Home » Michigan Enthusiasts Become The Next To Fight The Battle Against Imported Car Bans

Michigan Enthusiasts Become The Next To Fight The Battle Against Imported Car Bans

Michigan Kei Cars Ts3
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For more than three years, enthusiasts living on America’s Eastern seaboard and the south have been battling their states over the privilege to drive over 25-year-old vehicles on their states’ roads. The battle has now reached the Midwest as Michigan has become the latest state to revoke the registrations of legally imported Kei trucks. Enthusiasts aren’t wasting any time as they’ve already geared up to fight back.

If you haven’t been following this saga, I’ll bring you up to speed. For years, a number of America’s states have had rules on their books preventing 25 mph speed-limited mini trucks from driving on public roads. In the summer of 2021, the situation changed when the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, a non-governmental group consisting of state DMV administrators and law enforcement, recommended member states start banning any and every vehicle not built to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

As a result of this recommendation, Maine, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, and Georgia began changing their laws and policies to follow the recommendation. Each state is a little different. Maine passed a law that makes any vehicle not meeting FMVSS ineligible for registration. Rhode Island didn’t change its laws but decided to reinterpret existing laws to chase down every Kei-class vehicle owner in the state. Pennsylvania was a little nicer, grandfathering in existing registrations and allowing everyone else to drive their Kei vehicles occasionally as antiques. Georgia and Texas were revoking Kei registrations. Sadly, the battle in Georgia is ongoing, but enthusiasts in Texas scored a major win against the AAMVA by getting their DMV policies reversed.

Lone Star Kei

Technically, the state of Wisconsin also bans Kei vehicles, but you can still get them registered for road use as antique vehicles.

Michigan Joins In

Reader Dogapult sent us a tip that Michigan has started the terrifying march of revoking the titles of Kei trucks and vans that the state previously titled and registered as road vehicles. Unlike Wisconsin, Michigan isn’t allowing these vehicles to be titled as antiques. Instead, the state is saying that these vehicles are unroadworthy and are for off-road use only. Dogapult’s tip has been followed up by a GoFundMe launched by Michigan enthusiasts with the intent on suing the state.

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So, what’s going on in Michigan? Dogapult sent me one of the letters being received by Kei truck owners in Michigan.

Redacted Stuff
Dogapult

The letter opens up by telling the enthusiast that the state made a mistake in issuing a title for road use for the subject vehicle. Michigan then says that based on laws pertaining to “mini trucks,” the state cannot issue a title for road use. Thankfully, Michigan is nice enough to quote the law it’s using to revoke the original title.

That law is MCL – Section 257.217i, Michigan Vehicle Code Act 300 of 1949:

257.217i Issuance of vehicle identification number and certificate of title for assembled vehicles; requirements; safety study; “assembled vehicle” defined.
Sec. 217i.

(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this act, the secretary of state shall, upon an applicant’s payment of the proper fees and submission of all documentation required by the secretary of state, issue a vehicle identification number in the same manner as provided in section 230 and a certificate of title to an assembled vehicle that satisfies all applicable requirements of this act, if the assembled vehicle contains all of the following equipment:

The law then goes through a long list of items a vehicle needs to be legal in Michigan. A lot of it makes sense like at least one headlight on each side of the vehicle, at least one taillight, a license plate light, a horn, seatbelts in model year 1965 and newer vehicles, and brakes. One thing that’s a bit odd is that Michigan requires road vehicles to have a differential gear, which seems oddly specific.

Differentialgear1 Scaled2
State of Michigan

The part that we care about is right here, emphasis mine:

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(5) As used in this section, “assembled vehicle” does not include either of the following:
(a) A military surplus vehicle designated by the federal government as off-road use only.
(b) A gray market off-road minitruck.
(c) An all-terrain vehicle that has 4 wheels and is equipped with a straddle seat.

I searched Michigan’s books and could not find any of the post-2021 AAMVA language elsewhere. Granted, this is the law Michigan is claiming is applicable to their argument to revoke these latest titles. According to the document sent to us, the state doesn’t even give owners the chance to fight. Instead, they receive a corrected title in the mail that bans them from road use. Based on the effective dates of this law, Michigan has banned ‘mini trucks’ for several years, predating the 2021 AAMVA guidance.

