Importing Used Motor Vehicles

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Looking for a good value in a used motor vehicle, without sacrificing quality?  Dealers in Canada and Japan (and other countries) often have inventory that can hit that “sweet spot” for combined price and quality for US buyers. 

Even if you have never imported a vehicle before, the basic process is quite straightforward.

  1. Decide what you want, and get familiar with the available range of models, vehicle age and mileage, and price that represents a good value for you.  (Internet searches for “used vehicles Japan”, “used vehicles Canada”, and similar terms will return many options.)

  2. Before you actually place your order, contact Transmark Customs Brokers for an estimate of import and customs clearance costs, and information on some important issues you should be aware of. 

  3. When negotiating your purchase, especially with Japanese sellers, tell them exactly what shipping arrangements you want, to make your life easier and reduce your total costs.

  4. Keep TCB “in the loop”, so we can get shipping information and file customs documents early, to avoid delays.

  5. Make arrangements to pick up your vehicle from Japan at the import marine terminal, or to drive (or haul) your vehicle from Canada from the seller’s premises, through US Customs at the border, that include getting authenticated copies of Customs documents that you will need to register and title your vehicle in the US.  (TCB will advise exactly what to do, to make this happen smoothly and efficiently.)

These types of used motor vehicles are generally easy to import, because they are normally either already in compliance with US safety and emissions standards, or old enough to be exempt from those standards:

  • Vehicles originally manufactured in the US

  • Most vehicles manufactured in Canada, so long as they are documented as meeting the US safety and emissions standards in effect at time of manufacture

  • Vehicles which have original manufacturers’ labels stating the vehicle met the US safety and emissions standards in effect at the time of manufacture – regardless of country of manufacture

  • Vehicles at least 25 years old – which are exempt from US safety and emissions standards

Be very careful about buying any motor vehicle that is less than 25 years old, and was not manufactured in either the US or Canada, and is not verified as having original manufacturers’ labels stating the vehicle met the US safety and emissions standards in effect at the time of manufacture.  The vehicle may have to be modified to meet current US safety and emissions standards, which is usually a very expensive process for the importer, and may not be able to be modified at all.

If you have questions about any of these points, or would like to discuss how best to take advantage of good values on imported vehicles for your next purchase, please call TCB at 253-893-7400 or send your e-mail message to