606 Victoria Avenue
Saskatoon, Canada S7N 0Z1
Dear Mr. Feldman:
This responds to your e-mail to John Womack of this Office regarding your wish to import your 1991 Toyota Tercel passenger car into the United States later this year for use in the Washington, D.C. area. You have asked "what must be done or what papers must be obtained in order for me to properly register my vehicle in the U.S." You state that your vehicle has "a decal on the driver's doorpost clearly stating that the car DOES CONFORM to all federal safety and bumper standards in effect on the date of manufacture."
Because at the time in question Canada's certification wording requirements were identical to those of the Department of Transportation, the certification label on your car is ambiguous and can be read as a statement applicable to Canadian standards only, or to those of both Canada and the United States. For this reason, the U.S. Customs Service will allow entry of a privately-owned vehicle by the owner if the entry is accompanied by a letter from a vehicle's manufacturer attesting that the vehicle was manufactured in compliance with the U.S. Federal motor vehicle safety standards, except for minor labeling variances (if that is the case). If the Tercel was manufactured in Canada, you should obtain a letter from Toyota's Canadian office. If the car came from Japan, a letter from either Toyota USA or Toyota Canada would suffice. If Toyota will not provide you with such a letter -- and we understand that this may be its policy -- you may import the vehicle through the registered-importer process described below.
However, even if it is willing to provide a letter regarding vehicles that conform except for minor labeling variances, Toyota cannot provide such a letter to you if the Tercel does not have either automatic restraints at each front outboard passenger seat, or, alternatively, an air bag at the driver's seating position. These are requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 that were in effect in the U.S. for the 1991 model year, but not in Canada. You can judge whether the vehicle was manufactured to meet these requirements by examining your car. In the event that it does not conform, you must contract with a "registered importer" (RI) to petition the agency for a determination that the Tercel is capable of being conformed to meet Standard No. 208, and to contract with the RI to conform the vehicle after entry if the petition is granted. The agency's Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance will provide you, upon your request, with the names of RIs in your area.
We are unable to advise you on the requirements of vehicle registration in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, and advise you to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles where you wish to register the Toyota.
If you have any further questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel