Buying/Shipping a car from Europe to USA

Old Apr 19th, 2004, 08:15 AM
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Buying/Shipping a car from Europe to USA


I will be spending a year in Germany soon and have entertained the notion of purchasing an automobile in Germany and then having it shipped to the States at the end of the year.

Does anyone know the legal procedures involved? Would this be prohibitively expensive (i.e. cost more than the car itself)? Are there exemptions for "Oldtimers," that is cars that are more than 30 years old?

Is there anyone who has experience with this or knowledge of it?
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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 08:28 AM
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Many European carmakers have some sort of "European Delivery" service that you can drive you new US-spec'd car in Europe for a few weeks, and then have it shipped back to the US, for about the same cost as buying it straight in the US. But that's only for a few weeks - don't know if you can do that for longer.

It'd be almost impossible to get a Euro-spec'd new or like-new car to pass federal emission and safety laws in the US, so forget about that. Antique cars (usually mean 25+ old) should be easier, but I don't know about the exact procedure or cost. I think it might make sense if it's a true classic that's worth a lot of money, or if it's a obscure antique car you really love and can't find in the US.
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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 08:39 AM
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Thank you rkkwan for your observations.

Just to make my question to the forum a bit more explicit, I am actually considering buying a used car, and may try to find a 25 year old novelty that we don't have in the States to ship it back.

But saying I find a 1990 Golf for 3000 Euros (for example) and wish to take it back with me to the states, what does this entail?

Thanks again.
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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 08:41 AM
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I know people who did this many years ago and were able to save a fortune. If you drive a car some number of miles, it becomes a used car and the duty is much lower, so they saved a fortune, even with shipping.

Unfortunately times have changed. The Euro is high and now and the car will probably be far more expensive than the same car in the US. The reason is that during times of high currency against he US dollar, foeign auto firms are willing to sell for less in the US to keep market share. If they actually make the car in the US, then it will, of course, be much cheaper here.

Here's another set of worries. You cannot register a foreign vehicle in the US unless it meets both US emission standards and safety standards. Check these first. Without an EPA sticker on the car, you might still have problems even if the car does, in theory, meet the emission standards. Safety standards vary so much from country to country, that this might well be a problem. You can usually fix problems with standards variances here, but it cost a fortune.

Further, you will still have to pay sales tax in the US when you try to register the car. The rule is that in order to register a car in a state, you must present evidence that you have paid sales tax in that or some other state. Otherwise you pay. (I'm not 100% sure that all states require this, but most do. I also know of people who have slipped through without paying because some clerk didn't know this rule.)

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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 08:43 AM
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"But saying I find a 1990 Golf for 3000 Euros (for example) and wish to take it back with me to the states, what does this entail"

Where do you think that you are going to spare parts from in US? European modela are almost always somewhat different fro those sold in NA.
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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 08:50 AM
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The european programme will not work as you need to get a slot from the U.S. and fly and return with the car within a certain time frame. I met someone recently doing this when they reached Ireland they shipped back home.

A classic car may be a different story and I am not sure about the emissions but they may not be as different as you think. Try to find a shipping company that does this and ask them questions or maybe a car dealer.
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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 08:59 AM
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Since a 1990 Golf is not a classic car, you will never be able to get it "federalized" to pass safety and emission without spending a fortune. And the shipping cost will exceed the value of the car itself.

I am not saying it cannot be done. For example, there's a company in California that imports used Nissan Skyline GT-Rs, and actually spend all the money and effort to get the car federalized. Of course, you'll pay like $70-80K for a used model. But that's an extraordinary car with no peers, which the Golf is not.

Another possibilty is to get a "kit car". It's a pretty robust industry in the UK for these cars. If you have the car disassembled, you may be able to re-register it in the US slightly more easily, as long as the engine is a US-spec'd one that passes emission. But even that you're talking about something in the $20-30K range.

Forget about something like a 1990 Golf. Just sell it after the year.
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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 09:05 AM
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Spare parts is never a problem, especially in the internet age.

