Home » States Banned Japanese Imports For No Good Reason And The People Are Fighting Back

States Banned Japanese Imports For No Good Reason And The People Are Fighting Back


For almost two years, many owners of Japanese Domestic Market cars have been living a nightmare. Maine and Rhode Island began revoking the registrations of vehicles that were legally imported and registered. Those states were joined by New York, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, each imparting upon JDM vehicle-owners varying levels of difficulty. As we head into 2023, there’s some good news, as there is now a bill in Maine’s legislature that seeks to undo the damage.

Back in the summer of 2021, the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles kicked off an alarming trend. Owners of Mitsubishi Delicas received letters from the state stating that owners’ beloved vans were “mini-trucks” that did not meet federal emissions and safety requirements and thus could not be driven on the state’s roads. Initially, this caused a lot of confusion because the Mitsubishi Delica is far larger than the vehicles that fall under Japan’s adorable Kei class, and they certainly weren’t mini-trucks. Besides, these were vehicles that were older than 25 years old and thus were exempt from meeting Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

1995 Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear With Bushwacker Camper Trailer New 16291481392fda1f6990951775 3a49 4b7a Ae83 Cf29a6bcc64b
Bring A Trailer Seller

So, what gives with this stuff about not meeting standards?

Why You Can’t Register A Mitsubishi Delica In Maine

The state later clarified to say that calling the Mitsubishi Delica a mini-truck was a mistake, but that misuse of terminology wasn’t going to change anything. The state changed its statutes to indicate that anything that didn’t pass FMVSS and EPA requirements was now an off-road vehicle, which the state does not register for road use. On June 15, 2021, the state amended its 29-A MRSA 354 statute to define an off-road vehicle thusly:

‘Off-road vehicle’ means a motor vehicle that, because of the vehicle’s design and, configuration, original manufacture or original intended use, does not meet the inspection standards of chapter 15, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s pollutant requirements or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s crash testing standards and that is not a moped or motorcycle.

Suddenly, the owners of vehicles imported from Japan learned something interesting about how America’s laws work.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires that a vehicle either meets FMVSS or is at least 25 years old to be exempt. The EPA, on the other hand, either wants the vehicle to meet emissions standards or be at least 21 years old. However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to register it and drive it on the road because vehicle registration is handled by the states. In fact, the state of Wisconsin says this, emphasis mine:

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows for vehicles to be imported into the country once the vehicle has reached a certain age. However, NHTSA and EPA are not responsible for regulating the operation of motor vehicles on public roads in the U.S. or for titling or registering motor vehicles for such operation: that is the responsibility of the individual states.

Maine’s Silly Rules Spread Across The Country

Maine was only the start. Soon, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, and Georgia joined in. These states were a little less aggressive than Maine and reportedly have primarily targeted vehicles within the Kei class of tiny cars.

Rhode Island via Chuck Whoczynski

Depending on the state, some owners of imported vehicles got lucky. For example, Pennsylvania grandfathered in some previously-registered vehicles. The state will also allow Kei vehicle owners to obtain an Antique Registration. This allows them to occasionally drive their vehicles, which isn’t ideal, but it’s better than an outright ban.

Meanwhile, enthusiasts in other states are discovering that the struggles aren’t limited to the east coast. For example, in Wisconsin, the state does not register Kei-class vehicles at all. Those seeking to register vehicles larger than Kei class are subject to a long list of requirements, including 1. The vehicle cannot be modified and 2. In order to register the vehicle, you have to have another vehicle that is registered as your primary vehicle. Weirdly, Wisconsin’s ban on Kei cars actually dates back to 2013.


The Meeting That Led To These Restrictions

In November 2021, I located the source of this madness, and it was the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). This is a non-governmental non-profit lobbying organization composed of motor vehicle and law enforcement administrators and executives from all 50 states. Canada, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, and Washington D.C. get representation in the AAMVA as well. Among other things, the organization seeks standardization of laws across the 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.”

Vehicles imported from Japan and China have been on AAMVA’s radar since the late 2000s. Back then, the organization noticed how tons of Kei trucks were flooding American shores and the states didn’t really know how to handle them. It should be noted that a lot of these trucks weren’t older vehicles imported under the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, but newer trucks with speed limiters meant for farm or utility work.

In February 2010, representatives from several states and Canadian provinces met in Orlando, Florida to develop best practices for handling the influx of mini trucks. It was just one of many AAMVA meetings on the subject of vehicle imports.


Crash Test Experts Advise Against Kei Trucks In The U.S.

