Vehicle Importation: Understanding the 25 Year Old Rule

by Sean Morris

I get this question about once a week these days, “Are the Skylines really going to be legal when they are 25 years old?”  It’s a loaded question. The answer is actually yes, and no, as it all depends where you live. In North America, Canada is an exception, but even in the United States the rules have some variance. Since I live in California, the answer is actually yes, but no.  Yes, because the 1989 Nissan Skyline will be federally legal to import once it’s 25 years old in 2014, but no because vehicles 1975 or newer are subject to direct import laws in California.  These direct import laws make it very expensive to bring a car into California compliance. However, for the purposes of this article, I won’t get too far into the downside of the upside of 25 year old vehicle import.

I am 90% sure that when you say ‘Skyline’ you mean ‘Skyline GT-R.’ The only one that really floats my boat is the GT-R, but women do seem to appreciate the non-GT-R cars such as the GT-S shown above. Does that mean that only men like the GT-R? GT-R’s do seem to attract more men and boys, so plan your days accordingly.

First off, since it is now 2013 it is legal to import 1988 vehicles that never met US FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) as regulated by the NHTSA, DOT (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Transportation). This is because the Code of Federal Regulations Title 49 part 591.5(i), also written 49CFR591.5(i), says you can. Title 49 has to do with transportation while 591 is the section called - IMPORTATION OF VEHICLES AND EQUIPMENT SUBJECT TO FEDERAL SAFETY, BUMPER AND THEFT PREVENTION STANDARDS. The .5 designation is a reference to the subsection that details Declarations Required for Importation and the (i) designation is a reference to a section of that subsection. The legal importation of a vehicle is not up to the guy on a random internet forum, the guy at the DMV or even the police officer on the corner. The Code of Federal Regulations is the definitive word on the rules. The contents of its pages trumps casual opinion. The laws used to only be written in these cool things called books, but now you can look up the parts, numbers, and sections online. If you have access to a hard copy of the CFR like I do, it’s like the worst choose your own adventure book ever. It is a difficult book to read. If you ever pick one up you will probably want to put it right back down.

The pertinent text of the Code of Federal Regulations section 591.5 states:

No person shall import a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment into the United States unless, at the time it is offered for importation, its importer files a declaration, in duplicate, which declares one of the following:

(i)(1) The vehicle is 25 or more years old.

The declaration form referenced by the Code of Federal Regulations is the NHTSA form called the HS-7. On the HS-7 form 25 year old cars are Box 1. This is a document that should be extremely familiar to anyone who regularly imports automobiles.

All the Skyline GT-Rs in the above image will soon be eligible for importation into the United States. R32 production began in 1989, so 2014 will mark the year of its 25th anniversary. However, Hakosukas are already available to interested parties in the US.

On top of the NHTSA, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is another regulatory body with a say in vehicle regulations. However, the EPA is even more lenient than the NHTSA, DOT. The EPA says at 21 years old, and in its original configuration, a vehicle is exempt from EPA requirements. This is something that needs some explaining as different people read into it what they want. They only pull the words out of that last statement that suit them. If you want to be a well informed cookie, read it carefully and understand what it really means. The EPA importation form is called the 3520-1.  For vehicles over 21 years old, and in their original configuration, an importer would fill in code E on the 3520-1.

The text of the pertinent EPA regulation states:

A vehicle is exempted if it has been 21 years or more since its original production year and it is in its original unmodified condition. Vehicles in any condition may be excluded if they were manufactured prior to the year in which EPA's regulations for the class of vehicle took effect. Vehicles at least 21 years old with replacement engines are not eligible for this exemption unless they contain equivalent or newer EPA certified engines and emission control systems. Upon entry, the importer must file an EPA Form 3520-1 with Customs and declare code "E" on the form.

An example of an engine bay in original configuration. Yes, that means it is stock.
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Tarik Laaraj
Tarik Laarajlink
Monday, August 12, 2013 11:46 PM
Could you post a link to all the forms?
Or pdf versions would be even better!

Great article!
Tarik Laaraj
Tarik Laarajlink
Monday, August 12, 2013 11:56 PM
Also which isf for should I use? I've found multiple versions.
Now for importing a 1989 r32 from Canada would I need all these forms?
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 4:44 AM

Imagine trying to explain this to one of our founding fathers, (Jefferson, Washington, ect.) yeesh. They probably would have asked you to stop at the second paragraph. The bureaucracy is getting out of hand.

I wonder if the 1975 emissions rule is the sole reason why the small block 350 is (was) so popular in the states.

It kills me that you cannot import a relatively clean burning JDM car but yet Redneck Joe can go crank up is 69 mustang and spew Hydrocarbons, and NOx all over. (Yes I know that JDM usually means higher NOx but it can not be any worse than the old Camaros, Hemis Mustangs running 10:1 Plus compression ratios.)

Just spewing random thoughts out there.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:18 AM
I was wondering when this topic would come up again with the impending 25th birthday of the R32. As always, thanks for the info Sean.

I tried getting my hands on a DOT exempt R32 on two separate occasions and it was finally North Carolina insurance laws that stopped me from buying the second one I was looking at. No company (even with a professional appraisal) would quote me comprehensive or collision coverage except Hagerty. I wasn't about to insure a $25-30k car with only liability or insure it with a company that limits your mileage, so it was a no-go. This was in 2007 though, so maybe things have changed.

The better question that I have to ask myself now is, how hard would I kick myself for selling a NSX to pick up a GT-R. :/
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:34 AM
Nice article. Unfortunately it seems to read "everyone can pick up a 25 year old import with a little cash and some hard work. Unless you live in CA. Then you are just screwed."

Any chance at a follow up article at navigating CARB and CADIV regulations? Assuming the vehicle runs well and has all factory emissions equipment installed it "should" be similar to having the FDV8 smogged. Get a ref to look it over and confirm that it is running properly and cleanly. But knowing CA I doubt that is the case.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 8:13 AM
I believe the answer is "good luck". The reason an FDV8 can be smogged is because they use, CARB certified parts, and a CARB certified engine. I'm no expert, as I live in Michigan where we have no emissions testing at all, but I've read the articles here about the FDV8 swap. In that article they talk about how the engine has to be installed in an OEM like fit, they used an intake that was CARB legal, because it came with the CARB sticker, etc.

