.

Are JDM cars good and reliable?

Cars manufactured in Japan – including JDMs – are often considered to be a lot more reliable than their UK and American counterparts.

Why are Japanese cars so reliable?

JDM cars with Mount Fuji in background
Many suggest that this is because of the manufacturing process in Japan compared to other countries. In order to reduce waste and maximise efficiency, Toyota created the Toyota Production System (TPS), which aimed to make vehicles in the quickest and most efficient way in order to deliver the vehicles as swiftly as possible with limited waste.

Essentially, this system focuses on ensuring that if a problem occurs, all equipment is stopped and the issue is fixed immediately to prevent long-term problems from arising. The company also used just-in-time (JIT) techniques, meaning that the company only produced what was needed in order to continue with the manufacturing process.

The fundamental TPS principles are still widely used in Japanese manufacturing, so the risk of the company producing defective products is minimised as much as possible.

How much are JDM cars?

This really depends on what you’re after. If you’re looking to get your hands on one of the rarer JDM models, such as the Nissan Fairlady Z432R, you might have to fork out over £500,000. Other JDM vehicles are much more reasonable, such as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, which can be bought for around £40,000, or the Nissan Skyline R32, which can be purchased for around £40,000 as well.

Are JDM cars fast?

While many people associate JDM vehicles with the high-powered, sporty vehicles featured in films of The Fast and The Furious franchise, there are many more humble cars that are only available new on the Japanese domestic market. These include many well-equipped eight-seater minivans, which are a popular choice to import to the UK, as well as many small-engined ‘kei’ cars, which come in a range of quirky styles to suit all tastes, everything from boxy microcars, to tiny retro-styled coupes.

How do I find JDM cars to buy?

There are a number of JDM import-specific dealers in the UK. If you’re looking for a JDM car, this is the easiest way of finding Japanese imports specifically. For instance, Jap Import Cars focus solely on Japanese imports and have a range of vehicles listed on their website.

Should I buy a Japanese import?

If you’re a petrolhead and you’ve had your eye on a JDM car for a while, buying a Japanese import is probably a great idea. Importing a Japanese car by yourself might be a fairly time-consuming process, but if you’re willing to put in the money and time to do so, the reliability (and pure beauty) of a Japanese vehicle is well worth it.

Is the Nissan Skyline a JDM?

Nissan GT-R in car park

The Nissan Skyline is perhaps one of the most highly sought after JDM vehicles of all time. And with good reason; it’s a racing legend and a beautiful beast of a car.

However, not all Skylines are JDM. The R31, R32 and R34 are all JDM, but it should be noted that 100 UK specification cars of the R33 were created and sold by Middlehurst Motorsport. The R33 are also available with JDM specs, and the R35 (otherwise known as the GT-R) is available in both UK spec and JDM.

Is a Toyota Celica a JDM car?

Toyota Celicas are JDMs, but there are also some that have been manufactured in the UK and wouldn’t be classed as made for the Japanese domestic market. JDM Toyota Celicas are still highly sought after, especially WRC-era Celicas, as they offer the bombastic, modified aesthetic that many JDM enthusiasts have grown to love.

Is a Mazda MX-5 a JDM?

This is a tricky one; essentially, it depends. The Mazda MX-5 was originally manufactured for the Japanese domestic market, but was then made available to the rest of the world in 1990. It is known as MX-5 in the UK and Miata in the US.

So how can you tell if you’ve got an original JDM Mazda? The Japanese version is commonly referred to as the Mazda Roadster and is a right-hand drive; first generation models were known in Japan as the Eunos Roadster – Eunos was a marque Mazda introduced for its sportier models in the domestic Japanese market. It’s likely that you’d have to hunt for the JDM version – or import it yourself.

Is the Honda NSX a JDM car?

You’ll find that some Honda NSX models have been produced solely for the Japanese domestic market, such as the 1997 NSX Type S and S-Zero. Honda also released 483 NSX-R variants that were exclusively made for the JDM.

Are Subarus JDM?

Subaru WRX

Although Subaru predominately manufactures their cars in Japan and some of these are produced solely for the Japanese market, there are some that are produced for international markets too, such as the EU, UK and USA. If you’re after a Japanese domestic market Subaru, you might want to consider importing the vehicle directly yourself or going through a specialist Japanese import dealership.

Find out more by reading our blogs on the best JDM cars of the 90s and the best classic Japanese cars.

Get JDM insurance for your imported car

If you’ve decided to finally take the plunge and buy your dream JDM car, call us for an imported Japanese car insurance quote to help take the stress out of the importing process. We offer tailored cover to suit your needs and budget. Call us on 0800 369 8590 or book a callback for a fast, affordable quote.

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