Shipping a Car to the US
January 8, 2005 9:49 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy one of those little cars I've seen in England and France and have it shipped to the United States. Is this legal? Are there companies or sites that do this?

I'm enamored with the Ford Streetka, for example. Although I remember seeing some cars that seemed preposterously tiny in Paris that would be cool, too. Anyone ever done this?
posted by stevis to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
You'll need to be a little more specific than "those little cars." (On preview: Well, you're a little more specific now.)

If you're talking about DaimlerChrysler's Smart car, there is a company currently seeking Federal government approval to import them, make any needed modifications, and sell them. (DC is not pleased with this idea.) Or you could just wait a couple years -- DC will likely import some of the next-generation Smart cars into the US.

Personally, I think it's unwise to buy any vehicle that has no US dealer network to service it or provide parts.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:59 PM on January 8, 2005

smart is currently available in Canada, and it may be possible to buy one up here and drive it into the US. This page on their Canadian website has some info. The US website says only that they plan to sell in the US at some undefined time.
posted by loquax at 10:28 PM on January 8, 2005

Smart Car is coming to the US in late 2006.
posted by spilon at 10:51 PM on January 8, 2005

> Over 25 years old, and still basically stock... no problem.

If it is in another country, and not 25 years old or older... forget it, can't feasibly be done legally.

Unless the manufacturer and importer have certified the vehicle in the US via the DOT and EPA, it will not be a vehicle that you may legally drive. Anywhere outside your own property.

Even Bill Gates can't import a car that doesn't meet standards -- customs will impound such vehicles.
posted by dhartung at 11:31 PM on January 8, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks loquax. I hadn't considered Canada, but from their FAQ:

Can I export a Canadian smart fortwo to the United States?
...It is not homologated for the U.S. market and will therefore not comply for export. U.S. residents who have purchased a smart in Canada for use in Canada who wish to take their vehicle across the border on occasion must contact U.S. Customs directly to determine if this, in fact, possible.

I guess I was hoping there was some company that takes cars, installs whatever it is we require in the U.S. and sets up shipping for a flat fee. It looks like I'll be waiting until late 2006.
posted by stevis at 1:33 AM on January 9, 2005

Huh. I saw a smart car with US plates parked here in Orlando just a few weeks ago. Having only read about them and never seen one up close, I spent a few minutes walking around it and checking it out. I never saw the owner, so I have no idea how they got it here. Maybe it was a demo car or something.
posted by Lokheed at 2:06 AM on January 9, 2005

Zap is the company that has obtained approval from the US to import and modify smart cars for sale, but it doesn't look as though they've started yet, and as someone else mentioned, there's no dealer support until D/C starts selling them through their network. Also, it looks as though the modifications make the cars more expensive than they would be normally. But check out the other crazy electric cars they have for sale. My favourite is the 1987 Nissan pickup. Or maybe it's the '81 VW Rabbit.
posted by loquax at 2:55 AM on January 9, 2005

The Ford StreetKa can't be imported to the US, due to body length restrictions. The Mini Cooper is one tenth of an inch longer than the StreetKa, but was able to (barely) meet the toughened requirements. With the advent of large trucks and SUVs, along with visibility, insurance, and crash maintenance factors, only pre-existing tiny cars like the BMW Isetta, the Fiat 500, or even the domestic King Midget are permitted to operate on roads.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:16 AM on January 9, 2005

I can get you in touch with this guy if you're interested.
posted by anathema at 7:22 AM on January 9, 2005

I know this is of no help to the question, but I just gotta say it... You Canadians rock! I checked out your Smart car and found that cargo space is illustrated by how much beer you can get in there! Keep it real, Oh Great White North!
posted by LouReedsSon at 9:09 AM on January 9, 2005

If the only problem is that a car hasn't been crash tested, then you can still import it--just not use it on any public streets. No law prevents you from driving an unsafe car on your own land. (You do have a large farm estate, right?)

If a car doesn't meet emissions requirements, though (as is the case with many exotic sports cars), then yeah, good luck importing it.
posted by profwhat at 9:14 AM on January 9, 2005

I went through this a couple of years back, stevis, after falling in love with the Smarts in Europe. Yep, no way to import them. This year I test drove - and purchased - a Mini Cooper, the smallest available car, and I couldn't be happier with the little thing. I might still consider a Smart when they're available, but I find it hard to imagine loving them as much as my little Mini. You could drive a Mini until 2006; the resale value holds very well, so if you do decide to buy a Smart when they're here, you can easily sell the Mini for nearly what you paid.
posted by icetaco at 10:07 AM on January 9, 2005

Response by poster: To surmount all the obstacles I've heard about I would need a lot of money and a lot of obsession. I'm probably short on both. I think icetaco's solution of a Mini until something else comes along wins my practical solution award. Thanks for all help, everyone.
posted by stevis at 11:03 AM on January 9, 2005

There were these little VW's all over Mexico: exactly like a Golf but shrunk down that extra 15% it takes to get into the Mini/Scion class. Totally cool-looking, and right on the other side of the border! Not as gussied-up as the Mini or as Anime-stylie as the Scions. Just a VW Golf in miniature. Probably cheap, too! Wah!
posted by scarabic at 12:22 PM on January 9, 2005

There was an article in the NY Times a few years back about Sally Jesse Rafael falling in love with the Smart Car and buying one in Yurp and shipping it here.

Long story short:
They come very close to conforming to US standards for side impact, air bags, emmissions etc. But since thay have not been submitted, its the owners burden to certify the car, and this can be done.

However, if memory serves, the it took about 15 mos, lots of paper work, $40k in fees and storage fees paid to the shipper while the car is impounded pending final certification.

(niftier still in yurp are these cars smaller still that are really pedal powered cars). Anyone know the brand name for these?
posted by Fupped Duck at 8:04 PM on January 9, 2005

I met a guy who imported and drove a Trabant, but he got away with a lot because it was a pre-1967 model, which meant many laws didn't apply.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:20 PM on January 9, 2005

You can import non-qualifying cars if you fall into a few categories. The importer is the final buyer, the vehicle is used only for show and display (I believe it's allowed to drive on public roads between "displays"), it passes emissions, is driven less than either 2,500 or 5,000 miles per year and the one that will kill you for the streetka... that the vehicle be of historical or technical interest.

This is all thanks to the 'Bill Gates Law" whereby he was finally able to get his Porsche 959. Unfortunately, it's going to be a lot harder for you to get your streetka.
posted by mosch at 9:56 PM on January 9, 2005

There is another illegal but no way to be caught way that is used to import hot rally cars from japan(eg. EvoVIII). If your car has a domestic clone (eg: lancer) you can find a cheap boring domestic version, buy it and then use the title and VIN on your otherwise undrivable import. As long as no one is going to report either as stolen your unlikely to have any problems. This method won't work for your streetka though as there is no equivelent local car.
posted by Mitheral at 7:26 AM on January 10, 2005

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