By on February 5, 2016

Kreutzer Lemon lot 1

I had the opportunity this week to visit United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka, a U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan originally established in 1866 by the Japanese Imperial Navy. The facilities are currently used to support and repair U.S. naval vessels assigned to the Western Pacific. On the day of my visit, there was a lot of activity and several warships along the waterfront, but I wasn’t there to enlist.

Instead, my motivation for visiting was much more mundane. I was there to eat tacos and check out the hoopties on the base lemon lot.

Officially known as Vehicle Resale Lots, lemon lots are the result of the relatively short assignment cycles endured by foreign-soil-posted military personnel. Most overseas tours last just two to three years for seamen and, because shipping and converting a vehicle to meet local regulations can be prohibitively expensive, many of them choose to buy local.

The system is simple: sailors fly in, hit the lemon lot for a cheap road-legal car, use it for a while, then put it back on the vehicle resale lot at the end of their assignment. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Cars found on lemon lots tend to be older and well worn due to their nearly constant turnover and virtually disposable nature. Bumps and scrapes are common, and it can be safely assumed only the most necessary of maintenance is performed. To be sure, purchasing one of these vehicles is a risk, but the cars make up for their failings by being cheap and, if one looks hard enough, possibility a diamond in the rough.

Kreutzer lemon lot 2

To my surprise, the cars on Yokosuka’s lemon lot were neither the rolling death-traps nor raging bargains I’d expected. I reckon there are a couple of reasons for this.

The first: our nation’s Navy — in what’s undoubtedly an effort to limit the number of incidents and accidents in the Land of the Rising Sun — prohibits lowest ranking, unmarried personnel from driving. Their absence from the marketplace has an obvious impact on what’s offered for sale.

The other reason: Shaken, or the fear of it, sends many borderline vehicles to the recyclers lest the repair fees prove too steep.

The result of those conditions was that most of what I found was relatively benign and in surprisingly good shape. As expected, everything on Yokosuka’s lemon lot was pure JDM and I thought I would begin by focusing on a vehicle we never got stateside, the Toyota Fun Cargo. There were two examples on the lot and, as luck would have it, they were parked next to one another.

Based on the Toyota Yaris — known as the Vitz here in Japan — the Fun Cargo was a small people mover produced between 2000 and 2004. Offered with a choice of 1.3- and 1.5-liter engines, they were sold on style rather than power, and advertisements tended to be fun and light. It’s my opinion that, with their array of bright colors and funky but simply designed interiors, they were intended to appeal to women, a good marketing strategy that often pays big dividends in Japan where women tend to control the household purse strings.

A search of my favorite Japanese used car website shows 217 Fun Cargos currently for sale nationwide. The most expensive of these cars is a well optioned, 1.5-liter wheelchair conversion unit that mounts a rear ramp and comes with a new, two-year Shaken on sale for 947,000 yen (around $8,100 USD). At the opposite end of the scale is a 1.3 liter model with a Shaken set to expire in May for just 150000 yen (around $1,280 USD).

The cars I saw at the lemon lot were 2002 and 2003 models respectively and unfortunately neither gave any indication of the CCs under their hoods. Both appeared to have automatic transmissions and were generally in decent shape. The red car shows 65,000 km on the clock and a Shaken good until February 2017. Although it was originally stickered at $3,200, its price has been recently reduced to $2,800. The blue car has 83,200 kilometers on its odometer and is advertised at $2,600. Its ad says that its Shaken is good through December of 2017 year and that it comes with two additional sets of wheels and tires.

I am not in the market for another car at the moment, so the idea of a purchase is pure fantasy on my part. Still, from where I sit, the Fun Cargo would be a good choice for a second vehicle. Do others feel the same? I’m interested in hearing why or why not.

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95 Comments on “Lemon or Lemonade?: A Visit to Yokosuka’s Vehicle Resale Lot...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Yay!

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Too busy right now but can’t wait to read.. little vanny-things!

    Welcome back.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “Shaken, or the fear of it, sends many borderline vehicles to the recyclers lest the repair fees prove too steep.”

    Hold on a second: This website used to have an editor who claimed that shaken was no big deal and did not have any impact on the market.

    Of course, that doesn’t really help to explain why Japan exports about one million used cars per year. (Judging from what I saw in New Zealand, many of them are in good shape.)