Again, I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure if you were to import a Skyline into California you run into all sorts of problems because the RB26 engine was never sold in California or US legal trim. With engines like the 3SGTE in my MR2 Turbo, things are (I'm guessing) relatively easier. A person could convert a JDM MR2 to US emissions trim, and demonstrate that by turning down boost, and adding a cat.

Same with an FDV8, the engine wasn't intended for that car, but a person can demonstrate that it was installed as an LS is installed for use in the US market, show that all emissions controls are in place for the US/California, and that only CARB legal parts are in place. There is no such thing as a CARB legal RB26 though, and that's where the problem comes in. When dealing with bureaucrats in my experience it is much easier if things are black and white. Certainly an RB26 could be built to pass the California emissions testing, but would it be certified is a whole different question.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 8:46 AM
What if you import it and never drive it on the street? Only trailer it to events and such, do you need to jump through any hoops at that point?
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 9:02 AM
What if you (piss off all sorts of fanboys) and transplant in a CARB legal engine? LS3 into an R32 GT-R for hypothetical example? Seems like that would solve some of the hurdles (albeit creating some more, like avoiding getting lynched by JDM fanboys)
Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 11:02 AM
As with anything, there are legal and not so legal ways. How does Jay Leno have his F40s and 959s that were never federalized? There's always a way. Otherwise, this is a great article from the master of importation (Sean). Those of you asking him for form numbers, etc. there's a chance he isn't going to hand you over his many years of experience on a plate. Sean was importing cars long before I met him in '98 or '99.

mekill: me and my buddies used to call that "maximum pissoffage". Certain engines just plain suck whether you know how to build them or not (e.g. Subaru EJ). The RB doesn't suck and is relatively easy to build (to a point) so that would be totally lame if somebody put an LS in a R chassis. But then the guy would be achieving maximum pissoffage.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 11:43 AM
This article is confusing to me. To quote Protodad, it reads "everyone can pick up a 25 year old import with a little cash and some hard work. Unless you live in CA. Then you are just screwed." But then it shows a picture of a California title for a GTR. Are we supposed to read between the lines or something?

Don't you have a GTR Eric? Were your's and Sean's brought in during the Motorex days (Sean was involved with them I beliEve)? Since Motorex supposedly did the legwork to allow legal importation of the R32 would that not now make it easier for someone to get one on the road in CA?
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 2:13 PM
@Wrecked: The difference is between importing and using. You can import the vehicle to CA legally using the steps described in the article. However, you will not be able to register it to legally drive on the street.

Also, Motorex was performing legal imports of GTRs. They may have had some issues towards the end of their days but they did recieve approval to register the vehicles they sold legally with additional crash protection and smog modifications (like 3 more cats). This obviously isn't happening anymore and the 25 year law is something completely different from what Motorex was doing at the time.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 2:37 PM
3520-1 PDF - http://vehicleimport.blogspot.com/2011/01/3520-1-epa-form-importing-motor.html

HS-7 - http://vehicleimport.blogspot.com/2011/01/hs7-form-importation-of-motor-vehicles.html

@Protodad. "Any chance at a follow up article at navigating CARB and CADIV regulations? "


The rules are confusing. If you think the article is confusing, try reading the CFR (FMVSS), the Health and Safety Codes, the Blue Book, etc.

I could get into all the areas of importation, but I just chose the 25 year old rule for now. The 1989 R32 turns 25 years old next August.

My car came in under the "Show or Display" exemption. Historically or Technologically significant. Generally under 500 made (560 on the NISMO), FMVSS exempt. I can drive it up to 2500 miles per year. Over 21 years old EPA exempt. http://www.showordisplay.com/2013/08/new-vehicles-on-approved-and-not.html

I will have the NISMO R32 GT-R, and a Hakosuka at the JCCS Show, September 28th in Long Beach. Come on by if you have any questions you want to ask. http://www.gtrusablog.com/2013/08/japanese-classic-car-show-in-long-beach.html
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 3:01 PM
@Wrecked. This is part of the confusing things about cars, importing, titling, and registration. They are all different things. Just because you have a car, doesn't mean its legal. Just because you got it imported, doesn't mean you can title it. Just because you title it, doesn't mean you can register it.

I didn't write the rules, but I know them, and I work around them. Most people say this can't be done. They are wrong. All it takes is desire, time, and money. I can legally import ANY car. DESIRE, TIME, and MONEY, and I can get it done. However most of the ones that want to do it, are too much of broke asses to actually pay the money to do something correctly. This is where the 25 year rule comes in. Fits fine for those guys. However, California, its own entire issue. Again, I didn't make up the rules, but I can bring something into compliance with them.

Like anything, legal and illegal ways to do everything. Don't think that I have not seen every way to import, title, register anything and everything. VIN swaps, registration in Florida, title as a kit car, etc, etc. Not impossible, but those guys often get popped. They get too big and bad, think their shit don't stink, but it does. The guys that get screwed are the second or third owners caught holding the hot potato. When ICE seizes your shit, they don't want to hear about the guy who "told you" it was legal.

So back to the last picture in the article. California "TITLE ONLY". It says it large in the middle. I own the car, but I can't legally drive or register it. This car is actually headed to Chicago, where California's rules do not apply. No reason to spend the ~$8000 or so that we used to spend at MotoRex to bring a car into compliance via FTP testing.

This is that part about "California - you are screwed." Not really screwed, but guys scraping together two dimes, aren't going to want to hear about $8k to bring it into California compliance.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 3:53 PM
I can't wait until I have enough dough to buy an R32... I eventually want to get my hands on an R34, but the R32 will do just fine until the R34 is available.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 4:05 PM
Guess we're lucky in Australia where we can get all the GTRs...R32's can be had for about 12K AUD!
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 5:32 PM
So any speculation on what this will do to the market? The Skyline is probably one of the first "mass produced" cars that people would readily import. Unlike other direct imports, there weren't >500 units made, more like 300k. I suspect the market will surge like the Supra after F&F and when too many people realized they paid far too much for a car that has little more than "want" value these days, the price will plummet.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 5:42 PM
GT-R wise, Nissan made 43,934 over the 6 years of production. http://www.gtrusablog.com/2009/08/r32-nissan-skyline-gt-r-specifications.html

1989-4555 1990-8426
1991-7081 1992-7961
1993-6204 1994-7465

As far as other Skylines, they are a dime a dozen. Throw away cars in Japan. They made hundreds of thousands of them.

