Nashco SuperDork
7/28/10 12:03 p.m.

Hey gang, I'm looking to possibly import a modified car from British Columbia to the US (Oregon, specifically) and I'm new to this game. The car isn't quite 25 years old (unfortunately) and has had an engine swap, therefore technically not to US EPA requirements as the car was originally built. The same car was sold in the US, so it did pass all of the safety/EPA stuff in the US originally, nothing new in that regard. I am doing my own research, but there is a heck of a lot of red tape jargon to sift through.

Does anybody have any practical experience trying to accomplish this? I have found a lot of government documentation about the process, but it all states that the car must comply to US EPA requirements and I have no idea if they will actually inspect or what.

Thanks for any experience you can share, I'm in a little over my head on this one.


BoxheadTim Dork
7/28/10 12:06 p.m.

I'm just about to start something like that with a bunch of motorcycles that over 25 years old. Out here in Nevada they do need to be inspected even though they're EPA exempt.

TBH I'd give a not-quite-25-yo-car a miss given that you'd normally have to produce paperwork from the manufacturer to confirm that it meets all relevant US requirements.

93gsxturbo Reader
7/28/10 12:16 p.m.

Unless its something really awesome or cheap, I would find the same thing in the US and save yourself a metric ass-ton of hassles.

If anything, bring it across in pieces and put said pieces in a clean, US-legal shell. Sell/scrap the old shell in Canada.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn SuperDork
7/28/10 12:31 p.m.

There is a list on a US government website somewhere of specific makes and models of cars newer than 25 years old that are close enough to US spec that they can be imported with minimal changes, but I don't have it bookmarked. Try a google search on 'importing cars to usa' and go from there.

If the car in question is not on that list I would recommend finding something else...going through the official federalization process to make the car legal will probably cost more than it's worth.

triumph5 Reader
7/28/10 12:46 p.m.

If the car is close to the 25 year mark, and you want to wait, or use it off road only, you could bring it in under the stipulation "for exhibition only." I worked for a company that imported semi-one-off sailboats from Taiwan, and we ALWAYS used an importing agent. SAVED a ton of hassles. Try talking to some of the more prominent resoration/ exotic tuning shops in your area, they may be of great help. Bruce Canepa's shop comes to mind. I believe it's called Canepa Design? Google it. .I know the exhibition only caveat has been used on many cars brought into the US. There are the "lost title? get one here" service companies. Never used one, don't know anything about them. Worth a phone call?

DeadSkunk Reader
7/28/10 1:02 p.m.

Don't assume that the particular vehicle is "importable" just because it was available in the US, too. My 1996 Chev Astro doesn't meet US regulations for the OBD2. Canadian regulations allowed for a 2 year later implimentation date and GM actually continued building both specs in the same Baltimore plant. You'll need a letter from the OEM manufacturer attesting to the fact that the imported vehicle meets the US specs for the date of manufacture. I got letters for the Astro (not compliant) and my ITB Volkswagen GTI (compliant !!). I was only able to bring the Astro in with an EPA exemption and it can't be resold in the US. I was only able to bring it in because I was immigrating here and already owned it. You may not be able to get the same exemption.

Nashco SuperDork
7/28/10 2:03 p.m.

Well, according to the EPA, a 1988 car is ok with a newer certified engine:

Code E: Vehicle at least 21 years old and in original unmodified configuration is either exempted or excluded from EPA emissions requirements, depending on age. Vehicles at least 21 years old with replacement engines are not elegible for this exemption unless they contain equivalent or newer EPA certified engines. Customs may require proof of vehicle age.

...the catch is, engines aren't certified alone, they're certified with a mated transmission in a particular vehicle, so that's clear as mud.

I still haven't figured out where the magic list of compliant vehicles are according to NHTSA. I've found acceptable non-compliants, but not acceptable compliants.


Keith SuperDork
7/28/10 3:04 p.m.

If it's a car built for the Canadian market, it's fairly easy. The exception is if it's post Sept 1989 and doesn't have an airbag. That's why my Canadian 1990 Miata (built 4/90) wasn't allowed to move to the US but my father's Canadian 1990 Miata (built 4/89) would have been.

List of cars than can be made compliant by a Registered Importer. They're called "non-compliant" because they're not US market cars. If they're US market cars and thus compliant, then importing them is easy because, well, they live here! That's where the special rules for Canadian models come in - most are compliant and you just need a letter from the manufacturer. If you're not sure, ask the manufacturer.

