Special Interview: Vehicle Import Legality

March 3, 2011

Night-Import: Photography and Interview by William Lee,Rich McKee, and Andy Nguyen

*We are posting Skyline photos taken by Night-Import. The content is related to Skylines in general so please understand the use of the photos.

One of the most debated and spreading news around automotive websites/blogs are the legalities of Skylines or Imports in general to the States. NicoClub brought us the detailed news about Skylines being seized by the U.S. Government and other sites were adding additional information. This was an opportunity for all automotive enthusiasts to understand more about importing such vehicles. After posting the news on our facebook fanpage, an active discussion was going on and there was one who was providing very detailed information regarding the news.
I spent some time with Rick Rosales, a staff for Right Hand Drive JAPAN, LTD., to ask some questions.


1. How's it going Rick. First of all, thanks for being a fan of Night-Import. How did you hear about us?
I'm doing good, thanks! I heard about Night-Import through my team forum (teamsupastar.com). I then found your Facebook fanpage & became a fan! (Thanks Rick!)

2. So you work for Right Hand Drive JAPAN, LTD. How did you end up getting this job?
Before this, I was working for Vortech Superchargers doing precision assembly & kit installations. One of my good friends was already working for Right Hand Drive JAPAN, LTD. & told me they were in need of a tech. I decided to give it a shot & eventually got hired. They liked my automotive background & thought I was well suited for the job. :)

3. What is it that you exactly do?
Originally I signed on to be a tech. I was the guy who inspected & maintained all of our imported cars & also made necessary modifications to get our vehicles up to par with DOT, NHTSA & EPA regulations. Over the years, things changed in the company & I ended up becoming a "General Manager" so to speak (I suck with titles. Haha). I'm pretty much in charge of making sure we're following all applicable laws & keeping things in check. I still get my hands dirty in the shop from time to time, though!

4. Let’s get straight to the topic of what we should be discussing about today. As you've seen on our fanpage, there have been some recent issues of Skylines being seized by the U.S. government. What are your thoughts?
Well, the whole Skyline fiasco is pretty complicated. There's a ton of stories in regards to what happened, so now a days it's hard to believe who is telling it right, you know? I personally am a fan of Skylines & all things "JDM", so to see things like this happen to such great pieces of modern technology is heart breaking. I personally drive a RHD vehicle every day, which has been imported & modified legally, so I know what it's like to drive a car that's eye-catching & not something you see every day.


5. Why do you think this is happening?
There's a few reasons it's happening. The main one being that the company that originally did the crash testing per NHTSA/DOT standards didn't exactly do it 100% correct for the R32 & R34 models. As of now, only the Skyline R33 GTS/GTR from model-year 1996-1998 have been successfully crash tested. Now, that doesn't mean that you can simply bring in the car & call it a day. There's still a lot of leg work that has to get done & fees to be paid that only a Registered Importer (RI) and an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI) can do, since they have the proper licensing to do so.

On another note. I remember on your fan page someone commented wondering why the R32 & R34 Skylines are no longer considered legal. In the original application, the Registered Importer ( I will not give out the name of the company) stated that the R32 & R34 model Skylines were substantially similar to the R33, but in reality they were not. NHTSA/DOT got word of this when Nissan North America, on behalf of Nissan Motor Co. Japan, stepped in & presented them with details showing that R32 & R34 were not similar to the R33 by any means. This link will lead you to NHTSA's reasoning behind withdrawing their decision to allow R32 & R34 Skylines to be imported. http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2005/E5-6530.htm. There's a lot of information on there that should answer the biggest question: "Why?".


6. There's been another article posted by SoCalZine today (link) and it seems like other 'rare' or 'imported' vehicles are in the same situation.
I actually read a similar article about this vehicle not too long ago. Most people think that Skylines are the only cars being targeted, but as I said on your fan page, it's cars from all across the board that are dealing with this same situation. One thing about this article does keep me wondering is according to Federal & State laws, limited production vehicles, in which less than 500 units exist I believe, are allowed to be imported & be exempted from any DOT/NHTSA & EPA laws. The only draw back with that is that no more than 2,500 miles can be put on the car per year. This Cizeta V16 would qualify for that exemption, assumingly, so it's a mystery why it's being seized. Maybe the importer didn't file the correct paperwork. Who knows!

7. Will it be difficult for other cars (RHD's in general) to be imported without any problems?
NHTSA/DOT & EPA are not against people importing RHD vehicles. They just want people to follow the same guidelines that manufacturers have to follow in regards to vehicle legality. I've spoken to local authorities & even to customs agents at the Port of Long Beach & they have said the same. There's still ways to get RHD vehicles in the country without much modification, but certain criteria has to be met. Here's a quick lesson on "legal" RHD vehicles.

1. Vehicle that are 25 years or older are exempted from NHTSA/DOT crash test in all states. No body modifications will be necessary.
2. Vehicle that are 25 years or older in all states, excluding California, are exempt from EPA/needing a smog test, as they are considered Classic Vehicles.
3. Vehicles in the state of California that are 1975 & older are CARB/EPA exempt, so no smog test will be needed.
4. In the state of California, a person is exempted from NHTSA/DOT laws if the vehicle is 25 years or older (as stated in #1) but you still have to pass a smog test with a U.S. Approved engine, meaning an engine that was sold in a car here in the U.S.

Anything that's newer than 25 years has to go through all of the requirements the government has in effect, unless it's a limited production vehicle like I stated earlier.


8. Can you address the issue of converting LHD to RHD as CA Kit Cars?
As far as converting a LHD to RHD, that's actually a pretty grey zone that no one has been able to answer. I've heard of instances where California Highway Patrol (CHP) will inspect the vehicle, approve it & give it a "blue tag", but I've also heard of some CHP officers impounding converted cars for various reasons. There's really no set guidelines or laws saying that it's legal, but there's also nothing saying that it's not legal. Unfortunately this is still unknown.

9. Now what if it's a full on track car? I ask because I have seen drivers come in for events and the cars held in customs or rejected. Why is this if its for track use only? (Question by Jazz Williams)
Bringing in any car for track use is OK as long as you inform NHTSA beforehand (there's an application that has to be filled out). In a situation like this, customs will hold the car/send it back to its native country because they never received the OK from NHTSA. Also, there's certain rules & regulations that also apply to importing a car for track use. Visit NHTSA.gov for more info.

10. Thanks again for your time. Is there anything else you want to mention to night-import fans?
Anytime! If you guys want to see more RHD goodness, be sure to check out my blog! http://rickrhd.wordpress.com. I mainly focus on RHD cars, but i'll occasionally feature LHD cars that are worthy! :)

I want to thank Rick Rosales for his time. Hope this interview gave you guys a better understanding about importing vehicles and the laws behind it.
Additional source: http://www.righthanddrivejapan.com/


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