I was recently in the market for a 20 series Alphard. Being in Dorset there was not a lot of choice and was not keen to travel many miles all over the country to look at Alphards. I had to shortlist some of the vehicles I liked, then shortlist them in order of interest. This helped me source the car that interested me the most.
When sourcing through dealers you have to try and spot any cover up's. Looking around the car with a fine tooth comb. There could be a whole bunch of cover up's or maybe it really is a clean car. This will usually depend on the dealer and if his auction agent in japan is a dummy and cannot spot a good car or is only looking for the cheap cars that can be easily fixed up in the UK. A good reputable dealer will have a good reliable agent who knows his beans and only provide the best cars, but as always there are some unscrupulous dealers will buy cheap imports so do up and flip for top money. Please note, there are many very good dealers, but there are also a few bad apples in the applecart
In the past I have purchased a number of imports. I am not an expert by any means but I have picked up enough things I would need to be looking for when buying a Japanese grey import, and here is a list of things i would look out for.
Note: even though this list is quite extensive, buying a Jap import is as much work as buying a used car but just requires some additional research on it's past. Don't let it put you off because these cars can be a real pleasure to own and practicality side of the car is amazing. So don't be put off.
- Check all the panels for any paint discolouration, dents, scratches, swirl marks or creases etc. The likelihood that if you have a few of these then the car auction grade would be tops a 3.5 (out of 5) exterior auction grade. A auction grade 4 would be maybe a small tiny scratch, pin dent. a 4.5 Grade is Showroom condition. See my Chart below in the paperwork section.
- Check sliding doors open and close on their own, sometimes these can play up as they need lubricating. Insist they lubricate and show you them working properly. Usually a simple job but if they are not then can be timely and costly fix if it's got a dodgy cable/belt. But usually it's just dry from being on the ship to the UK for 3-6 months. Silicone Spray along the runners does the trick.
- Check boot shuts. If a power boot then makes sure all these shut on their own and if it has soft close doors they all pull tight.
- Check Sunroof open and close, check for rubber cracks
- Faded Headlights: Bargaining tool as these can be polished clean if they look yellow and faded. A lazy seller won't polish them.
- Check all light bulbs are working
- Wheels - Check for bubbling or scrapes. Good bargaining tool.
- Check for spare tyre under the back of the car
- Check under the car for dents, scratches, damage or signs of corrosion (cars from the north Japan have a different climate to the south) also check for welds or even new components recently fitted. If the car has been undersealed then ask why that was, is it covering up something?? This is a £200-£300 job which not all sellers want to pay out.
- Check for zero rust (things like exhausts, hubs, brackets, bolts light surface rust is normal. But you want to see painted body panel with absolute zero rust)
- check brake disks for lipping around the outer edge (do when brakes are cold) Also check to see if there are any meat on the pads if you can (usually an MOT would pick up on the pads or very badly lipped disks)
Tyres - check the depth of the tyre from side to side. important to check the age of the tyre (see pic below 4718, this means 47 denotes the week in the 52 calendar month and 18 denotes the manufacture year) ideally you should look for anything below 5 years old. Also check for winter tyres against summer tyres. Again another bargaining tool.
Under the bonnet
- Check for Zero rust on the painted panels, strut mounts, or anything thats painted.
- Check for oil or fluid leaks and look for anything split or perished hoses. White powder build up around the end of the hoses can mean a slow coolant leak.
- Check engine oil and look for golden to dark golden brown oil (black oil is not something an Alphard should have)
- check under engine oil cap and make sure it is clean
- check engine coolant is pink / red water and is clean like a good ol' glass of Rose wine!
- Check Battery terminals and the battery has a fixing mount (check battery does not move about or could cause fire) Also if the battery has a check inspection window, check the battery health
- Check brake fluid and PS Fluid.
- Check under car oil sump for leaks
- Run the engine, should sound silky smooth. There are many sounds that can come from this area so it would be a difficult to explain here. But loud ticking, grinding should be questioned and seek additional advice from a competent mechanic.
- check for belt sound, squealing, chirping, whining.
- Check seats all fold and work and the runners work. Good idea to play around with these to ensure its all tip top. Check for wear and tear on seats. No rips or holes, Fag burns are a bargaining tool.
- Check mats are all intact, these sometimes get stolen in auction and end up on ebay
- Check to see if car has been smoked in, Smoking is more common in Japan so sometimes they interior will show. Usually a dealer will cover up the smell with fabreeze. So depending on how bad it is either use as a bargaining tool or put up with it or do not purchase vehicle at all. You will smell it after a while.