On a couple of occasions, I have brought in a car from abroad before. One was a European delivery which BMW took care of and the other was a used car and the only issue with this were that the Federal EPA paperwork and the local (the state where you plan to register your car in) environmental papers should be done ahead of time to e included with the bill of lading.
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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 09:14 AM
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1990 Golf? - IMHO it's simple. It's really not doable for many reasons.

First as somebody said, it will probably cost more than something similar here.

Second, you're on you own with shipping. Shipping cost, customs, wharf charges, marine insurance,etc. would add a substancial cost to an already expensive used car.

And finally, the car would have to be brought up to US emmission standards before you would be allwoed to register it. Another extremely expensive addition.

Each state has different rules, so there is also a possibility of paying extra tax before you could license the car.

So ask yourself a question? Is that 1990 Golf really worth all that?

If you just need a basic car to get around Europe, get something reliable, drive it and sell it at the end of your stay.


New car deliveries work, because you are basically buying the car here. You have to work with a local dealer here. The dealer arranges the deal, usually few thousands cheaper than if you were to purchase the car directly from the dealer. The few thousands saving allows you to have a nice vacation driving your own car around Europe. At the end of your vacation you drop the car off and fly back home. The manufacturer will prep the car for shipping to your designated dealer. They will take care of all the customs and Euro and US wharf charges, marine insurance, etc.. The dealer will prep the car for you and you pick it up. The car is also made to US specifications, so no need for any adjustments. I don't think that's what you're looking for but here is more info about MB European car delivery program:

http://www.mbusa.com/brand/container...x.jsp&menu=2_0
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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 10:46 AM
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A number of years ago I bought a new VW sedan ,made to USA specs, through a VW dealership in NYC. The car was picked up in Germany & had tourist plates which were valid for one year & were not renewable. At that time the shipping to the USA was only at a modest cost & was handled by a local VW dealer in Hamburg.
Unless an "antique" car has a collectors' value, I don't recommend buying a used car over there for exporting to the USA. It's just not cost effective.
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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 11:34 AM
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I've done part of your program, shipping my car back and forth from Long Beach to Rotterdam. It's easy. Just locate a freight forwarder in a major port and let them take care of the details.

My German car was already US spec when I shipped it to Holland. Others on this thread have pointed out the multiple hurdles of Federal and state safety and pollution laws. I think you have to go back to a pre-1975 car to escape these regulations. But you will then be faced with getting it insured in the US.

For starters contact US Customs. They have a booklet titled "Importing a Car" which can set you on the right path.

Your 1990 Golf should cost less than e3,000. I saw a 1991 for sale in Haarlem last year for e2,000. You might want to buy a used car for your duration and sell it before you return home. Where I lived in Germany there were plenty of used car dealers and I expect that you can find something you like. There were also plenty of USA spec cars available on the used car lots thanks to the large population of US servicemen over there.

One option would be to contact Shipside in NL. They sell new US spec cars and take care of the paperwork and shipping. Information is at www.shipside.com/html/company.htm
I've never done business with them but they have been doing this for several decades.
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Old Apr 19th, 2004, 12:09 PM
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check with [email protected]
He has more personal experience than anyone, and far more knowledge than these posts.
Forget the Golf!!! Find something really special: a Z1, 959, etc.
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Old Apr 20th, 2004, 05:52 AM
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"Author: ezlivin
Date: 04/19/2004, 12:05 pm
Message: Spare parts is never a problem, especially in the internet age"

I take it that you've never order a part from outside the country and had it held up at customs for 2 monthes. I have and I hear that it is not uncommon.
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Old Apr 20th, 2004, 07:30 AM
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You are right, platzer, I've received my parts some with delays, but still received them. One of my imported car (an old MB) is not my daily driver, it's one of my my hobbies, hence I can live with delays. My Euro-delivered bimmer is one of my daily drivers and it is a US-spec'd car and parts abound everywhere.
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Old Apr 20th, 2004, 07:39 AM
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Besides, platzer, unless you're into this and have connected with other people that are into the similar interests, you'd be surprised how easy it is to find most parts locally and quickly without having the need to order them in Europe.

In case you are not aware, and trust me on this one, but there are a lot of help available in the internet for all kinds of car enthusiasts.
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