25 Year Law Editorial

Colin Mower, Contributing Writer

During the late 1980s, congress passed the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act, better known as the 25 year law, which prevents the importation of foreign market vehicles into the US, which are under 25 years old. The idea behind this law is that it prevents people from importing and driving a vehicle that does not comply with the same safety and emissions standards that US market cars do. For the majority of car buying Americans, this would never be an issue, because they would not even consider going through the hassle of buying and shipping a car  from a seller in a foreign country. For a small population of car enthusiasts though, this law is a source of frustration, because it prevents them from driving interesting and unusual foreign market vehicles they might otherwise want to own.

This law came into being largely thanks to car makers, particularly Mercedes-Benz, lobbying congress for it to be enacted. Automakers wanted to stop people importing so-called “grey market” vehicles to protect their american dealer networks as well as their US market profits. The law of course, says it is about safety and emissions, but there are several examples that show this really is not the case.

One of these is a December 2014 case in which a Mini Cooper from the year 2000 was seized from its owner by the federal government, and then publicly crushed into oblivion at a New Jersey junkyard. This car was from the final production year of the original version of the Mini, which was introduced in 1959. This particular car had a fraudulent Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from a 1988 Mini, in order to make the car appear legally old enough to import. This VIN swapping could be used as reason to impound the vehicle, but it was only done to get around the law. The main difference between a 2000 Mini and a 1988 Mini, is that the one from 2000 has an airbag. The car from 1988 does not have an airbag, and yet because of this law which claims to be about safety, is perfectly legal despite clearly being the less safe version of an otherwise identical vehicle.

In a more extreme, hypothetical scenario, it is perfectly legal to import a Trabant from the 1970s. The trabant was a small, terribly slow and unsafe car made in the former communist nation of East Germany. Thanks to its small two-stroke engine, the same type commonly found in powered landscaping equipment, the Trabant produces an alarming amount of blue smoke as well as lots of noise. Also, it is made of cotton. It is illegal however, to import a modern, safe, and fuel efficient Mercedes-Benz A-class. Because of safety and emissions standards.
A possible solution to removing the 25 year law is a petition to congress, though there have been several over the years and none have been successful. Another solution could be going to the state level or advocating for reducing the vehicle age limit from 25, to 15 years, which it already is in Canada, or even 10 years, because it is very unlikely the ban would be thrown out completely.