Your heart’s set on a Japanese mini truck. You’ve done your homework and you’ve realized that these Japanese mini trucks have the UTV (and golf cart) competition beat. But when you see all those Japanese mini trucks for sale here at Mini Truck Depot, your mind boggles and your eyes cross as you try to figure out which is going to be the best for you.

Is this you? Then you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading and we’ll take you through an easy step-by-step process to figure out what you need from your mini truck. Plus, the the bottom of the page there’s a handy cheat-sheet summary table to help you make quick comparisons. (And if you’re still not sure, we can put you in contact with one of our independent mini truck dealers who can help you further. Just reach out to us here.)

Ready? Then let’s start.

Just how far “off road” do you need to go?

Here’s the first question to ponder: Just how far off road do you need to go?

I’ll explain more. First of all, the Japanese mini trucks you see for sale here from our independent dealers are all for off-road use only. Plus they’re all 4WD (even though 2WD mini trucks are sold in Japan.) So what am I getting at? Well, here’s a couple of example use cases (fictional names):

Ivy College

Ivy College is a small liberal arts college in Arizona that has around 1,000 students on a campus covering about 230 acres. The maintenance department has a team of 8 people looking after the grounds and buildings, but also ferrying equipment from building to building for teaching staff, and to do this they have a fleet of 3 mini trucks.

The campus property is covered with a network of paved roads, so it’s rare for one of their mini trucks to venture onto a non-paved surface. Plus with their location in Arizona means that they don’t have to deal with snow.

Ron, Rancher, TX

Ron works a 300 acre ranch in Texas. He uses his mini truck in all weathers and other a variety of terrain from packed gravel tracks to real open fields to haul fence posts, feed and more.

These are two pretty different kinds of user, but mini trucks work well for both of them. But only Ron is really needing the full off-road ability that a mini truck gives him. The campus mini trucks have to deal with roads slick with rain sometime, but they don’t have any real grip issues.

Ron needs the 3″ lift and 25 inch knobbly off-road tires that came on his mini truck. Whereas for Ivy College, the original wheels and tires work very well.

Quick Takeaway

You need a body lift and knobbly tires if

  • You’re really going “off” road onto slippery and uneven surfaces.
  • You need extra clearance underneath your mini truck to stop it grounding.
  • Dirt driving performance is more important to you than absolute fuel economy.

You should stick with the original wheels and tires if …

  • Your driving will be almost exclusively on paved or hard-packed surfaces.
  • Fuel economy is more important to you than absolute off-road ability.
Original mini truck wheels and tires, or body lift with larger ATV wheels and tires?

Talking of off-roading: Are gravel tracks or steep slopes your thing?

Okay, so you’re actually going to be going off-road, and not just off the public roads. But how much raw 4×4 mudslinging do you actually need to do? We’re moving on to transmission here, and Japanese mini trucks give you a whole suite of options which will take you from gravel tracks right to the steepest slopes and ravines. So, before we get into this, take a moment to think about where you’re planning to use your mini truck and rate that usage out of 10 — 1 being gravel or tarmac, through to 10 being reserved for treacherous slopes into muddy ravines.

Now let’s take a look at your transmission options.

Regular automatic transmission

There’s nothing like an auto box to make your driving life easy. With these little mini trucks, it really does make driving a point-and-shoot experience. You’ll find 3-speed auto transmissions like this in older Daihatsu Hijets (up to 2021 models) as well as in current Suzuki Carry models. They get the job done, but they’re at the lowest end of the spectrum when it comes to off-road ability.

Plus points:

  • Easy operation.

Minus points

  • Less control for the driver.
  • No rear differential.
  • No hi-lo range.

Where do they fit on the 1 to 10 off-road spectrum? I would say 1 to 5.

CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission)

You’re right that this is another kind of automatic box. It’s only available on the latest model Daihatsu Hijets that were launched right at the end of 2021. It actually gets quite a bit better gas mileage than the regular auto transmissions of the older Hijets and Carrys. But the mini trucks fitted with the CVT transmissions have another trick up their sleeves that was never available on automatic mini trucks in the past — a locking rear differential. This locking diff gives them a little extra oomph in the trickier situations that would catch out the older auto models.

