International auto transport: Vehicle homologation

December 12, 2019
Atanas Nikolov
students car shipping discount

Many people think that importing or exporting a vehicle is fairly simple. Everything you need should eventually come down to reliable car shipping services. In reality, this is not always the case.

International auto transport can be a complex topic to navigate. Depending on the countries, it can include various additional actions. On top of that, perhaps the most important thing is the vehicle itself. Classic cars have it a bit easier, but almost all other vehicles have to meet certain criteria. What is more, such criteria are specific to any given country.

A car that is allowed in one country, may not be road legal in another. To make it road legal (or to see if it already is), the vehicle has to pass through a homologation process.

In this post, we are going to explore exactly what that is, and what it means for international car shipping.

What is vehicle homologation?

In layman’s terms, every single country has some requirements for vehicles. It means that in order for any car to be sold on the market, it has to meet those requirements. In other words, it has passed through vehicle homologation.

You rarely hear about such requirements though. That is because cars you buy in-country (which are most cars anyway) have already gone through homologation. The manufacturers are responsible for that if they want to sell their cars.

Because of all that, people have a bad idea about importing and exporting vehicles. Many folks look at cars on a given foreign market and decide to buy them. Only it is not just a simple transaction. Often you can import a vehicle, but not drive it, as it is not road legal. Let’s see what the most common scenarios are.

Vehicle homologation examples

One of the most common situations is importing a vehicle from the US to the EU (occasionally, vice versa too). As a general rule of thumb, US-to-EU homologation is a bit laxer. While European safety standards are usually stricter, they allow some exceptions. US imports, on the other hand, have to be wholly compliant.

Ironically, many cars that people would actually want to import from the EU to the US, may not be roadworthy at all. Cars that would be are usually cheaper in the States, so there is no reason to import. This is why it is important to research specific model homologation needs beforehand. In any case, the easier homologation process makes US-to-EU imports more common.

Here is a summary of how the US and the EU approach vehicle standards so that you know what to expect:

  • Safety standards. As we have mentioned, Europe has stricter laws. In the US, manufacturers self-certify safety. In the EU, manufacturers need governmental approval.
  • Emission standards. In general, EU emission standards for newer vehicles are close to the US ones, but the latter require a lot more testing. Because of that, most EU cars would likely pass a US test but would need to go through an extensive procedure. Additionally, EU tests are different in concept, so a US car would have to be tested there too.
  • Fuel efficiency standards. Europe does not have set requirements for those. However, by definition, such requirements are closely tied to the emission standards. In the majority of cases, EU vehicles would pass US standards.
  • Additional requirements. There are many other small requirements that usually need a check. That includes lighting, electromagnetic compatibility, etc. In most cases, though, such tests are more of a formality.

Another scenario is importing a car from Japan to the US. This is actually more likely to cause problems than an EU import. Japanese cars usually come with a right-hand drive and they also have to meet all the requirements above. The problem is that often, the discrepancy is bigger than between the US and EU cars.

That being said, it is key to do your research. Any car you import would have to go through homologation. However, if it does not meet the standards, it will have to be brought to compliance or exported. If you cannot handle any of that, then it would have to be destroyed. This applies to the EU, Japanese, and any other vehicle.

The good news is that Japan exports are becoming more and more common. That makes it easier to find an already US-compliant model. Plus, any car that is more than 25 years old can be imported freely from anywhere, as it is considered classic. Explore our story about the Lada Zhiguli that travels halfway across the globe!

How to take care of homologation

For starters, it depends on the country into which you will be importing the vehicle. If you are shipping a car to the EU, there are many companies that can help you with homologation. They offer licensed experts, who can legally inspect your car and certify it. Moreover, they can also help you with all the necessary documentation.

The great news about importing to the EU is that the car usually does not have to meet all the standards perfectly. You can request a certificate of exception that will include all the unmet requirements. From then on you have to act on a country-by-country basis.

Japan-to-US imports and homologation are done in a similar fashion. The only problem here is that the imported vehicle absolutely has to meet US standards. For more details on those, you can check our article on how to import a car to the United States.

Would you like to import or export a vehicle?

Undoubtedly, many foreign vehicles look tempting no matter where you live. Some Europeans crave the American muscle beasts, while here in the States we drool over a good Nissan Skyline. Often it is not even about price – we just want access to foreign models here!

Are you actually considering importing a car to the US or another country? As a car shipping company, we’ll do our best to assist you in that!

Leave a comment