Chris Bracken

Moving to the US: Importing a Canadian Vehicle

10 May 2011 | 5 Minute Read

A big difference between the last time I moved to the US and this time is that this time, I’ve got a lot more stuff. One of those things is a recent-vintage Nissan. Faced with the prospect of selling my car and buying a new one, I chose instead to import the one I know and love. Here is my story. But be forewarned, it is not for the faint of heart.

To import a vehicle to the US from Canada, you need to undertake a series of quests. These are detailed on the NHTSA website under the heading Vehicle Importation Guidelines (Canadian). As of May 2011, you need the following items in increasing order of difficulty:

[easy] The following information about your car:

  1. VIN
  2. Make/Model/Year
  3. Month/Year of manufacture
  4. Registration & ownership information

[easy] EPA Form 3520-1. You will likely be importing your vehicle under code EE: identical in all material respects to a US certified version.

[easy] NHTSA Form HS-7. You will most likely be importing your vehicle under box 2B, for vehicles that complied with Canadian CMVSA regulations at their time of manufacture and where the manufacturer attests that, with a few exceptions, it meets US regulations; see final item.

[medium] A letter on the manufacturer’s letterhead from the Canadian distributor, stating that there are no open recalls or service campaigns on the vehicle. I’m not sure if this is required, but Nissan Canada thought it would be.

[hard] A letter from the vehicle’s original manufacturer, on the manufacturer’s letterhead identifying the vehicle by vehicle identification number (VIN) and stating that the vehicle conforms to all applicable FMVSS “except for the labeling requirements of Standards Nos. 101 Controls and Displays and 110 Tire Selection and Rims or 120 Tire Selection and Rims for Motor Vehicles other than Passenger Cars, and/or the specifications of Standard No. 108 Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment, relating to daytime running lamps.”

Items 1-3 are left as an exercise to the reader. I will focus here on items 4 and 5 to save you the 14 hours of accumulated hold time and multiple phone calls. Prepare yourself friend, for here begins a journey of hurt and frustration, but you will prevail.

Let’s start with item 4. I gave Nissan Canada a ring at 1-800-387-0122 and managed to make it through the phone navigation system to a human operator. I told them I was importing a Canadian Nissan into the States and needed a Letter of Compliance. After a bit of digging, they stated that such letters are only provided by Nissan North America, but they would instead mail out two other letters on Nissan letterhead:

  1. A letter stating the VIN and that the vehicle has no pending recalls or service campaigns on it.
  2. In place of a Certificate of Origin (which Nissan Canada does not provide), a letter stating the VIN and that the vehicle was manufactured for sale in the Canadian market and complied with all safety and emission regulations at the time of manufacture.

We’re almost there, but your next and final mission is also the most challenging: the Letter of Compliance. Call Nissan North America Consumer Affairs Department at 1-800-647-7261. Navigate through the phone system to an operator - get their name and extension. They may ask for your VIN only to find it’s not in their system. Canadian VINs are not in their system. Some operators thought they were, others were sure they weren’t. They’re not. Many operators tried and failed to find it. Ask them to open a file, give them the vehicle information and your info and get the file number. Use this number whenever you call.

Here are the five steps to success:

  1. Tell the operator that you’re importing a Canadian Nissan vehicle to the US and that you need a Letter of Compliance stating the VIN and that the vehicle was built to conform to Canadian and United States EPA emissions standards and all US Federal motor vehicle standards except for daytime running light brightness. There is a very good chance they’ve never heard of this. Get them to talk to their supervisor, and their supervisor. Anyone. Someone will know.
  2. They will tell you that the vehicle needs to have its daytime running lights disabled before they will issue the letter of compliance. All the government rules seem to specifically exclude the daytime running lights, and the letter they issue even states that the vehicle doesn’t meet that standard, but for whatever reason they want a copy of a work statement showing the work was done. Remember to get the operator’s name and extension and the fax number for the work statement before you hang up.
  3. Get the daytime running lights disabled. It’s a setting change in the on-board computer; your local dealer will do this in under 30 mins for $50 or so. 
  4. Fax your the work statement and put your name, return fax number and a request for the Letter of Compliance on the cover sheet. Phone Nissan North America Consumer Affairs back. The phone navigation system will give you hope that you can input an extension directly, only to find it only accepts 5-digit extensions but your rep has a 6-digit extension. You’ll end up back in the queue. Ask whoever you get to put you through to your previous rep, by extension. When you get through, say that you sent the fax and request the letter. Ask them to phone you back when they’ve faxed it.
  5. You’ll get the fax eventually - check the information! On my letter, the year, model and VIN were all incorrect, though they got my name right. If it’s incorrect, try again.

You now have everything you need to import your Nissan to the States. Good luck my friends, I don’t envy you, but know that I am with you and that victory will someday be yours too.