Why Do Japanese (JDM) Engines Have Low Mileage?

Japan_Used_JDM_Engines_Auto_Parts_SR20DET

There are 3 main reasons for  JDM (Japan Domestic Market) vehicles/engines to have low mileage compared to USDM (United States Domestic Market) vehicles/engines.

  1. They reply mostly on public transportation.
  2. Costs of driving a car in Japan are high.
  3. They must pass a inspected called “Shaken” which determines if a car is still suitable to be driven on Japanese roads. As vehicles get older, maintaining them at the standards required by the shaken can become expensive. This is because beyond the tuner scene, most Japanese do not get involved in mechanical repairs, and as a result, mechanics can charge high prices. Vehicles which cannot pass inspection are not allowed to be driven on public roads. Unwanted vehicles must be destroyed and recycled, or as some do to make more profit, export the vehicle. As a result, many Japanese used vehicles are exported to other nations right before or after their Shaken is up.

Here is the low-down on the Japanese car inspection called “Shaken”:

Reason for existence

The inspection system is in place to ensure cars on Japanese roads are properly maintained and are safe to be on the road. Another reason is to determine if a car has been illegally modified . Illegally modified vehicles and vehicles deemed unsafe by police will have a red sticker with the following: fuseikaizousha (不正改造車) (Illegal Vehicle) in yellow and the date the vehicle was declared not fit to be on the street.

Registration and Cost

Before a test can be administered on a vehicle the owner of the vehicle must call up a Shaken center and make an appointment by phone after which the owner must fill out paper work at the center. The cost for the Shaken is broken up as follows: 1,400 yen for paperwork and processing, 25,200 yen for the testing, 29,780 yen for 24 months of validity and 8,090 yen for “Recycling Department” with fees being added depending on the vehicle and its intended use (business, personal, commercial, etc.). These variables can result in a shaken costing from 100,000 to 150,000 yen or more.  In comparison to the costs of the shaken a full diagnostic inspection of the very same Japanese models in the U.S. may cost less than $100 USD (9,000 yen).

Renewal periods for vehicles

  • Personal cars and 2 wheeled motorcycles have the first shaken last 3 years with every 2 years requiring a new shaken.
  • Personal light trucks they must have a shaken done every 2 years.
  • Personal trucks have the first shaken last 2 years with every year requiring a new shaken.
  • Business cars require a shaken every year.
  • Special vehicles require a shaken every 2 years.

Testing process

The process of the shaken is very simple and the following tests and steps are as follows for government inspection testing (however a licensed garage can also do this):

  • 1: An exterior inspection to ensure the vehicle meets Japanese exterior regulations and does not have illegal exterior modifications (ie: extreme body kits).
  • 2: A wheel alignment inspection to ensure the vehicle has its wheels in-line and can turn correctly.
  • 3: A speedometer inspection to ensure the vehicle’s speedometer is accurate.
  • 4: A headlight inspection to ensure that the vehicle’s headlights are correctly placed and aligned so as not to be in-line of other drivers’ sight.
  • 5: A brake inspection to ensure the brakes work correctly.
  • 6: An exhaust gas/muffler inspection which also includes looking at carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon output along with exhaust noise levels.
  • 7: An undercarriage inspection which includes looking at suspension parts.

Should a car not meet any of the tests it will have to be repaired and retested before passing.

Requirements for tests

Exterior

  • Tailpipes: Tailpipes are not allowed to protrude past the car’s body however tailpipes that are built into the side of the vehicle are allowed.
  • Body kits/Aero parts: Aerodynamic mirrors, windage trays under the tail section of the car and body kits using front bumper scoops are allowed. However all aerodynamic parts must fit and be molded correctly so they are flush with the car’s body.
  • Fenders and Overfenders: All fenders and overfenders (including widebody style-kits) must not inhibit the turning of the car’s wheels (which must be able to turn 30 degrees inward and 50 degrees outward).
  • Spoilers: All spoilers (aftermarket or OEM) must not be wider than the car’s rear and must be bolted to the car’s trunk.
  • Tail-lights: LED and traditional bulb tail-lights are allowed for all vehicles as well as European style fender turn-signals. However American style rear tail-lights and off-color turn-signals are not allowed.
  • Windows: No tint can be present on driver and passenger side windows however commercial UV window blocker is allowed. Lexan windows are not allowed unless they are approved via a case by case basis. Stickers/banners on the front windshield and rear glass are not allowed. Etching on the windows, with the exception of VIN information, is not allowed.

