Australian car import reforms 2020 update

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

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In 2016, it was announced the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 was being updated for the first time since 2000. After all, a lot has changed since then, and these updates intend to:

  • Bring the Act up to date with the modern world
  • Get rid of unnecessary legislation
  • Properly address the fact that cars today are very different than they were 20 years ago

This guide will take you through the changes that will affect importing a car into Australia.

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

2020 car import reforms update

Changes arising from the reforms did not come into force until December 2019, in the guise of interim arrangements.

Here's a quick summary of the eligibility criteria brought in to effectively allow the import of 25-year-old vehicles that would have been included in the reforms had they gone ahead:

  • The vehicle model or variant must not have been genuinely available (or in full production volume) to Australian consumers, at least for a period of its lifespan.
  • The manufacturer must have placed the car on sale in international markets for a minimum of three months.
  • Additionally, it must fall into one of the following six vehicle categories:
    • Performance variant
    • Environmental vehicle
    • Mobility
    • Left-hand drive
    • Campervan or motorhome
    • Rare

The process for importing a vehicle using these stop-gap measures goes like this:

The applicant accesses the vehicle for SEV eligibility, before submitting a form and supporting evidence to the infrastructure.gov.au SEV email address.

From there, the department takes over and follows a flow chart to determine whether they need more information or whether they can advance to adding the vehicle to a register of SEVs eligible for discretionary approvals. They also maintain a list of ineligible vehicles.

Only Registered Automotive Workshops (RAW) can take advantage of this short-term provision.

What do these proposed changes mean?

Let's travel back to February 2016, when, 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 were expected to take effect by 2019:

  • Increased access to different specialist, classic, luxury and enthusiast cars.
  • Quicker and easier process of importing a car through the Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme, while the quality of these vehicles is improved.
  • 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 applied to all road vehicles sold in Australia, whether private or commercial.
  • New vehicles to receive a secure vehicle identification marking to deter theft and re-birthing.
  • Reduced regulatory burdens for registered automotive workshops (RAWs).

As you'll note from the box above, these changes haven't been fully implemented yet.

How to import a car into Australia

Importing rare and special cars

When these changes do eventually come into effect, 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 the 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 should make 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 rolling "must be at least 25 years old" requirement.

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importing a car into australia

Regulations and costs for businesses

Overall, these updates should shift Australian vehicle standards closer to that of international equivalents to make the 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 that 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 modern vehicle construction and design methods.

While these make it a lot easier for businesses to provide and for 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 that:

  • 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 there are more options, better value and an easier time with importing and registration.
  • Need a vehicle in the meantime, but want to wait 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 pick up a cheap or low-interest car loan so you have more to spend in the future.
  • Think you'll want a good car in the near future, but not right away? If you start planning now, you can ensure that 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 car import changes.

Pictures: Shutterstock

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33 Responses

    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?

    Default Gravatar
    CamJanuary 4, 2019

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

    Default Gravatar
    KurtDecember 12, 2018

    Hello

    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.

      It isn’t hard to import a car to Australia with the new reform so long that you meet all the requirements of car importation. We have listed the steps to import your car in Australia.

      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.

      Cheers,
      May

    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!

      Cheers,
      Jeni

    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.

      Cheers,
      May

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