Soon after, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published an opinion that low-speed vehicles and mini trucks are unsafe and should be removed from the road. The opinion noted that starting in 2007, there was a trend of states allowing mini trucks on regular roads. That IIHS opinion focused on mini trucks with a governed 25 mph top speed, not trucks older than 25 years old imported without a limiter.

The AAMVA Wants The Mini-Trucks Off The Road

Still, just a year later, the AAMVA handed out a new opinion to member jurisdictions. Best Practice Regarding Registration and Titling of Mini-Trucks makes it clear that the AAMVA sought to remove these vehicles from the road:

By allowing on-road operation of used mini-trucks, Canada and the U.S. are accepting another nation‘s cast-offs—vehicles that no longer meet the exporting country‘s vehicle safety or emissions standards. Increasing the supply of older model vehicles in North America undermines government and industry efforts to improve vehicle safety and reduce vehicle emissions, as these efforts are largely dependent on fleet turnover. This risk can be reduced by placing restrictions on the use of these non-conforming vehicles in Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions.

The recommendation for restrictions largely didn’t happen in the aforementioned states until 2021, when Maine’s BMV, with the help of the DMVs of Georgia, Colorado, and South Dakota published Regulation of Off-Road Vehicles: Best Practices.


This document clamps down on imported vehicles in a way that doesn’t seem all that logical. You can read it for yourself, but the important parts are that the AAMVA’s definition of an off-road vehicle is broader than the NHTSA’s, and the organization specifically calls out Kei trucks that are 25 years and older.

Perhaps the most shocking part is that the AAMVA admits in the documentation that its recommendations may clash with existing laws. In that case, the organization recommends that a state just changes its laws until the recommendations are legal. That’s what Maine, Rhode Island, and the rest of these states have done.

If you want the full scoop on what’s going on, I recommend reading my explainer at the old lighting site. Since that was published, not a whole lot has happened. Individual car owners report some victories and some failures in getting their vehicles registered. These cases weren’t easy and sometimes involved taking things to court. Unfortunately, these individual battles do not change the underlying laws that created these fights in the first place. For residents in Maine, Rhode Island, New York, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin, the hardest part about buying a car to import is not dealing with Customs, but with their own state.


Hope Is On The Horizon

First reported by SEMA Action Network, a part of the Specialty Equipment Market Association that lobbies for favorable vehicle laws, Rep. Shelley Rudnicki of Maine has introduced a bill that, if passed, would no longer class a vehicle that could be imported under the 25-year rule as an off-road vehicle. From SAN:

At the SAN’s request, State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus member Rep. Shelley Rudnicki has introduced a bill in Maine to allow on-road registrations to be issued for imported vehicles manufactured at least 25 years ago. Under federal law, these vehicles are exempt from federal safety and emissions standards. Current Maine law prohibits vehicles that do not meet these standards from being driven on public roads. The bill currently awaits consideration in the House Committee on Transportation.

That bill seeks to add just one sentence, emphasis mine:

‘Off-road vehicle’ means a motor vehicle that, because of the vehicle’s design and, configuration, original manufacture or original intended use, does not meet the inspection standards of chapter 15, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s pollutant requirements or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s crash testing standards and that is not a moped or motorcycle. “Off-road vehicle” does not include a motor vehicle imported pursuant to 49 United States Code, Section 30112(b)(9).

Rep. Rudnicki’s proposed definition of what constitutes an off-road vehicle is a small change, but a big one. The change states that vehicles that are legal to import under the 25-year rule would also be legal on the state’s roads.

Mercedes Streeter

It’s unclear what the chance of success is, but the bill will be going up against the AAMVA’s guidance, which was in part written by Maine BMV Registration Section Supervisor Nikki Bachelder. If, somehow, the bill succeeds, it can lay the groundwork for undoing the laws in other states and allow the owners of imported cars to enjoy their vehicles.

As of right now, the bill is still waiting for consideration in the House Committee on Transportation. Until then, the SEMA Action Network is asking residents of Maine to reach out to their lawmakers to ask for support on bill LD 63. We’ll be watching this one with hopes that perhaps JDM car owners in America will be able to breathe a little easier.

I have reached out to the Maine BMV for a comment on this pending legislation.

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87 Responses

  1. So, AAMVA meeting attendees were from: British Columbia, SD, CA, GA, Quebec, UT, OR, TX, WI, DE.

    Hmm, where should we have our Working Group meeting? Somewhere efficient and centralized, like Chicago? Or maybe at one of us could host it locally?

    No Way! Orlando, FL !!! How else can I get a free vacation on my expense account!

    How many of those “Attendees” actually attended all of the meetings?

