EPA Rules and Regulations Regarding Importing Vehicles into the United States

EPA Rules and Regulations

EPA Stance on non-conforming foreign automobiles:

The U.S. environmental protection agency (EPA) encourages citizens to buy only United States labeled automobiles, due to the potential problems and expenses generated by importing a non-conforming vehicle. Such vehicles, if they were manufactured less than 21 years ago must be adjusted to meet EPA standards before being imported by an ICI (independent commercial importer). The EPA recommends if you own such an automobile to dispose or sell it instead of shipping it into the U.S.

 

EPA Rules and Regulations Regarding Importing Vehicles into the United States

 

The one time exemption for 5 years old or older automobiles is no longer available. Before transporting a non-conforming automobile, it is recommended you contract an ICI to test and modify it, or gain the EPA’s written approval first. If the vehicle is not eligible, it will be detained by customs, costing you additional fees for storage until the problem is resolved.

ICIs may not be able to modify every vehicle, so it’s important to speak to one before buying a foreign automobile or trying to transport one into the U.S. An ICI’s EPA certification does not guarantee he will properly modify your vehicle, nor does it control the working relationship or contractual agreement between you and him.

EPA Stance on Overseas U.S. Version Automobiles:

United States built automobiles may avoid being bonded when imported back into the country. However, you may have to replace the oxygen sensors and catalysts, so they meet U.S. standards.

If the fuel system, control system and drive train are missing, damaged, altered or malfunctioning, you will have to restore them to their previous configuration certified by the EPA.

Necessary Information

This article is created to guide you through the correct procedures for bringing an automobile or engine into the CONUS. To use it effectively, you will probably need to obtain all or some of the following information:

  • Your automobile’s manufacturing year;
  • The automobiles’ make and model;
  • Whether it conforms to EPA emission standards (you can find a manufacturer’s label on such vehicles);
  • The automobile’s fuel (propane, gasoline, diesel, etc.);
  • Whether the automobile has a catalytic converter or not;
  • If you’re thinking of a truck, its gross weight rating (GVWR).

To import most automobiles, you need to submit an EPA importation form. These are:

Speak to the port of entry’s broker or to customs for the most current EPA form versions. You can also find them at https://www.epa.gov/importing-vehicles-and-engines.


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Contracts with ICIs

When signing a contract with an independent commercial importer (ICI), the EPA recommends you make sure it addresses certain issues, such as:

  • Whether or not the ICI has the required EPA certificate for importing automobiles.
  • Whether the price for importation is fixed or may change. The amount of tests needed for importation is irrelevant. If the price is not fixed, make sure the additional charges are specified.
  • Whether or not the ICI is contractually bound to inform you of additional costs prior to shipping.
  • Whether or not the time needed to show compliance is properly quoted.
  • Whether or not you have the right to terminate the ICI’s services if the process takes too long or the costs grow too large.

United States Version Automobiles

A vehicle is considered to be U.S. version if:

  1. It is constructed in accordance with EPA emission requirements;
  2. Upon its creation, it’s been assigned a certificate of conformity from the EPA;
  3. In the engine compartment, a compliance label was placed when manufactured stating (in English) it conforms to every EPA requirement.

Many light duty trucks and U.S. version automobiles manufactured post 1975 and most light duty trucks and U.S. version automobiles manufactured post 1980 were built originally with an oxygen sensor and / or a catalytic converter.

However, if your vehicle has a catalytic converter, this does not mean it is necessarily a U.S. version automobile. For example, most European vehicles with a catalyst converter are not U.S. version certified. For an automobile to be considered a U.S. version automobile, it must contain an English emissions label from the EPA placed by the original manufacturer in the engine compartment. On motorcycles, this is placed on the frame, and on a HDE, it is placed on the block.

If the vehicle does not have such a label, a U.S. manufacturer’s letter stating it was created as a United States certified version or was converted to meet the standards of the EPA will suffice. Otherwise, the EPA will consider it a non United States version automobile.

Transporting a U.S. Version Automobile Overseas

If you’re transporting your U.S. version vehicle to a country or area where unleaded gasoline cannot be purchased, you can ask the EPA for an authorization to remove the oxygen sensors and catalyst prior to the shipment. Doing this before the transport will protect the oxygen sensors and catalyst against possible leaded gasoline contamination.

 

EPA Rules and Regulations Regarding Importing Vehicles into the United States

 

If you decide to ship the automobile back into the U.S., you will then have to reinstall these parts. To receive the EPA’s authorization to take out these parts, call (202) 564-7106 (the Air Enforcement Division number).

