What are JDM cars?

What are JDM cars?

What are JDM cars? JDM  stands for Japanese Domestic Market. Does this term have anything to do with cars? The first time I heard the term I also got confused. Being a car enthusiast you should know the locution. Well, there are multiple types of cars, but what drives you to come here is the word “JDM”.

There may be many questions in your mind. Why is the term JDM so popular? Are JDM cars better than normal cars? The whole world of Youtube videos intrigued you to explore the topic or your friend has invited you to enjoy a JDM ride.

Japanese manufacturers like Subaru, Mitsubishi, Honda, Nissan, introduced this acronym for cars. Of course, cars made for export are not JDM. However, many cars sold in the Japanese market belong to the JDM category. 

In this article, we’re going to take a detailed look at the intimidating JDM cars. Meaning of JDM, myths about these cars, origin of the term. Grab some snacks and start reading

Definition of JDM Cars


Japanese Domestic Market cars are specifically made to be sold in the Japanese market. 

Japanese automotive industries have created these cars in accordance with Japanese government standards and requirements.

Are all Japanese cars JDM?

These cars are different in speculation from other cars sold in the international market. A common myth that all Japanese cars are JDM cars, is not true. The Japanese domestic vehicle market produces these vehicles for Japan’s local market. 

Japanese branded vehicles with specific accessories and modifications are the true face of JDM. Japanese automotive companies mass-produce cars for different markets like Europe, America, Asia, and Australia. JDM cars are made with the aim to serve the Japanese people only.

Being sold in Japan is the only intent of domestic car manufacturers. Because of severe import regulations JDM’s only hit the roads in Japan.

Maybe it’s a bit confusing but now you know these highly sought-after cars are not for outside the country.

For better understanding let’s take the example of the Toyota Supra MKIV. Though the company sold it in the United States – left-hand drive, according to US regulatory law. 

But this car was also manufactured and designed with changes such as a right-hand drive vehicle solely for the Japanese users. Compared to the United States domestic market the speed was narrowed to 180 km/hr. 

With specific changes, the vehicle becomes eligible for import. Another benefit attached with the US version is a slightly discounted price – this makes it worth buying. Some different brands have released US counterparts of JDM cars. 

Kei Vehicles

With strict size limits, Kei cars are intended for the Japanese market only. They are mainly defined as a class of tiny trucks, cars, and vans.

The engines of JDM vehicles are limited to 660cc. 


  • Width: 5 feet wide
  • Height: 6 feet high
  • Length: 12 feet long

Toyota Century

Introduced in 1960, Toyota Century still hits the roads in Japan in its 3rd generation. Luxury features like four-seat arrangements, movable front seats allow them to compete with other crops in Japan.  

Kei cars are named as true JDMs as they are fuel-efficient, small in size, and lightweight making them easy to afford. Reduction in road tax and vehicle insurance are due to smaller engine size, strict physical dimension regulations, and less power consumption.

honda n box

Honda N Box 

Honda N Box is another Kei car – a true JDM example. As of December 2019, Honda N Box broke all records of popular new Kei car sales. For 28 consecutive months, it was the most popular car in Japan.

According to a report, more than 1.7 million units of this comfortable and practically appealing car have been sold since its launch.

There are other larger JDM vehicles that are introduced as replacements for luxurious cars like Mercedes Benz, BMW, etc. Toyota Century is a perfect example. While many people have not even heard of it outside Japan, it’s a true status symbol for businessmen.

Why are JDM cars better?

Probably, you may want us to highlight the reasons why JDM cars are better than other vehicles. Being a Japanese Domestic Market car lover, this question may come to your mind. 

Performance, practicality, efficiency are some of the many features of the Japanese automobile industry. Compared to other vehicles, JDM functions best. 

Hybrid Technology

JDM cars are equipped with hybrid technology. From the pictures, you can guess JDM vehicles have much more futuristic designs. Furnished with the latest technology these cars have plenty of design options to choose from.

American-built vehicles are a bit on the pricey side that’s why people prefer smart and cheap alternatives.