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      And also all those “low mile imported from Japan” used engines, transmissions and occasionally “front cut”. Not nearly as common as in the 80’s and early 90’s but there are still a couple in my area. A couple that have been doing it since the heydays of that business model.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Well he also claimed GM was “channel stuffing” while getting ready to role out a new Silverado/Sierra.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      The Shaken didn’t sound so bad in this article:

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/shakken-up-how-a-little-american-persistance-and-one-little-old-japanese-man-beat-the-system

      Looking back through Mr. Kreutzer’s articles to find it – it didn’t show up on a simple search because of the different spelling of Shaken – reminded me how many good ones he wrote. I’m happy to see another!

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks! There is a lot of misinformation on the shaken and his difficult it really is. Even the average Japanese person doesn’t really understand what it entails. When I did the Supra back in the day my coworkers were amazed. They had been certain that the car would have to be thrown away. It’s just a strange part of the culture. Most people here aren’t DIYers and don’t have the time or experience to sort through a technical problem with their cars. In my opinion, they are easily taken advantage of.

        On the lemon lot cars, their low purchase price works against them, too. It can be simpler to just buy another with some l leftover time.

  • avatar
    0menu0

    My kid is aboard the Curtis Wilbur forward deployed there

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    A high roofline, Yaris based vehicle with additional cargo space.

    Heck here in Canada, I would like one as a grocery getter and short-trip runaround for moving kids, dogs and garage sale finds.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Are you out of your funk and feel like writing again, due to me asking you the other day to write stuff?! Yay!

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Welcome back Thomas, hope all is well, surprised to see dull cars here I figured there would be more funky cars for sailors but I see the appeal of these little CUV they can hold a decent amount of stuff compared to the small cars in Japan. How is the Mini van holding up?

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Also, the blue one is clearly in better condition, looks better without the grey trim, comes with extra tires, and has been stored inside more often per the condition of the headlamps. That’s the one I’d buy.

    Unless they had an N-BOX or a Suzuki Wagon R+.

  • avatar
    rpm1200

    I visited Japan in 2010 and Zambia in 2015. I was surprised to see how similar the cars looked between the two trips. I guess I was expecting to see older cars in Zambia with more European makes represented.

    On last year’s trip, most of the time I got to ride around in a Toyota Voxy minivan (more or less a high-trim version of the Noah). Noahs were pretty popular. There were also a lot of those Isuzu and Nissan FWD cab-over-engine trucks with tiny back wheels.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Those little trucks are handy and versatile! Carry the family, your crops, some animals, furniture, and become a street stall when necessary.

      The Kia Bongo was alllll over Korea doing all those things.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Are we talking about kei trucks? Those are RWD.

      • 0 avatar
        outback_ute

        I don’t think Isuzu do Kei trucks, so they are probably rwd with small dual rear wheels, which is pretty common. I don’t know of any Japanese fwd trucks, just European van derivatives eg VW Transporter, Renault Traffic or Fiat Ducato.

  • avatar
    sproc

    Thanks, Tom. So many memories. I picked up a Heisei 3 Toyota Corona there in early 2000 for only $350. Dented and scratched like you wouldn’t believe, but insanely reliable. Of course there were no service records, so one of the first things I did was a tune up and oil change. The oil looked like raw sewage and I can’t believe the plugs provided any spark at all, but that didn’t seem to bother that cockroach of a car one bit. Drove it like I stole it, including a run all the way to Mt. Fuji. A year later it passed the Shaken with no issues at all (navigating through the Kanagawa DMV all by myself was quite an adventure).

    After two years of trouble free driving, I sold it to another sailor for $350, exactly what I bought it for.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      A cousin in Siberia has a T190 body corona, a’92 with 300k kilometers under the belt, I reckon 200k of them in Siberia. I’d put about a 3x multiplier effect on car wear per mileage driven over there. The car is beaten mercilessly on dirt roads daily and shows no signs of letting up. Interior is miraculously rattle free although the passenger seat rail weld came apart recently, yes the roads are that brutal. The only other sound is the worn struts rattling around, my cousin gave up on replacing them since they’ll just start making noise every 6 months anyways. I have immense respect for 1990s Toyota vehicles after seeing how that car thrives under such deplorable driving conditions.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Sold in the UK as the Yaris Versa, my sister loves hers but that doesn’t stop it being referred to as The Hatchback of Notre Dame. Somewhat begrudgingly, I have to admit that it’s a great vehicle for her and her daughters.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    And after Toyota had sold all of these, they sent the shipping boxes to the US and sold them as the Scion xB.

