Feature: car importing made easy

By: Paul Tuzson, Photography by: Paul Tuzson

Presented by

Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy Feature: Importing made easy

Importing a car looks attractive, but get it wrong and you are in a world of pain. Here's the guts on the whole deal

Feature: car importing made easy
Feature: Importing made easy


Feature: Tips on importing cars


There’s nothing like locating your dream car, but if it’s on the other side of the world you’ll need to get it here somehow. Doing so is complex and fraught with potential difficulties, and getting it wrong can even lead to the destruction of the car you’ve imported! Didn’t mean to freak you out...

Thankfully, you can shift a lot of the difficulties to those more practised at dealing with them.

The difference between a smooth import and a disaster is finding the right people. It is possible to bring in a car without the help of a specialist but the amount of knowledge needed is huge. There are, for instance, different schemes with varying requirements for importing vehicles to Australia, and you have to choose the right scheme from the start. Here, we’ll concentrate mainly on importing a classic muscle car from the US using what’s known as the ‘Pre-1989’ import option.


A VIA from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development is essential. You can apply online or via form. Either way, you cannot import a car without a VIA, period. The strong official advice is that you should not arrange to ship a car before you’ve obtained a VIA. If you don’t have one when the car arrives in Australia it will not be cleared, and you’ll have to pay the Customs bonded storage costs for every day that it sits.

If you don’t have a VIA you’ll have to choose between sending the vehicle back to the country of origin or having it destroyed. Either way, you’ll bear the cost. The icing on the cake is that it’s an offence to import a car without a VIA, so you could also be charged and/or fined.

It takes about 15 days to get a VIA, which is why pre-purchase research is so important. Processing times can increase during peak periods. If you have to move quickly to secure a hotly contested car you won’t have a VIA. So, the car will have to be stored in the country of origin until you receive it. Perhaps the seller will be understanding and agree to hold on to it for you until the approval comes through. If not, you’ll have to pay for Stateside storage until it’s safe to arrange shipping.

You could reason that the VIA should arrive before the car and arrange shipping without it. However, if anything goes wrong delays could lead to the problems listed above. If the VIA has a mistake then the original has to be posted back to DOTARS with an explanation on what is wrong with it. Once DOTARS receive the original they will then send out another VIA.


Finding the car you want can be difficult. One importer suggested that many people in the US are doing it hard. They’re out to make a buck any way they can and misrepresenting a car to an overseas buyer is as good a way as any. That’s not to say Americans are dishonest in general; far from it. They’re terrific people, particularly in the car fraternity. But dishonest people exist and they’re looking for suckers, so try not to be one.

One of the most important things to check is that the person selling you a car is its actual owner. You should insist on seeing proof of this in the form of a Certificate of Title – the so-called pink slip. Also, get a photograph of the VIN (if the car has one) so that you can check it through the American National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) service. A web search will bring up the site.


International freight costs are fairly predictable but there can be some surprises both before and after shipping. Where is the car in relation to the shipping point? The RO/RO shipping point will be different from that for containerisation. Inland road freight in America isn’t cheap. Moving a car from, for example, LA to San Francisco will cost around $400-$500 for standard transport. One importer we know ended up paying $1300 to get a car from Colorado to California. Enclosed transport is even more expensive.

Keep in mind that GST is payable in Australia on your international transport costs. Yes, you heard that right. The money you spend in America is subject to Australian GST. Customs Duty and maybe Luxury Car Tax may also be payable. To summarize:

A Customs Duty of 5% is payable on the Customs Value of cars less than 30 years old. For cars older than 30 years, no Customs Duty is payable.

Customs Value = Purchase Price + Required Modifications

GST is payable on the Value of the Taxable Importation (VoTI) which is Customs Value, Customs Duty, transport and insurance combined:

VoTI = Customs Value + Customs Duty + cost of transport + insurance related to transport

The Luxury Car Tax Value of a vehicle is the sum of Customs Value, Customs Duty, VoTI plus GST. If these exceed $57,009, Luxury Car Tax is payable:

Luxury Car Tax Value = VoTI + GST

Some people think they can be a bit clever and avoid some tax by under reporting the car’s value. But the authorities aren’t stupid. They can use tools such as Redbook to check generic value and you will need to provide proof of payment when your customs entry is lodged. If they don’t think your valuation is correct they’ll call for a valuation by an approved expert, which costs you another few hundred dollars.


Biological contamination is a threat that Australia takes very seriously. So, your car will be inspected for potential bio-hazards by the Quarantine division of DAFF. Potential hazards include general micro-organisms, insects, spiders, seeds, general plant matter, nests, etc. These sorts of things can lodge in the engine bay, plenum chambers, wheel arches, in behind wheels and wheel covers, under a car generally, around latches and hinges, in tyre treads, mirror housings, external vents, window seals… basically any out of the way spot on a car. Inside the car, vents, internal storage areas, under seats, seat crevices and storage pockets, boot, spare wheel storage and the like should all be checked. All these areas must be thoroughly cleaned before the vehicle is shipped. Also, wiper reservoirs should be emptied and allowed to dry out with the cap off.

