Why Is There a 25-year Rule For Importing Cars?

A 25 year old imported car by In & Near Blaine, WA and Vancouver, BC

Automobile enthusiasts in the U.S. do not like being told what they can and cannot drive. There has been an explosion of interest in foreign-market vehicles since the 1980s and 1990s. The USA 25-Year Import Rule is crucial for budding car collectors and enthusiasts to understand. What exactly is the 25-Year Import Rule? Why is there one?

To begin understanding the reasoning behind the 25-year ban on import vehicles, we must dive into the history of auto import to Canada and the U.S.

Car Imports: a Brief History

Car enthusiasts in the United States imported vehicles from around the globe in the early 1980s. You could save money by looking overseas and having a much wider selection of cars. Due to the fact that these cars were not designed for the American market, they did not meet EPA emission regulations or NHTSA safety regulations. Many of these cars were actually modified versions of other cars that were fraudulently marketed as high-demand foreign imports. The imports were not from official dealerships, so they are called gray market imports. Government agencies and manufacturers became concerned. Manufacturers began losing money. Consumers began accessing cars through alternative channels. Additionally, motorists were exposed to vehicles that did not conform to stringent U.S. safety or emission standards. Therefore, the NHTSA and EPA began regulating the importation of foreign vehicles in 1985. Even though these regulations have many intricacies, the 25-year import rule has been the most maligned.

The 25 Year Rule

The law stated that any car over 25 years old could be imported into the U.S. without having to meet United States vehicle regulations. In addition, any car that was 24 years old or younger was not allowed to be imported into the United States. In this way, car collectors could keep the old cars they had and continue importing if they so desired. After tastes shifted, 25 years became too long to keep car enthusiasts happy.

An old van imported with 25 year rule In & Near Blaine, WA and Vancouver, BC

Is There a Way Around the 25-Year Rule?

In certain circumstances, it may still be possible to import a car that would otherwise not be allowed into the USA legally. Depending on the vehicle, some newer models can be imported with the help of auto importers, while others may be eligible for import under a ‘Show & Display’ rule. Let’s look more closely at those:

Registered Car Importers

Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988 led to the creation of the Registered Importer program in 1990. Essentially, registered U.S. car importers (RI) can be a garage that has been certified by the state as capable of carrying out the necessary modifications to bring an overseas-built vehicle up to safety standards stipulated in the Act.

This is the primary route to take if you want to bring an older car into the USA. You can find a complete list of all registered importers on the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Association. It should be noted, however, that not all car importers accept vehicles imported from all countries, and not all R.I.s are certified to work on all models, so you might have to look around to find the right importer for you.

While a registered importer is state-certified as qualified to carry out such work, this is not a blanket import license. Individual vehicles will still have to be inspected by the Department of Transportation, and if a particular vehicle fails inspection, you will be liable for the cost of the repair work and re-exporting the vehicle!

Additionally, there are some cars that will never be eligible for import, even with the services of U.S. car importers. There are strict rules here: in some cases, for example, a sedan but not a convertible can be imported, or the 3.5L but not the 5L version. There is a complete list of vehicle models forbidden from U.S. roads – until they’re 25 years old, that is – on the NHTSA website.

Show & Display

As discussed above, 1998 amendments to the 1988 Act made foreign vehicles older than 25 years eligible for sale in the U.S. However, in 1999 a further amendment to the law allowed the importation of cars with “historical or technological significance.” Typically, this is called the ‘Show and Display rule.’

In order to qualify for this exemption, there must be no more than 500 cars in existence. The owner must also prove (through annual mileage inspections and/or spot-checks) that the car hasn’t driven more than 2,500 miles in a given year if the car is to be used on public highways.

As a result of this law, at last count, there are 65 specific vehicles – mostly very high-end sports cars or luxury tourers – that may be imported to be displayed at car shows or to sit in the garages of private collectors but may not be used for daily transportation. 

Here are just a few of the 65 cars to choose from, but if you have deep pockets and are interested in having a 1995-model 993 Porsche Carrera RS GT2, a 2002 Nissan Skyline GT-R M-Spec Nür or a 2003 Aston Martin DB7 Zagato Coupe, this is the route for you!

You will have to wait until the 25 years have passed otherwise.

A 25-year old car transported In & Near Blaine, WA and Vancouver, BC

What Does the Future Look Like?

As we discussed above, car enthusiasts don’t like the 25-year rule. That’s the case with many manufacturers too. That’s why they’re starting to make cars that can be used in different markets and not just in one country.


According to some, cars built around the globe are technically more alike than ever before due to the adoption of increasingly common standards and digitization. Now it is easier and cheaper to modify a car for a different market than it was in the past. Do you agree?

According to the background sources we interviewed, bringing a foreign-market car from the last two decades into compliance with American safety and emissions regulations is still too expensive. It’s estimated that an importer would need about $250k to develop an EPA-compliant ECU if it does not already exist in a car. It is impossible to make international standards uniform since Canada and the U.S. cannot even agree on airbag or seatbelt standards.

It’s been a dream for a very long time. In 1958, the United Nations’ World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29) began work. Currently, WP.29 harmonization of vehicle safety, energy efficiency, environmental protection, and theft-resistant standards is more thorough than ever, and 60+ countries are authorized to import, register, and use U.N.-approved vehicles.

The U.S. and Canada are the only major exceptions. Because WP.29 has been in place for six decades, it’s reasonable to assume that a 2003 Belgian-spec car would meet most American safety/emission requirements without any modifications.

Additionally, modularity is present. During the last decade, automakers have praised their “world car” platforms, which are essentially modular architectures that allow different models from the same brand to be sold in different markets. The most famous of these is Volkswagen’s MQB platform.

Work with Registered Importers in Blaine, WA

To sum up, currently, the easiest way for auto import to Canada and the U.S. is through registered car importers. Bidbuy Importers, located in Blaine, WA & Vancouver, BC, offers top-notch vehicle transport services. We’ll have your car keys at your doorstep in the shortest time. Contact us for a free quote. Call now at +1-844-505-1555!

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