  2. I live in Hawaii and while I think these little units are cool as hell, they’re also the bane of my existence, especially while they’re attempting to use the highway. Kei cars/trucks should be allowed to be registered but not allowed on roads where the speed limit is 55mph or over. So, unless the states rewrite their entire vehicle code to allow for registrations for things like scooters and mopeds to be applied to motor vehicles, they’ll just more easily ban the registrations of them. It’s less costly and labor intensive.

    It also doesn’t help their case that these vehicles seldom arrive in the US in any shape that would be considered “good”. I have a family friend that works for the largest JDM vehicle importer/dealership on the east coast and he firmly states that he’d never own one personally. They’re usually all rotted to hell and repaired by the importers/dealerships in… “as best we can” (while still remaining profitable) fashion. They’re also usually not well cared for in their home markets, which leads to someone not entirely knowing what they’re getting into but they want that #JDMlifeyo.

    1. Don’t a lot of highways already have minimum speed limits in place, in addition to maximum speed? Doesn’t matter where the car came from or how old it is, if it can’t do the posted minimum, it can’t go on that highway.

      And if there’s no posted minimum, well, too bad for you, you have to spend time behind a Honda Acty the same way you would behind grandpa taking the kids for ice cream in a Model T or, in my area, an Amish farmer taking his family into town in an area with too narrow a shoulder to fit a carriage. Maybe lobby to get minimum speed limits added to more highways that don’t have them or something.

      That said, a lot of kei vehicles are highway capable even on higher speed Interstates and the like- the Honda Beat tops out at 83mph, the Suzuki Cappuccino can hit 87, and, as far as vans, the Subaru Sambar (90s era) tops out around 87 in 2wd form, lots of US market small cars from the 60s, 70, and 80s, even early 90s, are more or less in the same boat performance wise.

      It just seems like instead of banning an entire class of cars with less than a certain engine displacement from the highway regardless of the Individual model’s capabilities is too broad. Just establish a minimum speed, anything that can maintain that or higher is golden, anything that can’t has to find another route

      1. I can’t recall exactly which state it was I lived in at the time, but only one of the 9 had minimum speeds posted. This REALLY needs to become a thing.

        I also think this is just as much about speed capability as it is about speed safety. Just because a Sambar can do 87mph, *should* it be maintaining 75+mph with 12″ wheels, supremely narrow track width, high center of gravity? Probably not. So, that begs the question- “Is it safe for highway use?” Probably not. There’s no delineation between legally registered vehicles that can use the interstate system and those legally registered vehicles that can not. An entirely new *federally mandated* system would have to be created, implemented, and tracked to ensure that Kei trucks/vans can be registered in states (which currently exists with the 25 year rule sort of) and can NOT be driven on the interstate system. Then that program would have to be required of states to uphold.

        I said below that with all of these small vehicles coming from Japan and the state’s reluctance to allow them to be registered starting to show, I see some significant reworking of the FMVSS coming.

        1. Then you’d better write the regulations to include more than just Japanese kei cars – classic Minis come to mind (which were sold here in US-spec form), and probably a whole list of other cars.

          Or, produce some statistics on the number of fatalities caused by kei cars hitting other vehicles on the highway, which are probably minuscule, considering the tiny number of kei cars that are here, the tiny percentage of those that are used as anything close to a daily driver, and the tiny percentage of those that are on the highways at any given time.

    2. Yeah, there’s an ongoing controversy in the import world (might be worth covering one day!) about the importers and dealerships that slap Bondo and paint on an import then send it out as a car in pristine condition. Always check the strut towers! The shady repairs would be hilarious if people weren’t spending tens of thousands on vehicles that they’re expecting to be in good shape.

      I recommend getting an inspection before importing any 25+ year-old vehicle from any country. Even cars from Europe can be total wrecks, like those $100 Twingos that probably haven’t passed an inspection in years. There are still some good ones left, but you have to sift through the bad ones to find them.

      1. It’s why I have zero pity and nothing but schadenfreude for the people who buy from these sleazeballs. I am not the only one who offers a car locator service for 25-year rule stuff. There’s not many of us, but there’s certainly more than 10. I’m sure there’s plenty of sleazeballs out there too. And do not ask about inspection services when they know the car’s being exported. Most just straight up lie.

        But I know there’s at least 10 shops who offer, in exchange for money: locating cars, providing truthful and accurate description of the real condition (be it pristine or ‘project car,’) and arranging either purchase, import, or both. (Granted, I think I’m the only one who will locate anything, anywhere, and also does parts cars, Box 7, and Box 8 imports.)

