Japan’s expensive, mandatory shaken car inspections: My experience

I bought a car last summer and recently brought it in for “shaken,” (車検) the motor vehicle inspection required by the Japanese government every two to three years.

Prior to buying a car I heard that Japanese people don’t often buy used cars, because the cost of shaken is so high that you may as well just buy new. That seemed to be the main explanation for why used cars in Japan are so cheap. But I found a great car for just ¥200,000 ($1,809 USD), how could I pass it up!? With excitement clouding my brain, I thought, “Nah, there’s no way shaken can be that bad. It’s just like ¥70,000 or something every couple of years, no big deal.” 

Let me explain why I was wrong. 

I am not really the type of person to consider every possibility in depth before making a decision. I usually just dive in and see what happens, good or bad, then learn from the experience. Shaken was no exception to this. My first mistake was assuming that shaken is just a quick test. I thought they’d look at the car, I’d sit in a waiting room sipping tea for half an hour, and drive home. When I started searching online for nearby shaken shops, I saw a search parameter for “ichinichi shaken,” meaning “one day shaken.” 

“Why would that even be an option?” I thought. Well, it’s an option because getting your shaken done quickly is a premium service, and usually only doable if your car is already in tip top shape. I had booked my initial shaken appointment in the town over, because I could get a bunch of Rakuten points using this specific store, and they had the “one day shaken” option. When I was finally able to do my shaken it ended up taking around five days, and had I suddenly be hit with this realization from the town over, I would’ve had a surprise trek home. Luckily… or perhaps unluckily, fate had other plans for my shaken appointment. 

Of paperwork and a dead battery

I got into my car with about 45 minutes to go until the appointed time, a bit tight, but absolutely doable. My first mistake was assuming all of my car paperwork was in the car. I mean, I thought it would be, and logically that’s where it should be, but it wasn’t. I ran back to my apartment and managed to find it in a box of papers. I then ran back to the car, exhausted from a few minutes of panic, and tried to turn the car on. Nothing. The battery had died. I hadn’t left anything on, but I hadn’t used the car in a few weeks, and since the car is admittedly a bit old, it seemed like the current battery just HAPPENED to reach the natural end of its lifespan when I needed it most. 

At that point it was literally impossible to make it to the shaken shop in time, so I called and cancelled my appointment. I do have private insurance luckily and was able to get someone to come jump my car super quickly. He then explained that since I hadn’t done anything in particular to kill the battery, it must need a replacement. After turning off the car once and then immediately failing to turn it back on, this hunch proved itself to be reality. He said that what I had to do is call a car shop and ask if I could go RIGHT NOW to get a battery replacement, because if I turned the car back off, it wouldn’t start back up.

After a bit of Googling I found a shop within walking distance of my apartment, and they told me to come in right away. The staff determined they would need to order a specific battery, so it took an extra day, but I walked away with only a ¥7,000 bill. All-in-all, it went pretty smoothly. The staff at this car shop noticed my shaken had almost expired and since I was already there, I decided to ask them to do the shaken for me there. They said they’d give me a quote once I come to pick up the car the next day, which I agreed to. At that point I was thinking, “Why would I need the quote, don’t I just pay a flat price and you check the car?” but I didn’t actually say this out loud. 

The total bill was…how much?!

The next day, I got the answer to this question. Shaken is, of course, an inspection for your car. An inspection which you have to pass. I understood that. However, my major misunderstanding was that I didn’t realize if any part of your car fails its respective inspection, you need to pay for repairs to the point that the car will pass the inspection. I had assumed any required repairs were part of the shaken fee. And for an older car such as my own, repair fees quickly added up. In fact, my total bill cost more than the car itself!

While there was certainly a feeling of sticker shock, I quickly realized my mistake and accepted the fact that there wasn’t really much I could do about it. I had to get my car repaired and complete the shaken if I wanted to drive, so I accepted my fate. To be honest, there’s no reason I should’ve not been prepared for such a price had I done proper research, so I couldn’t really find the energy to get upset about it. This was just the consequence of my own lack of preparation and I dealt with it accordingly. 

That’s not to say I’m happy about dishing out an unexpected and non-negligible chunk of change, but I honestly kind of found an appreciation for the shaken system in Japan. In America where I’m from, you see cars on the verge of falling apart on an hourly basis, and cars that already have fallen apart on a daily basis. That’s a rare sight in Japan, because a car literally has to be repaired to the point where it is legally safe to drive to even be allowed on the road. I know there’s a sneaky financial relationship between big auto and the Japanese government that is at the heart of it, but that doesn’t mean there’s no benefits, right?

I think the main takeaway for me is that next time, I’m gonna spend a bit more upfront and try to get a new car. New cars have three years instead of two for their first required inspection and being new, said initial shaken would be a lot cheaper than it would be for my 15 year old car. I’m not sure if I’ll be ready to make that purchase for my next required inspection in two years, but it seems like a good goal to set for around four years from now. Maybe at that point, I’ll have the opportunity to write about what it’s like to buy a new car in Japan!

By Nathan

Nathan works for the  Japan Room Finder, helping foreigners find their home in Japan. He’s American and has lived in Japan for about three years. Read Nathan’s self-intro to find out what brought him here!

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