Customs Cracks Down Hard On Illegal Imports

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is cracking down hard on people who illegally import vehicles.

Auto enthusiasts often import cars from other countries, usually either vintage collectables or models that can't be had here. It's a great way to get a rare or collectible piece of nostalgia, or a super car that's built for European race tracks. U.S. Customs makes allowances for "classics", vehicles that are more than 25 years old, and does not require them to meet emission and safety regulations.

Recently though, people are finding ways to get their hands on coveted newer vehicles that are not supposed to hit North American roads. Since these cars and trucks are not made for the U.S. market, they rarely meet local safety standards and so are not eligible for import.

Many copies of the original Mini Cooper have entered the U.S. illegally. Production of the car ceased in 2000, but it still attracts legions of fans. Some of these fans are importing the car, and registering it with the vehicle identification number of an older model. This tricks authorities into believing that the car fits into the "classic" classification.

The same trick is being used to bring the Land Rover Defender back to our shores. This highly coveted vehicle hasn't been legally allowed here since 1998 when tougher safety regulations took effect. This classic off-roader can be purchased in Europe for about $5,000 plus about $2,000 in shipping. Once it's here, it can sell for between $35,000 and $70,000. Any that are here, whether illegally imported or left over from pre-1998 are highly sought after and have retained pretty much all of their value, making the black market for this vehicle pretty lucrative.

Since the look of the Defender has not changed in decades, it's relatively easy to get it past customs by attaching a VIN from a model that's more than 25 years old.

Land Rover is co-operating with U.S. Customs officials, helping them to identify the Defender, and it's genuine age. The company is developing a successor to the current generation of the Defender, one that will meet world crash and emission standards, opening the door to it's return to the legal U.S. market.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is stepping up it's efforts to prevent the illegal importation of vehicles. Recently it seized a Defender that was illegally imported and used it to publicly showcase it's efforts to put a stop to the practice. The agency destroyed the iconic vehicle in a very public way. Much to the dismay of fans, a giant claw crashed down on the Defender at a Baltimore junkyard, before tearing it apart, dumping the twisted pieces unceremoniously onto a scrap heap. Reporters were invited to attend, and a video created, sending a message that they will no longer tolerate illegally imported vehicles.

By Linda Aylesworth -


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