importing a vehicle

Australian car import reforms 2016

Information verified correct on April 29th, 2017

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

The Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 is being reviewed and updated for the first time since 2000. A lot has changed since then, and these updates are designed to bring it 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.

What do these changes mean?

In February 2016, the Australian government announced what it had planned. These changes are expected to be rolled out starting in 2018:

  • You will be able to import new cars from selected right-hand drive countries with equivalent vehicle standards to Australia
  • 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 further raised
  • A simplified process for importing special vehicles that do not meet typical standards
  • Improved supply of new mainstream cars
  • Clarified supplier responsibilities in the event of a vehicle recall
  • Reduced regulatory burdens for registered automotive workshops (RAWs)

How to import a car into Australia

Access to new vehicles

These changes are good news for car enthusiasts because you’ll have much easier and much wider access to more vehicles, such as overseas models and internationally-priced cars.

  • From 2018 you can personally import a new car or motorcycle from another country once every 2 years.
  • The other country’s vehicle standards must be comparable to Australia, the vehicle can’t be more than 12 months old and must have no more than 500km on the odometer. Cars must be right-hand drive.
  • The only other countries that currently meet these requirements are Japan and the United Kingdom, but more will likely be added in time.

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 just keeps shrinking each year. The reforms will replace the “manufactured before 1989” requirement with a “must be at least 25 years old” requirement.

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. This duty means it costs more to administer than it makes back, with a lot of those costs borne by automotive businesses. The removal of this outdated rule is just one of the changes businesses should expect to encounter.

Appropriately registered automotive workshops and dealerships can expect reduced red tape, more options and more streamlined approval and registration processes.

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

To get on the SEVS register, a vehicle must be at least one of the following:

  • 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 a disability
  • One of only a small number, when only a handful of such cars were produced
  • A left-hand drive car of which right-hand drive versions are not available anywhere in the world

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 tires 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 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 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 too is 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 2018 for more options, better value and an easier time with importing and registration.
  • Need a vehicle in the meantime, but want to wait until 2018 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 2018.
  • 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.

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2 Responses to Australian car import reforms 2016

  1. Default Gravatar
    Terry | January 11, 2017

    I want to bring my jaguar x type station wagon back to Australia when I return in 2018. However the car is not fitted with rear isotonic seat belts, which I have been told is a legal requirement. Can anybody tell me 1) is this true, 2) can these be retrospectively fitted, 3 if this is a requirement is it in all states. Thanks in advance.

    • Staff
      May | January 11, 2017

      Hi Terry,

      Thank you for your inquiry and for contacting – a financial comparison website and general information service designed to help consumers make better decisions. We are not importation experts so can only provide a general advice.

      The government has actually a set of minimum safety standards when it comes to importation of vehicles to Australia. You’d be best to visit the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development website for more information on the requirements of individual import options.


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