American automobiles industry – back in the 1980s – faced serious issues pertaining to imported cars from other parts of the world. Top motor importers included neighbouring European countries and Japan. The reason behind the import and consumption of these cars was their rareness and low cost. These cars were affordable even if we factor-in their additional charges paid against shipping etc. Few of the models were in demands as they were not launched in the US such as BMW e30 Touring (Amos Kwon, 2014). Locals preferred imported vehicles over domestic due to their additional features. At one side this affected the local automobile industry but on the other, it generated another industry which started modifying and customizing these imported cars. Grey imports were slightly modified for the roadworthiness to fit into government regulations. Local manufacturers also strived for the strict regulation which ended on inclusion of strict safety regulations, emission regulation and crash test standardization. The implemented safety standards of the US were tougher than the other variants followed in the world. In a nutshell; safer, cheaper and less-pollutant cars were still imported to meet local market needs (Bhagavathy, 2020).

American hunt for a local dealership is equivalent to their love for imported vehicles who were not legally welcomed in the USA. These imported vehicles never legally entered the USA under legal cover due to non-compliance of standards in vogue. Few abide by and few outrightly circumvent imposed federal regulations in the hunger of imported vehicles. The trends and demand of both collectors and motor enthusiasts make it happen to import their dream cars from European countries and Japan. The envy of owners of cars like GT-R and Porsche 911 involves sailors to porters; everyone is helping vehicle import process so that these imported vehicles start dragging and drifting on US soil. All of you out there are curious about the legalities in importing cars like Skyline GT-R (Nissan) (Doug DeMuro, 2015). Cars from the global market including Germany, Myanmar, Japan and many others are imported and purchased in the US. There is a constant rise in the imports of these cars in the US right from their first trespassing. Bringing an imported vehicle to the US is not that much complicated as it seems. Let us discuss four different involved legal standpoints which win legal status for our imported passions like Skyline GT-R and Porsche 911 (Sean, 2018). Your import of cars to the USA need to pass these four legal checkpoints; the quarter-century mark, show and display, compliance and substantially similar clauses.

A car older than 25 years is above every regulation to mention like EPA restrictions, bumper strength, DOT regulations etc. Above 25 years means literally no importing restrictions. Enthusiasts may weight for a quarter-century gap to give wings to their desires. It is better to wait than handcuffed. After turning to 25, seatbelts, headlights, anything is no issue. The only restriction remains is EPA certification or original engine. Nissan Skyline GT-R is legal as was first manufactured back in August 1989 and she is of 25 now (Amos Kwon, 2014). Start counting years back towards the date of manufacturing of your dream cat and that’s it. No crash test and nothing bothers about headlights. Do not overlook exceptions like you state laws about car import and its safety standards. Compliance of state laws is equally important along with federal compliance of federal laws. States like Pennsylvania and Virginia ask for seat belts. To get your plates you need to work out these exceptions. The other issue is with Californian strict emission laws. California is more concerned about emissions than the federal government. Californian laws need certification for cars manufactured after 1975. Being legal in other states never means you are legal in California too.

US multi-millionaire car enthusiasts go very far to enjoy driving their dreams. To enjoy a happy drive in Porsche 959, Gates got Show & Display rule passed in the US. The history of this rule is a bit complex; it was not only Gates but other wealthy men like Otis and Lauren also contributed to its application. Federal institutes were approached through an attorney to secure legal status for Porsche 959 and other banned variants. Automakers, NHTSA and ETA landed with a rule named Show & Display which exempted few unique vehicles from imposed regulations in 1999. Challenging safety regulations exempted the import of some unique car models to the United States of America. It is again like no seat belts, headlights swap, side marker lights and crash tests. EPA regulations were still in place – no issues – that is easy to handle. Show & Display rule encompasses most expensive, unusual and rarest global vehicles almost out of the reach of the general public. Cars like Bugatti EB110, Mercedes CLK-GTR, Aston Martin One-77 and many others are included in this category (Doug DeMuro, 2015). Officials also maintain a list of both exempted and denied cars under this rule. It denies cars like Lotus Elise S1, Mazda Cosmo and Nissan Skyline variants. Except for some exceptions this rule offers cars with not more than 500 examples, it’s not a replica car, it’s out of production and never offered to the USA for regular sales. You cannot turn a seller from the buyer under this rule to claim profits – no sales under Show & Display – NHTSA approval is a must (Kilmer, 2020). A specific mileage restriction is also intact for such imports – no road trips, no cross countries. For a Gates style car, you have to have Gates money as well. You pay, you drive; as simple as that.