Now you know many reasons why JDM cars are better.

why jddm cars better

JAMA Rules

The rules and regulations imposed by the Japanese government are what make their vehicles different. However, the United States domestic vehicles operate on very different rules. 

JAMA stands for Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, a group of Japanese car manufacturers. This association levied a horsepower limit to 280 HP, later in 2004 they lifted the limit. Also, the speedometer could go up to 180 km/h. 

Japan’s Traffic Rules

Japan’s traffic laws are different as compared to other countries. Following instructions given by police is normal but driving on the left side is what makes traffic laws contrasting. The driver’s seat and steering wheels are to the right side. Pedestrians should keep to the right side of the road, not on the vehicle’s left side. 


That’s why importing a car from Japan can be problematic for drivers.The max speed limit is still in effect. 
Japan cars

Are JDM cars legal in the US?

Are you confused about the legal status of JDM in America? 

Let us introduce you to the fact that JDM vehicles are legal in the US. Though there is a condition linked with the age of the vehicle. At the time of import, the vehicle must be 25 years old.

There are some formalities that need to be fulfilled when the vehicle arrives in the United States. These are;

  • ISF filing form
  • Export certificate along with its translated version
  •  Invoice
  • Bill of landing

For clearance, you need all these documents verified from a custom local office. So a 25 year or older JDM can be legally driven on American streets.

Nowadays, specialized dealers and importers help buyers to import JDM cars. They bring over popular JDM cars. The main purpose is to compete with expensive counterpart USDM vehicles. 

Some examples are Nissan Fairlady Z, Supra, Mazda RX-7. 

Mitsubishi Pajero sold in the US as Montero and Nissan Safari as Armada were some imported JDM SUV rides. The home market versions were equipped with special features and different engines.

Imported Sports Cars

Mitsubishi Delica a 4WD minivan SUV has recently gained popularity among camping communities. Imported Kei rides include Autozam AZ-1, similar to quirky Mazda, which has a small mid-engine with gullwing doors.

You may be familiar with the second-generation Mazda Miata – similar-looking tiny sports car Suzuki Cappuccino. The distinguishing features are turbocharged three-cylinder engine and under 1600 pounds weight. 

Kei vans and trucks have a high fan following because of their practical nature. Nissan took inspiration from retro-look cars in the early ’90s and created similar designs. To compete with classic European automobile designs, Nissan Pao was styled with design hinting back to the 1950s.

Another example is the Nissan Figaro 2+2 convertible in North America. Two doors, front-wheel design, front-engine, and a folding roof. Nissan S-Cargo was a small retro-style van introduced to take on Citron.

One more addition to USDM is the Honda Civic Type R. This model launched in 1997 was a high-performance aspirated engine, more space-oriented, lighter version, and red racing seats.

Red Recaro racing seats are still not available in the UK that’s why JDM cars are considered the ultimate goal there.

Import JDM Vehicles At Your Own Risk

Take into account the opinion of an expert before importing JDM vehicles. It is a wise idea to carry the process legally. Some fraudulent importers bring in cars illegally to the US without registering them. Afterward, buyers find complications, thus, having their vehicle seized. 

In the US, some states have strict rules regarding the import of JDM vehicles. California comes to the top of the list with inflexible registration rules. There are many requirements that should be fulfilled before it hits the road. 

Emissions control is one of the – California testing labs that certify JDM cars after emission testing.

State Of Maine Dismiss Registration of Several JDM

Similar to other states, the State of Maine has imposed emission and federal crash safety standards. Recently, they canceled the registration of several JDM just because they don’t meet the quality standards. While the owners thought they had brought ineligible and street-legal cars.

Identification of True JDM Cars

Identifying JDM cars has long been a problem. Fans normally mimic the style of JDM cars so that their cars look like real JDM. You may think that fans imitate their ideals which is not a bad thing. But think of people new to the JDM community. Isn’t it confusing for them? 

This misinterpretation results in the association of the term JDM with Ricer, an annoying car community. Let us answer this famous question!

