Is Homeland Security Coming For Your JDM Import Car?

You’ve lusted for that Nissan Pulsar GTI-R forever, and your hard work all of these years has finally afforded you one. One of the most desirable of so many popular JDM vehicles, you bought it from an importer that included a state title. It’s titled in your state, so it’s legal, right? Except that after only a couple of weeks, representatives from Homeland Security have informed you that it is illegal and they’re coming to seize it

How can the feds seize a JDM import with a title?

Skyline Beat
Honda Beat and Nissan Skyline GTR-32 | Getty

What happened? You bought it from a JDM car importer and it came with a title. The importer you chose night has gotten a title for your Pulsar GTI-R but didn’t get the proper paperwork to make it legally imported. Without the proper documentation, vehicles can and will be subject to seizure by the feds. 

And you have little recourse. The Florida Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles will allow you to keep it, but only in non-operating status. In other words, you’ve now got an expensive doorstop. If you try to export it to a seller in another country, customs can seize it at the dock. 

What usually happens is that after a seizure, it is auctioned to another country that doesn’t touch U.S. borders. Even if you purchased it from a previous owner in the U.S., and had nothing to do with its importation, it can legally be seized. Sometimes it takes going through two or three owners before the feds catch up with the illegal Japanese market car. 

How do you know if a JDM import is here legally?

1999 Nissan Skyline
1999 Nissan Skyline GTR-34 | Getty

So what can you do to make sure the car you’re purchasing is here legally? There is a lot, actually. And that can be a problem for those who hate the homework side of car purchasing. 

First, you have to check out the importer or dealer. If a JDM importer has a shaky record, move on. Next, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has guidelines to help you understand the process. Even if you’re purchasing your JDM from a private owner in the U.S., you need to know the steps to make sure the car you want has all of the documentation necessary.

For a Japanese market vehicle to have been legally imported into the U.S. under the 25-year rule, it must have NHTSA form HS7, EPA form 3520-1, Customs Entry Summary form 7501, and Entry/Immediate Delivery Document 3461. Most states actually need these forms before your car can be registered. 

California needs even more documentation

2001 Mazda RX7
2001 JDM Mazda RX7 | Mazda

And in states like California, there is still more documentation needed. Your vehicle has to show it is in compliance with emissions standards. That means a BAR code label affixed to the car showing it meets CARB requirements. Even if you don’t live in Cali, check with your state’s DMV to see if any other documentation is needed. 

Beyond this, not every 25-year-old JDM model can be legally imported. They still have to qualify under the Show or Display rule. For instance, according to Hagerty Insurance, the only R34 Skyline GT-R models that fall under the Show or Display rule are the 1999 Skyline GT-R V-Spec and 2002 Skyline GT-R M-Spec Nür. 

Still, want to buy a JDM import? Going through these important steps will assure you that Uncle Sam doesn’t one day come knocking. 

RELATED: JDM Cars You Can Legally Import in 2022