However this rule isn't just for Skylines, its not just for GT-R. Anything 25 years or older this year, 1988 currently.

Right now, its hard to find a 1989 R32. Lots of 1990's out there, but not as many 1989's. Some of them have been snatched up. Lots of them are in UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, where they had 15 year rules, or other types of personal imports.

I feel a piece of shit car is piece of shit money. A good car is good money. It will take a few people getting burned to realize that. Just because its cheap, doesn't mean its good. Its not too expensive, you are just too broke.
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 5:58 PM
eric: I've wanted to see that swap for years because, well, yeah, maximum pissoffage, and also being referential to oldschool maximum pissoffage people had related to Datsuns (why not replace this iron block I6 with something better - an SBC?) for double whammy. And to get even further off topic, wish I could go back and change username now that I better grok the culture here but oh well.

Anyway, totally way off topic, so I'll stop.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:12 PM
@tyndago: I din't mean to trash the GTR name, just that the Skyline itself is not limited to the GTR. Like you said, the Skyline is a throw away car and many people will be suckered into purchasing something that they didn't understand.

That being said, I would happily pick up a second hand GT-S. Just like the CA18 didn't get respect, neither does the RB20. I am looking forward to more VIP cars hitting the 25 year old age (and just maybe a Stagea).

Also, I may start quoting your last line.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:40 PM
@Protodad - that last line, I screwed it up. Its Arrogant Bastards Ale. Its not too expensive, you're too cheap.

As far as the CA, lots of 1988 180's with the engine in Japan. They are toss away cars too. You could own one today.

In Canada, I see a lot of guys with too much car, don't realize how much it costs to maintain an R32 GT-R. Its not an in-expensive car. Its not a non- complicated car. Sometimes I want to headbutt the Canadian guys. Othertimes, I think I might setup a "fair-trade" store for Canadians. For every good part I sell here in the US, I will send the same part to Canada, so they don't fuck up their cars so much with the cheapest shit they can find on ebay.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 8:36 PM
Mmm, Arrogant Bastard. Oaked ruination is a masterpiece.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 5:08 AM
Good article. Great points.
But I don't understand the Canada comments in the August 14 post, tyndago. There are many people in the States, in Mexico, in England, in Australia who don't understand the car they've purchased and put lots of cheap parts on them. There are more GT-R's, GT-S's, and GTi-R's in Canada as they're easier to import. When they are more readily available, it's more likely you'll see someone who shouldn't own one have one in their driveway and it might be loaded with poor parts; but you'll also see some wonderful cars. You'll see a Canadian GT-R specific forum focused on the model (http://www.gtrcanada.com) and the desire to improve and maintain a beautiful car.
Keep up the great work, but give your neighbours to the north a bit of credit. And no, I do not have a GT-R. I've driven a few on the track and maybe someday.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 7:54 AM
@Nissannx. I have been on the GTRCanada forum since near the beginning. Look for my screen name. I know Johnny, Dave, etc. I always give the Canadians a hard time. Its just now a few years down the line, more kids get them, and they are more car than they can afford. I am on the GTRCanada FB page, and like I said, I want to headbutt a couple of the guys on there. How many fucking times can you ask what spark plug to use for an RB. I tell them the correct plug to use, why to use it, and alternatives, and the same dude asks the same question 4 days later. Shitty knock off wheels, stanced cars, and bullshit racks on GT-R's. Not my cup of tea, and I express my opinion.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 11:49 AM
I understand giving buddies a hard time, getting frustrated with a couple of guys on a FB page, and so on. I appreciate that. Just your comment seemed to cover an entire country. Thanks for clarifying.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 1:10 PM
What's the reason for sending the car all the way to Chicago vs. somewhere local like Nevada or Arizona?
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 5:55 PM
@pharcydeabc. Its going to Chicago, because he lives in Chicago. I am not doing any shady shit with the car. I leave the shady shit to idiots. Any idiot can import a car illegally, much harder to do it legally. I do it legally.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 10:46 PM
@Tyndago. I understand that it's not completely honest, but I wouldn't call it shady shit. If I live in CA, but have family in NV, then I can simply register and insure the car with the NV address. I can drive the car in CA and if I ever got pulled over, then everything checks out. Am I missing something?
Thursday, August 15, 2013 8:54 AM
@pharcyde. Technically you have 20 days to register your car in CA if you live here and your car does too. At one point the CHP was encouraging people to snitch on their neighbors with out of state plates to get the registration fees.



Possibly you could get around it by having the car in someone else's name, but I would classify that as semi-shady...

Thursday, August 15, 2013 9:29 AM
I would not risk out of state plates. I had a 1990 GTR with Canadian plates registered to my friends family that lives in BC. I drove it for a year in socal, but eventually I got pulled over and told that I need california tags because they have seen the car in the area for a while. I ended up selling the car.

Good news I just moved to Texas, so next year a GTR will be mine again, legally this time!
Thursday, August 15, 2013 10:52 AM
So I'm confused. If you live in CA, are you "screwed" or does that just mean that you need to jump through extra hoops?
Thursday, August 15, 2013 7:45 PM
@pharcydeabc. If you are in California, then you need to bring the car into compliance with direct import rules. The short version is that you need to FTP test the car. The test is $1200-$1500 a test. The cert is about $5k. Testing/tuning making it work, PER CAR is about $8k. That is on top of the cert. If you don't call this "screwed" then I don't know what you would call it.

There are not many places that can make an engine that was released in 1989, never setup for an FTP, pass an FTP. I am one of the few people that has ever done it. So take it from me, you are screwed.
Thursday, August 15, 2013 7:49 PM

Did you know that the State of California loses millions of dollars a year in revenue from California residents who unlawfully register their vehicles in other states or countries?