    3. I don’t remember many 55+ mph roads when I visited Hawaii. Maybe on Oahu? I didn’t spend much time there. I think most of the main roads on the Big Island were 50 mph? Maybe I’m wrong? I mean, you’re the one who lives there. I’m just curious.

      1. Yes, I live on Oahu. H1/201, H3, etc. all have large sections where the speed limit is 55. They usually start out at around 40-45 but then ramp up from there.

  3. This whole thing is thanks to Mercedes and the whole lobby they did to ban importation of cars because they had the gall to overcharge people so bad that rich people just imported them from a different nation.

    Remember everybody this is due to that.

    1. Umm… No.

      It was due to cheap-assed people bringing gray market cars into the MB dealership for service work, then notching because parts weren’t available in the States for the oddball cars from non-US markets.

      *Firsthand experience here, from growing up in the Eighties working for family-owned MB dealership, where I heard complaints firsthand directly from the affected cheap bastards whose cars we couldn’t service. Same cars that didn’t meet emissions or crash compliance during the era…

      1. Plausible, but seems like a big overreaction. Auto manufacturers are so hands off with their dealership and service departments these days it’s hard to believe they ever cared enough to lobby for legislation just because of a minor inconvenience like that.

  4. I’d like to see how the numbers stack up for old JDM imports versus new cars sold. I assume “tons of kei trucks … flooding American shores” was a bit of hyperbole.

    1. Its minuscule numbers, and I’d say the largest proportion of kei trucks that are being brought in are newer than 25 years old and being sold as alternatives to ATVs/UTVs and are therefore already branded as for off-road use only (anything originally imported for off road use remains off-road only, even when it eventually reaches 25 years old). If there’s an issue with certain states looking the other way and registering vehicles originally imported for off road use, or unscrupulous dealers swapping a VIN from a 1996 Daihatsu onto a 2008, that’s already federally illegal, there’s already remedies on the books, so just deal with that.

    2. Well, they probably weigh at least half a ton each, so four of them would technically be “tons.” That seems more logical than most of this mess.

  5. I’m trying to figure out how that definition of “off-road vehicle” doesn’t include literally every vehicle that doesn’t meet current FMVSS, EPA, and NHSTA standards. That would be, like, every single motor vehicle that’s more than what, five years old? These regulations get updated pretty frequently, and generally speaking cars produced before the updates do not comply.

    Is there some context I’m missing here? I mean, my Miata certainly doesn’t comply with current regulations, nor does my partner’s Prius. My Alltrack… maybe? The Hinos at work? Definitely not, they’re diesel cheaters. Precious, the Express van? I doubt it, that design is from the Bronze Age.

    What gives?

    1. My thoughts are similar. Even if you assume all cars that met US regulations at the time they were first registered or titled somewhere in the US, there were cars sold in the US for many decades before the FMVSS, NHTSA or EPA ever existed. Are these also “off road vehicles”? Can a Model-T or C1 Corvette not be registered in Maine? Unless I’m missing something, the law seems to be incredibly poorly worded.

    2. Exactly! By their definitions every car over 25 years old is off-road only. More so every single car built before 1966 is 100% illegal – FMVSS wasn’t written until 66 and wasn’t adopted until 67.

      My 69 Lotus is illegal in Rhode Island and Maine, but I could walk into the DMV in Providence and get a plate… (There is a single DMV location for the entire state, but that’s a different story 😉 )

      1. I disagree. I also imported a 25 year old lotus & registered in RI. Like yours, it certainly won’t past safety to a modern crash standard. It’s not illegal in rhode island, it is exempt (like mine).

        Working with the Cranston enforcement division was flawless and they were able to put up with broker and import forms issues with a lot more flexibility than I expected. I gave them my forms, they were flexible and let me go to another DMV. Granted I did a lot of research, but I was able to walk out with a plate and zero issues.

        In b4 bootlicker comment, I don’t believe in excess personal restrictions / rights infringement, but in RI if you pay attention and follow the rules with the DMV, you will come out ahead. Maybe because I am in accounting and deal with government forms all day, but the 3 hours of research and prep let me walk in and walk out in 15 minutes.

        Regarding Kei trucks/vans vs our lotus (lotii?), both of our cars will do 65+ and be more stable than a Kei truck.

        It sucks that these restrictions have come in, but it looks like Maine and PA are walking back a bit from their extreme measures, I’d imagine RI will follow once they figure out the plating issues.

        Of course my political leanings say, if you want to assume the risk of driving a death trap you can, but the complete shock that so many have that these had registrations clawed back is no surprise.

        There are other legal loopholes to get these registered (cough a states llc), so while it’s a pain, there’s a legal work around. The guy who blew this up in RI could have made a mint helping other kei owners register via another state and continue to lobby against this issue.

