Australian car import reforms 2018

Car import laws are changing. What does this mean for you?

The Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 is being updated for the first time since 2000. A lot has changed since then, and these updates are designed to bring the Act up to date with the modern world, get rid of unnecessary legislation and properly address the fact that cars today are very different compared to 20 years ago. This guide will take you through the changes to importing a car into Australia.

The information included in the article is general advice. If you are thinking of importing a car please read the full guide on the Australian Government website.

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).

How to import a car into Australia

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.

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importing a car into australia

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:

  • Performance. High performance with specifications such as power-to-weight ratio, that are significantly superior to mainstream Australian vehicles.
  • Environmental. Environmentally high-performing, such as vehicles that offer much lower emissions per kilometre travelled than mainstream cars.
  • Mobility. Manufactured with special features to assist people with disabilities.
  • Rarity. 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 take into account 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 cheap or 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 loans ahead 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.

Pictures: Shutterstock

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33 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    SteveJanuary 23, 2019

    If I Import a 99 year old British car that was previously living in Australia for 69 years (1920 – 1989) will I have to pay import duty?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JeniJanuary 24, 2019Staff

      Hi Steve,

      Thank you for getting in touch with finder.

      It is best that you seek help from the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities to learn further on fees/duties in importing this 99-year-old British car.

      I hope this helps.

      Thank you and have a wonderful day!


  2. Default Gravatar
    CamJanuary 4, 2019

    Is there any changes to the models which can be imported? Or is it still the same SEV list?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      CharisseJanuary 5, 2019Staff

      Hi Cam,

      Thanks for reaching out to finder.

      If you are pertaining to the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme (SEVS) list that you can access through a link found in the Australian Government website, I can’t say for sure if there has been recent changes to the list but the list shows it was last updated on December 31, 2018.

      I hope this helps.


  3. Default Gravatar
    KurtDecember 12, 2018


    What is the deal with importing a beach buggy from South Africa to Perth? I see some have already done it so it is possible. Can you shed some light on this and will it be easier after the new reforms?
    Cheers, Kurt

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      MayDecember 18, 2018Staff

      Hi Kurt,

      Thanks for reaching out.

      Well, not really that hard to import a car to Australia with the new reform so long that you meet all the requirements of car importation. The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development lists eight steps you need to follow so you can successfully drive your car in Australia. Best to check the detailed steps on this page for your guidance.

      Meanwhile, it’s also important to be familiar with the new reform on car importation so that you would know your new responsibilities and advantages.

      Hope this helps.


  4. Default Gravatar
    IanOctober 7, 2018

    Hi Guys,

    Can I transfer the steering from left to right overseas before bringing it back to Australia, as it is cheaper to transfer there than here in Australia? It still has to comply with Australian standards.when it arrives on the shores of OZ.

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JeniOctober 11, 2018Staff

      Hi Ian,

      Thank you for getting in touch with finder.

      Yes you may do so, provided that you have documentation for the said change and the vehicle have worked overseas for a considerable period of time (more than 12 months). You have a list of questions regarding your imported card while obtaining the Vehicle Import Approval (VIA) from the Australian Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.

      I hope this helps.

      Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any other enquiries.

      Thank you and have a wonderful day!


  5. Default Gravatar
    karlJuly 13, 2018

    i am looking at buying a dodge viper 1994 that has already been in australia some time and is still left hand drive.
    the seller said it cant be driven on au roads as it was imported for display purposes .
    it has only 15k on speedo and is like brand new.
    am i allowed to buy it and have it converted in au or am i allowed to buy it and drive it left hand drive

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      MayJuly 23, 2018Staff

      Hi Karl,

      Thank you for your inquiry and sorry for the delay.

      In Australia, you can generally buy and drive an already-imported vehicle provided that the vehicle has met the Vehicle Import Approval from the DIRDC. These are usually vehicles that are not designed to be used on the road. If that Dodge Viper you’ve found has a Vehicle Import Approval, then you might be able to buy it, convert it to RHD and use it on the road. If you like to know whether the Dodge has a Vehicle Import Approval, you need to send a request in writing to the Department (DIRDC) with your contact details and the vehicle details including make, model, VIN/chassis number. If the vehicle does have a valid approval, the Department can send confirmation. The letter can act as the Vehicle Import Approval for registration purposes.