Is your possible imported car “substantially similar” to another already being driven by any other American? If yes… you are good to go with your import plans. Canadian vehicles are more in focus under this clause. All those switching places and not desirous to switch their vehicles can claim for “substantially similar” clause as the US and Canada impose similar safety and emissions regulations. A simple legal documentation process assures the legal status of your vehicle in the US. This clause is more friendly with Canadian variants; whereas, less friendly to those imported from other countries. A simple way to sort out substantially similar clause is to convince an automaker to write a letter of substantially similarity to you clearly stating that car is similar to one sold in the US earlier. It sounds difficult but it is common. Importers are not new to this practice. All you need is to approach an automaker. Non-Canadian cars are less likely to be entertained through automakers because of certification liability issues and heavy investments. Chances are narrowed for import of non-Canadian cars under this clause. Few exceptions are also worth mentioning where reputed registered importers managed to convince the government on the import of A4 and S4 variants even when local dealership remained to protest.

So far so good, another suitable way to import your dream car is by making it Us rules and regulation compliant. This is indeed a most expansive approach to turn your dreams into reality but it is one of the possibilities. Car crash-testing is mandatory for safety compliance which means to use one import many… Really! Chances of passing the test are still rare as the US regulations are tougher than other countries costing you a hell of a fortune. Import and see your car being crushed in crash test compliance! Conversion of the speedometer from kilometres to miles, angles of headlights, orange reflectors in front, red in back, bumper strength and many more. A rough estimate of just conversion will cost you more than ten grand. Even if the crash test passes; assumingly, if it does. Who pays for denting and painting of rear ends, structure, doors, bumpers and roof? It’s a crazy thing to get crash test passed. One thing is good about crash testing if it passes then you may import as many as you can – you have the certificate – you deserve it. No one agency responsible for non-conformity, once you are done with the transportation department you also need a go-ahead from environmental protection guys. Their chief concern is with your contribution to pollution. Cars manufactured after 1995 also have to have an on-board diagnostics system (OBD II) (Sean, 2018). Nothing is for free. Even in this strict scrutiny process importers like Motorex and Europa managed to legally import Skyline GT-R (Nissan) and G-Wagon (Mercedes) (Doug DeMuro, 2015). They have sold hundreds of them from years.

For a car, being road legal is an uphill task in the US. Challenges from crash testing to emissions certification from different state departments need compliance. Quarter century limit was enforced to encourage sales of new cars from a local dealership. Registered importers are also importing cars after bringing them in the US compliance regulations. Front to side impacts crash test certification along with other safety regulations is a difficult but importers like Motorex have managed to get these tests passed to provide their customers what they desire. California and Hawaii are exceptions to these tests as their regulations are above federal safety and emission regulations. If you are in search of a historic or even older version to import; possibly you might fail to convince its original owner for sale.


Demuro, D. (2015). Here Are The Four Legal Ways To Import A Car To The United States. Retrieved 5 February 2020, from

Kwon, A. (2014). 25 Years Later, Bringing the Nissan Skyline. Retrieved 5 February 2020, from

Media, D. (2018). The Truth About Importing a Skyline GTR [Video]. Retrieved from

Kilmer, S. (2020). 5 Cars They Should Import to America [Video]. Retrieved from

Bhagavathy, A. (2018). The 25 Year Rule on Imported Cars [Video]. Retrieved from