The wifey’s dad was wanting to get rid of his old car so we convinced him to give it to us instead. The only catch was that we had to take the bullet train to Gifu, pick it up, and drive it back to Tokyo. It wasn’t too bad — just about a 4-5 hr drive.

Anyhow, as the car is a bit older I’ve been doing some work on it. One chore on my list was to setup a ETC device. ETC stands for Electric Toll Collection and comes rather standard in cars in Japan these days. Most of the major highways are toll roads so it’s an utter pain to have to pay with cash. Also, you get cheaper fairs when you go electronic, and can even save up “mileage points” for further discounts if you register — not to mention the other points you get as it charges to your credit card.

So I called up a car shop to get an estimation and they told me around 35,000 Yen (350 USD) — which I just wasn’t having. At that rate it would take close to a decade to payback in cost savings.

So I did some research and decided to try to do it myself. Here are there general steps:

  1. Buy an ETC device
  2. Get it “setup” for your car
  3. Install it
  4. Get an ETC card to use with it

There are two types of ETC devices: one-piece units and ones with a separate antenna. The one-piece units completely sit on your dash, are cheaper, easier to install, but are obviously visible. The latter are a bit more expensive and harder to install, but you can hide the main unit. I went with the later.

I was seeing these things sell for up to 15,000 – 20,000 Yen at Autobacs which is utterly ridiculous to me. You can get them online much, much cheaper. I got an insanely good deal: I found a place online selling used units + setup for 4,000 Yen. This is what I went with ultimately. It’s a older unit apparently, but who cares — they all basically do the same thing.

“Setup” is essentially programming the unit for your car. This tells it what class of car to charge for among other things and you need to submit your registration to get it put in. There are some places online that will do this for about 2,000 Yen if you pay for the shipping (which means I got my unit for basically around 2,000 Yen!).

Now for installation — this is the fun part:

The unit didn’t come with instructions so I downloaded them online. It takes a ground, B+, and ACC so I decided to split the B+ and ACC off my stereo wire harness and hook the ground to the frame. Note most people doing this in Japan apparently go for the fuse box but I took a different route.

I bought a pack of U connectors and some double-sided tape. I was also rather unsure of the wire harness format so I ended up buying a cheap 1,000 Yen multimeter as well to test (even though the spec I found on the internet ended up being perfect).

So first the antenna: I put some clear double-sided tape on the rear of it and stuck it behind my rear view mirror, right next to the car seal already there. Then I took my fingers and pushed the wire under the roof all the way around the driver’s side, down near the fuse box, and then across to the center console. I was able to do it all without pulling anything off and without any tools but a screwdriver to help push the wire in. It worked better than I thought to be honest, you can’t see the wire at all.

Next the power:

I pulled off the center console, unscrewed and pulled out the stereo, and detached the wire harness from the back of it. Using my multimeter, I tested for the B+ and ACC wires by putting the ground probe against the frame and sticking the red probe against the different connectors. Both the B+ and ACC wires test for 12V — the difference being that B+ (meaning battery) will have a constant 12V even if the car is off and the keys are out, and the ACC (meaning accessory) will only have 12V when the keys are in, when the car is running, and NOT when the car is cranking. Note some ETC devices only need one or the other of these.

I pulled some tape back from off the harness wires and attached the appropriate ETC cables (referencing the downloaded instructions) using U connectors:

U connectors are awesome by the way: you just clip them around preexisting wire, stick a new wire in, and clap it down. This pushes a piece of metal through both wires connecting them together without having to cut or mess with the original — and it insulates the connection with the plastic of the connector. Really convenient for patching off preexisting cabling.

I did this for both the B+ and ACC wires but didn’t bother with the ground. I just striped off some insulation from the wire, loosened a screw on the frame, and attached it behind a washer.

And finally, the ETC unit itself:

I pushed all the wires through the center console so they were popping out in the floor of the drivers seat, and then put the console back together. My plan was to mount it to the center console but I had I thought when I was doing it: i.e. “fuck it.”

I just wedged the whole unit up under the plastic of the center console. Didn’t use tape or anything — it was stiff enough to hold and you could still see the indicator:

Then “peep!”

As for the ETC card, I currently have a JCB credit card and they offered a ETC card attached to the account for a small, one-time setup fee. I can’t remember off-hand but it was about 1,000 to 1,500 Yen. Then I went here and registered for the mileage service (that I am still waiting on).

And thus concludes my overly detailed account of the adventures in ETC. Now I just got to get the nerve to actually try it out. Note by the way how bad it would suck if I pulled into the ETC lane on the interstate and it decides not to work.

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