It's not even just JDM tax. Here's a detailed version of the process:
First, you see what cars are available at auction. Cars typically are inspected before being listed, so any potential issues, flaws, dents, rust, paint chips/flakes/problems, etc. are typically noted. They are by no means perfect and able to find/report all of the issues with the car, and typically there's only 2-4 small pictures of the car shown. Thousands of cars are listed every day, so you are at the mercy of the inspectors and their judgment of a particular car.
The notes that are taken on the car will be posted up with the car on the listing, but then they also have to be translated. Sometimes extra parts are included, as the company auctions it exactly as the car was provided to them. Keep in mind that the legal cars to import are all 25 years old, which means they will have 25 years worth of mileage, wear and tear, and potential issues. Fortunately, Japan is far, far better about maintaining their vehicles than Americans are.
Another note is that the appraiser might not know the car inside and out. They might not be a passionate enthusiast, or know a particular model very well. They might not have an eye for specifics that might differentiate one car from the next. It is up to the buyer to know what they are looking at and what they get. XAT specializes in a very specific few models, as we know these cars well. We've been able to develop experience and knowledge for them, inside and out. As such, we only import the best models and versions of these cars (Celsior, Crown, Chaser, Century, Mark II, etc.)
When you import cars, you have to pay whoever you get it from (usually an auction yard), sometimes storage, pay the broker to place the bid, make sure it's de-registered, get the export certificate, transport from the auction yard to the dock, dock for loading, transport to the USA, dock at USA for unloading, customs fees, then you either pay the dock for the privilege of picking up your own car, or pay a transport company to deliver it to your location. There are many steps in the process, and lots of different people involved in the logistics of getting it over here. Keep in mind you have also bought this car site unseen, and by the time it arrives, it might not be in as good shape as you expected. Most cars tend to look better in pictures, and your brain fills in the blanks. On average, it's typically 2-3 months from the time of winning the auction to actually getting the car in your possession. And that's if it's legal, not counting if you purchase a car that is not old enough yet, so it has to be stored in Japan first until it is.
Now that you have the car, you then have to get it legal in your state. In FL, if it can drive under its own power, it's legal...sort of. We don't have emissions testing like other states do. For starters, it needs to be inspected by the state (different office than the normal DMV).
So then you have to physically take it to one of just a few locations, most of which are not local. That means paying someone or trailering it to where it needs to be. We're lucky that it's "only" 40 minutes away for us. You cant legally drive it there for the inspection, as it has no insurance, no registration, no tag, etc. Driving it there illegally is incredibly risky, and could end up costing you the whole car!
Now that it's there, it has to pass inspection. Your local DMV most likely is not set up for this, there's separate places that are. During inspection, you have to present the proper customs forms, which have to be filled out properly by the department of homeland security, US customs, EPA, the shipping company, the export certificate that confirms the car has been de-registered in Japan, a notarized copy of the translation of the Japanese documents, etc. This process requires advanced appointment, dealing with government employees that hate doing their job and are miserable to work with, and never less than 2-3 hours out of the day. This is for each and every single car.
Once it passes, you have to go to your local DMV and obtain a IS title for it. VIN has to be registered, etc. It's a different process for JDM cars, as they don't have 17 digit VINs and they don't have stickers plastered over every door and body panel.
You cant register/tag it without insurance, so you need to find an insurance company that will insure the car. Once it's insured, and you get the tag, THEN it's legal to drive.
Just because it's legal doesnt mean it's road ready. XAT inspects each and every car thoroughly. We note any maintenance that has been done, and typically any maintenance that it might further need. Every car is meticulously detailed as well. I personally use a toothbrush and wet toothpick to clean all of the creases and body lines in between the bumpers, doors, around emblems, and even windows to get as much nasty gunk out as possible. We also wash every car with Toyota brand car soap (not even kidding), claybar every car, polish every car, shampoo/vacuum the carpet of every car, condition the leather of every car, and clean anywhere and everywhere that we can to restore every car to "almost new" status again! In many cases, air pollution will have given the car a slight brown haze, so we do our best to remove that as well. It may take 20 man hours for each car to be truly ready for sale.
We dont import just any old JDM car that seems cool either. There are very specific particular models we target to bring over, and theyre always the best we can get, especially bang for the buck! For instance, with the 10th generation Crown, we do not bring over anything less than the 2JZ spec hardtop cars. The smaller sedan version with framed windows, we pay no attention to. We specifically target the earlier zenki models (1995-mid 1997) as they have the best platform to start with. Typically, we aim for Royal Touring 2JZ spec (with Toyota's first 5 speed automatic), or Royal Saloon G models, which include power rear seats, rear A/C, and nearly every other option from the factory.
When it comes to Celsiors, we stick to a few specific trim levels, depending on what car someone might have in mind. The B type is the more "sporty" option, with active TEMS shocks and suspension, while the C type has a comfy air ride that can be raised or lowered with a controller. We also occasionally get the eR spec, (European style), which includes leather, sunroof, and Autobahn tuned springs, shocks, steering rack, upper arms, bushings, etc. While you may see similar JDM cars listed for sale, often for less money, they typically are missing some of the best options these cars came with. And that's what we provide our customers with.
Another thing to consider: in Florida, you are only allowed to buy/sell 3 cars in any 12 month period without getting a dealer's license, which requires a brick and mortar location zoned for commercial etc. etc. That's an entirely separate process that has its own share of months and months worth of headaches.
XAT Racing is FINALLY a car dealer once again. We have gone through the necessary legal process to be a legitimate car dealer legally. We've risked many thousands of our own dollars out of pocket just to start the process.