  • avatar
    Sloomis

    To each their own, certainly, but to me a big part of the fun of living in Japan would be buying some funky JDM car like these that we couldn’t get here, instead of importing my current car.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      For most of us here, yes. One of the more interesting phenomenons among service members there is a great degree of rank inversion with car buying choices. Officers’ tours are mostly shorter and they generally to gravitate to the cheapest beaters. The more junior enlisted are there a lot longer and it’s not uncommon to see those troops in Skylines and JDM BMWs.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Do servicemen’s cars have special plates to let the Japanese know they’re looking at a foreigner?

        • 0 avatar
          sproc

          Yes. If you look closely at the picture, you’ll see the “Y” prefix on the left side of the plate, which identified cars registered to service members and others there under the status of forces agreement (dependents, civilian workers, etc.)

          Another piece of trivia: The number at the top of the plate identifies what displacement category the car is in.

          • 0 avatar
            Acubra

            If my memory does not do any disservice to me, in even older times (early to mid-90s) US military base personnel cars were even spared of shaken requirement too.

          • 0 avatar
            sproc

            @Acubra: I believe you’re right. It’s not the full blown shaken, but there’s still a fairly comprehensive inspection that needs to be completed every two years (IIRC).

        • 0 avatar
          threeer

          Not sure about Japan, but in Europe, not anymore. It used to be painfully obvious which cars belonged to U.S. service members, but we now run the exact same plates as do the Europeans. Of course, seeing a plate with “KA” on it for Kaiserslautern residing on a Dodge Ram is still a rather good indicator of ownership!

          • 0 avatar
            Menloguy

            KA is the code for Karlsruhe. Kaiserlautern is KL. The Toyota Fun Cargo in my opinion is a dowdy copy of the Renault Kangoo, but it’s probably more reliable than the Renault. I’d get the blue one on the right; it looks better taken care of. The cargo room appears very accommodating for transporting things like hiking gear and baby strollers if you have a family. It might even fit a surfboard inside for weekends at Enojima and Kamakura nearby.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Thanks.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    I always thought that the shaken was so problematic and expensive that, if I was in such a position, I would just buy a cheap Skyline and drive it until I was caught.

    How likely would it be that I would be caught?
    What are the consequences for driving a vehicle in violation? If they just seize the car plus a small fine, then it would be worth it. “Oh brother, go buy another.”

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Good to see you back here. I knew nothing of this institution, and it’s interesting reading. And of course, the funky JDM stuff is always a hoot.

  • avatar
    jimmy2x

    Been to Yokosuka many times in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Most good, a few I’d rather forget. Wonder if “Thieves Alley still exists.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      “The Honch” is still there, but a small shadow of it’s former self. Curfews and conduct restrictions are vastly more strict.

      • 0 avatar
        wstarvingteacher

        Yokosuka (Naval Regional Medical Center) was my first permanent duty station from 62-64. I returned on various ships until the early 80s. I think there would be a lot of culture shock if I returned today. BTW you speak of the curfews on Honcho street. The sailor that killed the Japanese policeman was a patient of mine after being seriously injured. I think that was 1963. We all lost our overnight liberty but he lost a bit more. Brig followed by a long time in the prison (have forgotten the name ofthe prison).

        This car drop is new to me and I fail to recognize any of the buildings in the picture. Welcome back Thomas. Good read, as always.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Ah, the lemon lot. Each time we returned to Germany, within the first week or so, my dad would be down at the local base lot scouting out for a used Opel Rekord (we wound up owning three Rekords, two 1971 variants and a 1980…each one was a white four-door!). Always fun to see what’s being sold on them (and another reason for why I sometimes read through the online Stars and Stripes just to see what early 2000s base BMW or Mercedes is being sold, not like I could do anything to actually acquire it!).

  • avatar

    What is “Shaken” and what does JDM stand for? Please avoid acronyms unless they are in general parlance–DNA, MPG, ASAP, NASA, are examples of the latter.