Did you know that vehicle registration fees are due immediately upon accepting employment or establishing residency in the State of California?

Did you know that California law permits only 20 days to complete the process of registering your vehicle without paying a penalty?

The three most common reasons for not completing the registration process are:

People are unaware of California registration laws.
People are evading payments of registration fees and taxes.
People are unable to comply with air pollution control laws.
Include the following information:

State or province in which vehicle is registered. Mexican plates cannot be investigated without a physical address where the vehicle's owner resides.
Vehicle license number
Date and time the vehicle was observed
Make, model and color of the vehicle
Location where the vehicle was observed (street(s) and city)
Any additional comments and descriptive information
Thursday, August 15, 2013 8:28 PM
@tyndago: lol, did you know that CA used to be considered the worlds eighth largest economy? Did you know that CA has one of the most overcompensating welfare systems in the world? Did you know that CA's massive amount of red tape not only prevents any innovative design or thinking as well as enforces archaic models of thinking (see the high speed rail).

CA is a joke. Tell me they care about smog when swapping out an old school nox puker for a new age gas sipper is illegal just because of some out dated law.

If CA actually cared about emissions and not bureaucracy, you could swap any OB2 engine into any pre OBD2 chassis because it would reduce emissions. Instead, they allow my 89 Ford truck to blow high on its scale but not my in-laws 95 escort that just tips over its scale. However, a new KA or LS that barely registers is completely illegal to swap into either.
Thursday, August 15, 2013 8:35 PM
@Protdad - don't get me started on California. Do you remember the "smog impact fee"? They used to charge $300 if you brought a car from outside of California, into California. It wouldn't matter if it met or was cleaner than California standards. They didn't want you to try and bring the car into standards, they just wanted to charge you money. Eventually it was repealed, but just a single example of the ARB. Not my favorite agency. I have been investigated by them. I have tried to have meetings with them prior to bringing cars into the country, when I was at Motorex.

Thursday, August 15, 2013 9:01 PM
Yea, that came off wrong. I am on your side, CA is just a mess when it comes to emission laws.
Friday, August 16, 2013 11:55 AM
@ tyndago

If I were going to start my research in a serious way where should I start? If I made use of your services the car would be heading to OK, and on my own research with our local laws I haven't found anything to trip me up (import, title, tag, insure are all coming up green, SO FAR). The only sticking point would be insurance, but my Hagerty rep has assured me if push comes to shove they can insure it, just with the normal caveats on the rest of our Hagerty cars. My GEICO rep got flustered and said they'd have to get back to me on it. Kept asking if I meant a Stanza.

It's something I've thought about in the vaguest terms for a while, but now it's time to put money where the food intake is located, as they say. Beyond following some of your own threads when I lurk on GTR forums here and there, there's not a whole lot of info, or my unfamiliarity with the grey-market import ritual kept me from fully understanding.

On the maintaining side of it, I'm pretty fortunate being a Nissan tech, and having the vast NNAnet and non US-market service network at my disposal, but I'm still in the dark on a ballpark figure to expect and prepare for. I've been told anywhere from $15k to 25, which isn't as horrifying as I was expecting and I'd rather pay that on a Skyline than the inflated prices I'm seeing on local STi's. (Last one I test drove was a 400hp OPEN LOOP tuned '07 shitbox they were asking $27k for, complete with shitty Krylon'd interior panels. I worked for Subaru from '06 to '09, and driving that thing filled me with the same sense of dread as walking into a house that had seen a murder. Some of my favorite cars, IF you can find one stock and unmolested.)
Friday, August 16, 2013 1:17 PM
add to above ^
Primarily asking for directions to comprehensive resources. I imagine this is going to be a busy year for bringing Skylines over, and don't want to waste any one's time until I have everything squared up and ready to buy. Need to do the buying research at this stage. (ie what to look for like cracked dashes, etc.)

showordisplay.com has been a big help already, and Skylife is always fun to read.
Friday, August 16, 2013 4:44 PM
@Subasean. I have been working on a bit of a buyers guide for R32's. I can give you the "basics" here - http://www.gtrusablog.com/2010/05/real-basics-nissan-skyline-gt-r-r32-r33.html



I'll get at the rest of this when I get some time.
Friday, August 16, 2013 4:57 PM
The costs are as above in the article. Cost of the car. Car cost varies on condition. Shipping, and stuff as above with brokers, local transport, buy fees, etc. Its about $4000 or so. You could spend anything from $8000 - $35,000 on an R32. All depends again, on condition.

black bnr32
black bnr32link
Friday, August 16, 2013 8:11 PM
To all the potential R32 owners in the USA,

Go for it. You won't be disappointed.


a happy Canadian
Friday, August 16, 2013 9:01 PM
Here is a Nissan Skyline GT-R buyers guide that I started a while back. I will fill it with more information, when I get more questions asked.

Thursday, February 13, 2014 10:49 AM
Hi all. I have read and read and read all needed materials for importation. My only question is with this rule can i drive a skyline from canada to the us. I live 45 miles from the border.
Thursday, February 13, 2014 12:01 PM
As long as it is over 25 years old, as determined by month/year of production it is legal to drive across the border. You will need a bill of sale, and need to fill out the HS7 and 3520-1. You will also have to pay the import tariff. They might even give you a reach around at the border.
Friday, February 14, 2014 8:17 PM
In Hawaii, we are subject to Periodical Motor Vehicle Inspections (PMVI) which strictly states that cars must have DOT/SAE compliant equipment on the vehicles to be licensed and driven on the road. If the 25 year rule exempts the vehicles from lack of FMVSS compliance, does that apply to DOT/SAE standards as well? Example: JDM S13 headlamps and taillamp conversions are not legal in the State of Hawaii because the lenses lack the required SAE/DOT markings on all the lenses. If I were to import an S13, because of the "25 year rule" would the imported vehicle be exempt? Does the Federal law take precedent over local state rules and regulations?
Saturday, February 15, 2014 11:17 PM
I looked up Hawaii for someone recently. Federal Law trumps state law for importation. Over 25 is NHTSA exempt.

However Hawaii won't let you register them, so you are screwed. Find another state.

