The Show or Display Import Law for Dummies Part 5: D.rink M.ore V.odka
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Congratulations! You've negotiated the tricky process of importing an R34 GT-R legally under Show or Display and I bet you're all excited to get to all that showin' and displayin' by driving that baby all around town and dropping by your favorite boba place to impress that hot Asian girl you're sure totally digs you 'cause she always gives you extra pearls.
Time for the bad news, brother. A) R34s are scientifically proven to be attractive only to other dudes B) she gives EVERYBODY extra pearls 'cause she's just that sweet, and C) Guess what? You have to go to the DMV first to register your car before getting to drive it around.
Yes, that sick, dreadful sensation of nausea and anxiety you're now feeling is perfectly normal when you realize you have to make the trip to the one place on God's green Earth you don't simply walk into without expecting interminable waiting and endless frustration. Most people would probably rather have their genitals waxed than go to the DMV.
Let me ease your fears by saying that at least the light is at the end of the tunnel. Clear this final hurdle and you can finally brag to all your friends, family, and random strangers that yes, you now legally own a car that most import enthusiasts would sell their abuelita to be behind the wheel of.
And besides it may not be all that bad.
The thing about the DMV is that being state-level agencies there are 50 different variations of them – well, if you want to be anal it's 55 because Guam, Puerto Rico, and the various other American territories have their own little versions of hell – and that means your personal level of discomfort may range greatly from “Getting a Gamestop PowerUp card was worse than this!” to “Spectre Two Two, request immediate airstrike on my previous coordinates.”
Since different DMVs will have different requirements I can't give you a surefire explanation of what you'll need to do, instead all I can do is give you a general idea of what to expect and tips to help you get through the ordeal.
First off, the basic process for registering a Show or Display car should be similar to that of a 25-year old import so you should read my old article about that because a lot of advice that will help you is already spelled out there.
In that guide I listed the documents that are typically required by the DMV. First you have the previous registration or the Export Certificate, plus the Bill of Sale to prove you legitimately own the car. Next you have the DOT form HS-7, EPA 3520-1, and CBP form 7501 that you got when the car went through customs. Make sure you have the original copies with you for all of those forms since that's a normal DMV requirement.
For a Show or Display car you'll also need a copy of the NHTSA approval letter and you should bring a copy of your application too. I ended up needing that because the branch supervisor wanted to see the terms for the Show or Display import since they'd never handled one before.
All states require that foreign-language documents like the Japanese Export Certificate have a translation to go with it but some like Arizona require a certified translation. If yours does and your importer didn't provide you one, you can read this previous article for tips on how to get one made.
With your documents ready the basic process should go like this: 1) Present documents, 2) Get car inspected, 3) Present documents again with proof of inspection, 4) Pay fees, 5) Get title, registration, and plates, and 6) Profit!
That last step may be optional.
Somewhere during those steps don't be surprised if you get thrown some curve balls. Sometimes that'll happen because the staff simply aren't familiar with registering gray market imports so they may have to consult higher-ups, come up with weird requirements, or in the worst-case scenario be unhelpful and downright obstructive.
Other times there may be quirks due to your local laws. One example in my case is that Arizona law explicitly states that only cars that meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or imported vehicles over 25 years old and therefore exempt from that requirement can be titled in the state. There is nothing in the law about Show or Display cars which have been exempted by the NHTSA from needing to meet FMVSS and are under 25 years old. That meant that my local MVD had to consult the Arizona DOT legal department to resolve this issue. Thankfully they came up with a compromise that met the letter of the law – they let me register the vehicle but I can't get a title until it turns 25. Which is a fine compromise for me because it lets the car be road-legal and I don't need a title anyway since I don't plan to sell the car and have no lien on it. It took a few weeks though to get that all resolved.
Emissions testing may be an issue for you too. A fellow MP2 R34 owner told me Tennessee gave him a hard time about the smog test because the car was a 1999 and they expected it to have an OBD-II port since all US-made cars after 1996 had to have them. Only after he took it higher up their chain of command did they agree to do a sniffer test instead.
Thankfully here in Arizona emissions is a simple issue since only the metro areas of Phoenix and Tucson require testing and even there you get an exemption if it's a collector car and insured as such. A Show or Display car will need to be on a collector car policy to meet the 2500 mile per year requirement anyway so that's all good.
Another owner said Washington state was pretty much a breeze and just requested he have all his original documents.
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Of course, one current universal complication regardless of what state you're in is the current COVID pandemic which has put a lot of government offices on very different schedules. Here in Arizona the MVD is still by appointment only which meant my registration took the better part of two months since I had to make three separate appointments to get everything done and the wait times were considerable.
However hard or easy it is, if you make it through all the hoops you can finally give yourself a pat on the back, and head over to your favorite boba place in your newly-legal R34! Enjoy it in good health!