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Why are people buying 25-year-old Japanese cars with the steering wheel on the other side?

The hunt for a used car bargain leads many to Japanese Domestic Market vehicles. #k5evening

SHORELINE, Wash. — Have you seen the price of used cars these days? It's getting harder than ever to find a bargain. But if you're willing to go back to the 90's and don't mind learning how to drive with the steering wheel on the right side of the car, you just might be in for a big surprise.

"This to me is Japanese science fiction anime come to life," said Thurmon Kellogg, who was 22 the year Mitsubishi built his dream car, the Delica.

"It's retro-futuristic, you know?" he said.

The roomy touring van is capable of going on off-road adventures and can even provide a place to sleep.

"You can go anywhere you want," he said. "You can tow anything that you want to tow. You just can't do it fast."

Credit: KING TV
Thurmon Kellogg had to learn to use a steering wheel on the right side of his van.

As you can probably tell by the placement of the steering wheel, the Delica was not originally built for American consumers. But here it is, part of a wave of JDM, or Japanese Domestic Market vehicles you can find at specialty dealerships like the one aptly named  JDM Car and Motorcycle in Shoreline.

"Most folks don't know or understand what this JDM is all about," said JDM salesman Tom Boulanger.

"The Fast and The Furious" franchise introduced American audiences to the sporty side of JDM cars in 2001. And they've been embraced in a big way up and down the West Coast. 

At this dealership, the lot is full of mostly practical cars, though there is a fire truck for sale. Because of American import regulations, all of the cars on the lot have to be at least 25 years old.

They have names like Hiace, Fargo, and Escudo.

Our friend and car expert Tom Voelk of Driven took a Daihatsu Terios for a test ride.

"Driving on the wrong side is always a little bit of a challenge," Voelk said. "You have to get used to it. But it's fun!"

Fun, low-maintenance, often with low miles, and relatively inexpensive.

"You can come here and spend 9 to 10,000 thousand dollars and have a car that has five to six-thousand miles on it and you'll drive that for the next 25 years," Boulanger said.

Credit: KING TV
JDM cars on the lot at JDM Car and Motorcycle in Shoreline.

A 96 Toyota Ipsum has 21-thousand miles on it and costs about $16,450. 

A turbo diesel Mitsubishi Pajero is $15,960.

And the Toyota Hiace fire truck is $24,950.

Sure some of these 25-year-old cars come with cassette players, but we found one that comes with a device to heat your food and another one that makes coffee.

"They're fun right?" Voelk said. "People want something different. Cars aren't just transportation. They're pop culture and they are people's identities."

Kellogg said he and his Delica have become inseparable.

"Let's be honest," he said. "I like the attention. Anybody who has something like this likes the attention. It's a conversation starter."

JDM Car and Motorcycle is open every day of the week except Sunday and Monday. If you're looking for a hybrid, next year they will be importing the first generation of Toyota Priuses.

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