Maine Taking Back Car Registrations: How Can It Do That?

We haven’t heard of this before and didn’t know states could even do it. But the state of Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles is taking back legally registered Mitsubishi Delicas. Those are the Japan-only minivans that became importable with the 25-year federal import rule. How can any state deregister legally imported vehicles like the Delica?

Mitsubishi Delica owners are receiving deregistration packages from the state of Maine

White Mitsubishi Delica
Mazda Bongo | Mazda

Crankshaft Culture is a casual car website that was the first to bring this to the interweb. It posted at the beginning of July that Maine was actively canceling Delica registrations. Additionally, it is not allowing any further importation of Delicas into the state. 

Delica owners are getting cancellation letters in the mail that advises state law 29A MSRA 354 precludes vehicles like Delicas to be registered. The statute centers around what the state considers legal for both safety and emissions. It specifically says, “So-called minitrucks do not meet United States safety and emissions requirements for automobiles.”

There are all kinds of red flags that pop up after reading that. The most obvious is the term “minitruck.” It may be semantics, but a minitruck is a scaled-down pickup truck. The Delica is not a minitruck. 

Mitsubishi sold Delica minivans here legally in the late-1980s

Mitsubishi Delica minivan rear 3/4 view
Mitsubishi Delica minivan | Mitsubishi

Another red flag is that Mitsubishi sold Delica vans in the US, legally (we might add), for four years. That would be 1987 to 1990. It also sold an almost identical wagon version with windows for passengers. 

So, how can a van be a minitruck? And, how can it have been legal to register when new but not 24 years later? To be honest, it defies logic. 

Some victims of the deregistration have corresponded with Maine representatives. They have been told that the minitruck moniker is meant to take in numerous types of vehicles. It covers vehicles that weren’t sold here when new. And it covers vehicles that don’t meet the FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards).

Does this mean other 25-year imports may also see deregistration?

Mitsubishi Delica in snow
Suzuki Carry | Suzuki

So, this wording raises some concerns. Could this statute apply to all vehicles imported under the 25-year rule? Will Mainers be seeing various other vehicles formerly legal to sell there, for a variety of reasons, suddenly become illegal? 

Maine officials have communicated back to some unfortunate Delica owners. Its main concern around the van is that it doesn’t pass FMVSS, EPA, and NHTSA requirements. But that is confusing because, don’t forget, the Delica was sold in the US for a time.

Maine says that the 25-year law is for importing vehicles into the US. It has nothing to do with registering a vehicle. That seems like it is sidestepping the issue. But it gets worse.

Maine answers a few more questions causing more questions

Mitsubishi Delica with cargo doors open
Honda Acty | Honda

Autoblog got wind of the problem and was able to get a few more questions answered from the state. But the answers pose even more problems. The state insists that vehicles like Delica were wrongly registered as “on-road” vehicles. But Maine sees the Delica as an off-road vehicle. 

It says that any vehicle meeting the same points as the Delica can be subject to deregistration. Most other states allow cars to be imported if they meet federal restrictions. Only states like Oregon won’t allow the same vehicles the federal law no longer restricts. 

It seems like Maine is stirring up a big dust storm over nothing. Statistically, as hobby vehicles, these get driven so few miles every year as to be almost non-existent. Their exposure and amount of pollution, as related to its output, is negligible. 

So why even bother taking back registration when these vehicles have such little environmental and safety effect? And one last thing; does the state of Maine return your registration fees since it is taking them back? And if it does, how far back does it think it should go? 

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