According to the EPA, you can still find unleaded gasoline in a few other countries. The responsibility for finding out whether the gasoline in the country you are moving to is leaded or unleaded falls on you.

Moving a U.S. Version Automobile into the U.S.

If you’ve been driving a U.S. version automobile overseas and are now returning home, it will have to meet federal and state emission standards before you can take it with you. These restrictions and requirements change if the automobile has been altered / modified.

If your automobile has not been altered or modified, the EPA’s importation requirements are as follows:

  • You must file an EPA 3520-1 Form upon the vehicle’s entry with Customs;
  • Upon the EPA’s or U.S. Customs’ request, you must prove your automobile is a United States version.

If you’ve altered or removed your U.S. version automobile’s filler neck restrictor, oxygen sensors, and / or catalyst, the EPA’s importation requirements are as follows:

  • You must file a 3520-1 EPA form with Customs when entering the country and declare code F.
  • After the automobile is imported, you must replace or reinstall the filler neck restrictor, oxygen sensors and catalyst as needed.
  • If you’ve used leaded gasoline, after importation, you must do the following:
    • Drain and refill the tank with unleaded gasoline;
    • If you’ve left the oxygen sensors and / or catalyst inside the automobile while it ran on leaded gasoline, they must be replaced.
  • Upon the EPA’s or United States Customs’ request, you must prove your automobile is a U.S. version.

Non U.S. Version Automobiles

Your vehicle is a non U.S. version automobile if:

  1. It was not built according to federal emission standards;
  2. It was not built with a clear conformity certificate from the EPA;
  3. It does not contain a label stating its emissions compliance in the engine compartment. This label should have been placed by the original manufacturer. It should be in English and state the vehicle meets EPA standards.

If your U.S version automobile has been modified to the point it no longer meets EPA standards, it is now considered a non U.S. version automobile. This includes substitutions, alterations or modifications of the transmission, engine, fuel system, emission control system, differential, transaxle, etc. If your vehicle is a Non U.S. version automobile, but you can prove it is identical to a U.S. certified version (like a lot of Canadian automobiles), you may be able to obtain an exemption.

Non U.S. Version Automobiles: The EPA’s Policy

The original EPA laws and regulations regarding transporting non U.S. version automobiles into the country were first implemented in the Clean Air Act of 1972. These regulations are meant to make sure imported automobiles conform to Federal emission requirements. The Clean Air Act’s 203 section states motor vehicles without a conformity certificate cannot be imported, unless authorized by Customs and the EPA.

As such, Customs and the EPA have the sole authority to permit the entrance of nonconforming vehicles into the U.S. However, customs will only allow your vehicle into the country if it meets the department of transportation’s and the EPA’s safety and emission requirements. Only an individual with a written exemption letter from the EPA or an U.S. ICI with a conformity certificate from the EPA can import a non U.S. version automobile into the United States. The ICI will test and alter the automobile as needed, until it respects the emission requirements of the EPA.

Individual Transportation of Non U.S. Version Automobiles into the United States

You may import such a vehicle only if you meet the requirements for an exclusion or have an EPA exemption letter. This way, you can import your automobile without an EPA required Customs bond. However, you must get the written letter of approval before transporting the vehicle into the country.

Non U.S. version automobile exemptions come in 3 types. A description of each type, the requirements you will need to fulfill when importing an automobile, as well as the restrictions applied on your automobile are discussed below.

Automobiles 21+ Years Old

If your non U.S. version automobile is 21 or more years old and is unmodified, the requirements you must fulfill are as follows:

  • Upon entry, you must file a 3520-1 EPA form with customs and declare code E;
  • You may have to provide customs with a proof of your automobile’s age;
  • Your automobile’s age is calculated as “importation year – manufacturing year;”

The restrictions placed on this exemption are as follows:

  • Only automobiles in their unmodified original configurations are eligible;
  • If your automobile has a replacement engine and is 21 years old or more, it cannot be exempted unless the new emission control system and engine are equivalent or they are a newer version of the old EPA certified one.

Hardship Exemptions

If you’re under an unforeseen situation with great hardship or your circumstances are extraordinary, you may be eligible for a hardship exemption. An example of such a case is a person with disabilities who requires an automobile which is only available in a non U.S. configuration. Before clearing customs, you will need to obtain the EPA’s written approval.