Plus points:

  • Easy operation.
  • Better gas mileage than regular autos.

Minus points

  • Less control for the driver.
  • No hi-lo range.

Where do they fit on the 1 to 10 off-road spectrum? I would say 1 to 7.

5-Speed Manual Transmission

Now we’re getting into the more hard core stuff. Both Suzuki and Daihatsu have 5-speed manual transmission options. Clearly, being able to make your own decisions about gear selection gives you more control, especially if you’re descending a steep slope.

On the other hand, the basic manual models that don’t have the Farming Pack not only don’t have hi-lo range, but they also don’t have a locking rear diff. So really this just puts them on par with the CVT transmission models that do have it.

Plus points:

  • Choose gears yourself to suit the terrain.

Minus points

  • More work.
  • No rear differential.
  • No hi-lo range.

Where do they fit on the 1 to 10 off-road spectrum? Just like the CVT models, I would say 1 to 7.

5-Speed Manual Transmission + Farming Pack

Now we’re at the mini truck extreme. You don’t just get the control of the 5-speed manual transmission, but with the hi-lo range, even the steepest slopes can be climbed up or crawled down when you select the ultra-low L gear (Daihatsu) or 4L (Suzuki). And along with this you also get the locking rear diff, so you end up with a full house of 4WD + manual transmission + locking rear diff + hi-lo range.

Plus points:

  • Go anywhere with maximum control.

Minus points

  • More work.
  • Lower fuel economy.

Where do they fit on the 1 to 10 off-road spectrum? Well, for these most extreme, well-equipped mini trucks, it has to be 1 – 10, right?

Suzuki Carry hi-lo range selector lever

Shifting with your left hand okay?

Daihatsu Hijet interior showing RHD driver's seat

There’s no way you haven’t noticed, but let’s not beat about the bush: Japanese mini trucks are built in Japan to drive on Japanese roads — driving on the opposite side to what you’re used to — which means (drum roll) you have the steering wheel on the right. So, when you’re driving, the gearshift is on your left.

Is this a problem? Of course, this is all a personal preference thing, so it’s up to you, but here are a couple of thoughts.

First of all, (at least before COVID) hundreds of thousands of British tourists arrive on these shores every year. Jet-lagged and bleary eyed, they stumble off the planes with screaming kids in tow. They roll up to the car rental counter, grab the keys and off they go. Let loose on the streets in a left hand drive car when just hours before they’d driven their right hand drive car to the airport in London. And yet … and yet of all the crazy stuff you hear on the nightly news, one thing you don’t hear about is the daily slaughter caused by British tourists causing crashes left and right because they’re suddenly on the wrong side of the road driving on the wrong side of the car.

So, if you’re wondering whether this driving-from-the-wrong-side thing is going to be a problem, then the fact that those Brits can master it (on Florida’s crazy roads) is surely going to be an encouragement. In fact, you’ll have it easier. Driving your mini truck off-road means you don’t have to worry about the crazies on the street. In fact, driving around the farm you know like the back of your hand with lots of space for mistakes means you’re going to be up to speed pretty quickly. Before you know it, getting in on the wrong side is going to feel completely natural.

And the same goes for the gear shift. Sure, your left hand’s going to have to learn some new tricks. But there’ll be no one behind you honking, and no semi bearing down on you as your left hand learns it’s new role. Once more, give it a little practice, and driving your manual shift Japanese mini truck will be seem as natural as cruising in your pickup.

But if you really are worried about shifting with your left hand, then of course, the best option will either be the 3-speed auto, or the latest Daihatsu CVT. Just put the selector in Drive, and it’s just start / stop and point that wheel where you want to go.

Daihatsu Hijet Jumbo front view from interior

Who’s coming with you?