JDM Engines

Do you know American versions of Japanese cars can install JDM engines? It may be shocking for you but many people fit JDM engines in their American cars for many reasons. According to some people, JDM engines perform best and are also inexpensive.

Tax is assessed on individuals for driving a vehicle for more than 62 miles on the odometer. Soldering them overseas for quite low miles is the perfect solution. Fortunately, JDM engines fit ideally with the US market version cars. 

Users prefer the JDM engines because they come at a discounted rate. Rebuilding existing faulty engines or buying a new one seems pricey to most American car owners. 

Why upgrade to a JDM engine?

US domestic market version Nissan 240SX arrives with 2.4-liter inline 4 engine – naturally aspirated engine with peak power. While the JDM equivalent, Nissan appears with a turbocharged 2.0-liter.

Easily turning to a higher power rating is the distinguishing property of turbo engines. That’s why most 240SX owners swap these engines into their USDM model – left-hand-driven mock-up.

But keep in mind that every state has some required standards. Replacement engines may be illegal for certain reasons like they don’t have the proper emission equipment. 

Often publicized as low-mileage, sometimes JDM engines cannot be verified. Only expert inspection can confirm the condition of used engines. 

We recommend visiting a professional mechanic that renders guaranteed mileage. 

JDM Components

Think your JDM car runs into a technical problem. In that case, you need to import original JDM parts from Japan. Luckily, components like keys, badges, wheels, etc. are also imported and have high demand. 

JDM performance parts from HKS are famous in the USA market. Therefore, owners can get original parts from these brands to modify their vehicles in the most original way.

JDM Fashion Keys

Perhaps, you may be familiar with JDM fashion keys. Available in various designs, fashion keys have become style statements for JDM obsessives. Duetto key by Royal Clover is the most in-demand design.

Mazda Miata owners are willing to pay more than $300 for their tiny JDM sports vehicle. Getting a fresh uncut key is what owners desire. 

Whatever, you can find parallels in every market. Similar is the case with JDM enthusiasts, they browse the internet and pay big chunks of money for authentic JDM products.

Are JDM cars legal in Canada?

15 years old JDM cars can be legally imported in Canada from Japan. The country doesn’t enforce strict rules regarding the import of JDM vehicles.

Nissan Skyline, Subaru Impreza, Subaru Forester are the most popular models obtainable in Canada. However, keep in mind that these models don’t come low-priced. You have to pay a premium for them.     

Is JDM a ricer?

Have you ever come across a car that looks extravagant? The owners of such cars can be perfectly defined as “modders”. 

Modders love Japanese cars as they are budget-friendly and mass-produced. The favorite mode of ricer is stickers. That’s why they do visual customizations and modifications.

Believe us, telling the difference between a ricer and JDM is just simple. Wheels, sound systems, spoilers, body kits, and exhaust system is where you find the contrast.

The innovator comes with improving engine performance where they replace the stock box with cold air intakes – switch from simple exhaust system to high exhaust flow system. Cold air intakes make more noise, however, they are cheap. 

Do you think these useless modes will improve the performance?


Aerodynamic modes are the most favorite of ricers. These cars usually use parts with no actual function – 4 big wings. These spoilers barely pass the wind tunnel test. Stick-on lips, lack of mufflers, air hooks, and faulty underflow. 

A bad muffler can cause a loss of power. Honda Insight, Dodge Neon, Geo Metro are some examples of a ricer.

Is JDM bad?

Occasionally, it is considered that the quality of JDM vehicles is notorious for not being as good as it is in the domestic version. 

Let’s take the example of the New Zealand vehicle market.

Perhaps, you may not know that many used vehicles from Japan are imported to the New Zealand domestic market. Japanese imports are so common that roughly 60% of cars are imported from Japan at some stage to drive New Zealand’s roads.

In the country, only wealthier communities afford new vehicles. Car dealers import used cars from Japan in bulk. Second-Hand cars are so common that on average every Kiwi drives a used car.

The used cars can be from a relatively recent model or one that could be up to10 years old. Like other countries, New Zealand has imposed certain import laws like vehicles past a definite age before import. 