Kei Off Road Only
Tiger Truck International

Something we’ve seen in these recent bans is that some states seem to be confusing off-road mini trucks (above) with on-road Kei trucks (below). Americans have been importing mini trucks for decades. Until recently, most of these trucks were imported for off-road use only and have 25 mph speed limiters installed. These trucks were then used on farms, gardens, golf courses, or anywhere else someone wanted something more substantial than a golf cart, but didn’t need to go fast.

It makes sense to ban those kinds of trucks from the road because they physically cannot travel at speeds faster than 25 mph. The rise in popularity of cheap JDM vehicles has muddied the waters, sort of. The state of Michigan points to the Suzuki Carry, Subaru Sambar, Honda Acty, Mazda Scrum, and Daihatsu Hijet as examples of off-road mini trucks.

Car D5298761 C17a 403f B1ec 5f07
Mitsui via Car From Japan

But here’s the thing, while many of these vehicles have been modified into low-speed vehicles and then imported into America, they were originally built as road-legal vehicles. My 1989 Suzuki Every van tops out at 70 mph, which is a similar top speed to a mid-1990s Honda Acty. Sure, that’s not fast enough for an interstate, but these trucks and vans handle just fine on regular roads and state highways. Certainly, they aren’t any worse than many of the absurdly slow classic cars they share Woodward Ave with in the summer.

Unfortunately, Michigan appears to be treating all Kei trucks and vans like they are the 25 mph mini trucks imported for off-road use, regardless of their actual capabilities.

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Enthusiasts in Michigan are wasting no time in fighting back. They’re following the example set by enthusiasts in Georgia and have decided to sue Michigan to get their road-legal titles back. Michigan enthusiast and attorney Kevin Burton intends to take on the state. To aid in hopefully attaining victory, Alec Davies has launched a GoFundMe campaign to fund the battle.

Images Suzuki Carry 1979 1
Suzuki

In the GoFundMe, Davies says:

Kei trucks, vans, and other Kei vehicles imported through appropriate channels that have been issued valid titles should be able to remain on the road.

The State has retitled these vehicles citing safety and emissions concerns for mini trucks: an entirely different category of vehicle from Kei trucks. Mini trucks, like the Tiger Truck, are designed and intended exclusively for off-road use, with a 25mph speed restriction, often lacking the safety and emissions standards required of road-worthy vehicles. By contrast, the Kei trucks we are fighting to protect constitute a special class of small vehicles specifically engineered for on-road use in Japan. These trucks meet all of Japan’s safety, emissions, and size regulations, some of the strictest in the world.

Under the 25-year exemption rule established by the Import Vehicle Safety Act of 1988, these Kei trucks, once 25 years or older, should be considered eligible for use on public roads in the US, as would any classic vehicle.

The campaign has raised $730 of $10,000 as of the publishing of this article.

The Cause

Aamva Partner2
AAMVA

If you’re a regular reader, feel free to scroll down to the end. If you’re one of the many people visiting from elsewhere, you might wonder where the heck all of this is coming from. Well, that boils down to the people of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). I’ve written about this organization several times in the past, but here’s the quick version of what you need to know:

The AAMVA is a non-governmental non-profit lobbying organization composed of motor vehicle administrators, law enforcement administrators, and executives from all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, and Washington D.C. Among other things, the organization seeks standardization of laws across member states regarding traffic safety, vehicle titling, and driver licensing. AAMVA does not have legislative power but it does urge all member states to follow its “best practices.”

The AAMVA has been studying Japanese and Chinese Kei vehicles since at least the late 2000s. Back then, the AAMVA didn’t really know how to handle the flood of cheap 25 mph speed-limited off-road utility trucks that came in from China. The answer came courtesy of an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety opinion published in 2010. The IIHS crash-tested a Kei truck against a Ford Ranger and concluded that low-speed vehicles and mini trucks are unsafe and should be removed from the road.

From that point forward, the AAMVA has advocated against allowing Kei trucks from being allowed on state roads. In 2021, this guidance went even further, essentially telling states to ban any vehicle that doesn’t meet FMVSS. The AAMVA was serious about this, stating in its documentation that if banning a vehicle ran afoul state law, it urged lawmakers to change the laws until the ban became legal.

