Importing a German R.V. to the U.S.
December 7, 2012 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Is there a cost effective way of importing a German vehicle, that is not sold in the U.S., to the U.S.?

I've been shopping around for an R.V. and came across a model made by Westfalia called the Sven Hedin, however, the company said that they have no plans on selling the rig in the U.S.

I was left wondering what's involved in purchasing the vehicle in Germany and having it shipped to the U.S., etc?
posted by tangyraspberry to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One of your real clinchers will be found in the fine print here.

Basically, if the EU's version of safety standards is congruent with that of the US, you can import it and drive it. If the Sven Hedin, while safe, isn't something that can be certified without physically buying a second one for them to crash and whatnot, then your odds aren't good.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:13 PM on December 7, 2012

So, according to the rules listed by ivan ivanych samovar, you just need to import it as either a racing or offroad vehicle, or import the body, engine, and drivetrain separately. That might make it somewhat difficult to register/insure (Florida apparently has the most lax rules in this regard), but if you can get it with an original foreign plate, from Ivan's link it sounds like (as a non-foreign importer) the local authorities would have no way to tell the difference (note that the DOT can tell, and you'd basically only get away with this until they decided to care).

That said, You'll find your real answer here. Summary - Don't bother. You can't legally do it. An entire enthusiast community, and a pretty damned wealthy one at that, couldn't manage to accomplish what you want with a physically-compliant car that had a similar US-released model.
posted by pla at 7:00 PM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

if it is a vehicle 25 years or older, it gets drastically easier to get thought the process.

this article from jalopnik has some good info

a guide on importing Nissan Skylines (a car not sold here until 2009, despite being in production since 1969). a different car, but relevant to your interests

on preview: damn, you beat me to it!
posted by ninjew at 7:13 PM on December 7, 2012

The Skyline writeup in pia's link points to the big stumbling block here, which is emissions and safety testing. New import models can often piggy-back on older ones to some extent, but for models with no US sales history (for instance, the BMW Mini when it was first imported) it's a long, drawn out process that often delays entry into the market.

All that said, it looks as if Airstream did import a few Westfalia models to the US, under the name "Airstream Sprinter Westfalia" -- here's a site devoted to them, which lists a number of models that were on sale.
posted by holgate at 7:39 PM on December 7, 2012

Well, the Sven Hedin is based on a Mercedes Sprinter van, which is sold in the US. You could possibly import one and incorporate enough of a US-sold Sprinter to register it as that particular vehicle. But not easy.
posted by zsazsa at 10:41 PM on December 7, 2012

I would call a few of the existing Westalia and Unimog importers and ask them.
posted by zippy at 1:34 AM on December 8, 2012

You might want to look at Sportsmobile Custom Camper Vans--one of their models is build on the aforementioned Mercedes Sprinter diesel van.
posted by apartment dweller at 4:49 AM on December 8, 2012

Bill Gates, with his army of lawyers, had 13 years of trouble getting a non-US-approved Porsche 959 into the US. You might have your work cut out for you here.

Seconding the Sportsmobile recommendation, BTW.
posted by Harald74 at 8:42 AM on December 8, 2012

The bizarre thing is that the US puts giant barriers to type-approval, but requires no subsequent safety inspections of the cars on the road, to check that say their brakes work, and the wheels aren't about to fall off. In Germany, that car you want to import has to pass a stringent mechanical test by the government's TÜV department every year.
posted by w0mbat at 12:28 PM on December 8, 2012

w0mbat: imports are a federal thing, roadworthiness is (more or less) a state thing.
posted by holgate at 4:17 PM on December 8, 2012

I'm not sure why Airstream stopped importing and selling similar Mercedes/Sprinter models, but I think part of the reason they cost as much as they did (when they were selling them) is that each vehicle had to be partially disassembled, shipped to the US, and then reassembled on US soil to avoid the 25% "Chicken tax"

Presumably this makes any attempt to import and sell European 'light-truck-based' RV's an uphill battle.
posted by subpixel at 12:36 PM on December 26, 2012

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