  • avatar
    Thorshammer_gp

    I grew up next to Offutt AFB, and when I still had base privileges, the lemon lot was one of my favorite reasons for going there. There was almost always something weird or interesting there, from a ’92 BMW 535i (which I unsuccessfully, and probably thankfully, was unable to talk my dad into buying) to a ’69 Mini Cooper and all number of things in between. My best friend in high school actually bought two Del Sols there. Fun times.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I wonder how well a 1.3 litre vehicle with an auto will perform? Especially an engine from the early 2000s.

    When I first joined the military and went on exercise or deployments most every place we went a car was available. We didn’t need to buy one as most were bought between a few guys and left for future use by others. This worked well and was quite cheap. The cars were sh!tters of course, but it beat walking or using service vehicles/rentals.

    The newer generation of young don’t tend to do this and expect to be offered “company” vehicles. Different expectations I suppose.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      I’m sure the 1.3 is more than adequate for Japan. It was rare that I topped 60km/h, let alone use a 100km/h freeway with crazy high tolls. Mostly trudged through endless stop and go traffic. US market I’m not so sure other than as a city car.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I shipped a ’93 Integra to LaMadelena (Sardinia) when forward deployed there. I tortured the Euro brands mercilessly. Honda was doing well in F1 at the time which added to the sting. Asside from some mild vandalism (Sharpie to the plate and a stolen hood badge) it was smooth and easy. The one time local LEO’s didn’t just wave me on an sight of my license/ID/AFI plates a single stop at thier office got the thing wadded up and waived. Good times, my best command ever.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    I am not stirred by the shaken.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    I was stationed there once, lo 24 years ago or so. Bought a car (’78 Skyline sedan) from a transferring shipmate for the princely sum of $75. Sold it when I transferred for the same amount. You have to prove you have disposed of the car (sale, junkyard, etc.) before you are allowed to leave the country.

    A lot of cars on base *are* rolling deathtraps – mine was distinctly in that category – that are handed down from sailor to Sailor, just not the ones in the lemon lot.

    Fun fact: Servicemen are exempt from a lot of the taxes (and inspections?) that get piled onto cars that are over 10 years old, so you see a lot of older iron driven by “Y” plates (special American servicemen plates) that otherwise would have been driven to a junkyard paid to take it off their hands. A few enterprising Sailors (and/or their spouses) troll the junkyards regularly and buy these up for a song, get them re-registered, (an un-trivial undertaking as Thomas is well aware), and then sell them for a profit on that very lot.

    I knew a guy whose neighbor out in town gave him a car (Subaru XT) because it was cheaper than paying a junkyard to take it. Shipmate filled out the paperwork, went to Yokohama to feed the bureaucracy, and the car was his.

  • avatar
    goldtownpe

    Column shifter ftw!

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Hey Thomas,
    Reach out to your South American brother and let him know he is missed on the B&B. I am glad the T&C is running well and happy to hear so are you.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t have Marcello’s email address but I understand from Derek and Mark’s comments in last week’s thread about the discontinuation of the TTAC newsbot that it has been a long time since he has been in contact. Like everyone else I’m quite worried about him.

      Marcello was already a TTAC contributor when I first started writing as a part of the “future writers” gimmick that Bertel used to generate free content. He always made time to give me positive feedback and leave encouraging comments on everything I wrote and made me feel like I was a welcome part of the team. He’s just the nicest guy and I too would like to see him return.

      • 0 avatar
        Piston Slap Yo Mama

        As Bertel lives only a few blocks from your current bivouac you should ring him up, have a spot of lunch? As much as he’s reviled here, I sure appreciated how he pulled the plug on the more incendiary commenters – the one benefit of his tenure I miss the most.

  • avatar
    AprilFools

    Great Column.

    Is the lemon Lot on base or off? Or is there no perimeter fence to keep the “public” out?

    A few folks that i work with that are navy retired spoke of those lemon lots on foreign bases. Interesting stories.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’ll be out your way in September. My wife’s friends are doing a stint in the civilian department at Yokosuka. And I’m so FABULOUSLY excited!

    I was at Yakota AFB last year and took a look at one of their lemon lots and it seemed the Air Force doesn’t have the same hangups as the Navy as there were some questionably modified JDM-yo cars on the lot.

    In any event, I am saving up my pennies to blow it all on diecast when I get there. Extra suitcases to bring them back and everything.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      The lemon lot was, and probably still is, meant for the families to find and buy a car. That’s why it has nice, clean, undamaged, useful cars there. Single sailors wouldn’t usually sell there, it was a much more informal “Hey, wanna buy my car?”