The following is a list of circumstances which the EPA does not consider as extraordinary circumstances or unusual situations with great hardship:

  • You did not know you had to modify your automobile to meet EPA requirements.
  • The cost of converting your automobile to meet federal requirements is too high, even if it surpasses the price of the car itself.
  • You’ve suffered losses, extra costs and difficulties when importing your vehicle due to high risk or poor judgment.
  • Geographical location changes due to changes in your employer’s requirements or in your status as an employee, regardless if the notice for changing location gave you little time to prepare.
  • The automobile’s manufacturer does not cooperate with you.

The requirements for receiving this exemption are as follows:

  • You must ask for and obtain a written approval, by giving the EPA:
    • Your name, phone number, and address.
    • Your automobile’s information (VIN, model, make, model year), a sales receipt or title to identify you as the owner, and a registration copy.
    • If it applies to the situation you are facing, your financial information:
      • Assets (holdings and earnings), such as real estate, wages, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, etc.
      • Living expense or your financial burden on a yearly / monthly basis, such as transportation costs, utilities, food, loans, housing, etc.
    • You must describe why you need the automobile in writing, as well as mention other automobiles owned by your family and their purposes. You must explain why these vehicles cannot serve your needs, and why you cannot buy a reasonable U.S. version.
    • You must describe the extraordinary circumstances and hardships you are going through in writing.
  • When importing the vehicle, you or the ICI must file a 3520-1 EPA form upon entry, attach an approval letter from the EPA and declare code M.
  • In case you need an EPA exemption in the future, copy the approval letter from the EPA and keep it with you.

There are no restrictions for this type of exemption.

Your Automobile is Identical with a U.S. Version

If you can prove your automobile is the same as one in an OEM’s application, the EPA will charge you no Customs bond. To qualify for this, the following requirements should be noted:

  • You must gain an OEM representative’s letter confirming your automobile, when it was built, conformed to every emission requirement for its model year.
  • You must file a 3520-1 EPA form with customs when entering the country, declare code EE, and attach the OEM representative’s letter.

The restrictions for this exemption are as follows:

  • Unless it’s a Canadian vehicle, you cannot import the automobile to resale it.
  • This exemption cannot be used by an OEM to import an automobile.

Despite satisfying the above requirements, an automobile may not be exemption eligible if it were altered or modified, so the manufacturer’s conformity certificate does not cover it. It is your responsibility to speak to a U.S. representative of the OEM and obtain a letter. The EPA cannot control the non U.S. version automobiles of a manufacturer. Some may not give such letters. Not obtaining a letter does not justify a hardship exemption.

ICI Non U.S. Version Automobile Importations

An independent commercial importer has a valid, current conformity certificate from the EPA that is not the automobile’s original manufacturer (OEM), and has not signed a contract with the automobile’s manufacturer allowing it to act as its representative to distribute engines or automobiles in the CONUS. ICIs and OEMs are independent from each other, but must respect the same Clean Air Act requirements. ICIs are all based inside the United States.

If you get an ICI to transport your nonconforming automobile into the U.S., his responsibilities are as follows:

  • To get a conformity certificate for your automobile’s importation or to use your automobile as a prototype to test whether it can get the necessary conformity certificate.
  • Transporting your automobile through United States Customs.
  • Doing the emissions testing and necessary modifications after the automobile enters the U.S.
  • Submitting a 3520-29 form for the automobile.
  • If necessary, reporting the results of testing and modifications, as well as keeping the automobile for 15 working days starting with the date this report is received by the EPA (or more, if the EPA notifies the holder of the certificate). During this and the time prior to this report, the automobile cannot be offered for sale, sold, driven on highways / public roads or given back to you.
  • Taking responsibility for the compliance of your automobile with EPA emission requirements for the duration of its life. This includes inspections before the release and following EPA emission recalls.
  • Making sure the automobile has a label of emissions (in the ICI’s name), as well as giving you the maintenance instructions and already paid emission warranties for the automobile.
  • Making tests for fuel economy and giving you tax forms for gas guzzlers.

Though it’s the responsibility of the ICI to give you tax forms for gas guzzlers and the results from economy tests, it is your responsibility to pay and report any taxes to the IRS for owning a gas guzzler.

Businesses and people wanting to become an ICI, must first learn the ICI’s and certification’s requirements, and afterwards get at least one conformity certificate from the Innovative Strategies and Compliance Division of the EPA according to those requirements.

