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Why Are Kei Cars Illegal in Australia? Or Are They?

Manufacturers  ·  November 18, 2022

Why Are Kei Cars Illegal in Australia? Or Are They?

People always ask, “Why are Kei cars illegal in Australia?”, and that’s a fair question. After all, these cars are small, affordable, and a favourite amongst many Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) enthusiasts. But are they really illegal?

Japanese Kei cars, per se, are not illegal in Australia. However, they're produced for the JDM, so you'd have to import them to Australia. There are strict requirements that must be satisfied before you can bring in a Kei and own and drive one.

In this article, we'll look at why Kei cars fall into a legal grey area outside of Japan and what requirements you might face when trying to get one into Australia.

What Are Kei Cars?

Japanese Kei cars are unique for many reasons. To understand their legality in Australia and elsewhere, we need to know what’s so different about them.

Kei cars are the most miniature roadworthy cars made in Japan. They fall into a special category known as keijidosha, which entitles them to several benefits in their home country. 

In Japan, kei cars are exempt from road rules (like some parking rules) and enjoy some perks related to insurance and registration.

Besides that, these microcars are affordable to buy, operate, and repair, primarily because they have small dimensions. For a car to qualify as a Kei, it must have these specs:  

In other words, Honda Kei cars, Suzuki Kei cars, and any other brand must all adhere to the same maximum specs listed above to be considered Kei cars.

Worldwide, you can find similarly compact vehicles, but Kei cars are produced for the Japanese Domestic Market.

Beyond Japan, Kei cars are a niche vehicle category because they’re not so easy to purchase. Would-be buyers must arrange to import their desired Kei car to their shores.

Of course, that depends on the legality of importing, owning, and driving Kei cars in their country. Unfortunately, that’s a bit of a grey area, even in Australia.

Why Are Kei Cars Illegal Outside Japan?

If you look around, you’ll find Kei cars for sale in Australia. That's a clear indicator that it is possible to own Kei cars overseas, even in our country.

However, you must understand that importing and owning a Kei car is a complex process.

For example, you’ll rarely find Kei cars in a country like the United States. They’re not always illegal per se, but the authorities in some states won't certify them as being legal to drive.

On the other hand, Canada will only allow Kei cars to be imported and driven if the vehicle is more than 15 years of age.

There are several reasons why Kei cars are not straightforwardly legal outside of Japan, including the following:

Is It Hard to Import a Car to Australia?

Buying Kei cars in Japan is incredibly easy, but the tricky part is importing those Kei cars into Australia. The good news is that you can import those cars, but the bad news is that there’s lots of paperwork involved. 

Plus, the specific Kei car model you want might not be eligible at all.

Here’s what the process looks like for importing a car (any kind of car) into the country:

  1. Research: Firstly, you must do your homework. This step involves researching the rules, regulations, payments, and other details that do or do not apply to you when importing a Kei car from Japan. You'll also need to check that the Kei car meets Australian Design Rules.
  2. Apply for approval: Once you know which approvals to apply for, you must fill out the forms and pay the fees.
  3. Get approval: A little time goes into waiting for approval, but once you have it, you can continue.
  4. Plan for shipping: Next, plan the logistics for bringing the car over.
  5. Clear it with Customs: Any time you’re importing something, such as a car, a Customs Clearance is necessary.
  6. Meet any quarantine requirements: There are some instances when quarantines apply to vehicles.
  7. Meet approval conditions: The vehicle must meet any approval conditions, including necessary modifications, to use safely in Australia.
  8.  Register the car: Lastly, you must register the car in your state or territory.

So, as you can see, importing any vehicle into Australia involves a long process. However, several other considerations apply to importing Kei cars, specifically.

What Are Australia's Requirements for Kei Cars?

Some of the general requirements allowing Kei cars to be imported into the country include the following:

At this point, it’s clear that there are many details to work out if you want to import a Kei car into Australia. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it yourself. 

Many automotive businesses specialise in importing Japanse Domestic Market (JDM) vehicles and spare parts, including Kei cars. They’ll have the knowledge, network, and experience to help smoothen the process as much as possible.

To find your local JDM specialists, check out the Directory at CarpartAU, where you can filter automotive businesses in your area according to type, making it easy to find and contact the ones you want quickly.


By Ray Hasbollah

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