Due to high popularity and demand, many imported cars are JDM – which means JDM versions are also available in New Zealand. 

Equipment specifications and low safety are some of the drawbacks of JDM versions – definitely, the New Zealand new versions are of high quality. 

Mazda 3 is the New Zealand version of the Japanese Mazda Axela. The specifications of the New Zealand genre are different from that of JDM Axela. Lower power engines options available in JDM spec Axelas are for Japanese buyers that comply with JDM traffic laws. 

One snag of JDM cars is worse safety features(that’s why they are inexpensive), however, JDM counterparts intended for sale in the NZ domestic market are a bit different.

The entire structure of the Japanese domestic market is designed to encourage high yield. This is the reason why different specifications are offered. Another reason is frequently upgrading to a higher spec. 

Do you use the term JDM to refer to all Japanese cars?

Now when you know the meaning of the term JDM, you might wonder why many people refer to all Japanese cars as JDM.

Many people have started using the term because the term sounds unique and cool. Desirability would be another reason for saying a Japanese car JDM.     

Do reputable brands manufacture JDM?

Some brands specifically made cars for both the US domestic market and the Japanese domestic market. The manufacturers construct vehicles depending on the requirements of markets where they intend to sell that vehicle. 

Not only Japanese automotive companies build JDM but also other famous brands like Mercedes Benz, Jeep, Volvo, BMW, Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen sell JDM vehicles. 

Even some Japanese brands build luxury vehicles not intended to be sold in Japan. Few opulent cars created for the European and American market are Toyota’s Lexus, Nissan’s Infiniti, and Honda’s Acura.

Brands That Build JDM Vehicles

The Japanese Automotive Manufacturers Association, a collection of car manufacturers, produces JDM vehicles. These brands are;

  • ISUZU Motors
  • Subaru Corporation
  • Mazda Motor Corporation
  • Yamaha Motors Japan
  • Hino Motors
  • Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
  • Toyota Motor Corporation
  • Kawasaki Heavy Industries
  • UD Trucks Corporation
  • Nissan Motor Co.
  • Daihatsu Motor Co.

The merger of the Automotive Industrial Association and the Japan Small Vehicle Manufacturers Association resulted in the creation of the trade association, JAMA. 

JAMA offices are located in New York, Brussels, Paris, Canada, and Washington DC. JAMA as a national and international organization played a role in decreasing pollution caused by automobile manufacture.

The organization’s vision is to create environmentally-friendly vehicles through recycling promoting a cleaner space. They joined the Association For Cooperation in Abandoned Car Disposal to talk about manufacturing.

Since its creation in 1967 JAMA doubled its participation for a better world.

Biggest JDM Brands

Honda, Toyota, and Nissan are referred to as the biggest contributors to JAMA, therefore, called JAMA brands. Automotive markets of Europe, America, and Asia have their own big brands but these three popular brands are also ruling the international market. 

These three brands have been taking over the market so perfectly because of their reliable, cheap, and fuel-efficient vehicles. The focus on 2.0 liter, Inline 4 Engine has become the key component for their perfection. 

These engines consume less fuel and reach high speeds swiftly. Targeting this configuration has benefited them the most. 

Your commuter cars have Inline 4 Engines installed in them. Front-wheel drive, plastic finishings, lightweight, aluminum frames, etc. make them economical cars. 

Related Question

Can you drive a right-hand car in the USA?

Yes, you can drive in a right-hand car in the United States. Most of the United States Postal Service automobiles use right-hand vehicles to get near mailboxes. However, there are some modifications required for right-hand cars to meet the safety standards. 

What is JAMA in Japan?

JAMA is referred to as Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. It is a collection of Japan’s 14 manufacturers of automobiles like cars, trucks, motorcycles, and buses. JAMA has offices located in different countries. 

Do JDM cars have VINS?

No, JDM cars don’t have VIN numbers. They have 9-12 letters long Frame numbers. A model code represents the specific features a car has, simply it will dispute the add ons. 

Hope you have gained a lot of information from this article. We have tried our best to cover all the important points. Kindly share your thoughts in the comments below.

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