All the poop.

The non-original engine might cause some problems if it were mentioned.

Nashco SuperDork
7/29/10 12:24 a.m.
Keith wrote: The non-original engine might cause some problems if it were mentioned.

I think this is the biggest hangup. Technically, the car met EPA requirements...when it was sold. So, I could get a piece of paper that says it met EPA requirements in 1988, but that doesn't keep somebody from doing a visual and discovering the obvious. From what I can tell, there's not really any getting around this according to the exact letter of the law. I was hoping somebody had some actual experience and would know if they do a visual or not and how thorough they typically are, but it's either extremely rare for somebody to attempt importing a modified car or maybe just rare for people to tell other people they skirted the man.

Tomorrow I'm going to talk to a couple of importers to see what they have to say. I'm not expecting much help, but it's worth a shot. Thanks for the info, there's a lot of info to read through out there, so the help is appreciated!


captain_napalm Reader
7/29/10 7:55 a.m.

What kind of car?

Keith SuperDork
7/29/10 9:53 a.m.

I suspect it's the latter - the modifications are rarely discussed. And the paperwork from the manufacturer has to do with safety items, not the EPA. For the EPA regs, see here:

Nashco SuperDork
8/3/10 12:50 p.m.

For future reference, I put together a list of stuff you need to know for importing a Fiero here:

I ended up not purchasing the car I did all this research for, in the end. Things are slightly different for different eras of EPA/DOT requirements, as Keith pointed out above, so keep in mind the above doesn't necessarily apply to all cars. Hopefully this saves some other schmuck some time trying to figure out the importation requirements.


4eyes HalfDork
8/4/10 1:54 p.m.

In reply to BoxheadTim: I thought the cut-off for bikes was 15 years. There have been some interesting bikes sold with NAH syndrome. (Not Available Here)

novaderrik Reader
8/4/10 2:08 p.m.

if it's not too difficult, install an original engine in it to get it here and registered, then put the other engine back in it.

7/23/12 2:04 p.m.

hey guys found this thread on google.

im actually in a similar position myself...

im looking to import a 1985 toyota ae86 from peru (south america) to miami.

the car was originally a USDM corolla gt-s that was salvaged and exported out of arizona. however here in peru it has been modified to hell and back (it had a 4age 20v swap, haltech ecu swap, it's been completely taken apart to the chasis and been sandblasted, had body work done, put back together and been painted etc etc).

i've done everything i've could to restore it back to stock.

i found the original type of engine, the 4age 16v, and ive sourced all the emissions stuff for the usa (egr, original catalytic converter, original ecu, original vacuum system, original air flow meter, air box, charcoal canister, you name it)

i'm in the process of setting up the engine now at the shop.

should i be worried?

because epa says if it has an EQUIVALENT OR NEWER EPA CERTIFIED ENGINE its ok.

the equivalent is what im banking on.

you see the 4age 16v was for all purposes the same in both japan and usa. only difference is the emissions equipment and whether it's map or afm.

the engine though, the 4age 16v was epa certified at that time in the 80s.

if they look up the model (corolla gt-s) they'll see it came stock with that same type of engine, 4age 16v and with all the other things mentioned.

do you guys think i'll have problems?

the thing is i don't know the history behind the 4age 16v i bought. if it's japanese or us spec.

does someone know if i can look up the serial number somewhere?

im guessing if they look up the serial numbers i'm screwed basically?

because there are no stickers in regards to epa or anything. the car is almost 30 years old for crying out loud of course its going to be missing somethings you know?

what do you guys think?


BoxheadTim UberDork
7/23/12 2:11 p.m.

I don't think the engine is going to be a big issue - nobody cared on the engine numbers on my bike(s). My concern would be that the chassis had been salvaged and exported from the US...

stuart in mn
stuart in mn UberDork
7/23/12 2:13 p.m.

A 1985 car is older than the 25 year EPA requirements, so you shouldn't have any particular issues in importing it to the US other than the cost of shipping and any duties that need to be paid.

This page has links to many of the reference pages you need for details on importing cars.

Javelin MegaDork
7/23/12 3:29 p.m.
stuart in mn wrote: There is a list on a US government website somewhere of specific makes and models of cars newer than 25 years old that are close enough to US spec that they can be imported with minimal changes, but I don't have it bookmarked. Try a google search on 'importing cars to usa' and go from there.

Here you go!

It's a PDF from the NHTSA.

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