Japanese mini trucks are great in that there are so many different body styles. You’ve got your regular pickups, your extended cab pickups, your dumps, your crew cabs, and your vans. So one of the things that will push your decision one way or the other is going to be how many people will need to be in your mini truck.

Maybe it’s just going to be you, out on your own taking feed to the cattle, mending fences or whatever. Any of the pickup styles is going to work if this is you. But let’s say you have kids or grandkids you want to take around the farm. Daihatsu’s Deck Van, with its wide sliding doors at the rear, and its rear seats with safety belts is a popular choice. (You can even put car seats in there to drive your younger ones around in safety.)

And if you’re a business user, let’s say a hospital, that needs to move both people and equipment, then one of the vans (Daihatsu’s Hijet, or Suzuki’s Every) is going to hit the mark.

Japanese mini truck body styles -- extended cab, dump, van, regular pickup, and crew cab

Need to haul or dump?

Most mini truck users aren’t just going to be moving people around. It’s pretty likely you’re going to want to either throw something in the back, or even dump stuff. This table sums up your different options, so have a think about the work you need to get done and then use this table to determine the right tool for your hauling or dumping job:

JobHow Much Stuff?Load Weather Protection?Choose From …
Hauling stuff or gearUp to 1700lbsNot neededRegular cab / extended cab pickup mini truck
Hauling gear / dumping stuffUp to 1700lbs (1500lbs if dumping)Not neededRegular cab dump mini truck
Hauling stuff / gearUp to 1700lbsSometimes need, sometimes don’t.Crew cab mini truck
Hauling gearUp to 1700lbsNeededVan body mini truck

Mini truck summary & cheat sheet

Hopefully this has helped you get some sense of which Japanese mini truck will work best for you. But before you rush off to see our Japanese mini trucks for sale here, or go to place your order for a literally brand-new mini truck, here’s a quick cheat sheet table to summarize it all:

Body StyleTransmissionPassengersRoleMain Models
Regular cab pickupAuto / CVTDriver + 1 passengerLight farm or ranch duty. Some hauling.Daihatsu Hijet / Suzuki Carry
Regular cab pickupManualDriver + 1 passengerFarm or ranch duty with hauling.Daihatsu Hijet / Suzuki Carry
Regular cab pickupManual with hi-lo range and rear diffDriver + 1 passengerFarm or ranch duty with hauling, or wilderness off-roadingDaihatsu Hijet / Suzuki Carry with Farming Package
Extended cab pickupAuto / CVTDriver + 1 passengerLight farm or ranch duty. Some hauling.Daihatsu Hijet Jumbo / Suzuki Super Carry
Extended cab pickupManualDriver + 1 passengerFarm or ranch duty with hauling.Daihatsu Hijet Jumbo / Suzuki Super Carry
Extended cab pickupManual with hi-lo range and rear diffDriver + 1 passengerFarm or ranch duty with hauling, or wilderness off-roadingDaihatsu Hijet Jumbo / Suzuki Super Carry with Farming Package
Regular cab light duty dumpManual / automatic / CVTDriver + 1 passengerFarm or ranch duty with hauling and light dumpingDaihatsu Hijet Low Dump / Suzuki Carry Kintaro Dump
Regular cab medium duty dumpManual / automatic / CVTDriver + 1 passengerFarm or ranch duty with hauling and medium dumpingDaihatsu Hijet HD Dump with electro-hydraulic bed / Suzuki Carry Sturdy Dump
Regular cab heavy duty dumpManualDriver + 1 passengerFarm or ranch duty with hauling and regular, heavy duty dumpingDaihatsu Hijet HD Dump with PTO mechanism
Crew cabManual / automatic / CVTDriver + 3 passengersFarm or ranch duty with enclosed hauling with rear seats down, or ourside in load bed, as well as moving peopleDaihatsu Hijet Deck Van
VanManual / automatic / CVTDriver + 3 passengersFarm or large campus duty with enclosed hauling and transporting peopleDaihatsu Hijet Cargo / Suzuki Every