Petrolisti Unite! Time to Rewrite a Foolish Law
Photography by Rémi Dargegen and Daniil Matyash
Alright, Petrolisti, time to mobilize the community! I need your help, and all of your auto enthusiasts’ friends help (and their friends, and their friends’ friends too) in overturning an unjust law. On Monday, we asked you what car you’d like to import, never sold in the US, that is more than twenty-five years old.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the United States has an almost blanket ban on importing all vehicles younger than twenty-five years old. Land of the free, my foot! With very few exceptions, you can’t just import a car from another part of the world until it has turned twenty-five years old. And it’s about protectionism. But not about protecting occupants or even the environment. The law was passed in the 1980s when fluctuations in the currency exchange rates could provide massive profits to an importer over the manufacturer that originally made the car. Remember the term “grey market”? Well, the automakers didn’t like it, and so lobbied our government to make it much tougher to do this. How much tougher? You’d have to really want a particular “unobtanium” car. Like really, really want. And you’d have to have the money, time, and resources (read that as $$$$) to get it federalized to drive it legally on our roads. I won’t go into the specifics, but the maze of bureaucracy made me give up the dream. But as a well read, and perhaps well travelled car enthusiast, there will probably be a time when you too hear the call from a car built in a distant land. But currently there is no easy way to do this. Unless we overturn this law.
But why? Our friends to the north in Canada can import vehicles aged fifteen years or more, and in other parts of the world, such as Europe and Japan, legalizing almost any non-approved car is easy. All they want to do is check that it has lights and brakes, and a little bit of paperwork. Both Europe and Japan also have special allowances for low volume imports. There is no rational reason we couldn’t give approval to European certified cars. German TUV approvals are tougher than our own, and include rear collision and rollover standards we don’t perform. In fact, a global standard for safety and crash testing would make a lot of sense, and save the manufacturers time and money. But that’s a conversation for a different day.
Early in 2013 I tried my hand at effecting legislative change. I sought to overturn the law, or at least begin the conversation towards that and thus started a petition at Whitehouse.gov (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov), and seeded it to the auto enthusiast community. If a petition meets the signature threshold, it will be reviewed by the President’s office and they will issue a response.
To receive a response, a petition must reach 100,000 signatures within thirty days. That’s a high bar by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps there wasn’t enough buzz about it, and perhaps more importantly it wasn’t clear to the average American car buyer, used to buying a new Camry or Accord off a dealer’s lot, why not being able to import a Porsche 959, Lancia Delta Integrale, Audi RS2, or Nissan Skyline was and is important. The law was created decades ago when the exchange rate could have provided an advantage to an importer over the manufacturer, however that is no longer an issue. In fact, most cars are much less expensive in the USA.
I am pushing for a change in the law from the twenty-five year limit to fifteen. Meaning that right now, the newest car you could import would be a 1999 instead of a 1989. I realize the number of people who truly care about this is minimal, but if we generate enough buzz it should be possible. Many people may never personally import a car, but at least they would have the ability to do it. The worst that could happen would be that a few handfuls of car nuts would be driving around in some weird cars from the ’90s. And that would be a beautiful thing.
So join me, friends in signing this petition, and pass it on to your friends, and so on and so forth, and let us reminisce the eloquent words of William “Braveheart” Wallace.
“…And dying in your bed many years from now, with your stack of well read auto periodicals knee deep, would you be willing to trade all the domestically produced Camrys, Accords, and Fusions from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our government that they may take our non-conforming imports but they will never take our freedom!”