    3. Maine is playing fast and loose with the bureacratic language. The quote is “‘Off-road vehicle’ means a motor vehicle that…does not meet the inspection standards of chapter 15, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s pollutant requirements or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s crash testing standards.

      What they don’t want you to notice is that it’s MAINE that has decided those factors mean the vehicle is off road. It’s not the FMVSS, EPA, or NHTSA – they’re just flashing those names to make it look like this is a federal decision. Which it isn’t.

      Source: Am bureacrat.

      1. Right, but my point is, how many older (or not even all that old!) vehicles on the road currently comply with the inspection standards of chapter 15, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s pollutant requirements and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s crash testing standards? Because that shit changes all the time, and it’s not like old cars get updated to meet the new standards. They complied when they were built, but they no longer do.

        1. BUT all the federal stuff has various waivers and considerations that are already built in so that a wide variety of older cars are legal. Maine just doesn’t want you to know that, so they say “Not EPA-legal!” evan though EPA has already said “Oh, 25 years old? Cool with us.”

  6. I’m all for consumer protection, but shouldn’t the conversation about crash safety be between the owner and their insurance company? Kind of like women’s health be between them and their doctor?

  7. Here in the PNW this is also a concern. Oregon stopped registering kei trucks several years ago but did not revoke existing registrations and seems be OK with larger vehicles based on the number of Delicas and Landcruisers in my area, plus occasional Landrovers and HiAces.
    Idaho has actually taken a third way and registers kei trucks as limited use vehicles like side by sides, allowed on local roads but not highways.

    1. We should be so lucky in California. A 4 passenger, turbocharged 90mph SXS w/headlights, taillights and brake lights “will never, ever legal” even on local roads.

  8. If you’re worried that imports might not be safe why make it worse by restricting yourself to importing them only after they’ve had 25 years to get obsolete and rusty?

    The US is so confusing.

  9. I bet if we follow the money on this one, we find some sort of powersports dealer lobby involved. In some places Kei trucks heavily cut into off-highway utility vehicle sales.

    1. I was at Middlebury in Vermont this summer for Language School, and the groundskeepers were running around in imported kei vans. I bet some John Deere dealer saw all those missed Gator sales and called their state rep/lobbyists.

  10. It’s been said before, but if motorcycles were invented today, they’d be banned tomorrow. Someone can go buy a 200mph rocket with next to no experience, but it’s the the little import cars they’re worried about. I’m not saying ban motorcycles, but I feel like this comes down to the size of the lobby you have to prevent legislation like this from being applied.

  11. As someone who lives in Maine, it makes no sense that they were banned for being too dangerous. The speed limit in every town is like 25-35mph and people actually stick pretty close to it! Even on the highways, it’s chill af up here, maybe stay off 95 between Kittery and Portland, and then 295 from Portland to Freeport, and only really during peak tourist season.

    If anything, I can see the local car dealers being against these imports because the state is about as perfect a location for small imports as can be and that threatens them.

  12. Perhaps we should ban all non commercial vehicle weighing over 6000 lbs from being on the road? I think the 8000 lb EV trucks and basically all SUV’s would be off the road rather quickly.

  13. Lets talk about the speed thing for a minute.

    I own and semi-daily drive a 91 sambar mini truck. 35hp of carbureted fury.
    In the state of Nebraska where its registered the law basically states “drive with your lights on at all times and stay off the interstate.” This seems absolutely reasonable. will the truck do 70? yes, do you want to, not particularly as it screams its head off at 7000 rpms. But at 45-60 any other time its butter to drive.

    I also need to state that I regularly PASS people all the time driving much slower than me. Part of this is a horrible local driver issue, but I know I am less of a safety issue than the 65 year old grandma in her Buick encore, trying to text her grandson while merging down to a single lane.

    Kei vehicles are fine. If you buy one, as long as you are off the interstate, the person with the biggest hazard is yourself.
    It would be nice if the local governments actually focused time and energy on real problems.

  14. A guy in Meridian, Mississippi drives a white Subaru kei truck every day, or at least when I’m there. It even has current license plate on it.

    I’ve seen him all over town, on all the streets except on the interstate. I guess he knows he won;t stand a chance out there with those 18-wheelers.

