Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Pros & Cons of Owning a Grey-Market or Private Import Car in the US

(photo from

Many enthusiasts of foreign cars in the US have thought about owning something that was never sold on our soil. There are many interesting or strong points about owning a foreign-market car, but there are drawbacks too.


Exclusivity: You will be one of few, if not the only one, of your car at shows or road events.
Fun of driving: Cars made for the European, Japanese or Australian markets are typically much better driver's cars than those made for the North American market. 
Styling: Foreign styling is typically impressive, even on economy cars, and on home-market versions of what we got in the US, lighting, bumpers, wheels, interiors and many other things are different.
Interest: Many clubs and driving groups will welcome you with open arms if you have a foreign-market car. In particular, Nissans, Lancias, Fiats, BMWs, Mazdas, rally specials like the Renault R5 Turbo, and exotics like Maserati, Ferrari, Aston Martin & Porsche, are well liked.
No 25% import tax on trucks: All light trucks eligible under the US specialty import laws are exempted from the dreaded 25% "chicken tax". Good news for fans of Citroen H-vans, Renault Estafettes, VW commercial vehicles, kei trucks, Mini Mokes, Fiat Campagnolas, Land Rover products, Citroen Meharis and Matra-Simca Ranchos.


Parts/service: For marques sold in the US (especially BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Land Rover), some dealers will not sell parts for cars that are not North American versions, and parts specific to your car may only be available online or overseas. Service is usually limited to specialists, and many parts are expensive.
The law: For full EPA/DOT exemption, your car MUST be at least 25 model years from the current model year, and it is a rolling exemption. In many states with strict inspections, non-US headlights may be illegal. In California, forget anything newer than 1975 unless you can afford the process of reviewal by the Bureau of Air Resources and get the approval sticker for the car. And in some states, kei trucks regardless of model year may be illegal.
Patriotism: If you live in a highly conservative area or your family is highly conservative, importing a foreign-made car from overseas can be an issue.
Insurance: Insuring a foreign car can be tricky, but all insurers vary. It pays to shop around in this case.
The DMV: Many states will have to add odd makes to their database, which can be tricky. And many states will not recognize non-US VIN numbers.

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