Car Import laws are changing.  So what does it mean for you?


With Holden, Ford, and Toyota finally closing their doors to manufacturing in Australia, it seemed like a good time to review the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989. It’s been 17 years since the Act was updated, and since then a lot has changed The Act needed to be kept up to date with the modern world by getting rid of unnecessary legislation and accepting the fact that cars have undergone vast technological changes in the last 20 years.

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“What do these changes mean?

In February 2016, following a review into the existing Motor Vehicle Standards Act, the Australian government announced what it had planned. Following extensive industry consultation that resulted in a few adjustments to those original plans, the Road Vehicle Standards Bill was to be introduced into parliament before the end of 2017.

As a result, the following changes are expected to take effect by 2019:

  • You’ll have more access to different specialist, classic, luxury and enthusiast cars.
  • The process of importing a car through the Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme will be quicker and easier, while the quality of these vehicles is improved.
  • A simplified process for importing special vehicles that fail to meet typical standards.
  • Improved supply of new mainstream cars.
  • Clarified supplier responsibilities in the event of a vehicle recall.
  • Vehicle recall provisions will apply to all road vehicles sold in Australia, whether private or commercial.
  • New vehicles will require a secure vehicle identification marking to deter theft and re-birthing.
  • Reduced regulatory burdens for registered automotive workshops (RAWs).

Importing rare and special cars

You’ll be able to import a wider variety of rare, luxury, classic, collective and special-purpose vehicles more easily with expansions to the concessional arrangement scheme, which grants exemptions to usual requirements when importing certain special vehicles. This is one of the main ways to import vintage or special cars that don’t meet typical new car standards, and the car import reforms are making it easier.

Prior to these reforms, a vehicle could only qualify if it was manufactured before 1989. Naturally, setting a fixed date like this doesn’t make a lot of sense because the number of eligible cars keeps shrinking each year. The reforms will replace the “manufactured before 1989” requirement with a “must be at least 25 years old” requirement.

Regulation and costs for businesses

Overall, these updates will shift Australian vehicle standards closer to that of international equivalents to make overseas import of cars to Australia easier, and reduce the costs involved in regulating and managing these imports.

Current regulation includes a $12,000 special duty on imported used vehicles. This is rarely applied but still represents a significant hurdle for importing used cars. The cost of administering this duty is higher than the return, with a lot of the costs borne by automotive businesses.

The removal of this outdated rule is one of the changes businesses should expect to encounter. Appropriately registered automotive workshops and dealerships can expect reduced red tape, additional options and more streamlined approval and registration processes.

Registered Automotive Workshops (RAW) will now be able to import both new and used vehicles of the types listed by the Specialist & Enthusiast Vehicle (SEV) register. As a garage business owner this means you can offer your customers added value with less bureaucracy, and as a customer you can enjoy increased options with better value in more places.

To get on the SEV register, a vehicle must match at least one of the following criteria:

  • High performance with specifications such as power-to-weight ratio, that are significantly superior to mainstream Australian vehicles.
  • Environmentally high-performing, such as vehicles that offer much lower emissions per kilometre travelled than mainstream cars.
  • Manufactured with special features to assist people with disabilities.
  • One of only a small number, limited editions.
  • Left-hand drive.A left-hand drive car of which right-hand drive versions are not available anywhere in the world.
  • Motorhomes and campervans. A vehicle originally manufactured as a campervan or motorhome.

There are other benefits too:

  • Registering as a RAW will be simplified. Workshops will now only need to establish certain workshop particulars and achieve ISO 9000 quality management systems certification.
  • Sample vehicle testing and modification requirements will be reduced, including removal of the current requirements that serviceable catalytic converters and tyres be replaced, and reduction of emissions testing requirements for sample vehicles that are from countries with similar emissions standards as Australia.
  • The limits on the number of vehicles that can be processed by each workshop will be removed.
  • The industry code of practice for left- to right-hand drive conversions will be updated to consider for modern vehicle construction and design methods.

While these make it a lot easier for businesses to provide and buyers to purchase imported vehicles, there is still a commitment to actively improving, and not just maintaining, existing quality standards with the introduction of third-party vehicle-by-vehicle inspections. All Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme (RAWS) supplied vehicles will be required to undergo third-party inspection to confirm:

  • Modifications have been carried out appropriately.
  • The vehicle has no structural damage.
  • The vehicle’s identity is genuine.
  • The odometer reading is valid.

Workshops will also have to meet new technical and reporting requirements, but this is also being streamlined with a documentation pre-approval process known as Model Reports which:

  • Are authored by qualified third parties.
  • Provide for the sharing of documentation and design details between multiple RAWs.
  • Provide a standardised way for shared designs, test evidence and modification procedures to be efficiently examined and approved by the Department of Infrastructure.
  • Include a checklist of key specifications to be used to more easily confirm compliance.

How to prepare for the car import reforms

If you run an automotive business, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the changes and think about what it will mean for you. Be ready to hit the ground running by knowing about your new responsibilities and advantages.

If you’re a car enthusiast or are in the market for a vehicle, it might be a good idea to plan ahead.

  • Want a modified or imported car?Consider delaying your purchase until 2019 for more options, better value and an easier time with importing and registration.
  • Need a vehicle in the meantime, but want to wait until 2019 before spending money on a “real” car? You might want to consider saving your money for the real thing, and cheaply financing a used car, or picking up a cheapor low-interest car loan so you have more to spend come 2019.
  • Think you’ll want a good car in the near future, but not right away? If you start planning now you can ensure you’re in a position to take full advantage of these car import updates when the time comes. This might involve budgeting to pay for a new car outright, or comparing new car loansahead of time to prepare for that instead.

Consider getting car loan pre-approval if you’ll be taking advantage of the 2018 car import changes.

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