Vehicle Industry Registration Procedures Manual

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Section 13 of 38

Chapter 12: Nonresident Vehicles

12.050 Direct Import Vehicles

Direct imports are vehicles which have been imported and originally manufactured for use in other countries. These vehicles may have foreign emission and/or safety labels, or no labels.

A Vehicle Identification Number Analysis (VINA) validation determines when a vehicle is a direct import (grey market) vehicle.

The Direct Import Guidebook is obsolete. Polk’s Canadian and International Registration Manual has information on foreign documents and registration requirements previously found in the Direct Import Guidebook.

Registration and/or Titling Requirements—The following must be submitted:

  • The basic nonresident registration documentation outlined in the Basic Registration Requirements section in this chapter.
  • Evidence or documentation to prove that the vehicle was imported legally and cleared U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). CBP forms 7501, 3461, 6059, 3299, or 3311, stamped or endorsed by CBP are acceptable. This does not apply to U.S. territories.
  • Evidence that the vehicle was modified to meet Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). This may be FMVSS labels affixed to the vehicle or a letter from the manufacturer certifying the vehicle meets FMVSS requirements.
  • Evidence that the vehicle was modified to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards and requirements. This may be a label affixed to the vehicle or letter from the manufacturer stating the vehicle meets U.S. EPA requirements.

Manufacturers may certify to FMVSS and EPA requirements on the same letter.

  • If the vehicle is less than two years old, a certificate of conformance from a California Air Resources Board (CARB) authorized laboratory.
  • A smog certificate, if required.
  • If the application is for registration of a 1968 year model or newer auto or commercial vehicle or a 1978 year model or newer motorcycle that does not comply with:
    • U.S. emission requirements, refer the applicant to CARB at 1-800-2424450 or by email at
    • FMVSS, refer the applicant to the manufacturer to obtain a letter stating the vehicle meets FMVSS.

All references for direct import vehicles indicating “1966 year-model or newer auto or commercial vehicles” should be “1968 year-model or newer auto or commercial vehicles” in accordance with federal regulations

When an application for direct import vehicles is submitted:

  • Do not accept a REG 256F, REV. 8/2016 or prior revisions.
  • Inform the applicant the exemptions are not applicable to direct import vehicles.

There are no CARB programs to convert new vehicles (less than two years old), motorcycles, off-highway vehicles (OHV), and diesel-powered vehicles to California emission standards. Vehicles that cannot be converted to comply with U.S. safety and U.S. and/or California emission standards cannot be registered for on-highway or off-highway use.

Refer customers who have questions or need assistance about direct import vehicles to TCS at (916) 657-6795, CARB at 1-800-242-4450, or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at