- check seat belts are intact, no rips or stitched belt (usually a proper MOT would pick this up)
- check for any missing trim pieces (not the end of the world but good bargaining tool)
- Check Odometer and speedometer has been converted properly to MPH (this is an easy fitting so don't let the dealer get away with not fitting it, because it's a pain without)
- Check radio has had band expander fitted (not end of the world but good to get it fitted)
- Check dash buttons work, Ashtray closes properly (these break) and stereo works, including touch screen (yes sat nav will be just a blank screen)
- Check fog light and button all work (MOT would pick this up anyway, but best check)
- Check all electric windows
- check all door locks and all central locking operates as it should.
- check all interior lights
- check AC works including rear AC, Alphards have a front and rear AC and check all vent give nice cold air. Could be costly if not.
- Check windows from inside for ripped tint or scratches (bargaining tool)
- check electric mirrors (if electric)
- check electric curtains (if any)
- check cameras (if any)
- check CD/DVD (if any)
- Does the car have at least 2 keys that open the doors and start the car? (expensive to replace!)
- Check to see if the car drives in a straight line and drive straight under slight acceleration (try and finding flat road with little camber)
- When safe to do so, press brake pedal hard to see if the car wants to pull to one side. Car Should stay in straight line
- Run car up through gears and ensure it changes gears from 1st to 4 or 5 (depending how many gears it has) and back down with no jolts.
- Check acceleration, does the car drop a gear relatively smoothly
- check for knocks on a bumpy road, knocking felt though the steering
- Check for rear knocking (common issue with rear axle mount bush)
- When you have come to a stop, check footbrake.
- try slight acceleration around a bend to check CV joints are not worn or dry
- check power steering
- Check not dash warning lights showing. (it's not xmas yet)
- Checking through the log book to make sure its a fresh import and no previous owners. This is not an issue if you are aware thats there was a previous UK owner.
- With the reg plate, check to see if there was any advisories or failures on the MOT. Any issues should be shown as fully repaired and no advisories were left for you to sort out. Check the MOT here: https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-history
- Check that all the import duties on the car have been paid by the dealer or seller.
- Check the Auction Sheets. Ideally the original auction sheets but if not then a CarVX report will show you this. You need to check that there is not an R in the top right corner of the auction sheet. Any signs of an R grade then you should walk away. However, there has been instances where the original sheets were altered, then photocopied to hide these.
- Take note on the VIN number, Photograph this as you will need it for your CarVX report.
- Does the car have any past history paperwork, rare but I have seen past documents lovingly packed in the car service book. A testament to a good previous owner. This also verifies the past mileage and work.
- Some cars come with service stickers inside the door pillar or under the bonnet can give you an indication of past servicing and when it was last serviced. (beware, some dates may be shown in the Japanese calendar and not a Western calendar) So always check to see if these are on the car at all.
Does the car have any outstanding recalls. Yes even a 15 year old car can be recalled. Toyota will repair them as well, but there is a process for this shown on the club forums.
Below is a chart of auction grades
S or 6 – Brand New
5 – As new but used
4.5 – As above with the most minor of blemishes
4 – Excellent Condition
3.5 – Minor Marks and Blemishes
3 – Noticeable/Heavy marks and Blemishes
2 – Poor condition
1/0/-1 – Very Poor condition OR modified (and quite possibly in excellent condition)
R/RA – Accident Damaged/Repaired Vehicle
The Japanese History
I would be looking at getting a CarVX report before purchasing car, you can put down a returnable deposit with the dealer and if after all your research the car comes back with a bad report, then you can get your deposit back. You need to negotiate this with the dealer or take the risk and hope the car does not sell in the meantime.
Some dealers offer certified mileage guarantee. This is all very well but highly recommend doing your own homework, the CarVX report will give you all the information you need (apart from service history) and show you all the auctions your car has been in, the photos of the vehicle, Auction sheets and inspections throughout it's life. A vehicle inspection (shaken or JCI inspection) is a compulsory inspection for all vehicles on the road in Japan that must be conducted every 2 years.
Also the report will show you
- Title problems
- Vehicle registration
- Accidents / Repairs
- Flood damage
- Odometer problems
- Airbag deployment
- Safety rating
- Detailed technical data
- Average market price
- Manufactured date
You can see an example report before purchasing.
How to get the report:
Disclaimer: Please note, the club does get a small commission for each report sold.
Insuring Your Alphard
We have made a list of Insurers who will insure Alphards and Vellfires. Take a look here
Tip: I have seen many owners who claim they have a 7 Seater Alphard and really it's an 8 seater. Once easy way to tell is if the car has 3 seats in the centre row then its an 8 Seater. The very rear row is actually a 3 seater, hard to believe but it is. I would also like to note that these owners also insured their car as a 7 seater when really it should be 8. Tricky if it came to an insrance claim, so please ensure that the car is registered with insurance and DVLA properly.
Final note: You should seek professional advice from a competent mechanic when viewing a car. The article above are just tips what you could be looking out for. This is not advice and you should only use this tips when looking to buy a car at your own risk. I cannot be held responsible for any damage or losses caused. Basically, please don't come to me if you get it wrong. Thanks
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