The facts about Nissan Skyline importation into the United States

Article by:Greg Childs and Matthew Moody – – 03.07.2008

So, You Want a Nissan Skyline in America – Continued

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Show / Off-Road Use Only
Additionally, it should be noted that there are a number of Skylines in the US listed as off-road (read: racing) purposes only. A vehicle imported for “Show or Display” may receive NHTSA approval to be driven on the highway, but the odometer must not register more than 2,500 miles in a 12-month period. NHTSA approval of limited on-road use is to allow the vehicle to be driven to and from nearby displays of similar automobiles. Another reason permission is granted is to maintain the vehicle’s engine, braking, lighting, and other dynamic systems in good working order. The Catch: The vehicle is still required to meet EPA requirements. If the original engine in the vehicle will be replaced with a non-original engine to meet EPA requirements, it must be identified in your application since it may impact on the technological or historical significance of the vehicle, thereby resulting in a denial of the application. Such permits are rarely granted and are monitored closely.

Emissions and The Potentially Illegal Skyline
This creates a whole new challenge – Getting a car with no emissions equipment to pass stringent US emissions standards. When NHTSA decided to pull the R32 and early R33’s off the eligible vehicle import list, they released the cars that were brought in before March of that year. The 1996-1998 R33 models were still on the list, and could be made DOT compliant, but the fact that none of the cars have OBD2 makes them not EPA compliant. After numerous legal challenges, NHTSA didn’t want to deal with the whole Skyline mess anymore and made it an EPA matter. So the only way to make the cars legal is for someone to make an OBD2 conversion for the RB26DETT. As of this writing, JK Technologies asserts that they do the OBDII conversion and that they they do everything needed to make it DOT and EPA compliant.

More on “The Gray Zone”
Other than the Motorex Skylines, the remainder of Skylines in the US are the result of “gray market” tactics in which the vehicles were imported by means other than those authorized. These tactics include VIN swapping, shipping the cars through inports to be rebuilt once on shore and registering the vehicle as a kit car. Obviously a large number are shipped in whole and snuck through the system by other means. When looking for a US-based Skyline realize that there is a difference between having a state registration and being Federally legalized as some states are more lenient than others when it comes to issuing state vehicle registrations to owners. These vehicles are still considered illegal in the eyes of the NHTSA and CAN be seized / impounded without warning or compensation.

If you still decide to go the route of a gray market Skyline, you would have the option to either purchase one of these vehicles that are currently in the US or to utilize a RI to have one imported. On-road legality issues aside, utilizing a RI to import a Skyline is a “leap of faith” which may cost you in the end. You are required at a minimum to pre-pay a percentage of the vehicle cost plus shipping with no guarantee the vehicle will get through customs. There are numerous horror stories of people losing all of their investment with nothing to show due to US customs confiscating the car (as previously mentioned) and either shipping it back at your cost, seizing the car, or crushing the car itself. For those purchasing one already in the US I would pay particular attention to licensing requirements for your state before purchase and realize that you are purchasing a vehicle that is not Federally legalized. If registering for the first time, you will need the De-Reg documents from Japan with translation, a copy of the 7501, proof of insurance and a VIN verification. While I have not heard of registered vehicles being taken away and crushed due to Federal legalization, that does not mean it won’t happen or has not happened in the past.

What About Registering it as a Kit Car?
A kit car is a car that was never mass-produced. Titling a “Skyline” as a kit car is in violation of Federal law. Now, that’s not to say some shady individuals don’t do it, but they’re one phone call away from impound. In fact, a company named Evolution Imports was reportedly selling R33’s. The cars were imported to Florida and exported to the Caribbean, where the drive train would be taken out and the car shipped back in pieces. It would then be reassembled and registered as a car constructed from parts.

How About Bringing it in Through Canada?
There are a number of Skylines in Canada, and many pop up for sale from time to time. However, Skylines don’t count under the Canadian Market category as they were never originally manufactured for exportation to the Canadian market. Thus these vehicles will be processed the same as a vehicle imported from Japan. Of course, with them simply being a “border away” it would be far easier for a Canadian Skyline to enter the gray market. Still, US Customs will have the final say at the border, and the buyer risks seizure of their vehicle.

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