Odometer Readings at Car Auctions in Japan

Cars at auction in Japan are very unlikely to have any issues with their odometer readings. However, despite strict laws and penalties, there are still occasions when sellers may try to auction used cars that have had their odometers changed. There are also legitimate reasons why odometers may have been changed. Let’s look at these issues in more detail.

Preventing “clocked” cars from entering the auctions

In the case where an odometer change has been done illegally and not declared, the auctions have a couple of  effective procedures for exposing these kinds of vehicles.

First of all, the different auction houses cooperate to share data on the mileages of vehicles passing through. Thus they can tell if a vehicle was sold at another auction three years ago with a higher mileage, for example. A lot of the trade-in vehicles and other used cars sold in Japan do pass through the used car auctions at some point, so if there has been any illegal changes to the odometer, the auctions will often be able to pick it up using this method.

In recent years, it has also become mandatory to note the odometer reading at the time of the roadworthiness test (called shaken in Japanese). In this way a car will gradually build up a record of usage so that if there is a sudden and dramatic change (or reversal) it will quickly become clear from this data. Here is an example of a roadworthiness test certificate which shows this:

Japanese roadworthiness test certificate - called Shaken in Japanese

This certificate was issued on January 19th, 2009 for this car which was first registered in 2004 (item 1 above). Then section 2 in the lower left corner says that the car had done 13,400KM at the time of the last roadworthiness inspection, which was January 12th, 2007.

Therefore, if this car was sent to the auction with its odometer showing anything less than 13,400KM, then it would definitely be marked as an odometer changed vehicle, as it had this mileage back in 2007. Even if the mileage was over 13,400KM, it may still be marked as an odometer changed vehicle if the KM reading had not increased much in the intervening years. In these situations, the auctions tend to err on the side of caution to avoid possible criminal penalties.

How cars with changed odometers are represented in the Japanese car auctions

Although there are times where an unscrupulous person may try to misrepresent the true KM of a vehicle in a criminal way, there are also good reasons why an odometer might be legitimately changed or replaced. In these cases then auctions will declare this on the auction inspectors’ reports.

The first thing to look for is an asterisk (*) next to the odometer reading on the auction sheet. This means that the auction believes the odometer has been changed, and has not been presented with any records which would indicate that the change was legitimate. Of course, this does not mean that the car has necessarily been clocked – the odometer could have been replaced for a perfectly legal reason – but it does mean that the current seller cannot prove this to the auction, so they are selling it clearly marked as a car with a changed odometer.

On this auction sheet you can see that the inspector has also written “odometer changed vehicle” in Japanese in addition to marking the KM with an asterisk:

Odometer changed noted on auction sheet in Japanese car auction

Obviously, we do not expect you to be able to read Japanese (we provide professional translations so our customers do not have to worry about language issues), but this should help you understand what these asterisks mean, should you happen to see one.

If a car does have some sort of record, then the auctions will mark the KM reading with “$” or “#”.

As you can see, the auction report below shows a mileage of 96,500KM. However, this is marked with a “$”. The Japanese text in the lower box explains further:

“The odometer was replaced at 83,716KM on August 1st, 2007 and this was recorded on the warranty certificate. The current odometer reads 10,689KM, and so the total actual mileage is 96,405KM”

Odometer changed with records shown on Japanese car auction report

As may have been in the case of the car above, sometimes odometers are replaced because they, or another instrument they are part of (such as the speedometer), have failed. However, sometimes odometers are replaced because the owner wishes to fit a speedometer with a higher KM/H reading. In this case the change is simply for “looks”, but it will be dealt with the same way.

The auction sheet extra below is for a Nissan Skyline GT-R. The odometer reading is marked with an asterisk and then the auction inspector has written the following comment in the lower red box:

“The odometer has been replaced with a Nismo item and there are no records, so this car is an “odometer changed” vehicle.”

Nismo odometer fitted to car at auction in Japan

Other comments about odometer readings

In addition to the more common remarks about odometers we have already looked at above, here are some more comments about odometer readings in general that you will see from time to time on the auction reports of cars at auction in Japan:

  • 5-digit odometer so marked as odometer changed vehicle – 5-digit odometers are common in older vehicles. Obviously, once the reading reaches 99,999KM it then rolls over back to zero. Unless the car has a good set of records to back up its mileage, it is likely to be marked as having had its odometer changed. Again, this is simply the auction erring on the side of caution.
  • True KM unknown – You may see this comment on its own, or it may be qualified with a reason, such as the one below.
  • Odometer not working, so true KM unknown – If the odometer has failed but has not been replaced, it may have been driving with the same reading for a period of time. There is no way of telling then what the true mileage is.
  • Old vehicle, so marked as an odometer changed car – As a car gets older, its history becomes more and more murky. As a result, for cars that are a few decades old, you sometimes find the auctions marking them as odometer changed cars simply because at that age they cannot be completely confident about their true mileage.
  • Tachograph fitted so odometer changed vehicleThis is seen with reasonable regularity on bus and truck auction sheets.

Other information to give you confidence about mileage

Up to this point, we have been considering negatives which might undermine your confidence in the stated KM for a particular vehicle in the Japanese car auction. However, on the other side, there is also information you may well see on auction sheets which will increase your confidence in both the mileage and overall quality of the vehicle.

As you can see in the car auction report below, the inspector has noted that the car (1) has the service manual present, and (2) has service history from 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010. Since this car is a 2004 Mercedes SL being auctioned in 2011, this combination of service manual and service history starting just after it was first registered and continuing almost to the present will give you a high degree of confidence that the mileage is demonstrably accurate.

Service books and service history noted on Japanese car auction report

Odometer reading verification

Integrity Exports’ customers can have the odometer reading of the car we have purchased at auction for them certified for an additional charge. We employ an independent professional service that analyzes the odometer as well as checking for tell-tale signs of tampering. A car that passes is issued a certificate that can prove useful as additional proof of the quality of the vehicle.

Please contact us if you are interested in this service.

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