  • avatar
    -Nate

    WELCOME HOME Thomas .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    ffighter69

    What does “shaken” stand for. I realize that it’s something to do with a safety certicficate.

    • 0 avatar
      scrubnick

      車検 -> Vehicle Inspection. Not an acronym, just a word in Japanese. A combined vehicle condition (tires, brakes, etc.), emissions and safety inspection.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Can you write any word in the Katakana that you can write in traditional Japanese? I know it’s a “disrespectful” thing to do when addressing a foreign person to fly under the radar.

        So if you wrote that word in Katakana, would Japanese people be like “What the heck is wrong with you?”

        Japan is fascinating to me in both language and culture.

      • 0 avatar
        ffighter69

        So it’s just what we call a safety in Ontario, Canada along with an E-test (emissions). These are performed any time a vehicle is sold to be driven on the roads and are valid for 1000Kms or 30 days the period that the new owner or seller has to change the ownership. At which time the safety is no longer valid and must be performed again. The E-test I don’t even want to get into. Simple test but too long to explain all the time lines and rules.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          The shaken is stringent enough that it prompts many car owners to dump their vehicles even though they are in good condition.

          Given the limited market for such cars in Japan, Japan ends up exporting about one million used cars per year. Some of those end up in New Zealand, where perfectly fine used examples (including high-end performance models) are available at reasonable prices.

          Some would argue that the shaken is essentially a subsidy program for the domestic car market in Japan, as many of those who dump their used vehicles will presumably replace them with new ones. It motivates used car owners to dump their cars prematurely while encouraging other Japanese consumers to avoid buying them even though they are roadworthy.

  • avatar
    319583076

    I was stoked to see this post, Thomas. I hope you’re doing well!

  • avatar

    Very interesting piece on an obscure piece of American car culture abroad. Thank you!

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This is why there’s a neverending supply of lightly used JDM engines and transmissions for models that are sold both here and in Japan.

    Thomas, great to see you back!

  • avatar
    Onus

    I thought US base personnel did not have the localize cars? Much like in Germany where service members can bring their car from home and are exempt from emissions, safety, lighting requirements, etc.

    I know it was this way for sure in the late 60s-70s when my grandfather was stationed in Japan. Though he ditched the American car for something local and left hand drive for usability purposes.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    This is the type of article that makes TTAC , something I never would have known about and keeps my mind off the VW crap for awhile , thanks again Thomas

  • avatar
    qfrog

    That commercial acosted me, I was not prepared for that sort of non stop tongue lashing promoting a FUN! CAR! GO! in debate club cadence set to full auto. I think the advert only stopped because the magazine was empty.

  • avatar
    bikephil

    can someone explain what shaken is??the author assūmed that everyone knows.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      “Shaken (車検?), a contraction of Jidōsha Kensa Tōrokuseido (自動車検査登録制度?, “automobile inspection registration system”), is the name of the vehicle inspection program in Japan for motor vehicles over 250 cc in engine displacement.”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor-vehicle_inspection_(Japan)

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Tom, hope things improve soon.

    Expat living can really suck. Hang in there.

  • avatar
    THEjeffSmif

    I was in the Air Force & am all too familiar with the “lemon lots”. I was never stationed in Japan but did do some overseas assignments overseas & yeah, it was no big deal to just buy something cheap on the lemon lot, use it, sell it for something else, move on.
    I’m not sure if this is a problem in Japan but on many military bases abandoned vehicles are another big issue. If military members can’t sell their car, or if the cars have too many problems they’ll either give them away or simply abandon them with or without the keys in them. Eventually they’ll be discovered or considered abandoned & auctioned off or junked if they’re in really bad shape.
    When I was stationed in Hawaii, I knew a guy who had a ’95 Corsica & a super low-mileage ’58 Impala. When he got orders & was reassigned to San Antonio, TX he of course shipped the Impala to Texas with him(if stationed anywhere besides Japan, the US Government will ship 1 vehicle per military member free of charge). Meanwhile, he had no luck selling or even giving away the Corsica (even young, broke military members didn’t want to be seen driving such a car!)so when he left it in a parking lot where it sat under a tree for 9 months. Keys & all. eventually it got so full of sap that people noticed it was there way too long & got corralled with other abandoned cars for auction.


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