  15. I’m pretty sure this whole nonsense happened in the first place because JDM import dealers weren’t giving enough in donations to the AAMVA, or to the political campaigns of the politicians who are ultimately in charge of AAMVA’s members

  16. You know I really think these stories need to start covering the whole story. Yea cute little truck 35 hp owner is a collector. But how long before FAMILY OF FOUR DRIVING IN PARADE VEHICLE GOING HOME KILLED BY PICKUP TRUCK? INSURANCE COMPANY WONT PAY MILLIONS FOR DEATH OF FAMILY OF 4 WHO SAVED PUPPIES AND FED THE HOMELESS. That crappy Kei car could cost an insurer millions and there arent enough to recuperate the cost. I can see road use under 35 mph for a cute crapbucket. Even ss a car fan i dont want to cover these death cars.

    1. There is a certain standard of care implicit in driving a motor vehicle. One of those standards includes not running over a slower vehicle in front of you, whether it’s a Kei car, an Amish carriage or grandpa toodling down the road at 45mph on his way to town.

    2. Now do MG Midgets. And TR6s. And Spitfires. And Austin Healey 3000s. And VW Type 1s. A pickup truck collision will kill everyone in those cars too. Are they covered?

      1. Fuck, I drive a stock ’18 Miata. Had some jackass in a lifted truck being a jackass this morning on the drive in. The top of his god damned running boards were even with my eyes.

        There’s absolutely no way I’m surviving a crash with that clown.

  17. I’m making this comment as a separate but germane topic of discussion. I think this is less but potentially just as much about speed capability as it is about speed *safety*. Just because a Sambar or Acty can do 87mph, *should* it be maintaining 75+mph with 12″ wheels, supremely narrow track width, high center of gravity? Probably not. So, that begs the question- “Is it safe for highway use?” Probably not. There’s no delineation between legally registered vehicles that can use the interstate system and those legally registered vehicles that can not (when discussing cars and trucks specifically). Because the Fed passed the FMVSS which allowed for these tiny vehicles to be imported, an entirely new *federally mandated* system would have to be created, implemented, and tracked to ensure that Kei trucks/vans can be registered in states (which currently exists, but it’s the states decision) and can NOT be driven on the interstate system. Then that program would have to be required of states to uphold.

    With all of these small vehicles coming from Japan and the state’s reluctance to allow them to be registered starting to show, I see some significant reworking of the FMVSS coming. Let’s not forget that Japan largely does not have the interstate system as we know it. Speeds are much easier to be kept to a safe level for these vehicles. That doesn’t play well with US roadways.

    I’ll be back, I’m going to go yell at a cloud.

    1. “Let’s not forget that Japan largely does not have the interstate system as we know it.”


      Japan is covered in expressways from one end to the other. The maximum speed limit is usually 100kmh (60mph) but the actual (driven) maximum speed on many stretches is 120kmh (75mph). I saw the aftermath of a kei van collision (the old kei standard) on the Tomei Expressway where the van looked like it had exploded from the inside.
      Having said all that, I still don’t understand why regulators get their knickers in a twist about cars that are unsafe for their occupants, but allow motorbikes. I am not anti-kei or anti-motorbike, just anti-bad-logic.

      1. Maybe CoastieLenn means it as in “Let’s not forget that Japan largely does not have the interstate system as we know it because the Japanese is much better maintained then the US one”

        Source: Me, I would drive another 10 years on the Kita-Kanto and Tohoku express ways in a heartbeat. You have to pay me to drive I-15 through Provo and Salt Lake, or I -10 from El Paso to Phoenix. You have to pay me because I would need to get new tires and a front end rebuild after going over those shining examples of US infrastructure.

        1. People in Japan complain about still having to pay toll fees years after expressways are completed. My wife and I? “Bring ’em on!!”

          The high toll fees justify the constant maintenance, not to mention quick repairs after natural disasters, AND make public transport price competitive with private car use, part of the reason why the train system is of such a high standard.

          1. ‘The high toll fees justify the constant maintenance, not to mention quick repairs after natural disasters, AND make public transport price competitive with private car use, part of the reason why the train system is of such a high standard’

            Pretty sure it’s more about having 155 million people on an island nation a bit smaller than California. While I’m a fan of most forms of public transit I’ll take my own car over getting shoved into an overpacked Petri dish by an oshiya.

            1. Wow! You must be quite the high roller to be able to afford a parking place in central Tokyo near your office as well as wherever you domicile. Expressway traffic in central Tokyo is notorious for crawling to a halt during the morning rush. How do you deal with the stress of traffic every morning?

              Genuinely curious as if I travel in Tokyo I prefer the 20 minutes of packed subway to the two-hour crawl through the capitol.
              I almost cried when the 468 cutoff finally was completed through to Narita. No more driving through Tokyo to pick someone up from the airport! It may be well maintained but I have no desire to drive on the Tokyo Gaikan anytime soon.