ICIs bring automobiles into the United States for testing and modification purposes, so when the EPA gives its final admission, the automobile complies with the emission requirements of the Federal Government. There are several factors which determine whether you can import your vehicle, such as the year when the automobile is imported as well as the ICIs qualifications.

Depending on the automobile’s age, its eligibility may vary. Also, the ICI must own a conformity certificate, and if the automobile’s age is up to 6 years old, the ICI must have a conformity certificate made specifically for an automobile like yours.

Before arranging a shipment of purchase, you should make sure you have an eligible and willing ICI to transport your automobile. Automobiles that can be imported only by an ICI, must be brought by the ICI to Customs, not by you. You must not take the automobile in your possession until it meets EPA requirements and is finally admitted.

ICI importations come in 3 forms:

Testing and Modifications of Automobiles Six Years or More

Your ICI can import your automobile when it needs testing and modification to meet emission requirements of the Federal Government. You need to pay no bond to the EPA and need no written approval from it as well.

Requirements are as follows:

  • The ICI must own a valid conformity certificate.
  • The ICI, upon entry, must file a 3520-1 EPA form with Customs and declare code C.
  • The ICI must modify the automobile, so it complies with the requirements of the Federal Government.
  • The ICI must do a test for city and highway federal emissions on every automobile to prove compliance with necessary emission standards.
  • The ICI must submit a 3520-8 EPA form for the admission of the nonconforming automobile to the EPA and hold the automobile for 15 working days (or more if needed by the EPA) after sending the 3520-8 EPA form.

Restrictions are as follows:

  • Before the EPA’s admission, you must not drive your automobile on highways or public roads.
  • Until the EPA’s final admission, the ICI must not give you the automobile, neither for storage or use.
  • Your automobile must respect emission standards and any other requirements by the federal government and the state in which you’re importing it. Your ICI, in a single year, can import a maximum of 50 motorcycles and / or 50 light duty trucks, light duty and medium duty automobiles which respect EPA emission standards and every other applicable requirement for the year in which the automobiles are being transported.

Testing and Modifying Automobiles Younger than 6 Years

You can also ask your ICI to import an automobile younger than 6 years which needs testing and modification, so it complies with EPA emission requirements. Once again, for this you need no written approval from the EPA, nor do you need to pay a Customs bond.

The requirements are as follows:

  • The ICI must have a conformity certificate from the EPA for your automobile’s specific engine, model, make and model year. If not, the vehicle must be treated by the ICI as a prototype for getting the needed conformity certificate.
  • Upon entry, your ICI must file a 3520-1 EPA Form with Customs, and declare code A. If the automobile acts as a test vehicle for obtaining a conformity certificate, then he must declare code J.
  • The ICI must modify your automobile, so it complies with the conformity certificate.
  • The ICI must test the highway and city emissions of every third automobile it imports using a conformity certificate to prove they comply with the emission standards of the Federal Government.
  • For the final admission of your automobile, the ICI must submit to the EPA a 3520-8 form and keep the automobile for 15 working days. If the EPA says so, then the ICI must hold your vehicle for longer.
  • The automobile must meet Federal emission standards and every other applicable standard when it is imported. Your ICI, in a single year, can import a maximum of 50 motorcycles and / or 50 light duty trucks, light duty and medium duty automobiles which respect EPA emission standards and every other applicable requirement for the year in which the automobile is being transported.

The restrictions facing this situation are as follows:

  • Until the EPA gives its final admission, your automobile cannot be driven on highways or public roads.
  • Until then, the ICI cannot give you your vehicle.

Changes to Versions Certified by the OEM

If your automobile needs modifications before it can be the same as an OEM version, the ICI can still import it. The modifications must be made according to the OEM representative’s specific instructions. These will come in writing and vary according to the vehicle being imported. The EPA’s written approval or a customs bond are not necessary.

Requirements are as follows:

  • Before the importation, your ICI must get a copy of the OEM U.S. representative’s modification instructions.
  • Upon entry, the ICI must file a 3520-1 EPA form with Customs and declare code Z.
  • The ICI must attach to the 3520-1 EPA form a copy of the instructions given by the OEM.
  • The ICI must modify the automobile as per the OEM’s instructions.
  • For the final admission of your automobile, the ICI must submit a 3520-8 EPA form to the EPA and keep your automobile for 15 working days. If the EPA requires it, the period may be lengthened.