The Department of the Environment also gets involved. If the car has air conditioning that used banned gasses, the system should be degassed (and relevant components disabled/removed) before arrival. Even without gas, a car still won’t be cleared unless you provide documentary evidence from a company qualified to do the job in the country of origin. Keep in mind, too, that all such documentary evidence has to be in English.


One last point is that you should get insurance to cover shipping mishaps. Containers fall off ships and sometimes cars can be damaged during handling and packing. As with all insurance you’ll hate having to pay for it but you’ll be happy you did if something goes wrong. Bear in mind there is normally a minimum excess to pay in the case you do make a claim.


- Detailed knowledge of the car including any specific problems it’s likely to have. - Knowledge of various governmental bodies and procedures. - Someone you can trust where the car is located. - Patience. Being impatient can make things move even more slowly.


Short containers are 20 feet long and can take two cars. The freight cost from America for a 20 foot container is about A$3000.

Long containers measure 40 feet long, can take three to four cars and cost about A$5000. There’s approximately another A$1500 in costs for each car. Many companies will consolidate your car with others to fill a container. Additional items can be packed as you see fit. Indeed, most importers pack engines and parts into whatever space is left around the cars.

Using a freight forwarder helps, as they’ll give you a quote. Make sure they clearly explain any extras, including destination port charges and government taxes.

There is an option called Roll On/Roll Off (RO/RO). This can be cheaper but it’s not as secure and can take longer. RO/RO carriers don’t allow any parts to remain in the vehicle. Once the car rolls off, it is ideal to get the inspection done on the first day of availability. A valid MSIC (Maritime Security Identification Card) is required to get onto the wharf, both for the inspection and to move the vehicle off the wharf afterward. It’s best to engage a broker/forwarder well in advance so that the whole process runs smoothly.


The sea voyage from America is about 20 days but you have to add port handling and customs processing times. The clearance process generally takes three to five days. If there are any mistakes in your paperwork it can take longer. It’s therefore important to ensure your broker has the correct documents early enough to avoid any issues (and subsequent delays).


1-hired -help

It’s handy to use a business that can help with aspects of an import. Chevy Down Under has its own workshop and can help get a car registered. Using the services of an importer costs a bit more but it’s the easiest way of finding the car you want and getting it here with the least trouble.

02 POST - 1989

2-post 1989

For post-1989 cars individual imports or the RAWS scheme are the options. Information about RAWS is available from the sites mentioned but here we’re concentrating mainly on the Pre 1989 option.


3-buyer -beware

This ’57 was bought via the web and was supposed to be a good car. When it arrived it wasn’t good for anything except providing some extra shade for the owners dog.



Local company Secon Freight Logistics takes delivery of cars all the time. When the container is first cracked open any points likely to harbour bugs is given a preliminary spray before unloading. The vehicle is then taken to a fumigation pad for full treatment unless otherwise specified by Quarantine.


5-at -risk

No car is treated to remove contaminants unless directed by Quarantine. The car is taken to an approved bay for inspection by an Authorised quarantine officer and after cleaning it is re-checked by an authorised quarantine officer. Contaminants on cars are called QRM – Quarantine Risk Material and of it must be removed before re-inspect.After cleaning it’s checked carefully.

06 AREA 51

6-area -51

It may seem like this is just an open concrete area but nothing could be further from the truth. The Secon facility is a carefully controlled biological containment area. It’s washed down twice a day, the drains are all filtered multiple times and even the roof is treated to prevent birds from nesting there.


7-wrapped -up

Experienced importers like the AO Car Shop have experienced packers that make sure your new pride and joy is carefully packed to avoid damage. Still, insurance is a must.

Two cars can generally fit in a 20ft container (one on the floor, one above on a rack). A 40ft container can take four however a long car like a Cadillac may have to be combined with shorter one like a Camaro.


8-hold -it

A car in dirty condition is pretty much going to get a ‘quarantine hold’ sticker and have to be cleaned. With this in mind, some importers don’t bother having cars cleaned in the US.


- Do all your research before you start your car hunt. Once you find one you’ll likely have to move quickly to secure it.

- Look at the car personally if you can manage it. About 30 per cent of cars brought in as a result of internet purchases are lemons (anecdotal). If you can’t inspect personally there are companies that specialise in pre-purchase inspections for a few hundred US dollars.

- Ask the seller to take specific photographs of the car in potential problem areas.

