Don’t lose money with overseas car conversions

by Robert Szostek

Americans in Europe must beware of European car dealers who offer to convert cars or motorcycles to U.S. standards. You stand to lose a lot of money if you try to ship a vehicle “converted” in Europe to the states.

The Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency only accept work done by licensed companies in the United States, not the work of individuals or overseas companies. However, vehicles rebuilt by the original manufacturer to U.S. specifications can be imported with the proper documents. U.S. Customs routinely perform computer checks of vehicle identification numbers to detect phony conversions.

“It is tempting to save some money by doing work here in Europe,” said Bill Johnson, director of the U.S. European Command’s Customs and Border Clearance Agency.

But overseas conversions are not licensed by U.S. agencies.

“Shipping, paperwork and conversions cost between $6,500 and $25,000 per vehicle,” he added.

Under EPA regulations, non-conforming vehicles less than 21 years old may only enter the United States through an independent commercial importer. These vehicles must be tested and adapted to the emission standards in effect at the time of production. Vehicles that are 21 years old or older do not require EPA tests or conversions.

DOT requires shippers of non-conforming vehicles to sign a contract with a registered import company that must certify in advance that it can convert the model to U.S. safety standards. The owner must also post a bond for one and a half times the vehicle’s dutiable value.

“Vehicles over 25 years old do not need conversion to U.S. safety, bumper and theft prevention standards,” Mr. Johnson said.

Get the “Importing a Car” pamphlet from a military customs office for more information on shipping foreign vehicles. Or consult the military customs Web site at