            2. I live in the countryside on the extreme western edge of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area and commute about 45 miles to Shin-Yokohama.
              I can walk, walk/train or walk/bus to our main railway station (or get a lift from Mrs. sonofLP500 on her way to work, like today), then ride 14 minutes with a row of seats to myself on the Shinkansen, and another few minutes walk to the office. The alternative would be to spend more on petrol, highway fees, parking, wear and tear etc. and half an hour longer to do the same journey by car.

              The important point being that I have a choice.

              *Trains in Tokyo are now of such high capacity and frequency that, although they get crowded in the rush-hour, “oshiya” haven’t been necessary in the whole 30-something years I have lived here.

    2. Most Kei cars are legal in the UK (sometimes they need a few modifications), and they’re fine on our motorways. As others have pointed out, an OG Mini is Kei car sized, and they’re perfectly fine. Not to mention all the other small cars manufactured and sold in Europe, Twingo, Smart, OG Fiat 500’s, VW Up! etc. etc.
      I think all of this stems from a “not manufactured here” mindset.

  18. I don’t really understand the logic behind any of these bans. Sure, these are vehicles that were never designed to pass any kind of American crash testing, but any 25+ year old US-market vehicle which DID pass those tests when new is still pretty dangerous compared to new cars. I get that forward-control trucks/vans offer pretty much no crash protection, but it’s perfectly fine for anyone to buy and register a 1992 Nissan Sentra despite the fact that it folds like a house of cards in a collision compared to newer cars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85OysZ_4lp0

    Ironically California doesn’t give a crap as long as the car passes smog, although they must go through a “BAR testing laboratory” process which can run $1K-$10K which is why all the Kei cars I see here have out of state plates.

    1. I’m right there with you. The same logic used by the AAMVA could be used on classic cars. David’s old Jeep FC certainly didn’t stand a chance at protecting its occupants well in a crash, and there are countless old cars that barely have enough power to move, let alone protect occupants in a crash.

      I get that Kei trucks often aren’t fast enough for highway travel–my Suzuki Every redlines at 67 mph–but it would seem like the solution there is to restrict access to roads no faster than say, 55 mph, not cancel registrations.

      1. Fact is- those were already here and are already dealt with. That old clapped out iron that you cite normally falls under one of two distinct categories: 1) sitting in a field rusting away to be used for parts, or 2) restored to a usable or showroom condition and no longer a threat on the road to anyone but the passengers.

        Americans are importing JDM vehicles with questionable build quality when new, likely trashed in their home markets and ending up at auction, imported here in that condition, and being used in/around areas that they were never intended to be used in.

        I see the safety hazard in all of it. I also understand the freedom infringement.

        1. “questionable build quality when new”
          Uhh… what? Do you think that, for some reason, Japan has different build standards for stuff they drive at home vs what they ship abroad as exports?

        2. And yet, as David has shown with his many adventures, those parts cars can still be registered and driven on American roads. That’s what’s confusing about all of this. AAMVA says that you shouldn’t be able to drive a Mitsubishi Delica or a Toyota Century V12 because those are too unsafe, but in many states, all it takes is a title to be able to legally drive any other pile of junk on the road. In some places, you can even register piles of junk that you made yourself!

          As for JDM vehicle quality, remember that most of these cars are from reputable brands like Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Nissan. I wouldn’t say that my Honda Beat is built any worse than any U.S. market Honda from 1991, it’s just smaller.

          1. I guess I should have elaborated but I didn’t realize my comment above hadn’t posted yet. By “questionable build quality”, I’m specifically referring to Kei cars and their 1/2″ thick doors, undeniable ability to rot, narrow width/high height/small wheel bases, etc. I guess “quality” was the wrong word to use, more in line with build “charactaristics”. Either way, crash a 1994 Beat into a 1994 North American spec Miata and see which comes out looking better.

            I like JDM cars, I just honestly think that here in the US, they’re literally guppies in a sturgeon pool. Adding to that the fact that (I’d bet) 1% of the JDM cars imported to the US are actually looked over with a fine toothed comb by it’s intended purchaser PRIOR to shipment. There’s a much higher liklihood that they’re pretty on the outside but no better than some of the rusted piles roaming the roads of the US that regulators still struggle to get a handle on. Adding more to it, especially ones that were never built to contend with even their contemporarily sized US counterparts only adds fuel to that regulatory fire.

            1. As someone who drove kei cars (early 2000’s Honda Life with 3 speed automatic, early 90’s Daihatsu Mira with 5spd MT) daily for over a decade, over the Japanese expressways which you deny exist in an above comment, I highly disagree with your “questionable build quality” comment. I found them extremely reliable and certainly better build quality than domestic US light trucks of the same vintage. Both of my old kei cars have a hell of a lot more occupant safety features then the single cab 94 ranger I currently drive, or my 92 F150 before that. If you think either of those trucks were ever safe going over 70mph, you have another thing coming.