The list of potential problems to look for can be extensive but some common questions are:

01. Does the vehicle have a clear title? (The original title will be needed in the USA for export clearance.)

02. Does the vehicle have ‘matching numbers’ to the title?

03. Are there any signs of rust – particularly to the undercarriage or fuel tank?

04. Are there any major modifications If so, are these in line with the factory specifications of the car – and were they completed before 1989?

05. All modifications must be listed on the Vehicle Import Approval (VIA -- see below) application. Only slight, cosmetic modifications are acceptable.


DAFF - Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Farming www.daff.gov.au/biosecurity/import/vehicles-machinery/motor-vehicles

ACBPS – Australian Customs and Border Protection Service www.customs.gov.au/site/page4371.asp

AQIS – Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service This agency doesn’t exist any more but you’ll still find links to it (even on government sites) and downloadable literature for it. Its function is now part of DAFF.

DOTARS – Department of Transport and Regional Services Same story as AQIS above except that this redirects to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development at www.infrastructure.gov.au This website has a staggering amount of information.

The link to apply for a Vehicle Import Permit online https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/vehicles/imports/application_forms.aspx

Department of the Environment http://www.environment.gov.au/topics/environment-protection/ozone/licences-and-reporting/equipment-licences-eqpl-and-lvil

ATO – Australian Taxation Office Has specific information related to GST and luxury car tax at www.ato.gov.au/Business/GST/In-detail/Your-industry/Motor-vehicle-and-transport/Luxury-car-tax/?page=5


TMR – Department of Transport and Main Roads Queensland www.tmr.qld.gov.au/Registration/Conditional-registration.aspx

DIER – Department of Infrastructure, Energy & Resources Tasmania http://www.transport.tas.gov.au/registration_information

DOT – Department of Transport Western Australian http://www.transport.wa.gov.au/licensing/licensing.asp

RMS – Roads & Maritime Services New South Wales www.rms.nsw.gov.au/registration/conditional_registration.html

DPTI – Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure South Australia www.sa.gov.au

VicRoads www.vicroads.vic.gov.au

MVR – Motor Vehicle Registration Northern Territory http://transport.nt.gov.au/mvr/registration No specific information about imported vehicles.

RTA – Road Transport Authority – ACT www.rego.act.gov.au/assets/PDFs/VVH%20Application%20form.pdf


- Determine if the model car you want is eligible for import.

- Check that the car can be registered in your state.

- Select a freight forwarder, a customs agent.

- Find a car and get it inspected.

- Ask for photographs of the car with particular attention to any modifications that have been made.

- Check proof of title.

- If it has a VIN, grab it.

- Apply for a VIA. Documents required are: - Driver’s licence or passport copy (certified copies are always preferred by DOTARS). - Bill of sale. - Photo/s of the vehicle. - Title document is not mandatory but is a good idea to have this to make sure you are quoting the correct VIN Number on the application. - If another person/party is applying for the permit for you a letter of authority nominating them as your agent is required.

- Arrange for storage in America.

- Cleaning at origin is recommended, but that does not guarantee your vehicle will pass inspection once it arrives in Australia.

- When your VIA arrives, check the VIN number is correct, then arrange freight.

- DOTARS can tell you the status of an application over the phone, but anything further than that such as supplying additional information or making an amendment to an application must be made in writing (post, email or fax).

- Arrange cleaning and degassing of the air conditioning system, and if the equipment can only use banned refrigerants, the removal of the system.

- Have the car packed into a container and delivered to the point of departure.

- When the car arrives in Australia arrange for a Full Import Declaration (FID). Additional Documents required are: • VIA • Bill of Lading (Shipping Document) • Obtain proof of purchase in the form of a T/T receipt or bank statement, including details of any deposit AND balance payments made (this will be needed for customs clearance). • Air-conditioning De-gassing certificate (if applicable) • Proof of Origin U.S.A. charges (inland freight, export clearance etc.) • Proof of International Freight charges

- Pay Customs Duty, GST, Luxury Car Tax as appropriate.

- Arrange a DAFF quarantine inspection.

- When vehicle is cleared have it delivered. These are some of the basic steps. A broker/forwarder will take care of most, it not all of them. For instance, a customs agent will arrange an FID and may offer other services like freight in the US. We spoke extensively with local company Bluefreight which offers complete end-to-end services including export clearance, US inland freight, export clearance/title validation, marine insurance, international freight forwarding, and customs brokerage services to simplify the entire process.



Adults Only Car Shop www.aocarshop.com.au 07 5493 3202

American Performance Imports https://www.facebook.com/pages/American-Performance-Imports/429399777091472 9363 1127

Bluefreight www.bluefreight.com 03 9419 9344

Chevy Down Under 0412 014 880

SECON www.secon.com.au


Subscribe to Unique Cars Magazine and save up to 39%
Australia’s classic and muscle car bible. With stunning features, advice, market intelligence and hundreds of cars for sale.