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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Federal vs. State Registration
According to Sean Morris, one of the foremost experts on JDM vehicle importation, most people can not grasp the difference between vehicle legalization and vehicle registration.

  • Legalization – a vehicle in full compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and Environmental Protection Agency standards.
  • Registration – registration is the responsibility of the individual states and localities. Most states do not check to see wether a vehicle is federally legal. If they see the vehicle, and are paid the registration fees, they will give registration for the vehicle.
  • Many people seem to get confused that if a vehicle is registered, that it is legal or “legalized”. A registered vehicle is just a registered vehicle. Registration could still be revoked by the DOT, EPA, or customs service, if the vehicle was found to have entered into the country fraudulently.

    NHTSA is not responsible for regulating the operation of motor vehicles on public roads in the U.S. nor for titling or registering motor vehicles for such operation. That is instead the responsibility of the individual States. Some States may require a manufacturer’s certificate of origin (MCO) or manufacturer’s statement of origin (MSO) to register a new motor vehicle. These are not federally required documents. NHTSA, therefore, is not in a position to offer guidance to prospective vehicle manufacturers or vehicle purchasers on obtaining a needed MCO or MSO. Consumers with questions regarding these documents should direct those questions to their State’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Prospective manufacturers seeking guidance on obtaining MCO or MSO documents should contact the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) at 703-522-4201 or visit that organization’s website at

    99% of the time “State Titled” and “State Registered” translates to “Illegally imported and titled as kit car”.Cars that appear “legal” (to a state) can be impounded by the Feds. Likely, no. Possible, yes.It has happened before (in AZ, in particular) and may be stepped up if the Feds decide they’re “fed up” (no pun intended) with the flouting of the law. Many illegally-imported Skylines roam the streets unmolested on a regular basis.However, there’s always the chance that something goes wrong (usually due to an accident, a vandalism / theft, or simply an “anonymous call”) that brings the car to “official” attention.

    Registration Nightmares
    One prospective Skyline owner we interviewed relayed the following story:Of the two certifications needed for importation of a motor vehicle (Federal Import/Export certificates), he received the Export Certificate only along with a Bill of Lading from the shipper. He tried his luck with his home state’s lax DMV rules. The clerk stated that the Import Certificate was the most important document.At that point it ceased to be a legitimately imported vehicle in his state and the DMV was “on the lookout” for it. Soon thereafter, the rescinded ruling became common knowledge to the DMV personnel. The importer can’t / won’t help him out, and the DMV is hip to his game.

    Insuring a Gray-Market Car
    In compiling this article, we contacted numerous car insurance providers, including industry powerhouses such as GEICO, AAA, State Farm, Liberty Mutual and Progressive.We also contacted specialty insurers such as Hagerty, who specialize in special-interest vehicles.Progressive (at the time of this article) was the only company we could find who do not ask for DOT papers. However, if something happens to the car and a claim is filed, they run a check with DOT, reserving their right to NOT pay the claim.There’s a little stipulation in the policy, which most folks never read, that exempts Progressive from any responsibility if any part of your application is false or misleading. You can bet their lawyers would deny a claim all day long based on that alone.Other insurance companies require DOT and EPA paperwork prior to issuing a policy.If, by some stroke of luck, you find a company willing to offer a “stated-value” policy on your freshly-imported Skyline, they still reserve the right to deny your claim, based on your knowingly falsifying the application (which you’d have to do to get the car insured).

    Here’s why:Nearly every application for insurance we reviewed contained the following verbage:”Has the vehicle been modified to NHTSA standards and been officially approved by the DOT?”Thus, by saying “yes”, if you ever have an accident and they find out that you willfully gave a false statement about that DOT approval, you could be cited for insurance fraud.

    In addition to the possibility of having any claim denied, there’s another interesting risk being taken by grey-market Skyline owners:IF you are unfortunate enough to hit someone else, and they sued you, or you sued for medical, you’re driving a car that is not in compliance with NHTSA crash-safety standards. Again, the attorneys would jump on that like a hobo on a ham sandwich. Don’t have proper door beams? Don’t have proper glass? Gee, what else isn’t “up-to-snuff’ on your car and could it have possibly contributed to the accident or the injury? You can bet an insurance company’s attorney will look for any way to get out of honoring your claim, and you’ll be left holding the bag and liable for more than just your damages.


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