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EPA requirements for vehicle imports in USA



In this blog post, we'll discuss different types of entries for vehicles from an EPA perspective. The illustration below captures the most frequent applications handled by Schaefer Trans:



Some of the frequently asked questions our clients ask are: “Can I import a vehicle in USA? Can you help us with the customs clearance? How about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) requirements?”


Each shipment presents its own specifics and triggers different requirements and documentation. In this post we are discussing some of those topics, trying to shed some light into controversial topics.


As a general rule, one can import a vehicle in USA, as long as it is in compliance with the following agencies: Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation and Customs and Broker Protection.


Let’s dive a little deeper into each of those agencies and their specific requirements.


EPA Requirements

EPA is a government agency. Its regulatory function is granted by the US Congress, which empowers it “to write regulations that explain the technical, operational, and legal details necessary to implement laws. Regulations are mandatory requirements that can apply to individuals, businesses, state or local governments, non-profit institutions, or others.


The Clean Air Act prohibits importation into the United States of any motor vehicle, motor vehicle engine, nonroad engine and equipment that does not conform to the EPA emission standards and requirements. These standards apply to all vehicles and engines including imported motor vehicles, heavy-duty engines, nonroad engines, (generators, watercraft, and lawn and garden equipment), and recreational vehicles, whether they are new or used, manufactured domestically or abroad.”


The good news is that vehicles over 25 years old are legally imported in USA without having to meet any US vehicles regulations. In this case, all you need is a great customs broker who can help with the CBP clearance.


For vehicles over 21 years old, there are no EPA requirements, but we will discuss later some DOT and CBP requirements.


Permanent Imports

This type of entry, requires completion of an EPA Form 3520-1.


US Vehicles

US vehicles are manufactured according to the EPA certificate of conformity and display a EPA emission label. The certificate of conformity is an EPA issued document, certifying compliance with EPA requirements. The EPA emission label, depending on the type of vehicle, is located under the hood or on the engine. For motorbikes it is usually located under the seat or in the glove box.

Permanent imports of US vehicles that were not modified while outside US can be imported without special approvals. However, in the event that they have had modifications, a bond might be required. This depends on the type of modifications that were performed. The importer of record is responsible to bring the vehicle back into compliance with US EPA requirements.


Non-US Vehicles

Non- US vehicles identical to US version or heavy duty engine (HDE) imported by individuals require a letter of proof from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Under this exemption, vehicles can not be imported for resale. This type of exemption can not be used by OEMs to import vehicles.


Non-US vehicles imported by an independent commercial importer (ICI)

Under this type of entry, vehicles are classified into: more or less than 6 years old original production (OP) age. Original production age is determined by subtracting the manufacturing date from the import date.


If a vehicle older than 6 OP years requires modification and testing to comply with Federal emission requirements, no EPA approval is required. In addition, no bond is required. Note: until ICI brings into compliance with federal requirements, the vehicle can not be driven, or given to the owner for any reasons, including storage.


If a vehicle is less than 6 OP years, it can be imported without the EPA approval, as long as the ICI either has a certificate of conformity for the vehicle or obtains one for the vehicle as a prototype.


An OEM certified version of a vehicle can also be imported for modifications to be identical to US models, without EPA approval or bond requirement. In this case, ICI follows the EPA requirements and obtains a copy of the modification requirements from the US representative of the OEM prior to importation.


Note: Obtaining the letter from the OEM is the importer’s responsibility.


Temporary Imports

This type of entry, requires completion of an EPA Form 3520-1, can be imported by anyone for repairs or alterations, testing or vehicle display. Those entries require PRIOR WRITTEN APPROVAL FROM EPA and will require posting a bond with US Customs.


Diplomats, armed forces, personnel in official businesses and non- resident alien (NRA) can import vehicles on a temporary basis without posting the bond with US Customs.


Racing Vehicles

These vehicles are not properly equipped, safe and/or intended to be driven on highway or streets. Racing vehicles are granted to importers of record with a preapproved racing exemption granted by EPA. EPA letter MUST BE OBTAINED PRIOR TO SHIPPING THE VEHICLE TO USA.


Canadian Vehicles

Vehicle identical to US versions can be imported without EPA approval, as long as they have: either the letter from US representative of the OEM, or are 1988-2001 model years and on the EPA list, or are on EPA identical list and imported for resale or lease.


Non identical to US version, can be imported without EPA approval or bond requirements if they are owned by Canadian owner who is an immigrant, works or studies in USA, or the vehicles are inherited.


Off-road and Recreational Vehicles

Requires EPA approval. 2006 and later models, are subject to certification.


Non-road and Heavy-duty Highway Engines

All permanent exemptions for non-conforming engines require EPA letter of approval. . Some limitations and exclusions apply.



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