Restrictions are as follows:

  • Before the EPA’s final admission, the automobile cannot be driven on highways or public roads.
  • Until the EPA’s final admission, the ICI cannot give you your automobile.
  • The automobile must meet Federal emission standards and every other applicable standard when it is imported. Your ICI, in a single year, can import a maximum of 50 motorcycles and / or 50 light duty trucks, light duty and medium duty automobiles which respect EPA emission standards and every other applicable requirement for the year in which the automobile is being transported.

Notes:

  • If your automobile’s configuration has been altered or modified to the point it’s no longer covered by the manufacturer’s conformity certificate, it will not receive an exemption even if it does meet the above requirements.
  • It is the importer’s responsibility to procure an OEM representative’s letter. The non U.S. version automobiles of a manufacturer are not under the authority of the EPA. Some manufacturers refuse to give letters upon request. You will not qualify for a hardship exemption if you’re unable to procure a letter from the OEM.

Importing your Automobile on a Temporary Basis

If you’ve imported your automobile on a temporary basis into the U.S., you may be exempted from EPA emission requirements. In such cases, you will need the EPA’s written approval before the import.

After satisfying the exemption’s purpose, the automobile must be modified into compliance by an ICI, destroyed or exported. The EPA exemption’s period is the same as the one given upon entry by U.S. customs.

Automobile importation temporary exemptions come in five types:

Importing your Automobile Temporarily for Alteration or Repair

If you want to import an automobile just to alter or repair it, you will have to pay a customs bond and acquire a written approval from the EPA before starting the process.

Requirements are as follows:

  • Upon entry, you or the ICI must file a 3520-1 EPA form with U.S. Customs, attach an exemption letter from the EPA and declare code G.
  • You or the ICI must pay a bond to Customs.
  • If you need the EPA’s exclusion in the future, make a copy of the EPA’s letter of approval as proof.

Restrictions are as follows:

  • Exemptions for alterations or repairs cannot be used to store an automobile or to modify it, so it meets emission requirements.
  • You may not operate the automobile on highways or public roads in the United States.
  • You may not sell or transfer the automobile to someone else in the United States.
  • You must export the automobile after the alteration or repair, or when the exemption expires, depending on which comes first.

Importing an Automobile Temporarily for Display Purposes

Anyone can transport an automobile into the U.S. if it’s for the purpose of displaying it as it’s defined by the EPA. However, you must obtain an EPA letter of approval in writing before the importation and pay a customs bond. Normally, such a display purpose should be in the public’s interest (charity events, museums, etc.) or in the interest of a company (for example, to test a new product’s market). You cannot use this exemption for private purposes. Giving a nonconforming automobile as a prize or gift in the United States goes against the Clean Air Act.

Requirements are as follows:

  • You or the ICI must file upon entry a 3520-1 EPA form with United States Customs, attach a letter of exemption from the EPA and declare code K.
  • You or the ICI must pay a bond to Customs.
  • If you or the ICI contracted to import your automobile has need to prove the EPA’s exclusion in the future, you should make a copy of the approval letter.

Restrictions are as follows:

  • You must not drive the automobile on U.S. highways or public roads, unless it’s necessary for displaying it (in case you’re filming an advertisement or movie). The automobile must be moved to the location where it will be displayed without actually driving it. If the automobile is to be moved for testing, you must import it using the exemption for testing.
  • You may not sell the automobile in the United States, or use it to sell other similar automobiles in the United States.
  • You may not offer the automobile as a gift or a prize in the United States.
  • The automobile must be modified to meet emission requirements by an ICI, destroyed, or exported when the display it was imported for ends or the exemption expires, depending on which comes first.

Importing an Automobile Temporarily for Testing

You may import an automobile to test it or for research, training, demonstrations, studies or investigations. The automobile may be used on public roads if this is necessary for the test. You’ll have to present a written letter of approval from the EPA and pay a Customs bond prior to the importation. The importer is responsible for proving the test program is a good reason for receiving an exemption.

The requirements are as follows:

  • Upon entry, the importer must file a 3520-1 EPA form with Customs, with an EPA exemptions letter attached. You must declare code I.
  • You or the ICI must pay a U.S. Customs bond.
  • In case you’ll need to prove the EPA’s exclusion in the future, make a copy of the approval letter from the EPA.

The restrictions are as follows:

  • You can drive the automobile on public highways or roads in the United States only if it’s absolutely necessary for the test.
  • You cannot transfer the automobile to someone else or sell it inside the U.S.
  • You must destroy, modify the vehicle with an ICI so it complies to Federal emission standards, or export it when the testing ends, or the exemption expires, according to which happens first.

