Why Does My Japanese Car Talk To Me On Startup?

If you have a used Japanese import car (i.e. a vehicle that was sold new in the Japanese domestic market, and then exported overseas to a market such as the United Kingdom, Australia or New Zealand) then you might have noticed that your car “talks” to you on startup.

Typically this startup talking will be a high-pitched, Japanese female’s voice and sound something like this:

But why does your Japanese car talk to you on startup in a lady’s voice? And what is it trying to say?

In this edition of Car Facts, we will answer these questions for you. The answer is actually rather interesting, and is an insight into the weird and wonderful world of JDM.

The Talking Comes From The ‘ETC’ Box

Many cars used in Japan have what is called an “ETC” box/reader installed (ETC standing for Electronic Toll Collection).

Japan has a number of toll roads, and motorists can expedite the process of travelling across these toll roads by using an ETC card. Basically, this is a type of personal card that allows you to pay for tolls electronically.

Having the card itself is only one part of the puzzle. If a Japanese motorist wants to avoid having to stop to manually pay for tolls, they’ll need to have the right ETC equipment installed in their car.

This usually takes the form of an add-on box that looks a bit like this:

Although some cars built for the Japanese domestic market will actually have an ETC reader included from the factory.

Aftermarket boxes are usually located around the driver’s knee area, although sometimes in the glovebox or even mounted to the dashboard.

When you have a valid ETC card and the right reader box, what this means is that you can go through specific ETC lanes on toll roads meaning no more fumbling for change. You simply slow down to around 20 km/h and then drive through the gate, and the toll is deducted automatically from your card. No more stopping and scrambling for change to hand to the attendant in the booth. There are even special offers/deals for ETC card users on some toll roads, making it a compelling proposition for Japanese motorists.

What Does The Talking Actually Mean?

When Japanese cars are exported overseas to markets such as New Zealand (to then be sold to new owners) it’s fairly common that an installed ETC box/reader will simply be left in place; perhaps there isn’t much value in removing them and reselling them prior to export?

However, the card itself that goes in the box/reader will be removed.

The startup voice coming from the box is therefore usually telling you words to the effect of “you are missing your ETC card”, or something of that nature as the unit detects that there is no card inserted (as a side note, it would be interesting to test what happens if you install a valid ETC card into an ETC reader but outside of Japan).

Different units will have slightly different wording, and the audio quality is never great, but the words usually start with something like “ETC cado”.

How To Shut The Voice Up?

Between the editors of this site, we’ve owned several ex-JDM cars that have ETC boxes fitted, and which all do some kind of startup warning talk and never found it too problematic. In fact, it’s a fun party trick to convince passengers that the car is giving you a personal greeting, in-keeping with Japanese traditions of excellent customer service.

However, if you find the voice irritating, there are typically two ways to get rid of it:

  1. Most ETC readers will have a volume control somewhere. You might need to play around with the different buttons, but something will either allow you to turn the volume up/down or mute it entirely.
  2. You could have the reader box removed altogether, which can usually be done without causing any problems. Unless you are handy with auto electrics, we’d suggest going to a qualified automotive electrician to have this done. Usually there is a 12v input going into the device.

Other Startup Talking In Japanese Cars

As mentioned above, the most likely culprit behind that Japanese talking on startup in your car is an ETC box that is giving you an error/warning message.

However, we have seen variously some Japanese cars that “talk” due to:

  • An in-built startup greeting. Tim from J Cars, our go-to-guy on all things JDM cars, used to have a 1980s Toyota Mark II that would announce the vehicle model in Japanese on startup. This was confirmed by a Japanese speaker (i.e. they were certain it wasn’t an ETC message).
  • Sometimes navigation systems/infotainment systems can have some kind of startup greeting as well.

However, the likelihood of the matter is that the Japanese female voice welcoming you to your car each time you turn it on is the ETC box, which you can confirm by locating the box and then listening to it intently. If the noise is clearly coming from the ETC reader, then you know it’s that. If it’s coming from elsewhere, then do some research to see if it is actually a “standard” noise for that car, or possibly the navigation system.

Recap – Japanese (Import) Car Talking On Startup

To recap, if you have a used Japanese import car that makes a talking noise on startup – typically with a woman’s voice – then the most likely culprit is an ETC/toll card reader lurking somewhere in your car.

Usually the voice is warning you that you don’t have a valid ETC card inserted into the reader, or words to that effect.

If you find the voice irritating you can either mute it on the reader itself OR have the entire unit removed. On the other hand, many like to keep the sound as it is about the most authentically JDM modification that can ever be made to a car!

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  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

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