Aamva3

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The AAMVA has recommended against allowing mini trucks on American roads for over a decade. Some states followed the guidance, banning low-speed mini trucks from their roads. However, many of those importing a vehicle older than 25 years old didn’t have a problem. The AAMVA’s 2021 guidance is its most destructive yet as it doesn’t just target legally imported Kei trucks, but literally every vehicle ever imported that complies with the infamous “25-Year Rule.”

That doesn’t just mean Kei trucks, but any gray market import. That means everything from roadsters imported from Britain, BMW wagons from Europe, JDM Toyota Crowns, giant Toyota Centurys, quirky buses from Europe, rare motorcycles, even those famous Nissan Skylines people drool over. The AAMVA wants all of them off of American roads. The organization is so serious about this that it tells member states that if its suggestions are illegal, the states should find a way to make them legal.

Bmw1 2 E1456332616752
eBay via Bring a Trailer

Yes, the AAMVA even wants that sweet BMW above to go away.

We’ve been trying to find out why, but nobody at the AAMVA wants to talk to us. David McChristian’s best guess is that somehow, America’s automakers feel threatened by the stream of old imports coming in through the border. We intend on finding the truth.

What You Can Do

Sadly, it’s clear that the spread of anti-import laws and policies will not stay contained on the eastern seaboard. Remember, the AAMVA recommends banning all gray market imports, not just Kei vehicles. Maine has followed that recommendation to the letter. There’s really nothing stopping that from spreading.

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If you’re interested in helping Michigan, click here to donate to Michigan’s lawsuit fund. We’ve reached out to lawmakers in Michigan regarding its stance on Kei vehicles and will update when we hear back.

Thankfully, you can help in other ways, too. Find the pro-car politicians in your state and push them to fight to either reverse existing policies or keep the policies already in place. This is what enthusiasts in Texas did and look at the huge win it brought them. North Carolina enthusiasts won their own victory back in 2019, so it is possible for regular people to make a difference. Maybe, we can keep cool imported vehicles in America!

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Dest
Dest
1 month ago

I’m looking at kei trucks and had no idea there was a difference between it and a mini truck…

Alan Bradley
Alan Bradley
1 month ago

When I moved temporarily to the US almost 2 years ago, I really wanted to bring my 2019 Yaris GRMN with me, but the more I looked into it the trickier it was because I have (I’m still here) a US address.
Sure, I can theoretically bring it in for a year because of my work visa but the minutiae of what is and isn’t permitted meant it just seemed to get trickier and trickier to the stage where I didn’t want to take the risk, which is a shame.
Of course, what I should have done was import the 1992 W124 I had and then sell it for 5 times what I paid, but in the chaos of packing up life that was just one more task I couldn’t face at the time.

Sivad Nayrb
Sivad Nayrb
1 month ago

This issue against Kei trucks is being pushed by all the SxS manufacturers & UTV companies.

Convince me otherwise.

2nerkid
2nerkid
1 month ago

Want to chime in to mention that the phone number listed is just the SOS’s default number, and if you’re trying to reach an actual person the correct number for Benson’s office would be 517-335-2436. If you’re calling to speak about this particular issue, they will redirect you to another person who “is the expert on weird stuff like that,” whose direct line is 517-599-9891. They may in turn direct you to the legal department, whose number is 517-241-3463. Good luck!

Alex Bessinger
Alex Bessinger
1 month ago

Here in Oregon, the DMV also will not register KEI vehicles. In the past, it was mainly just the trucks, but I’ve heard in the last few year or two they’ve started cracking down on other KEI imports as well. Sometimes if you go to a more rural DMV, they’ll register it, but often the get caught later on and the registration is rescinded.

There are no state laws here banning KEI vehicles, but rather it’s an internal DMV policy to not register them. From the Oregon DMV’s website:
“Though many kei class vehicles can be imported, they cannot be titled or registered in Oregon because they were not manufactured for U.S. highways. Mini-trucks can be titled if they meet the definition of a class IV ATV (ORS 801.194[2]​)”.

Kipewing
Kipewing
1 month ago

I’m going to step out on a limb here and suggest that Jocelyn Benson (Michigan Secretary of State) is not aware of this ridiculous and indefensible action. I mean, why on earth would an official of the state that is the home of the Motor City attack auto enthusiasts who are at the very foundation of defining automotive culture worldwide? Can you imagine the folly. The next thing they will do is scoop all the Model T’s that don’t meet these standards off the streets of Detroit. Shame. Let’s get this corrected, people. And I am not just writing this because my wife dailies a Kei.

