Overview Requirements, Definitions, and Interpretations
1. What Requirements Must be Met by a Manufacturer of Conforming Vehicles before its Vehicle can be Imported?
The manufacturer must:
- Submit a letter to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) designating an agent for service of process and a letter from the agent accepting the designation if the manufacturer is not located in the United States (49 CFR 551.45).
Submit to NHTSA information the agency will need to decipher the manufacturer’s vehicle identification number or “VIN” format not later than 60 days prior to offering the first vehicle for sale in the United States (49 CFR Part 565, “Vehicle Identification Number Requirements”).
Submit a letter to NHTSA identifying the manufacturer’s name, address, and the products it manufactures that are subject to the Federal motor vehicle safety standards, not later than 30 days after manufacturing begins (49 CFR Part 566, “Manufacturer Identification”).
Permanently affix to the vehicle, in a prescribed location, a certification label meeting the requirements of 49 CFR Part 567, “Certification.”
2. What Certifications are required on motor vehicles?
- A certification label meeting the requirements of 49 CFR Part 567 that, among other things, identifies the vehicle’s manufacturer (i.e. the actual assembler of the vehicle), states the vehicle’s date of manufacture (month and year), and contains the following statement: “This vehicle conforms to all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) in effect on the date of manufacture shown above.”
For vehicles other than motorcycles or trailers, the label must be affixed to either the hinge pillar, door-latch post, or the door edge that meets the door-latch post, next to the driver’s seating position. For trailers, the label must be affixed to a location on the forward half of the left side of the vehicle, so that it can be easily read without moving any part of the vehicle. For motorcycles, the label must be affixed to a permanent member of the vehicle as close as is practicable to the intersection of the steering post with the handlebars, so that it is easily readable without moving any part of the vehicle except for the steering system.
3. How does NHTSA determine what is a motor vehicle?
The term “motor vehicle” is defined for the purpose of the statute and regulations that NHTSA administers as “a vehicle that is driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways.” See 49 U.S.C. § 30102(a)(6). To be imported free of restriction, a motor vehicle less than 25 years old must be originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS and bear a label certifying such compliance that is permanently affixed by the vehicle’s original manufacturer.
When a vehicle has on-road capabilities, the agency looks at five factors to determine if the vehicle is a “motor vehicle” that must be so manufactured and certified to be lawfully imported into the U.S. These factors
- Whether the vehicle will be advertised for use on-road as well as off-road, or whether it will be advertised exclusively for off-road use;
Whether the vehicle’s manufacturer or dealers will assist vehicle purchasers in obtaining certificates of origin or title documents to register the vehicle for on-road use;
Whether the vehicle is or will be sold by dealers selling other vehicles classified as motor vehicles;
Whether the vehicle has or will have affixed to it a warning label stating that the vehicle is not intended for use on the public roads; and Whether States or Foreign countries have permitted or are likely to permit the vehicle to be registered for on-road use.
4. How do I find legal interpretations of NHTSA’s regulations?
Many questions concerning vehicle certification and importation have been previously submitted to NHTSA’s Office of Chief Counsel (OCC) as requests for interpretation of one or more of the agency’s regulations. NHTSA has published these interpretations on the Internet. You may access these at: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/interps .
5. Issues Outside NHTSA's Jurisdiction
NHTSA issues the FMVSS, which establish minimum performance requirements for the safety systems and components on motor vehicles and for certain items of motor vehicle equipment. The agency regulates the manufacture and importation of motor vehicles to assure compliance with these standards.
6. Motor Vehicle Titling and Registration
NHTSA is not responsible for regulating the operation of motor vehicles on public roads in the U.S. or for titling or registering motor vehicles for such operation. That is instead the responsibility of the individual States. Some States may require a manufacturer's certificate of origin (MCO) or manufacturer's statement of origin (MSO) to register a new motor vehicle. These are not federally required documents. NHTSA, therefore, is not in a position to offer guidance to prospective vehicle manufacturers or vehicle purchasers on obtaining a needed MCO or MSO. Consumers with questions regarding these documents should direct those questions to their State’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Prospective manufacturers seeking guidance on obtaining MCO or MSO documents should contact the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) at 703-522-4201 or visit that organization's website at http://www.aamva.org .
7. VIN Issues
Under NHTSA's regulations at 49 CFR Part 565, a motor vehicle manufacturer must assign to each motor vehicle manufactured for sale in the U.S. a 17-digit VIN that uniquely identifies the vehicle. The VIN must be correctly formatted and include a check digit in the ninth position that is mathematically correct under a formula that is included in the regulations. Typographical errors in a VIN can only be corrected by the vehicle's manufacturer. Contact information for many vehicle manufacturers is available on NHTSA's website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/manufacture. Unless you have contacted the manufacturer and been informed that the manufacturer cannot assist you, please do not contact NHTSA if you have been advised by a State DMV or other authority that there is an error in the VIN assigned to your vehicle.