General vehicle importation instructions

Vehicle importation is a major issue, because one has to meet lot of documentation criteria. If you are planning to import your vehicle through an Auto transport company, certification is a major feature which might trouble you in the beginning but once you follow all the norms then you might find it easy.
Well, if you opt to import your vehicle through a car shipping company then certification hassles will be carried over by them and not by you. Here are some Importation and Certification FAQ's for your assistance.

What Requirements must be met by a Manufacturer of Conforming Vehicles before their vehicles are imported via an auto transport company?

The manufacturer must:
  1. Submit a letter to NHTSA designating an agent for service and a letter from the agent accepting the designation if the manufacturer is not in United States (49 CFR 551.45).
  2. Submit to NHTSA, information the agency will need to decipher the manufacturer's format not later than 60 days prior to offering the first vehicle for sale in the United States (49 CFR Part 565, "Vehicle Identification Number Requirements").
  3. Submit a letter to NHTSA identifying the manufacturer's name, address and the products it manufactures which are subject to the FMVSS, not later than 30 days after manufacturing begins (49 CFR Part 566, "Manufacturer Identification").
  4. Permanently affix a certification label to the vehicle, thereby meeting the requirements of 49 CFR Part 567, "Certification.

What Certifications are required on motor vehicles?

A certification label meeting the requirements of 49 CFR Part 567, for vehicles other than motorcycles or trailers, the label must be affixed next to the driver's seating position.
For trailers, the label must be affixed to a place on the forward half of the left side of the vehicle whereas for motorcycles, the label must be affixed to a permanent member of the vehicle so that it is easily readable without moving any part of the vehicle except for the steering system.

How does NHTSA determine what is a motor vehicle?

The term "motor vehicle" is defined as a vehicle that is driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways.
To be imported free of restriction, a motor vehicle less than 25 years old must be originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS and bear a label certifying such compliance is permanently affixed by the vehicle's original manufacturer.

How do I find legal interpretations of NHTSA's regulations?

NHTSA has published these interpretations on the Internet. You may access these at: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/interps.

Issues Outside NHTSA's Jurisdiction

NHTSA issues the FMVSS, which establish minimum performance requirements for the safety systems, components on motor vehicles and for certain items of motor vehicle equipment.
The agency regulates the manufacturer and importation of motor vehicles to assure compliance with these standards.

Motor Vehicle Titling and Registration

This is the responsibility of individual States and not NHTSA. Consumers with questions regarding MCO and MSO documents should direct those questions to their State's DMV.
Prospective manufacturers seeking guidance on obtaining MCO or MSO documents should contact the AAMVA at 703-522-4201 or visit that organization's website at http://www.aamva.org.

VIN Issues

According to NHTSA's regulations at 49 CFR Part 565, a motor vehicle manufacturer must assign to each motor vehicle manufactured for sale in the U.S. a 17-digit VIN that uniquely identifies the vehicle.
The VIN must be correctly formatted and include a check digit in the ninth position which is mathematically correct under a formula that is included in the regulations.
Typographical errors in a VIN can only be corrected by the vehicle's manufacturer. Do not contact NHTSA before seeking the help of the manufacturer.

Is there a need for DOT Approval?

DOT does not approve any motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment items as complying with all applicable FMVSS. That is instead the responsibility of the vehicle or equipment item's original manufacturer.

Can NHTSA tell whether my vehicle is meeting the requirements?

Motor vehicle manufacturers are not required to submit any information to NHTSA vehicle they manufacture. On by looking at the affixed label to the vehicle certifying its compliance with all applicable standards NHTSA could only tell whether a given vehicle has been manufactured or not.
If you are unable to find a certification label on a particular vehicle and are interested in learning whether the vehicle was originally manufactured to comply with all applicable standards, you should contact the vehicle's manufacturer. A list of manufacturer contacts can be found on NHTSA's website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/.

Importing a non-conforming vehicle?

An additional requirement for the lawful importation of a nonconforming vehicle is that it should be imported by a RI or by an individual who has contracted with an RI to bring the vehicle into conformity with all applicable FMVSS.
A bond in an amount equivalent to 150 percent of the declared value of the vehicle must be given at the time of importation to ensure that the necessary modifications are completed within 120 days of entry. A list of RI's can be found on http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/.

