Registering an NON-USA, out-of-country, or "Grey Market" car in California

This page last reviewed November 24, 2013

Vehicle first sold or intended for sale by their manufacturers for sale outside of the United States are called NON-USA or "Grey Market" cars and typically not able to be used or registered in California. The following information lists the requirements to register a NON-USA vehicle in California and is based on the model year of the vehicle:

1967 model year vehicles and older: no modifications and testing are required to register the vehicle in California.

1968 model year to 1974 model year vehicles: California does not recommend the purchase or importation of these years of NON-USA vehicles, even if currently registered in another state. These vehicles require compliance with USEPA requirements in effect on the specific date of 11/15/1972. This provision when written, was considered by the California legislature as a gradual phase-out of very dirty "non-collectable" types of imports, as this specific requirement was understood to become increasingly difficult to meet. Today, this requirement, while not impossible to meet, would require testing expenses and modifications that far exceed most vehicles value and would make little sense from a collectors standpoint to attempt. Some limited exemptions apply to individuals moving to California with vehicles of these years registered in their home state for at least a year before moving to California. Contact us for more information.

1975 model year vehicles to the present: (EXCLUDING any vehicle obtained by a California resident within two years of its date of production) require a "Certificate of Conformance" issued by the ARB after a successful laboratory test. This test is administered to the same standards required of new vehicle manufacturers, and for the model year of the vehicle . However, unlike new vehicle manufacturers, as an individual you are not required to meet the full range of additional testing and equipment standards such as On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) requirements, durability testing, low emission fleet averaging, or Zero Emissions Vehicle testing (LEV and ZEV requirements). So while these standards reference what a manufacturer must do, when required by the Direct Import requirements they apply to individuals importing a used motor vehicle. Some limited exemptions apply to individuals moving to California with vehicles of these years registered in their home state for at least a year before moving to California. Contact us for more information.

Other important general notes: Grey Market vehicle regulations, like the new vehicle certification standards they are based on, are a performance standard and do not have specific equipment requirements. Whatever equipment the vehicle owner or vehicle modifier choose to make the vehicle pass the laboratory test, these will be the equipment requirements for all future inspections. In addition this means all vehicle and engine technologies are subject to the same standard. All fuels, all engine sizes, displacements, no. of cylinders, engine types and designs, even electric and hybrid vehicles must prove compliance by laboratory testing. Unlike California's basic Smog Check program, the Direct Import program does not have exemptions other than the original 1967 model year and older exclusion outlined above. And as a final note, these regulations only apply to passenger cars and light-duty trucks. Motorcycles and heavy-duty engines (used in trucks and buses) are required to comply with CA or USEPA from the date of manufacturer, no after-the-fact modification is permitted for products first sold outside the US market.

REFERENCE| California Code of Regulation Title 13: /msprog/onroad/cert/ldctp/udi.pdf


Diesel vehicles:

1979 model year and older vehicles with original-equipment diesel engines are exempt from Direct Import lab testing requirements. Please note that any vehicle converted to operate on diesel fuel is subject to lab testing requirements if it is a 1968 model year vehicle or newer.

How to tell if a vehicle was made for the USA or California Market

All vehicles sold in the United States have a unique drive-train identifier called the "Test Group" or "Engine Family Number". This number allows owners, parts suppliers, and service providers to determine specifications and installed emissions control equipment of motor vehicles. Because many vehicles may have several different configurations, this number will provide specific information about the emissions control system and exact standards that a vehicle was designed to meet.

The Vehicle Emission Control Information label is located in the engine compartment in a clearly visible position, most often directly on the underside of the hood. The following diagram can help you locate your vehicles label.