James Colangelo
James Colangelo
1 month ago
Reply to  Kipewing

Kip, this is likely true. I worked for the State for many years (as CPO) and the Secretary is very car friendly and understands our enthusiast base really well. If this is brought to her attention, I have a good feeling it will be reversed. Times like this I wish I still worked there I could just set a meeting… 🙁

James Colangelo
James Colangelo
1 month ago

Can you imagine working for the AAMVA? What kind of garbage human even would want this job – they’re probably all retired auditors.

Clear_prop
Clear_prop
1 month ago

They probably got voted off their HOA board for being too evil, so AAMVA is their fallback job.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 month ago

“What’s all this I keep hearing about gnocchi?”

Emily Litella

Last edited 1 month ago by Hugh Crawford
Mark
Mark
1 month ago

Since 1974, the state of Michigan said my Lotus is perfectly fine.

The AAMVA says they’ve been wrong for the last 50 years… It’s a Canadian/French market 69 that made it’s way to the US in 74!

If you read the AAMVA strictly they want to revoke registrations for everything made before 74

Dogapult
Dogapult
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

See, that’s the sort of business I want to see. Suddenly all the muscle cars are getting title revocations. We’d have a revolution on our hands!

Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green
1 month ago

My .02? “Gray Market” is not a defined term in the statute. How can the state take action against a vehicle, claiming that it something that has no definition?

When you are dealing with statutes, and there are terms in a statute, the rule is

  1. Definition in a statute;
  2. Dictionary definition

What is the gray market? There is no solid definition.

If I buy a car, and my wife hates it, and I sell it to my neighbor, is that selling the car on the “gray market”?

The key to these cases is definitions, and “strict construction” of the statute.

Years ago in Michigan, we had a helmet law. The law said that you had to wear a helmet “approved” by the Michigan State police. The problem was that the State Police didn’t “approve” helmets at all….

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
1 month ago

Hey! You’re back! Good to see you.

Oregon MTN Biker
Oregon MTN Biker
1 month ago

Register the cars in either Montana or South Dakota.

Sivad Nayrb
Sivad Nayrb
1 month ago

Doing so screws with taking the proper legal/legislative route to getting good policy put in place.

Robert Runyon
Robert Runyon
1 month ago

This will become cost prohibitive. Most would be better served with a side by side. In the end, it will be cheaper. Odd given the poor safety record of UTV ‘s. But, hey, it’s politics and the billionaires run the show.

Last edited 1 month ago by Robert Runyon
Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
1 month ago
Reply to  Robert Runyon

Kalifornia have banned Kei and 25 yr old gray market cars, but, oddly allow NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) that can only be used on streets w/ 30mph speed limits or less. Heck, the California Air Resources Board (a non elected group of faceless bureaucrats) have banned existing commercial Diesel engines over 10 yrs old and plan to eliminate any new Diesel engines from even operating in the state. CARB also has made it illegal to swap engines in an OBDII car, even w/ a newer (lower emissions) engine if it’s not from the same manufacturer. We won’t even talk about banning small engine gardening equipment starting this year.

OM613
OM613
1 month ago

What about just engaging with the legislature and fixing the problem rather than relying on loophole states?

Yes I Drive A 240
Yes I Drive A 240
1 month ago

Maine passed a law that makes any vehicle not meeting FMVSS ineligible for registration.

How is this even legal when it goes against federal guidelines for importing a vehicle 25 years or older?

Sivad Nayrb
Sivad Nayrb
1 month ago

Because, Bueller, the States issue your tags / title / registration, not the Feds…

Yes I Drive A 240
Yes I Drive A 240
1 month ago
Reply to  Sivad Nayrb

*rolls eyes*

Okay, squirt.

The NHTSA states that an imported vehicle 25 years or older is not required to meet FMVSS to be eligible for road use. While the states dictate their own road laws and registration requirements, they’re explicitly ignoring the federal statute for imported vehicles over 25 by requiring them to meet regulations they’re not legally required to meet. It’s a loophole that has little to stand on. The states themselves don’t have the power to nullify federal automotive laws (with California being the exception for emissions) and rewrite them.

We’ve seen this happen before and the outcome is almost always the same. The state is sued, the case hangs in court for years, and eventually the laws change.

Last edited 1 month ago by Yes I Drive A 240
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