Speedometer

The speedometer of the car will be tested by driving up on to a dynamometer. The vehicle will be propelled to 40 km/h twice and the vehicle’s engine rev amount will be recorded, should the vehicle have different numbers it will not pass.

Headlight

All headlights must be aligned to be in a straight line with their height on the car. Halogen, HID and bulb style head lights are allowed. All headlights must have the same color when turned on. Headlight swaps, making pop-up headlights into normal headlights, rally-car style multiple headlights and putting trim around headlights is allowed.

Exhaust/Muffler

Cars that are 10 years and newer must have carbon monoxide measurements of 1% and hydro-carbon output of 300ppm. Cars older than 10 years must have carbon monoxide measures of 4.5% and hydro-carbon output of 1200ppm. High flow catalytic converters are allowed however gutted ones are not. All O2 sensors must be in working order along with any oil catch tanks. Mufflers when tested for noise output will be tested at a 45 degree angle at a 50 cm distance. For vehicles 10 years and younger the max level allowed is 96 dB (decibels). For vehicles over 10 years of age the max level allowed is 103 dB.

Suspension

All bushings must not be broken or in bad condition. All control arms must be in working order. There can be no rust/corrosion on springs, struts or other suspension components. If the car has 4 wheel steering it must be working. The vehicle must also meet minimum height requirements which will be checked by referencing the lowest part of the vehicle (not including the suspension components). For vehicles with 200-249 cm wheelbase they must be 8 cm off the ground and vehicles with 250-299 cm wheelbase they must be 9 cm off the ground. For all other vehicles for every 50 cm over 299 cm in wheelbase add .5 cm to the minimum height and for vehicles under 200 cm in wheelbase subtract .5 cm to the minimum height.

Interior

General interior equipment must be still intact (ie: dash). Roll cages (must have padding around bars) and carpet removal are allowed. Bucket seats must measure 420 mm from left to right bank but can not be over 450 mm from left exterior side to right exterior side (total width of seat). Aftermarket seats made of fiber-reinforced plastic are not allowed. Any holes or rips in seats must either be taped up or repaired.

Workarounds

Many people create workarounds in order to have a vehicle that is otherwise illegal pass its “shaken”. Some of the typical workarounds are putting flanges in the exhaust that are mostly metal with a few holes drilled, airing up the tires more in order to gain height for the vehicle, putting ceramic pipe between the spring and the spring’s seat in order to raise vehicle height (this is commonly done on lowered coilover suspensions), reconnecting exhaust gas recirculation devices, removing injector connectors from the ECU (engine control unit), taping off parts of the headlight’s housing in order to make the headlights look correct, cleaning the underside of the vehicle to hide signs of oil leaks and trapping the speedometer so it registers the same numbers when tested on the dynamometer.

The Japanese tuner view of Shaken

Contrary to what is common amongst Western tuners towards vehicle regulations, many Japanese tuners respect the “shaken” and want to tune within its boundaries. In JDM Insider Volume 3: Kansai Adventure part 1 they visit a tuning shop called “Phonenix’s Power SPL” (a shop specializing in only legal modifications) and met with the owner who when interviewed talked about how the people who originally did modifications were the outlaws but since they made it legal to modify in Japan many professionals and regular people have started modifying their vehicles and have started to embrace the regulations set on cars so they can continue to enjoy their hobby legally.

End of Shaken period

As vehicles get older, maintaining them at the standards required by the shaken can become expensive. This is because beyond the tuner scene, most Japanese do not get involved in mechanical repairs, and as a result, mechanics can charge high prices. Vehicles which cannot pass inspection are not allowed to be driven on public roads. Unwanted vehicles must be destroyed and recycled, or as some do to make more profit, export the vehicle. As a result, many Japanese used vehicles are exported to other nations right before or after their Shaken is up.