      Hope this helps.


  6. Default Gravatar
    DebMay 22, 2018

    I’m an Aussie expat living in Qatar for 3 years. I was looking at sending my 2012 Chev Camaro SS, 6.2 6 speed LHD back to Australia next year. I’ve owned the car for 3 years. Is there any possible way I can keep it LHD? It would cost $40,000 AUD to convert to RHD far out weighs the cost of the whole deal.

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JeniMay 24, 2018Staff

      Hi Deb,

      Thank you for getting in touch with finder.

      Some territories permit having a left hand drive vehicle. For example in Queensland, there are some special cases where a vehicle that is left hand drive is permitted to be registered and use Queensland’s roads. Please see this link for your reference.

      Vehicle registration is administered by the registering authority in each state or territory. You should contact your state or territory registering authority for further details on how to have your vehicle inspected and registered.

      I hope this helps.

      Have a great day!


  7. Default Gravatar
    TylerApril 17, 2018

    Thank you very much!

  8. Default Gravatar
    TylerApril 16, 2018

    I live in Canada and am planning on moving to Australia on a Permenant Resident visa.
    I would like to purchase a vehicle for resale when I move because of the vast price differences, especially on some Porsches. I understand that there a 1 year ownership clause, but I’m worried that I may end up moving slightly before the 1 year mark.
    So my questions are:
    Would keeping the vehicle insured and available for me to drive up to the 12 month mark still qualify as ownership for import, even if I ended up living in Australia for the last few months?
    Are there any issues importing a LHD car under this method?
    Would luxury tax be applicable on a personal import?


    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      MayApril 16, 2018Staff

      Hi Tyler,

      Thanks for reaching out. Please note though that finder is a comparison website and general information service, so we only offer general advice.

      1. Would keeping the vehicle insured and available for me to drive up to the 12 month mark still qualify as ownership for import, even if I ended up living in Australia for the last few months?
      If it’s a personal import, you’re required by the government to have used the vehicle overseas for at least 12 months. Otherwise, you may be eligible to apply to import the vehicle under: a.) Letter of Compliance Option; b.) Discretionary Approvals or c.) Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme.

      2. Are there any issues importing a LHD car under this method?
      One of the conditions to meet the import approval is to change your car from LHD to RHD.

      3. Would luxury tax be applicable on a personal import?
      Yes, if the value of the vehicle is greater than $60,316 ($75,375 for fuel-efficient vehicles). GST is also applicable. Depending on the age and type of the car, you will also pay for duty of the vehicle. Other importation costs will also be charged.

      You can learn more about the 8 steps on car importation to Australia on this page.

      Hope this helps.


  9. Default Gravatar
    ChrisApril 12, 2018

    Hi, Interested in importing a Toyota Celica ST205 GT4 turbo (1994-1999) into Australia, because Australia only received about 77 from Toyota – rest (3-5) are personal import. Will these new laws allow me to buy from a used Japanese car dealer / personal (private) import?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoshuaApril 12, 2018Staff

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for getting in touch with finder.

      As we are finder, a comparison website, we can only provide general information. For this reason, you might want to talk to an expert to get a more personalised advice.

      For the meantime, it is worth noting that it is possible for you to import a used car from Japan. You just need to check the eligibility of your car and whether it is compliant with Australia’s regulation. Once you have determined the eligibility, you need to prepare the necessary documents and apply for vehicle import approval.

      Aside from the useful information from this page, you might want to read the 8 steps to import a vehicle and other considerations when importing vehicles into Australia.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!


  10. Default Gravatar
    MichaelFebruary 10, 2018

    Hi, I’m an Aussie living in America and plan to return to Australia with my small collection of historic motorcycles that I’ve owned for many years. I remember there used to be a rule of “only one personal import of vehicle per person every seven years”.

    Under these new guidelines, am I able to personally import multiple vehicles or is there some caveats around this?


    • Default Gravatar
      JoelFebruary 17, 2018

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for leaving a question on finder.

      You can only import one vehicle as per this page. However, under certain circumstances, a second vehicle can be imported in the name of a spouse or de facto partner, but the spouse or de facto partner is required to meet all requirements of the personal imports option. In these cases, proof of the relationship should be provided.

      If you need anything else, please send me a message.


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