Importing a vehicle already determined eligible for importation

NHTSA makes import eligibility decisions on a make, model, and model year basis. A list of vehicles that NHTSA has determined to be eligible for importation is available at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/.
If the vehicle you are seeking to import is there on that list means it can be imported by an RI by an individual who has contracted with an RI.
NHTSA determines whether the vehicle is eligible for importation and then assigns the vehicle a unique vehicle eligibility number.
That number is to be entered on the HS-7 Declaration form that is to be given to Customs at the time of importation.
The number alerts Customs to the fact that the vehicle can be lawfully imported, even though the vehicle was not originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS.
Importing a Canadian-certified vehicle; need for automatic restraints.
A vehicle that was not originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS and was not certified by its original manufacturer must first be determined eligible for importation by NHTSA.
The agency has determined that Canadian-certified passenger cars manufactured on or after September 1, 1989, are eligible for importation, provided those vehicles are equipped with automatic restraints that meet the requirements of FMVSS No. 208, "Occupant Crash Protection."
If a vehicle manufactured on or after that date is not equipped with automatic restraints, it has not been determined eligible for importation. Without this determination, the vehicle cannot lawfully be imported into U.S.

Re-importing a U.S.-certified vehicle.

If a vehicle outside U.S. bears a certification label affixed by its original manufacturer stating that the vehicle complies with all applicable FMVSS in effect on its date of manufacture, it can be imported as a conforming motor vehicle under Box 2A on the HS-7 Declaration form that must be given to Customs at the time of entry.
Form is available online in http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import.

Re-importing a U.S.-certified vehicle with missing certification label

If your vehicle was originally manufactured to comply with all FMVSS and was certified by its manufacturer means it can be lawfully imported under Box 2A on the HS-7 Declaration form to be given to Customs at the time of entry.
Vehicle missing its certification label can still be imported at the vehicle was originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS.
You can find the list of manufacturers at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/. If the manufacturer is not willing to supply you with a letter means you can avail the letter from NHTSA.
If you wish to be furnished with the form letter, you should call the Imports and Certification Division at 202-366-5291.

Importing a vehicle that is at least 25 years old.

A motor vehicle that is at least 25 years old can be lawfully imported into U.S. without regard to whether it complies with all applicable FMVSS. You should note that the 25 year period runs from the date of the vehicle's manufacture.
If the date of manufacture is not there in the affixed label, you must have documents or a statement from a recognized vehicle historical society to show that the vehicle was registered at least 25 years ago.

Importing a vehicle for parts

If a vehicle is shipped without its engine and drive train, for importation purposes it would not be treated as a motor vehicle but as an assemblage of motor vehicle equipment items.
In this instance, the vehicle would be entered under Box 1 on the HS-7 Declaration form, which covers motor vehicle equipment not covered by a standard, or manufactured before the date that an applicable standard takes effect.
Assemblage items subject to FMVSS which were not manufactured to comply with the applicable standard and were not certified by their original manufacturer must be removed from the assemblage and exported or destroyed before entry.
Any covered equipment items that were certified and manufactured in compliance with the applicable FMVSS must be entered under Box 2A.

Importing a disassembled vehicle

A disassembled vehicle that is shipped without its engine and drive train, for importation purposes it would not be treated as a motor vehicle but as an assemblage of motor vehicle equipment items.
Assemblage items can lawfully be imported into the U.S provided assemblage items are subject to FMVSS which were not manufactured to comply with the applicable standard and were not certified by their original manufacturer must be removed from the assemblage.
If the assemblage is shipped with an engine and power train (even with uninstalled components), i would be considered as a motor vehicle for importation purposes and would have to be either
  • Manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS
  • Certification from the original manufacturer in the form of a label permanently affixed to the vehicle,
  • Or be determined eligible for importation by NHTSA
  • Be imported by an RI or by a person who has a contract with RI to bring the vehicle into compliance with all applicable FMVSS after importation.