Importing an Automobile Temporarily for Diplomats

You can import an automobile if you’re an international organization’s representative, foreign government personnel on an U.S. assignment or a member of a foreign country’s armed forces if the Department of State has authorized your free entry. Written approval from the EPA or paying a Customs bond is not necessary.

Requirements are as follows:

  • Upon entry, the importer must file a 3520-1 EPA form with customs, and declare code N.
  • You’ll need a copy of your U.S. duty orders if you’re part of a foreign country’s armed forces, or a copy of the authorization from the United States Department of State, to attach to the 3520-1 EPA form. Except from those mentioned above, other documents for the purpose of EPA validation are not permitted.

Restrictions are as follows:

  • You may not transfer or sell the automobile to someone else inside the United States, unless the other party is also under orders from a foreign country’s armed forces or has acquired an authorization from the United States Department of State, and he / she brings a new 3520-1 EPA form to the United States Customs.
  • At the end of the authorization period from the Department of state or of the authorizing assignment, the automobile must be exported. The ICI may alternatively modify it, so it complies with EPA emission standards.

Importing an Automobile Temporarily as a Nonresident

In such a case, you can import a vehicle for you to use personally for no more than a year. You should import the automobile at the same time you enter the country, and own it before you leave your native country. Only individual nonresidents can bring a vehicle into the U.S. using an exemption for nonresidents. The EPA requires an approval letter in writing before the importation, but no Customs bond.

Requirements are as follows:

  • Upon entry, the importer must file a 3520-1 EPA form with Customs, attach an exemption letter from the EPA and declare code O.
  • In case you need to prove the EPA’s exclusion in the future, you may want to make a copy of the approval letter from the EPA.

Restrictions are as follows:

  • You must not be a resident of the U.S.
  • You cannot transfer or sell the automobile to someone else inside the U.S.
  • The automobile must be driven for your personal use while in the U.S.
  • If you plan on using the automobile for business, this exemption does not apply to you. If other people use the vehicle, such as the spouse, you are not exempt either.
  • After you leave the United States or the one year period ends, you must export the automobile, depending on which happens first.

Excluded Automobiles

Excluded automobiles are those that do not have to conform to the Clean Air Act’s emission requirements. This happens due to their age, the automobile’s maximum speed limit, a lack of features needed to practically and safely drive on highways and streets, the fuel type, etc.

Anyone can import an excluded automobile. Although they do not have to respect regulations for motor vehicles, they may be subject to others. The EPA requires no bond for such automobiles.

Racing Automobiles

Racing automobiles are those modified extensively for the purpose of racing, which cannot practically or safely be driven on public highways or streets since they do not have the features necessary for it (ex. a differential or a reverse gear). Before clearing Customs, you must obtain a written letter of approval from the EPA, but you do not have to pay a Customs bond.

Requirements are as follows:

  1. You must gain the approval of the EPA. Emission compliance exclusion is not given to all racing automobiles. This is not determined by the vehicle’s use, but its capability. When applying, you or the ICI must prepare the following:
    1. The phone number, address and name of the importer.
    2. Information regarding the automobile (VIN, model year, make, model).
    3. A list containing all its racing features.
    4. A list of lacking street features, which have not been installed or were removed for racing purposes.
    5. Four or more photographs of each side of the vehicle, as well as the rear and the front. You’ll need to photograph the interior as well if it has one.
    6. The competition class and sanctioning body name.
    7. A racing event schedule, with all the locations and dates where the automobile will run.
    8. A racing license copy.
    9. Anything else you can provide showing your automobile is unfit for highways or streets. This includes a letter from the DMV (department of motor vehicles) explaining the automobile cannot be licensed for driving on highways and public roads, including the reasons why.
  2. Upon entry, the importer must file and 3520-1 EPA form with Customs, attach an approval letter from the EPA and declare code L.
  3. If you require the EPA’s exclusion in the future, maintain a copy of the approval letter.

Restrictions are as follows:

  • You may not operate the automobile on public highways or roads and it may not be licensed or registered.
  • If you convert your racing vehicle into a motor vehicle after importation, then license or register it for highway or public street use, the person converting the automobile will be considered its manufacturer and have to pay a $25,000 / day penalty if the vehicle does not meet emission requirements.

