Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Insomniac Garage on the "21/25" US Import Law

The United States of America is many things, some good, some bad. What it is not, is a particularly good place for enthusiasts of cars made in other countries. 

Its anachronistic vehicle safety code is actually inferior to those of the European Union, Japan and South Korea, the regulations in place now for private imports are widely believed to be of a protectionist nature, and there has been talk, particularly during the Republican side of the 2012 presidential election, of repealing the “21/25” import law that makes cars older than 25 model years completely exempt from EPA and DOT mandates and those older than 21 model years exempt from EPA mandates. It would be a very bad thing to return to the days when nothing newer than the 1968 model year could be imported, or worse yet, allowing no private imports of motor vehicles at all.

Pros and Cons of the 21/25 Law:

  1. Desirable foreign cars like the Audi Sport Quattro and RS2, Peugeot 205GTI, Fiat Ritmo Abarth, Innocenti Mini DeTomaso, Maserati Karif and Ghibli Cup, Renault R5 Turbo and Renault-Alpine A310, Matra Bagheera and Murena, Lancia Delta Integrale and Thema 8.32, Lancia-Zagato Hyena, BMW M3 Evo, Lada Niva, Suzuki LJ50, Trabant 601, Tatra T603, T613 and T700, Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 Evolution I and II, Isuzu 117, Lotus Excel, AC ME3000, Nissan Figaro and Skyline GT-R R32, Alfa Romeo SZ/RZ, Mazda Eunos Cosmo, Autozam AZ1, TVR S2, Griffith, Cerbera and Chimaera, Marcos Mantula, Ford Sierra Cosworth, MG RV8 and Honda Beat, are either already legal to import or will be in a few short years. 
  2. There is no need for safety glass or DOT-compliant lighting on imports older than 25 model years.
  3. Drivers will have access to a much broader selection of fun-to-drive and unusual cars than one might expect.
  4. Museums and movie studios will have increased breadth of choices for exhibit or prop cars.
  5. Those who dislike conformity can import any car they want that is older than 25 model years and enjoy it as a hobby car or daily driver.
  6. The vast majority of European and Japanese cars have to conform to safety and emissions standards tougher than yet different from those of the US.

  1. Some sporty cars like Lancia Delta Integrales, Renault Clio Williams and R5 Turbos, Nissan Skyline GT-Rs, older TVRs and Audi RS2s are available fairly cheap overseas, and a combination of such a car and a teenager or young adult whose only experience has been behind the wheel of the family car and playing car-themed video games is a deadly one. This is the only reason I think it should not be liberalized to synchronize with Canada's rolling 15-year import law.
  2. Importing foreign cars will cut into sales of new domestic or US-market imported cars and will undermine American used-car dealers. While it may to a very small extent, importing the type of cars most enthusiasts wish to import will not have any significant impact on the market for new and used cars; the impact that it does have will be negligible.
  3. Parts and service can be hard to come by, particularly for marques that are no longer sold in the US, certain models and body styles never sold in the US and marques never sold in the US. However, the internet and specialist garages for European and Japanese cars can almost always be of assistance.
  4. California emissions law forbids emission controls that aren’t compliant with their state laws on post-1975 cars and trucks, but for those with the money and determination, they can potentially get their car approved by the Bureau of Air Resources and get what is known as a “BAR Sticker”. This is a long, difficult and costly process, but may be worthwhile for some people or some cars. 

For all intents and purposes, the 21/25 law is a good thing, repealing it would not be a good idea, the only bad thing about liberalizing it to synchronize with Canada would be giving inexperienced or young drivers easy access to extremely fast cars, and its only flaw is that California residents will have great difficulty obtaining emissions certification for a post-1975 private import. However, dropping the protectionist attitude and synchronizing US standards with EU and Japanese standards would be a good option.

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