How to Register a Japanese Car


Registering a Japanese vehicle in the U.S. can vary from mildly challenging to quite difficult. Before it can be registered in any state, the vehicle has to be legally imported into the country and meet emissions requirements enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency. If the Japanese car you wish to register is one which is already on sale in the U.S. (such as a Honda Civic or a Toyota Avalon), the task is relatively easy. If, however, it has never been imported into the country, modifications to the engine and exhaust system may be needed.

Things You'll Need

  • Environmental Protection Agency form 3520-1
  • Department of Transportation form HS-7
  • Japanese registration and bill of sale
  • Prepare the documents that prove compliance of the vehicle with U.S. regulations. Before you can register the vehicle, you must provide proof that the car complies with the federal environmental regulations in the United States. Keep in mind that the U.S. has some of the strictest exhaust emission limits on earth, and numerous diesel cars that are widely available in the European Union cannot be sold in America without extensive modifications. To prove compliance, fill out the Environmental Protection Agency's Form 3520-1 and the Department of Transportation's Form HS-7. If a very similar vehicle or the identical car is sold by the Japanese manufacturer here in the U.S. under a different name, include documentation to show the similarities between your car and the model on sale in America. Also include the Japanese registration documents and bill of sale. Submit all this documentation at the border as your vehicle is entering the country. The car will be released, along with the proper approvals, if it complies with the emissions rules of the country.

  • Contact a commercial importer to bring the car into the country on your behalf. A costlier method of getting the necessary paperwork is to import the car into the country through a commercial importer. Such companies specialize in handling vehicles which are not routinely brought into the country and can usually help you get your car through the customs faster and obtain all the key documents, which you will need to complete your state registration later. If your vehicle cannot meet emissions regulations as is, a commercial importer is in fact your only choice. The importer will bring the vehicle into the country and release it to you after making technical changes to the car to meet emissions regulations, which can be rather costly depending on the specifications of the vehicle.

  • The last step is to register the vehicle with your state at your local DMV office. Instead of the signed-over American title, you will present the documents provided by the customs officer, which will show that you are the legal owner and importer of the vehicle and that it conforms with federal regulations. Your state may then ask you to pass a local emissions test too, which in some cases --- in California, for example --- could be stricter than federal benchmarks. However, the states will usually allow you to register the vehicle and obtain temporary plates and then provide you with a certain number of days to pass local emissions tests, which means you can now drive the car and make any changes relatively more conveniently and easily.

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  • Photo Credit Honda S2000 AP1 - 2002 s/w image by Christian Schwendemann from
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