Automobiles with Unregulated Fuel

This exclusion is only applicable if your automobile runs only on unregulated fuel. Diesel, gasoline, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), CNG (compressed natural gas), methanol and ethanol are all considered regulated fuels. Vehicles with a model year prior to 2004, will receive an exemption if:

  • Their model year is 1991 or less and they run on fuel other than diesel or gasoline;
  • Their model year is between 1990 and 1996 and the run on fuel other than methanol, diesel, ethanol or gasoline;
  • Their model year is between 1997 and 2003, and they run on fuel other than LPG, methanol, CNG, diesel, gasoline, or ethanol.

If your vehicle can run on 2 or more fuel types, it will be regulated only if it can work with a regulated fuel.

Requirements are as follows:

  • You or the ICI, upon entry, must file an EPA 3520-1 form with Customs and declare code Y.
  • Re-converting or converting an automobile which currently uses unregulated fuel into one capable of running on regulated fuel is against the Clean Air Act if no conformity certificate is obtained from the EPA.

Recreational / Off Road Automobiles

Recreational / off road automobiles include snowmobiles, utility vehicles, motorized bicycles, off highway motorcycles, all terrain automobiles, sand cars, etc. Recreational or off road automobiles with a model year of 2006 or later must be certified as mentioned in the 1051 part of 40 CFR. Recreational and off road automobiles with a model year of 2005 or earlier are excluded according to their ability to be practically and safely driven on highways and public roads. Recreational and off road automobiles with a 2005 model year are excluded if they do not conform to the on-highway motorcycle or vehicle definition.

The absence, removal or deletion of features needed to practically and safely run the automobile on highways and streets does not warrant an exclusion if said features can be easily added back. The EPA will determine whether or not your vehicle can be excluded in writing after receiving its drawings / photographs, technical specifications and dimensions.

Some automobiles, like those of unusual size, are easily excluded, while others need a more thorough review. If you or the ICI try to determine this on your own, you’ll have to take responsibility for the risks involved.

To import recreational / off road automobiles, the 3520-1 EPA form is no longer used. Upon entry, you or the ICI must file a 3520-21 EPA form with Customs. Use box 1 for automobiles with a model year of 2006 or later.  Use box 17 for an automobile with a model year of 2005 or earlier. Acquire proof of the automobile’s model year, of its lack of features needed to practically and safely drive it on highways and streets, and attach it to the document.

Motorcycles and motor scooters with a model year of 2005 or earlier, having 50 cc or smaller engine displacement, are not regulated. They do not require the payment of a Customs bond or a written approval letter, under the U declaration code of the EPA’s 3520-1 form.

Automobiles under this exclusion cannot be licensed, registered or operated on highways or public roads. An exception is made for motorized bicycles.

Requirements are as follows:

As applicable, complete the 3520-21 EPA form, and for model years of 2006 or later, declare box 1. If the recreational / off road automobile was built before 2006, declare box 17. You must provide proof your automobile was built in 2005 or prior and lacks any features that would make it practical and safe on highways and streets, as well as proof of unusual weight or size which would make it unusable on public highways or streets.

Restrictions are as follows:

  • Automobiles with a 2006 model year or later must have their certification done as instructed in the 1051 40 CFR.
  • The automobile may not be used for competition or racing purposes.
  • If you import a recreational or off road automobile and convert it into an automobile, then license and register it for use on public streets or highways, the ICI converting the automobile will become its new manufacturer subject to a $25,000 / day penalty for not meeting emission requirements.

Importing Used Vans and Mini-Trucks from Japan

The EPA knows many used vans and mini trucks with the 2004 model year have been illegally imported into the United States from Japan. These automobiles, built originally as on-road Japanese automobiles, violate CAA rules when imported since the EPA considers them uncertified automobiles, or were excluded from automobile regulations, and afterwards, modified to run as on road automobiles.

The original manufacturer of the automobile is overseas, and has no dealer operating in the United States. Such mini automobiles are sold most often online or using trade magazines and are imported either with modifications, so they become eligible for an exclusion, or in other cases, without the necessary modifications.

Like in the case of any other regulated engine or vehicle, those who import such mini vehicles must import only excluded, exempt or certified automobiles under the required regulations and statutes. These importers often claim the automobile was modified into a non-road automobile, which does not need to meet CAA requirements if it was built prior to 2004.

A mini automobile can qualify as a non-road automobile only if its maximum speed is 25 miles / hour. However, Customs inspectors from the United States have concluded a vast number of mini automobiles from Japan can travel much faster than 25 miles per hour and lack the features needed to make sure they cannot go past the speed threshold.

