Car Lot Classics: What’s On the Lemon Lot – May 2016


Just from glancing at readers comments, I sense that many CC’ers here have some U.S. military background – still on active duty, or maybe a Vet or retiree.  Perhaps even a few of our non-U.S. readers have some foreign military service.  Well, for all you “old soldiers” out there, wherever you served, and for all the “civies” too, here’s a quick look at some curbside classics on the military base resale lot…

First, a little “intel” – almost all US military bases, certainly the large ones, have a location set-aside for military personnel to sell their cars – the Resale Area, or more commonly known in always cynical GI-speak as the “Lemon Lot”.   Military personnel are always moving – typically a tour of duty lasts three to four years at one location.  Some GIs look to sell their cars and trucks when they get orders – they may want to buy a new one at their next duty station or if going overseas, don’t want to place it in long-term storage.  At Lemon Lots in the U.S., you’ll see a fairly broad spectrum of typical US models; perhaps maybe a few more pick-up trucks than usual.

Overseas, however, it’s a different story.  Military overseas tours last anywhere from one to four years (some voluntarily extend longer) – then it’s back home to the U.S. or off to another continent.  So almost everyone is looking for a temporary set of cheap wheels – something that will get them and the family around with minimal problems for the duration of their tour.  Here are a few examples on the lot at a US military base here on the outskirts of Tokyo…


Just from my very unscientific “eyeball” assessment, this is the most popular vehicle on base – the Toyota Fun-Cargo.  Think of it as Toyota’s Honda Fit (or Jazz) equivalent.  It was built from 2000 to 2004 with 1.3 and 1.5 gas engines.  It has the under floor rear seat stowage system that makes for a completely flat floor – it’s strikingly large inside – even more interior room than the Fit.  Perfect for moving furniture between barracks – $1500.


No. 2 on the popularity scale is the Nissan Skyline sedan.  Engine is a 2.5 or 3.5L version of the normally aspirated VQ series.  GIs easily recognize these as a JDM version of the Infiniti G35, so they carry some cache.  Over 80% seem to be silver – so not a car for those preferring something unique – $2500.


Next in terms of frequency seen are these two vans; the Toyota Estima (Previa) and Honda Odyssey.  Just until a few years ago, the first-generation Estima was clearly the favorite – they were everywhere, but they are slowly being “retired”.  Currently, the on-base van market seems evenly split between these two second-gen models. Got a big family – just $3000 for the Estima or $2500 for the Odyssey.


These Subaru Legacies are very popular also, especially the B4 model.  The B4 is the sports model with the Turbo 2.0L flat 4 engine found in the WRX.  What’s nice is you can get one in a wagon version also.  But again you kind’a have to like silver – almost everyone I see is that hue.  All yours for $3000.


A great choice for a single GI who just wants cheap transportation is a kei-class minicar like this early 2000’s Daihatsu “Move”.  They are much less expensive to insure and pay significantly less in fees (road tax, weight tax, etc.).  And with a 660cc engine, they can go pretty far on a gallon of gas.  Only caution is one has to drive very, very defensively, as anything over a minor parking lot fender-bender will likely result in a trip to the hospital.  This one didn’t have a sign in the window but my bet would be around $1000.


Uh-oh – I’d bet a paycheck that some young GI bought this X-Type thinking he was getting a nice Jag, without checking the reliability ratings or how much it would cost to fix at an off-base garage.  An E-3’s salary can sustain only so many transmission replacements or new rear suspensions…so onto the lot it goes…yours for $4000.


Again, an eyeball assessment – the BMW 3 series is the most popular foreign car model in Japan; on or off-base.  The Japanese love them, so there are plenty on the used car market.  This is a 2000 328 model with the 2.8L six.  Unfortunately, as with the Jag, they’re a bit expensive to maintain – and require specialized service usually not available at the BX garage.  Think service is expensive at a BMW dealer in the states?  Now imagine Tokyo…  Just $3500.


Looking for a SUV – here’s a tough looking Mitsubishi Pajero with a 3.5L V6.  Pajeros are quite popular, both on and off-base, and have a reputation of being extremely capable off-road.  Mitsubishi’s fortunes in its home market have fared better than in the US, even given its current “mileage” scandal.  Just $3500.

Not a bad selection – but we should see more cars show up on the lot as the summer PCS (Permanent Change of Station) season gets closer.  All prices are OBO…cash preferred…