Posted by Hans Desjarlais

After accidentally locking himself in a scrapped '85 Renault for several hours at the age of 5 years old, Hans developed a love/hate relationship with cars which eventually became an obsession. Right out of high school Hans started his first business importing and selling Japanese engines. After selling the business in 2008, he launched Import Insider to obsessively cover the auto industry and offer advice and tips to import car enthusiasts.

15 comments

  1. Some engines also come from wrecked vehicle’s in japan. The car maybe totaled, but the engine is still good. Their for depending what company gets it, the engine sometimes will be tested and sold to another country. Or resold in the JDM. Some ppl find it cheaper to junk the car rather that fix it. Then go buy a new. But that junked car maybe junked by the owner for a reason. Engine might be knocking or valve’s stuck or something. Other parts on the vehicle will be salvaged and the rest goes to the shredder/compactor. Japan is really big into RRR reduce-reuse-recycle.

  2. Shaken is the biggest reason of the three when it comes to low miles. Especially if the car is slightly older then passing shaken will be more expensive. Public transportation in the big cities also keeps people from driving too much. It’s just easier to take public transportation.

  3. Excellent article..thank you for taking the tim to be so thorough concerning Japanese registration requirements.

  4. This is quite interesting, but I’ve heard Shakken is not really that hard to pass legtiimately and the driving costs don’t seem to be that high. I think what gets inconvenient though is the parking, it looks expensive and difficult to find in Japan.

    I’ve also read myths about old cars not being allowed on the roads or having to be destroyed which is not true from what I know and have seen. Just for fun, check the JDM car auctions and you’ll see you can find cars for sale that are decades old.

    Other than that this is a fairly well done and interesting article.

  5. I’m surprised the most obvious reason for the Shaken was overlooked. Japan must import all its oil, and its entire economy is export-driven, a large part of it is its automobile manufacturing.

    So, the Shaken is an indirect means of forcing older vehicles off the road, and since 99+% of vehicles sold in japan are domestically produced, this is an indirect subsidy for domestic auto production. Secondarily, newer cars tend to be more efficient, which keeps fuel consumption lower, in addition to tax penalties for owning cars greater than certain displacement levels.

    For the average Japanese person who is not a gearhead, they’ll tolerate the Shaken for a few cycles, then simply plan for trading in their 8-12 year old car, and ordering a new vehicle. And as a result of the Shaken, there is little used-car demand in Japan, as the cost to recertify a used car would make little economic sense.

    As with most government policies, they tell you that its’ a safety issue, but really, it’s simply all about the money. They want their citizens to be forced to buy a new car at some point, simply because with the cost involved with getting an older car to pass Shaken, it simply makes no sense to continue to keep driving an older car.

    It’s an indirect subsidy/tax on the general population to prop up domestic auto manufacturers, plain and simple.

      • Hi, I’ve question in light of this article. Since these regulations are in place, jdm cars and motors are imported to US and Canada. They have low mileage because of the shaken regulations. Let’s say I’ve found an imported engine for sale in Canada, which comes with 70000 miles and is year 1997. I assume 1997 is its production year, and year when it got installed in a car. Then it was used until attaining 70000 miles, after which it was demounted and exported from Japan. Since it has low mileage and was built in 1997, it most likely have attained its 70000 mileage long time ago. Now, in 2014, its imported to Canada and my question is, where it have been all that time? in other words, from the moment of attaining 70k miles, which happened long time ago since it’s 1997 engine, where have it been until arriving to Canada or getting exported to Canada? Reason why I ask is it seems sketchy to buy a 97′ engine with really low miles on it, too good for being so old.

        • Hi Rick, most imported engines have been removed from the donor car within a 3 month window of arriving in North America. However it can sit in the importers warehouse for another couple months (sometimes a year) before it is sold. Basically the previous owner in Japan kept the car for all that time and only decided to scrap it until now.

  6. Hi, I’m Carlos. My car is a Honda Fit. Is it Ok to add extra power to the engine ( modifications., turbo, supercharger etc.) will i still pass the Shaken? Im thinking to buy a K-car but what about engine swap? is it OK? will I pass the Shaken? ( engine will not be from the same maker as the car) will still be street legal.

    • Hi Carlos,

      If the engine is from another make of car I am really not sure if it will be approved. But since it’s emissions related and the engine passes, I don’t see why not. But I suggest you inform yourself at the local office.

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