Saturday, February 15, 2014 11:17 PM
Sunday, March 30, 2014 10:17 PM
Great information, thank you for posting this. Question; What if the car is in california and it has been here before the 25 year rule, and you want to purchase it, and the seller only has a registration or partial registration. I know this would say RED FLAG don't do it, but is there a way that I could go about obtaining the necessary HS-7 forms, and the 3520-1?
Monday, March 31, 2014 8:00 AM
@classy. If the seller is missing the proper documentation, then there is NO WAY to fix this. Plus on top of everything else, California will 100% pop this car as being no good. They have a foreign titles division in Sacramento, and they check each car. 1975 or newer into California, also needs to go though the FTP program, which in itself can add thousands of dollars to the registration.
Monday, March 31, 2014 8:12 AM
Re-reading that, I didn't mean "missing," I meant if they never had it. If the car was never imported correctly - HS7,3520-1, and 7501, then it never entered correctly. Tariff was never paid, so someone owes some back taxes. Gives US Customs enough of a reason to seize it.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014 12:01 AM
In California, we can import "49 state" vehicles that are not CARB certified, provided that they have more than 7,500 miles on the odometer.

If the car is registered with DOT and has a waiver from EPA, I'm curious under what rule CARB would block the registration. I think it would be treated as any other vehicle for which CARB didn't approve of in any other state. It would have to pass smog visual inspection and there may be glitches with OBD-II, but I'm not sure why it would have to go through FTP if EPA has issued an FTP waiver (which is what the 25 year rule provides). CARB defers to EPA on 49 state vehicles, if a cop car has an FTP waiver, CARB hasn't yet rejected that from what I am aware of.

All I'm saying is if there has been an R32 rejected by CARB, I'd like to know why so we can address the protocol here. This was not the spirit or the letter of the law as I see it, and it would be interesting to hear if anyone has tried with an R32 after the 25 year rule lapsed for it.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014 7:52 AM
Two different sections, vehicles produced for the US, and "direct import" cars. They are classified differently to the ARB.

Here are California requirements, with a letter from the California DMV referring to Health and Safety Code 44200 and 44202.

"Health and Safety Code 44202 requires that all used direct import vehicles, not previously registered in California prior to May 1, 1988, to submit a Certificate of Conformance before such a vehicle can be registered in California"


There is one possible way to do it without a certificate. But has to fall within a certain set of parameters.
Thursday, May 15, 2014 1:05 AM
Thanks for clarifying. Is the "one possible way" you're referring to Section 44210?

44210 may be a loophole, which is why I ask. The EPA waiver docs (21 year rule) are a conforming document, but it isn’t a Certificate of Compliance. The EPA is saying that it conforms to their laws on emissions because it is a niche vehicle exempt from testing.

Now 44210 does require another state to register the vehicle for a year. You might be able to do it yourself if you can establish joint residency in two states (such as having a DL in CA and NV). But it may be easier for an out of state friend to do it, if you have one.

So, have a friend out of state import the car for you. Sits registered for a year. Then comes to California.

Or, get an apartment in NV for a month or two. Apply for a NV Drivers License. Register the car in NV. One year later, pull it out of a garage and import it to CA. Use the EPA docs you took across the border as conforming docs in CA.

The question will be if Technical Compliance considers the 21-year EPA waiver docs to constitute conformity or not. The code is vague on if it means conformity with the law (which the EPA waiver clearly is) or conformity with FTP.

But that’s to a point that it’s regulatory rather than legislative, and that you can challenge CARB on.

Interested to hear if that has been tested/vetted or not.
Thursday, May 15, 2014 7:36 AM
We as enthusiasts always want to read the rules, and interpret the rules in the way that works best for us. However the people that give the OK on these rules, they often don't see them as open to interpretation. Kind of the "spirit of the rule" line in a racing rule book.

"44210. The requirements of Section 44202 do not apply to any motor
vehicle having a certificate of conformity issued by the federal
Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to the federal Clean Air Act
(42 U.S.C. Section 7401, et seq. ) and originally registered in
another state by a person who was a resident of that state for at
least one year prior to the original registration, who subsequently
establishes residence in this state and who, upon registration of the
vehicle in California, provides evidence satisfactory to the
Department of Motor Vehicles of that previous residence and

So it says #1, the car needs a certificate of conformity. Since a car over 21 years old is exempt from EPA requirements if in original unmodified configuration, this could possibly be argued, but exactly as it is written, not so much.

#2. Someone would have to be a resident of another state. "originally registered in another state by a person who was a resident of that state for at
least one year prior to the original registration"

#3. Then moves to California as a permanent place of residence. "who subsequently
establishes residence in this state and who, upon registration of the
vehicle in California,"

"§ 246. “Certificate of compliance”
A “certificate of compliance” for the purposes of this code is an electronic or printed document issued by a state agency, board, or commission, or authorized person, setting forth that the requirements of a particular law, rule or regulation, within its jurisdiction to regulate or administer has been satisfied."

" 44201. Certification program; Certificates of conformance
The state board shall adopt, by regulation, a certification program for used direct import vehicles. The state board shall issue a certificate of conformance to each used direct import vehicle which meets the requirements of this program.
Added Stats 1985 ch 1138 § 2. Amended Stats 1989 ch 859 § 7.
§ 44202. Registration of uncertified vehicles
A used direct import vehicle which was not registered in this state prior to the adoption of regulations adopted pursuant to Section 44201, may not be registered in this state unless it has received a certificate of conformance from the state board, except as provided in Section 44210.
Added Stats 1985 ch 1138 § 2. Amended Stats 1989 ch 859 § 8.
§ 44203. Components of certification program
The certification program established pursuant to Section 44201 shall require all of the following components:
(a) A test of the vehicle’s emissions performed at a laboratory licensed by the state board.
(b) A determination that the emissions of the vehicle meet applicable emission standards adopted by the state board.
(c) Any vehicle labelling and description of any emissions-related modifications to the vehicle that the state board finds appropriate to assure that the emission-related system of the vehicle can be inspected, serviced, and repaired successfully throughout the state.
(d) Any other requirements the board may determine appropriate to assure the used direct import vehicle will continue to comply with emission standards in use, except that no requirement may be established to warrant the emissions control system or to recall vehicles which exhibit a defective emission control system subsequent to receiving a valid certificate of conformance.
Added Stats 1985 ch 1138 § 2. Amended Stats 1989 ch 859 § 9"
Thursday, May 15, 2014 11:54 AM
#1 And I'll ask again. Has CARB rejected the waiver as a federal acknowledgement of conforming to federal EPA law? I disagree with your "not so much" opinion - waivers are a form of conforming to the law.

