The EPA 21 Year Exemption For Vehicles in Original Configuration

EPA21In addition to the NHTSA, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is another big government agency that has way more power (and more paperwork) than you would imagine. Basically, the EPA is the casino, and this is their house. If you want to bring in a car not certified for US emissions, you play by their rules or your car gets thrown out.

However, the EPA is a lot more lenient than the NHTSA, DOT. The EPA says at 21 years old, and in its original configuration, a vehicle is exempt from EPA requirements. The EPA importation form is called the 3520-1. For vehicles that meet these two requirements, an importer would fill in code E on the 3520-1.

The 3520-1 is the second of the two main government forms you will need to have filled out in addition to an array of other documents that you need when the car is picked up from customs.  So right now you’re thinking: “Well that’s simple, why even mention it? Obviously if the car is 25 years old, then it has already been 21 years old.” So why worry about the EPA?

The EPA most definitely has the ability to squash your importation hopes and dreams. You weren’t planning on racing on hopes and dreams were you? After all, a couple SR20 motors would pull a premium a week before Race Wars…. Never mind…. On the subject of SR20DET engines, say you were planning to import a Silvia Q’s that originally did not come with a turbocharged engine. If someone in Japan swapped in an SR20DET, you better think again. This car’s engine no longer has the original configuration. The text of the pertinent EPA regulation states:

A vehicle is exempted if it has been 21 years or more since its original production year and it is in its original unmodified condition. Vehicles in any condition may be excluded if they were manufactured prior to the year in which EPA’s regulations for the class of vehicle took effect. Vehicles at least 21 years old with replacement engines are not eligible for this exemption unless they contain equivalent or newer EPA certified engines and emission control systems. Upon entry, the importer must file an EPA Form 3520-1 with Customs and declare code “E” on the form.

That means any engine swapped car is not eligible to be imported from Japan to the United States unless it was swapped with a US spec engine and emissions control system (unlikely). Is customs and border control going to notice that your 1990 Skyline GTS-T has an RB25 from an R33 instead of the original RB20? That’s for you to decide, as you will be the one taking the risk as the individual importing the vehicle. Do you think it will be like the scene in Fast & Furious (4) when Brian asks the agent whether a Gallo12 or a Gallo24 would be a better motor for his Skyline?

If you decided to roll the dice, hopefully CBP doesn’t notice or can’t recognize the engine swap. If they do notice a replacement engine, at a minimum you will be out the cost of the car at auction, the exporter fee, and all the transportation and customs fees you have already paid at a minimum. In the casino, when you get caught setting the dice, you get beat up and thrown out. When you get caught deceiving the government, you may lose a lot more than you gambled and get thrown in jail.  In reality they probably will not know or be able to tell the difference. I’ve see a lot of cars imported with everything from engine swaps, to massive aftermarket turbochargers and sewer pipe sized downpipes that remove the catalytic converters. Assuming that CBP will not notice that your vehicle does not actually qualify for a code “E” exemption on the 3520-1 is a pretty large gamble though. Personally I’m going to bet with the house on this one and just play the pass line. If you want to bet on CBP to “crap out” and miss your engine swapped car, that’s up to you. What do you think, is it worth it?

The EPA 21 Year Exemption For Importing A Car Into The United States
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