The reason cars in Japan are maintained so well

The internet is full of stories about Japan’s supposedly crazy Shaken car test (pronounced sha-KEN; literally, a “car inspection”

This test is every two years and the Shaken system is designed to encourage three main aspects of motoring, in this order:

  • To drive the smallest car possible.
  • Newer cars are preferred over older cars.
  • To ensure all cars are safely maintained.

The first two points are key to understanding the sliding scale of costs for weight and age. Weight is an obvious common measure of overall vehicle efficiency, with lighter cars generally consuming less fuel, occupying less road space, and causing less damage to road surfaces and street furniture.

It is not officially stated why newer cars are preferred over older cars, but in addition to the assumption that newer cars are more efficient and safer than older cars, it is also generally understood the Japanese government enjoys sales tax and other general revenue streams from new cars being constantly purchased.

While owning an older car is more expensive, in truth a car maintains the same Shaken fee until age 13, when it increases by a typical 20 percent. As the age increases so does the fee, up to 50 percent over the lifetime of the car. However, a car suffers no more increases in Shaken fee after age 18. Thus, a car aged 18 years or older has a static Shaken fee with no more increases until the day it dies.

However, while the age of the car does contribute to an cost increase of up to 50 percent, the weight of the car can contribute to a massive 500 percent increase, up from a car weighing less than one ton to a vehicle weighing up to three tons (such as a Hummer).

Fortunately, most older cars weigh a lot less than new ones, the Porsche 356 falls in the cheapest non-kei weight category, 501-1000 kg. For a car of its age, the cost is about ¥20,000 (£112).

  • Road tax – calculated based on the weight and age factors mentioned above.
  • Compulsory insurance – ¥25,000 ($210-250).
  • Testing fee – around ¥2,000 yen ($17-20).
  • Repairs to ensure vehicle safety.

That last part about safety repairs is crucial, and this is where costs can mount up pretty quickly, especially if you take your car to an authorized dealer for its Shaken.

All dealers are licensed of course, and this being Japan their obligation to the customer is number one, so if something needs replacing, anything at all, it is of course replaced.

Most, if not all dealers apply this simple rule — and the full manufacturer’s recommendations — for parts replacement accordingly; if anything in your car does, may, or might possibly need replacing between now and the next Shaken inspection, then it is replaced. The cynical may think this is done to secure revenue for the dealer, but it’s also part of the Japanese custom of removing obligation if something were to fail after the Shaken and after you’ve left the dealer.

Of course, as the majority of Japanese car buyers would never dream of taking their cars to anything but an authorized dealer, this ensures customers are never exposed to driving an unsafe vehicle that has deviated from manufacturer standards. This is also why you rarely see clunkers chugging down the road in Japan.

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