If a mini automobile can run at more than 25 mph, because of the way it was built or due to removing the speed limiters, it is considered a motor vehicle and regulated as such according to the Clean Air Act. They must be imported as LDTs or LDVs under Part 90 of the 40 CFR.

If you plan on buying and importing a mini automobile from Japan, take into consideration the associated risks. The EPA, with the help of Customs, is trying to take action across the country against the manufacturers and importers of illegal mini automobiles. The EPA is also verifying automobiles at the business locations of manufacturers and dealerships.

Acceptable modifications are only the following:

  • Those that permit the automobile act in an EPA permitted way.
  • Those which the EPA has determined to be tamperproof and permanent.
  • Those which have been approved in writing by the EPA.

Non-Emission Standards

This article explains only Federal emission / EPA requirements.  If you wish to import an automobile, you must make sure it meets other agencies’ requirements as well:

  • The safety standards of the DOT (department of transportation);
  • The duties and tariffs of the United States Customs and Border Patrol;
  • The gas guzzler taxes of the IRS (if applicable);
  • The local government / state’s requirements;

The approval letter you obtain from the EPA does not cover the requirements of other federal agencies, or those of the local state or government.

State Requirements

California has its own regulations and laws regarding the transport of non-conforming automobiles into the state, regardless if they’re operated, registered or sold. If you plan on selling, registering, driving a vehicle or are a resident of California, you must comply with its emission standards as well as with those of the EPA.

Many DMVs need paperwork proving your ownership of the vehicle and its compliance with the emission requirements of the Federal Government before the titling and / or registration of your automobile is allowed. The EPA has notified each State’s DMV of the necessary paperwork you need to prove an automobile’s importation, according to the imports program of the EPA, meets the emission requirements of the Federal Government, is as follows:

  • You need to give Customs a copy of a 3520-1 EPA form.
  • If your automobile has been transported into the country by an ICI, you need an EPA verification letter stating you’ve met all the necessary emission standards. Speak to the ICI which converted your automobile, and ask him for a copy of your automobile’s release letter from the EPA. If you cannot obtain the release letter from the ICI, because it’s no longer in business or the letter is lost, call EPA’s customer support at (734) 214-4100. You may be able to obtain the letter from the EPA, if its records confirm your automobile was altered to meet current emission requirements.
  • If your automobile has been granted an exemption or approval prior to the transport, you’ll need a copy of the EPA’s letter.

If applicable to your automobile, some states may ask you to bring the appropriate documentation to prove you’ve paid the tax for gas guzzlers.

The state you live in may have an I/M program (inspection / Maintenance) to satisfy its standards for reducing unnecessary emissions from damaged automobiles or from those in need of tuning. Because such programs meet each area’s needs, you should contact the I/M office and take note of its requirements. State tests and Federal tests are different from each other. The results from a state test will not be considered by the EPA as a sufficient replacement for the Federal test.

The Location of the Emissions Label on your Automobile

The EPA label for automobile emissions, called “vehicle emission control information,” contains the trademark and name of the manufacturer, as well as a statement of the vehicle’s compliance with emission requirements.

Light and automotive trucks:

  • If your automobile was built in 1971 or later, its label should be in the engine compartment.
  • If your automobile was built between 1968 and 1970, the label confirming the truck’s compliance with safety standards should be on the doorpost. The automobile may have, in its engine compartment, a label stating its compliance with the emission requirements of the Welfare and Health Education Department.
  • If your automobile was built in 1967 or earlier, it does not have to meet emission standards, so it will not have a label on it.

Motorcycles built in 1978 or later have their emissions label from the EPA in an easily accessible area, in the glove box, on the frame or under the seat. On the other hand, heavy duty automobiles will have it on the engine’s block.

Penalties

When U.S. Customs or the EPA decide your automobile is not up to emission requirements, it will be seized or detained by Customs. Afterwards, Customs and the EPA will enforce the consequences caused by your CAA violation, which may include the exportation of your automobile and paying a penalty.

The maximum penalty you can be forced to pay is $32,500 for every automobile you import illegally, though this penalty is reduced if it’s your first time violating EPA regulations, or if you voluntarily admit and fix the violation and all other violations done in the past.

The EPA or United States Customs may start criminal action against you if you’ve knowingly made fraudulent or false statements, or have omitted information or documents as asked by Customs. If you commit such a crime, you may be fined as much as $250,000, get thrown in prison for as long as 2 years, or both.

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