              You got a weird axe to grind buddy…差別と言わないけど…

            2. Using the safety argument, motorcycles, motorcycles with a sidecar, trikes, tuktuks, Piaggio Apes (these are also imported to the US under the 25-year rule) ATVs/UTVs (which are also road legal in some states) are an order of magnitude less safe than Kei cars.
              Yes, they wouldn’t be safe compared to any “normal” sized car, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed on the roads on safety grounds.
              And maybe they shouldn’t go on the interstate either, but then my C125 and TW200 also shouldn’t be allowed (both top out around 55-60 mph)
              Also, nearly anything from Japan that is 25 years old is usually in better structural condition than in certain areas of the US.
              Midwest, Northeast cars often rust out by less than half that time, how are those less risky?

              1. Many states have a 600cc minimum size for limited access highway access, just so you can’t drive a 250cc Ninja on the expressway. That should prevent pre-90 (they were limited to 550 cc). If it was upped to 700cc, it would prevent modern kei cars, but also R6s that have no issue reaching highway speeds.

                1. The easiest solution I could think of would be a weight-performance ratio limit.
                  Unfortunately, this would also come with a large bureaucratic overhead: what about different engine options, model years, engine swaps, etc.

        3. They still have to pass a safety (and emissions) inspections in their home states, if there is one.
          If there isn’t one, on average, they are certainly no more dangerous than other cars.

        4. Questionable build quality when new? There’s a reason why American car companies were getting their lunch eaten by the Japanese in the 1980s and it sure wasn’t due to crappy Japanese build quality. And Japan’s “Shaken” vehicle inspection is notoriously tough to pass meaning older vehicles still on the road there are actually in very good shape.

          1. Have you seen the condition of many of the cars sitting in JDM dealer lots *prior* to their refreshes? I have. Normally, they’re not pretty. They were usually deemed unroadworthy in Japan and then get sent to auction. From a regulatory perspective, why add to the number of cars on the road here that can’t legally or ethically pass inspection standards (another fight the states are having)?

            With the rise in the number of imported cars on the road here with the 25 year rule finally allowing us Americans some cool metal to play with, I forsee a lot of regulatory changes coming to the imporation process.

            1. Yes, I have seen some that are rough, but not all. I understand and agree with you to a point, but because of the rigorous shaken inspection, vehicles that are deemed unroadworthy in Japan is often in better shape than American market vehicles which are already on the road.

              My whole point is that JDM imports are not automatically inhererently more dangerous than US-market vehicles of the same vintage, so painting them all with a broad “dangerous” brush is unfair, especially since the federal government says they’re kosher to be here. If safety is truly the issue, these states would be going after all old cars in general, not just JDM imports or kei cars.

              1. You’re absolutely right. The bigger question then subsequently remains- who’s legally required to evaluate (on a make/model basis) which vehicle is legal for highway use? That would be thousands of vehicles. Is it the Feds? Good luck. Is it the states? Also, good luck. There comes a point that needs to be recognized that the importation of these vehicles may not work out. We’re seeing states balk already, I expect the Feds to do the same. Sad, really.

        5. The JDM vehicles I have been around have had great build quality and are in excellent condition, mainly because they come from a market were they can’t be “trashed” in the American sense and still be driven legally. My daily is a 1996 Mitsu Minicab, and despite being an obvious work truck, some small seat rips were its only real issue.

          1. I truly understand. See my comments above. I’ve seen hundreds of JDM vehicles prior to their “prettyfication” for retail sale. They’re seldom actually nice and even more seldom repaired correctly. Most work is done to a price point.

        1. If you want to talk about Montana plates, go after the supercars first that are obviously doing it as a tax/registration dodge. I would bet that the majority of kei car owners in California would much prefer to register their car in California, as the fees/taxes wouldn’t be all that high, but can’t easily do so due to emissions requirements.

          1. Let’s just remove California’s ability to set its own emissions standards then. I’m all for that. They operate like their own independent federal government and it effects many people outside their borders. This isn’t the 70’s anymore. Smog, while still mentionable, isn’t like it was. Congrats, you fixed the problem. Now vehicles are much cleaner. Hand me back your notebook and resume playing by the same rules that every other state plays by.

            1. “Let’s just remove California’s ability to set its own emissions standards then. I’m all for that.”

              Wow, I didn’t expect there to be too many MAGA morons in Hawaii, but I stand corrected..

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