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Last year the state of Florida revoked the titles for 400 JDM cars from two importers plying their illegally registered cars in the state. And according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, most of the illegal Japanese cars have been imported into the U.S. by just two companies, both of which are owned by the same person. The FDHSMV describes it as an “illegal import ring.”

Who was importing the JDM vehicles?

1998 Nissan Skyline GTR
1998 Nissan Skyline GTR | Getty

The two arrested so far are Andres Diaz and Nicole Chiong. They are from the corporate offices of the two companies; J-Spec Garage and Soho Imports. The fraud charges involve 348 applications for Florida titles. Included in the charges are 50 counts of identity theft, 40 for producing forged documents, and another 40 for falsifying a bill of sale. 

FHSMV says Soho Imports “poses an immediate serious danger to public welfare.” This is because now the buyers own cars with revoked titles. While they can’t function as vehicles on public roads, they make great doorstops. Seriously, the only thing these cars are good for now is as a race car. 

Adding another layer of bad, the Department of Homeland Security has listed all of the vehicles as contraband. So anyone trying to register these cars will have a problem. Additionally, only registering with the state allows companies to do this commercially. Neither J-Spec nor Soho Imports have ever been registered importers. Ever. You can’t import cars on a commercial basis without having an import dealer license in the U.S. 

What were the JDM importers importing?

Honda Beat ragtop and coupe
Honda Beat ragtop and coupe | Getty

What type of imported cars are these? First, they are all JDM vehicles. That means Japanese Domestic Market, which is exclusively built for Japan. So they don’t have the same emissions and crash standards as American-made vehicles. 

The most popular of these are the Nissan Skyline, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V RS, and Honda Civic Sir-II and Type R. But the list is long, including KEI cars and trucks. Mostly, they are performance models not available here. 

With the 25-year law now in effect, vehicles 25 years old and older can waive the law. They are no longer required to comply with all applicable DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. So the rise of JDM importers has increased. But there have been issues within some states that jeopardize that blanket definition. 

What states don’t honor the JDM 25-year rule?

Low-speed fish truck
Small low-speed fish truck | Getty

Maine, Rhode Island, New York, and Pennsylvania have all been revoking certain JDM-imported cars brought here legally. To be clear, they are eligible for the 25-year rule. But a lobbying group called the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, released “guidelines” recommending not allowing these cars into the U.S. over safety issues.

The AAMVA has no legal standing. But it recommends certain changes to laws governing vehicles in the U.S. Why they can do this, and why states feel compelled to change federal laws to reflect the AAMVA’s “guidelines,” is a mystery. 

What’s the reason?

Vintage Nissan Skyline GTR
Nissan Skyline GTR at the Tokyo Auto Show | Getty

Some states like Maine give the reason for revocation as following the AAMVA guidelines. Other states, like Rhode Island, give no reason. It just began revoking registrations specifically for JDM mini-trucks, microvans, and KEI cars. This is an ongoing dispute that was settled years ago with the 25-year rule. Yet, revocation of registrations is ongoing in these states. 

As for the Florida situation, it is different due to the illegal issues connected to the importer. Is the crusher the final fate of these 400 cars? According to The Drive, the Florida Highway Patrol must finish its investigation before addressing the cars’ fate. 

Update: 6/16/2023


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