Importing a right-hand drive vehicle

If the vehicle you are seeking to import is a RHD, even if there was a U.S.-certified left-hand version of that vehicle, it might not be considered substantially similar for import eligibility purposes.
"The safety performance of RHD vehicles is not necessarily the same as that of similar left-hand drive vehicles offered for sale in this country.
However, NHTSA will consider the vehicles substantially similar only if the manufacturer gives a letter in writing on the manufacturer's letterhead that the RHD vehicle would perform the same as the U.S.-certified left-hand drive vehicle in crash tests.
On absence of such edition the petitioning RI would have to demonstrate that the vehicle when modified, would comply. In such case you might want to contact one or more RIs from http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/ to get their opinion on the feasibility of conforming the RHD vehicle to the FMVSS.

Importing a vehicle for show or display

When a vehicle is imported for purposes of show or display, it should not be driven in excess of 2,500 miles per year. Information on importing a motor vehicle for those purposes can be found on NHTSA's website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/ShowDisplay/.

Importation of an off-road vehicle

A vehicle that is not primarily manufactured for on-road use can be imported under Box 8 on the HS-7 Declaration form that is to be given to Customs at the time of entry.
Such a vehicle is not subject to NHTSA's jurisdiction, but may be subject to the jurisdiction of the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).
For information on the requirements, if any, that apply to these vehicles, you should visit the CPSC's website at http://www.cpsc.gov or contact that agency at 1-800-638-2772.

Importing a racing vehicle

If the vehicle was originally manufactured as a racing vehicle, it can be permanently imported into the U.S. under Box 8 on the HS-7 Declaration form that is to be given to Customs at the time of entry.
The importer must obtain a letter from the vehicle's original manufacturer confirming that it was originally manufactured as a racing vehicle.
A copy of the manufacturer's letter should be attached to the HS-7 Declaration form that is submitted to Customs when entry is made.
In this instance, no approval from NHTSA is necessary to import the vehicle.
If the vehicle was not originally manufactured as a racing vehicle, it can only be imported on a temporary basis under Box 7 on the HS-7 Declaration form.
Permission letter from NHTSA is necessary to import a vehicle on this basis. NHTSA grants permission in annual increments for up to
  • 3 years if duty is not paid on the vehicle
  • For up to 5 years if duty is paid.
Information on importing vehicles for racing purposes is available on NHTSA's website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import/racing.

Temporary importation by non-U.S. residents

Nonresidents of the U.S. may temporarily import nonconforming vehicles into U.S. for personal use, for a period of not exceeding one year. At the time of entry
  1. The vehicle must be registered in any of the country other than U.S
  2. Must not be sold while it is in the U.S
  3. Must be exported when the year is up.
If you wish to import your vehicle under these conditions, you should check, Box 5 on the HS-7 Declaration Form to be given to Customs at the time of entry.
Your passport number and the country that issued the passport must be specified on the declaration. An international convention governs the importation of these vehicles.
The U.S. is a signatory to this convention. The convention provides that vehicles can be imported under its terms for a period of up to one year.
NHTSA has no authority to extend the one-year period that a vehicle imported in this manner is allowed to remain in the U.S.

Temporary importation of a vehicle; expiration of temporary importation period

Motor vehicles that were not originally manufactured to conform to all applicable FMVSS may be temporarily imported into the U.S. for specified purposes.
Vehicles imported for those purposes are entered under Box 7 on the HS-7 Declaration form to be given to Customs at the time of importation.
Unless the importer is a manufacturer of motor vehicles that are certified to the FMVSS, permission letter from NHTSA is needed to accomplish such an importation.
Instructions and an application for obtaining a NHTSA permission letter are found on http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import.
Completed application should be faxed to the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance, Import and Certification Division at 202-366-1024. NHTSA grants permission in annual increments for up to
  1. 3 years if duty is not paid on the vehicle
  2. 5 years if duty is paid.
Temporarily imported vehicles must be exported or destroyed upon the expiration of the period for which importation has been allowed.

Exporting a vehicle

NHTSA does not regulate the exportation of vehicles from U.S. If you have any questions regarding the exportation of a vehicle, you can direct those questions to the Customs Director at the port through which you intend to ship the vehicle or visit http://www.customs.gov.