#2 True - but you can have dual-residency. Each state has its own opinions, and you can have DL's in two states.

#3 - Law's vague here. No mention of if the vehicle establishes residency or what happens if you have dual-residency. Again, an out-of-state friend helps here.

44202 appears to reinforce that 44210 is specifically structured to allow for the EPA waivers to acknowledge federal conformance to the law, as they are waived from the law, and thus are certified to conform to the niche waiver.

It sounds like we're in uncharted territory here - but I'd love to hear real-world encounters on this one.
Thursday, May 15, 2014 12:23 PM
Here is a specific email that I had from someone with a 1969 Lotus. Direct Import car. This car should be exempt, but strange things happen. It is a legal loop.

" I purchased a 1969 Lotus Elan in Canada last year. It is a non federal , direct import model. . Since it is nearly a 45 year old car, I thought it was exempt from all emission and safety regulations. When returned from Canada, I went to the local Cal DMV office to register it. There seemed to be no problem. I had legally imported the car and paid the custom's duty. The DMV clerk did said they had to send the paperwork to Sacramento because the car had been bought out of the country. This was in October 2013.

When I had not heard from them for a few months, I called Sacramento in January 2014. I was told I could not register the car, Pursuant to Health and Safety Code (H&SC) Section 43600, vehicles with model years 1966 and newer must comply with California Emission Standards to be registered in this state. I asked what emission standards did I have to meet and was told 1972 standards. This did not make much sense to me.

They then sent me a letter that went on to say I needed to contact the ARB for further instructions if the manufacturer can't or won't certify that the vehicle meets the standards. I know Lotus cannot write a compliance letter and contacted the CARB ombudsman in Sacramento. He looked into my case for a couple of months and seemed interested in helping. He finally referred me to the El Monte office of the Air Resource Board. I got a call from a Manager there. He said he is looking for a testing facility where I can have my car tested for emissions. I asked him what standards will be used. He said standards from 1969 based on the size of the motor, a 7 point test. He said I would have to be under 350 ppm for I think, hydrocarbons, and 210 for CO. I am still waiting for his call back with a testing facility. I have no idea where he got these numbers and don't know what size motor they would apply to. One place I called wanted $1500 for each test. This is not a high dollar car.

I am trying to get this car registered legally in California. "
Thursday, May 15, 2014 7:03 PM
Of course CARB applies laws inappropriately all the time. Ask farmers and truck drivers across the state!

But I'm focused on 44210 and establishing if CA can (has to?) accept the EPA Waiver Certificate as an acknowledgement that the car conforms to federal law.

I fully recognize it may have to go to court even, but at least people can band together and get a process going. As time marches on, if the law doesn't change, 44210 may be the only way to import cars into this state.

Today there is no facility in the state to even do FTP-75, something CARB confirmed to me today. That adds credence to the equity for post-1976 vehicles be permitted under 44210, until the law is revised to react to the passage of time.
Friday, May 16, 2014 9:48 AM
If you are willing to fight, then I am in with everything I have. I do have a friend, and car enthusiast, that is an environmental lawyer. He told me if I ever wanted to go at CARB, to let him know.

As far as a test lab, there is one, at least I think they still have their license. The others I know, just let them lapse.
Friday, June 20, 2014 5:19 PM
Hi this is an awesome, page so much good information as i am contemplating the import of a r32 to the usa.
I'm new to this so please bare with my questions.
i live in florida, so the rules are different here, theres no smog and emissions headaches like in CA. with that being said
what will i need to keep in mind when im ready to import a r32 or another 25yr old vehicle into Florida?
I have seen a few skylines here in FL but the majority of them are bought in as parts and put together here and god know how they registered them here, but they are on the road legal or illegally i don't know.

I've been contemplating the idea of bringing in a few cars that are exempt with that being said i know florida has way different rules than CA.
all comments welcomed. and i don't mean to offend anybody as i am new to this idea just need to know what needs to be done so i can do it right.
Friday, June 20, 2014 5:27 PM
I wrote the article,and I have a company here on the West Coast that imports cars currently - IVI or importavehicle on Facebook.

Everything is laid out in the article above. Import is separate than registration/title. Every state handles the process their own way.

Most of the cars I see in Florida have been illegally imported and titled. So the problem is of course, convincing people that your cars are good.
Friday, September 19, 2014 12:58 PM
I have a question, I have a 1992 Toyota Celica that I would like to import in about 2 years with the 25 year rule, but I heard that you can only drive the car on weekends or when you are taking it to a showroom, is this information accurate?
Friday, September 19, 2014 1:34 PM
Inaccurate. Someone is confusing the Show or Display exemption, with a vehicle over 25 years. Over 25 years old is no limitation. The only issues you will have is if you are in California or Hawaii. If you are in either, then its next to impossible due to the current stance on vehicles in both states.
Friday, September 19, 2014 1:50 PM
Thank you very much for your help.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014 2:21 PM
Hello! I’ve tried looking up the answer(s) to this question, but haven’t had much luck; maybe because the answer is complex or because it’s a trade secret. Exactly what goes into making the R32 compliant with CARB? I’m getting ready to live overseas for the next 3-4 years and am planning on bringing an R32 back to the U.S. I understand that whatever R32 I purchase, it needs to be in its stock configuration. What parts exactly? The entire car or just anything involved with emissions? I won’t know where I’ll be living when I return, but I would like to make my R32 CARB compliant anyways because I’m from California and plan on retiring there. Is there anything I can do/fix on the R32 while I’m overseas in order to increase its chances of passing smog in the event I move back to California? And if it doesn’t pass smog, (which I’m assuming it won’t), where would I take it to get it CARB compliant? Thanks!
Monday, October 27, 2014 2:17 PM
In regards to the fees paid on your skyline, was there also a gas guzzler fee?
Monday, October 27, 2014 7:49 PM
ARB compliant is next to impossible. Its easier to get elected governor, and change the laws, than bring a Skyline into Calfornia requirements.


