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Thread: Importing vintage cars into California, USA

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    Senior Lancista Timo04's Avatar
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    Importing vintage cars into California, USA

    Greetings,

    Has anyone heard of any recent rule changes on importing vehicles directly into the state of California, USA? Just today, I was told by a trustworthy friend, who runs a local Italian auto repair shop, that it is now "impossible" to import a car newer than 1966 into California. Is this correct? Does anyone have any recent experience with this?

    Thanks in advance,

    Tim

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    Legendary Lancista 1,6 HF's Avatar
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    Re: Importing vintage cars into California, USA

    I think your friend's confused. There's been an issue with post-1967 for some years now, but nothing's changed recently, AFAIK.
    Ed Levin
    Fulvia 1,6 HF

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    Senior Lancista Timo04's Avatar
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    Re: Importing vintage cars into California, USA

    Thanks Ed. Yes, it is probably, and hopefully just hearsay and confusion.

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    Re: Importing vintage cars into California, USA

    What's the issue with post-67 cars?

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    Legendary Lancista 1,6 HF's Avatar
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    Re: Importing vintage cars into California, USA

    New Federal safety & emissions standards took effect beginning 1 Jan 1968. Before the US standards were passed, CA passed its own, and the Feds agreed to let CA enforce theirs instead of pre-empting them.

    The Feds no longer enforce those standards for imports that are over 25 years old. But a few years ago, CA decided – for reasons no one seems to understand – that they would require compliance for new imports of models for which there was no US-spec version -- back to 1 Jan 1968. So owners of newly-imported post-'67 Fulvias (among many others) began to get letters stating that their new registration was being considered to be provisional, and requesting documentation that the vehicle meet the safety standards for its year of manufacture – a letter from the manufacturer was preferred.

    We keep hearing that there has been lobbying to get the law changed, but for the time being people are hiring DMV consultants to get individual cars through the process. There are some Fulvias still in this pipeline, which typically takes months. But I haven’t heard of any cases that weren’t ultimately resolved successfully.

    CA
    Ed Levin
    Fulvia 1,6 HF

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    Re: Importing vintage cars into California, USA

    Dang, that's a hassle. But all other CA cars don't require any smog, etc. if they're '75 or earlier? Due to the once rolling exemption. I guess some smog laws did start late 60's but not widespread til '74. I think that's why some 850's came with smaller engines for a couple years. I'll never quite understand some of California's rules. What if a car is imported to another state, registered, and then sold into California?

    Confuzled up North,
    Dave

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    Legendary Lancista 1,6 HF's Avatar
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    Re: Importing vintage cars into California, USA

    There seems to be no issue with cars coming in from other states. SO one way around the CA DMV issue is to register it in a state that doesn't require residency for registration (there are a couple) and some months later re-register it with CA as an out-of-state import.

    No smog check required for cars built before 1 Jan 1976. CA used to have a 'rolling' 30-year exemption. But some years ago this was discontinued, and the exemption date was fixed at 1976.
    Ed Levin
    Fulvia 1,6 HF

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    Re: Importing vintage cars into California, USA

    Quote Originally Posted by 1,6 HF View Post
    No smog check required for cars built before 1 Jan 1976. CA used to have a 'rolling' 30-year exemption. But some years ago this was discontinued, and the exemption date was fixed at 1976.
    This actually isn't quite true. The exemption is for pre-1976 (1975 and earlier) and goes by model year, not build date. If your built-in-'75 Lancia Beta, for example, is titled and registered as a '76 because that's the model year in which it was first sold, you'll have to smog the car. You would otherwise have to prove, using manufacturer-supplied data, that your car was built for the 1975 model year instead -- nearly impossible.

    California is a very difficult state to own 1976-on collector vehicles, but there are workarounds. It's all in who you know and how much you're willing to subvert the system.

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    Re: Importing vintage cars into California, USA

    I live in CA, imported a car from Europe 2 years ago through CA, first registering and titling it in OR (I have no residence in OR, but did actually keep the car there).
    I talked to a AAA agent who said they can bypass the CA DMV for most routine requests, including registering classic cars coming from other states, as long as it's registered/titled in your name. Also, if you can prove the car was outside of CA for 1 year or more while you owned it (which I can), you will not be required to pay CA sales tax on first registration. The form asks for the value of the vehicle at the time of purchase (future renewal fees will be based on this), date of first permanent entry into CA (or period it resided out of the state), model year. I recommend being as truthful as you know the truth to be, of course. The AAA agent assured me he had submitted classic car registrations before with no problems and no supporting documentation other than owner's representations on the paperwork. We'll see. I don't know if AAA can process direct overseas imports in the same way. (My car was first registered in '68 in Belgium, but was actually built in '64 (I have Lancia Heritage Certificate), with a '68 OR title in my name. We'll see how it goes..
    Not having researched it myself, I've heard the DMV has a database of cars that were manufactured to US standards, post '67, even if they were never officially imported to the US. Obviously, many cars won't be in that book. A 1969 VW Bug sold new in Germany, probably yes. A 1982 VW bug made in Mexico-probably not. Some non-US cars might also have a build plate stating they comply with US safety standards. And as stated above, the original factory (haha!), or some other regulatory entity like US DOT, or another state's DMV, might have some document that could prove your car is in compliance, if that was the case.

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    Master Lancista Todd D.'s Avatar
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    Re: Importing vintage cars into California, USA

    When I went to register my 63 Flaminia GT, I was told that I had to "build a case for the car" and supply the ownership history of the car. It came from Michigan so I asked the DMV in Lansing for any records of the car. They told me that they destroy all records once they are older than 10 years. When I tried to explain the situation to the registrar, they just shrugged their shoulders and said "tough luck". My other option was to get a special form filled out by the local Lancia dealership......that hasn't existed since 1982.
    76 Scorpion
    77 Beta coupe
    82 Zagato
    61 Flaminia PF Coupe
    63 Flaminia Touring 3C GT
    77 BMW 530i
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