With that said, I am working on it.

Nothing you can do other than make sure the car is in 100% perfect running order. All emissions equipment needs to be in place, then we replace most of it. Testing is $1500 an hour. It can take 5-10 hours just for testing. Catalytic converters need to be brand new. Need to be CARB compliant for 100,000 miles.

As an OEM, all these things aren't too huge an issue, but as an individual, on an individual car, it is. Remember when there was about a $100 charge on a car for "California emissions?"
Tuesday, October 28, 2014 4:29 PM
Thanks for the reply. I apologize in advance if I have a lot of questions or comments. I’m trying to plan this out as best as I can, even though I have a few years to decide if it’s worth the time and effort. I understand that getting the R32 CARB compliant is nearly impossible. But, it is possible if the will and money is there, right?

In regards to emissions equipment, I had read somewhere one of the reasons why parts like oxygen sensors and catalytic converters need to be replaced upon entry into the U.S. is due to the quality of gasoline overseas. So, I guess it wouldn’t make much sense to install a bunch of CARB approved parts on an R32 while I’m overseas and potentially contaminate them.

I’m still confused about the EPA’s whole “original unmodified condition” thing. Does that have to do with OEM vs aftermarket parts? Or, just ensuring all the parts are there? Should I be looking for a no kidding stock R32? Or, if an R32 is advertised with HKS/BLITZ this and that upgrades, is that okay?

This brings up another question. Please correct me if I’m wrong: an RI ensures a vehicle complies with NHSTA standards, and an ICI ensures a vehicle complies with EPA standards. But, if a vehicle is 25+ years old, then importation does not have to be coordinated with either. So, who makes the determination whether or not the vehicle is in its original unmodified condition, Customs and Border Protection?
Tuesday, October 28, 2014 6:06 PM
#1. CARB compliance is possible. I am working on it. I have done it in the past. Just not fun. They are not our friends. If you ever become governor, killing CARB should be your first priority. We don't need EPA, and ARB. Most of Calfornia's requirements seem to be different, just to be different.

#2 Don't mess with it. Make sure the car is in good running shape, closest to stock as possible. Do NOT bring me a twin 3540, 2.8 liter car, with nothing emissions related even close to the car.

#3. Vehicles over 21 years old, in original configuration are EPA exempt for import. We get this question a lot these days, people asking for clarification. Here is some additional information pulled out of the 3520-1 or EPA form required for importation. This is VERY IMPORTANT. I can not stress enough how important it is to read and UNDERSTAND this form if you are importing a car. Anything you say, or post on a forum or Facebook can be read an used against you if you make a false statement. http://www.importavehicle.info/2014/04/21-year-old-epa-exempt-vehicles-3520-1.html

#4. Over 25 NHTSA exempt. Over 21 EPA exempt in original configuration. Read the above link for more information. $32,500 fine for making false statements. Seems like most people wouldn't get caught, even if they did anything wrong. However, most people can't keep their mouth shut, and eventually that catches up to them. People don't often brag about cars getting seized, or big fines.
Monday, November 03, 2014 9:32 AM
Thanks for all the info you've provided. I don't plan on buying an R32 GTR until a year prior to returning to the US, unless I see something I can't pass up. I've seen at least one NISMO and a few V-Specs advertised. But, I'll be happy to bring back a standard R32 GTR.

I want to do everything right. I have no desire to cut corners or circumvent the system. If I'm lucky, maybe I won't come back to California when I return to the US. But, if I do, I'll be sure to coordinate with you. If I have more questions, is there another forum, site, or e-mail address I should contact you at?
Tuesday, December 09, 2014 8:07 PM
Hi,tyndago, I also thinking of importing an R32 to California as I'll move there soon. Can I turn to you for help?
Saturday, April 25, 2015 8:28 PM
I suggest not moving to California if you want a Skyline. http://www.importavehicle.info/2013/04/direct-import-vehicles-1975-or-newer.html
Tuesday, April 28, 2015 4:59 AM
Thanks for all the info in this article and comment section. I am interested in importing a newer model Toyota vellfire into CA (Yes I'm serious). I'm currently living in Japan and my employer owns car dealerships here and exports cars frequently, so everything on that end would be easy take care of. I just want to get an idea of the red tape that needs to be gone through to pass DOT and CARB compliance, etc. I have a few months to get this done, so I just want to find out how difficult/expensive the endeavor might be. Thanks
Tuesday, April 28, 2015 7:01 AM
If its something never sold in the US. Getting full compliance, budget about a million. You may need to crash test. Front/Side/Rear at a minimum. Prove NHTSA compliance with all parts or change to certified parts. You will need to get EPA compliance. If that engine family isn't sold in the US the Certificate of Conformance is $26k. I could go on and on. There is a reason that it isn't really done. It is cost prohibitive. I've done it. I've been involved with it. http://www.importavehicle.info/2015/02/nonconforming-motor-vehicles-that-are.html
Wednesday, June 10, 2015 8:43 AM
hey i currently purchased a 09/89 bnr32 the car is from Canada and was registerd to the guy who bought it. im flying down to go get it what paperwork should i have ready to get her across the border into the USA so i can have her shipped to me in florida? any help would be great feel free to email me @ sdrmiami@gmail.com or call me at 3059921514 mike
Saturday, August 22, 2015 2:18 AM
Thanks for sharing this with us, Please provide us all the information about the process of import or export a car.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 7:38 PM
Hey Guys, need a bit of help here. I am trying to import a 1970 Chevy c10 back to the U.S. . It was made in the U.S. But was imported to Mexico back in 1974. ( I have the import documents from 74' showing it was exported from AZ to MEX) it's missing the Vin number by the door but has it in the glove box. Will I have any issues at the port of entry? how the hell am I supposed to get a title if I'm a U.S. Citizen?...... Assuming I'm given the ok what obstacles should I have registering it in California? Am I ARB exempt since the vehicle was made in U.S.?

Someone enlighten me.

Friday, August 28, 2015 3:26 PM
Missing emission stickers as well
Grace Ott
Grace Ottlink
Tuesday, January 26, 2016 8:02 PM
Ok someone please help. I cannot seem to find a definitive answer on the subject of importation without the intent of registration. Say I wanted to import a Skyline GFBNR34 (R34) right now but I didn't have the intention of actually trying to register or drive it until it turned 25? Say I wanted to just get it now (before the average market price skyrockets when it actually becomes legal & supply goes down because of legality and demand) and work on it / keep it in a garage / only trailer it wherever it needs to be taken until it turns the legal age. Is this legal definitively? Does the government still have reason to take / scrap it? Also, in California what hurdles would I have to hop to register once she's legal?

Side note: not only men are attracted to GT-Rs. I am living proof.
Grace Ott
Grace Ottlink
Tuesday, January 26, 2016 8:13 PM
Also, you said younger than '68 would be a problem in Cal. How difficult do you think it would be to register a '71 GT-R?
Wednesday, January 27, 2016 12:57 AM
First, in regards to importing the vehicle, reference Customs and Border Protection, http://www.cbp.gov/trade/basic-import-export/importing-car. It clearly states: "Vehicles entering the United States that do not conform with U.S. safety standards must be brought into compliance, exported, or destroyed." So, bringing an R34 into the US and storing in your garage before it's 25 years old is a no-go.

Second, in regards to California registration of direct import vehicles, reference https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/brochures/howto/htvr9a or https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/7d0f34bb-3c96-4eb0-bdff-2253756dc65d/htvr9a.pdf?MOD=AJPERES It states:

Vehicles (and engines) imported from other
countries must comply with requirements
of the following agencies:
• U.S. Customs and Border Protection
• U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) for emissions requirements.
• U.S. Department of Transportation
(DOT) for safety requirements.
• U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
for gas-guzzler taxes.
• California Air Resources Board (CARB)
for emissions requirements.
• California Board of Equalization (BOE)
for use tax.

So, assuming the vehicle meets federal DOT and EPA requirements (i.e. the vehicle is 25 yrs old), it should pass through CBP. The problem is registration is unique to each state. For California, your hurdle is the California Air Resources Board (CARB). CARB states that if a vehicle was made in 1966 or later, then it must meet CARB requirements before it can be registered.

I don't know that that entails, but I've heard the procedure to make an R32 Skyline GTR CARB compliant is around $10,000. Or, you can purchase a California legal R32 GTR starting at $30,000.

In the case of your R34, you'll probably have to buy it and store it overseas until it is legal for importation. Then, if you decide you want to register in California, you'll have to pay to get be CARB compliant.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016 8:21 AM
1971 would be treated like any other vehicle. Has to be brought into full compliance with California regulations. Since these cars were never intended to meet US or California regulations, it can be difficult and expensive.

California - R34. One big issue, OBD II. There is no specific exemption for California. Its a requirement 1996 and up. The R34 didn't have it. So car, plus, OBD II, plus emissions testing. Nothing is impossible, but you are looking at $120-$150k.
Grace Ott
Grace Ottlink
Friday, January 29, 2016 10:18 AM
New thought: could I theoretically bring in an R34 and register it for track use or collectors status? And then when the 25 years is up change the registration to public roads? I know you can't just change the purpose of having it here but you you once it turns 25 theoretically export it and reimport it under a different purpose being use on public roads?
Saturday, January 30, 2016 10:22 AM
There is no such thing as a track car. The rules are in place specifically to prevent you from doing this. In order for you to import a car legally for "track use", it needs to be a race car. Built by Nissan as a race car. A car that can never be registered for road use. I've got two R34 race cars at the shop. Real cars, built by Nissan as such. http://www.importavehicle.info/2016/01/track-car-importing-how-to-import-track.html
Saturday, January 30, 2016 7:33 PM
Here's an idea, and for the moment lets take California out of the equation. What if she was able to find a 1999 R34 VSpec? Then she could import it under the NHTSA's show or display rule. I know there is an EPA part to this: If she plans to drive it on public roads, it must first be made to comply with EPA standards. Then, she'd be allotted 2500 miles a year. But, what if she doesn't want to drive it on public roads? Could it be trailered around? Also, would waiting for the car to become EPA exempt at 21 years make it easier to import under show or display?
Grace Ott
Grace Ottlink
Sunday, January 31, 2016 11:56 AM
No one has ever tried to do that because it's nearly impossible to pass EPA requirements.
Wednesday, February 03, 2016 10:13 AM
If anyone can help me out with my problem , that would be great .
Im deciding whether to buy a Skyline GTST or not. I'm currently in Stationed in Georgia and it's possible to buy, get the title and register a skyline here. The catch is, I'm moving back to California 5 months from now. And I've been reading up on how much of a hassle it is to register a skyline in California. So I was wondering if I can just purchase the car here in Georgia , get it registered here and once I take the skyline to California, still keep the Georgia tags on it.
Friday, April 29, 2016 12:54 AM
You can of course, but it's illegal. If the cops notice you can get a big fine. That being said I've had friends that were mellow drivers without flashy mods get away with it. Wouldn't do it personally.
Saturday, November 05, 2016 5:29 PM
I've been reading these forums all day, great info here!
My case is a 1971 Fiat 600 that I imported to California. Everything went smooth at my local DMV and I even got a temporary 90-day permit to drive the car. They said they still needed to send my original paperwork to Sacramento. Today I received a letter stating:

DMV has determined that this vehicle is a direct import and was not originally manufactured for use in this country. Pursuant to California Health and Safety Code section 43600, vehicles with model years 1966 or newer must comply with California emission standards to be registered in this state.

Please contact the manufacturer for verification of compliance with California emission standards for vehicles and ask if the vehicle complies with all applicable U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). You must obtain a letter confirming this information and this letter must identify your vehicle by the VIN number.

Since Fiat (or Seat) 600s were officially imported and sold in the U.S. in the 60's and 70's would there be any chance to get a letter like that from FIAT? Any input and advise would be greatly appreciated.
Thursday, December 15, 2016 10:54 AM
M_tee. Contact us for more info 844-523-2233 or sales@importavehicle.com for California compliance. It can be done.
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