Zander's Canadian Diesel Import Page


I thought that I should post my story of importing diesel Land Cruisers from Canada into California as I get a lot of questions about it... I should also point out that most of what I learned, I learned in the excellent IH8Mud.com forum in this thread: http://forum.ih8mud.com/showthread.php?t=10164

I have now imported three different Toyota Land Cruisers from Canada to find the one I wanted. I should state a disclaimer that I am in no way claiming expertise, nor a guarantee that anything will go for you like it did for me. If you read all this you will see there is a lot of variation from vehicle to vehicle in the process, and I am not sure why. I have heard horror stories of this process going awry and people having their vehicles impounded and destroyed at their own cost, so make sure you don’t cut any corners. Also note that I only have experience in California, other state DMVs may be different. In this post is a little story about each import. At the end I list all the costs, importers and basic procedure...


The BJ70:
I bought an '85 BJ70 in Sept '04 off eBay (from David Zondag - eBay handle nushuuz2000 - which I would not recommend - read on). David delivered the vehicle to me in San Francisco as he was buying a Mercedes down here, this all sounded great and he assured me that this was totally fine and he would have the infamous "Toyota Letter ... no problem." He arrived without the letter, but he assured me he would send it down as soon as he got it, and gave me a money back "guarantee" that I could register the vehicle. Also of note when we did the transaction he took half of the title (which it says is for the seller so I thought it was okay). I took it all down to my local DMV and amazingly walked out of there with plates and reg stickers good for a year. They said however that my title and final reg would not come for up to 90 days while DMV central processed it.

Almost 90 days to the day I received a letter from the DMV in Sacramento HQ that I needed to supply the Toyota letter of compliance or full Registered Importer docs and Customs Import Summary. And by the way that I was missing half of the title. I contacted the seller who was very quick to say that it was not a problem, but that basically I was on my own as I now owned the vehicle and that I should get the letter from Toyota. I had already tried and seen all the other efforts to get this and realized my only hope was an importer. However finding an importer that would touch it was near impossible. Finally I got the name of Wayne Darby at CARCO (Chevrolake motorcars in Vancouver BC 604-273-2438) from one of the generous members of the IH8Mud.com forum. He said he could do it in a couple hours no problem... Just bring it by. He could not do it remotely, it had to go through the border legally which David had not done. This meant I had to drive all the way to Vancouver and back to re-import this thing. Crap.

So my fiancé and I decided to make a trip of it between X-mas and New Years and bring snowboards etc. We had 5 days for the trip. Of course the weather shut down every major mountain pass that week and we had to do a 2 day diversion out to 101 and come up the coast killing any chance of leisure time, and make for 5 days of white knuckle driving in the pouring rain on coast roads. (She is still trying to forgive me). Wayne did a great job and even though a lot of his staff was out that week he processed us and had us out the door in a couple hours. We drove back through the border without any trouble at customs at all. (you have to go through the commercial gate with all the semis East of the Peace Arch gate)

I faxed all this back in to the DMV after returning, and after a couple of back and forths where I forgot to include the customs summary and a special form about the other missing half of the title, they finally said I was approved and would get my title next week. Which did come when they said. This whole process took over 6 months and I am now on a first name basis with the DMV Technical Compliance Division staff.

On a side note I also contacted David, the seller, to tell him everything I went through and asked about his "money back guarantee" asking if he would cover my importation costs. I figured this was fair as I took on about $1000 in the costs of the trip alone. His response was for me to screw myself and that he would not respond to any further emails. I would highly recommend NOT dealing with him as he continues to sell Cruisers on eBay.


The BJ60:
In stark contrast to the BJ70 import, importing this vehicle was as simple as it gets. I bought this one in Quebec and had it delivered to me in CA. I had it imported by Susan at JR Imports in Plattsburgh NY 518-562-3947. They handled all the paperwork and delivery. The delivery took about two weeks longer than expected but this was due to the trucking co. The interesting thing that did happen was a big difference at the DMV. This time about three different ladies came over to help out the person who was helping me. She also didn’t think she needed a copy of all my import docs. I assured her that she did, and she made a copy, and this time instead of getting plates, she gave me a temporary reg sticker for my back windshield. Incredibly, I received the title, plates and reg in about two weeks!


The HJ60:
For this one I went through Trevor at Flatwater Enterprises as I knew he had successfully imported another IH8Mud.com forum member's HJ, and wanted someone with specific experience with this model (some importers had told me you could not import this model). Interestingly though one of the things Trevor asked me for was the VIN number so he could run it to be sure it was importable. He said he had come across ones that were rejected for some reason due to the VIN. I suppose these were Japanese but I am not sure.

This time when I went to drive this one across I got a call from the RI telling me they had just instituted the new PAPS bar code system and I would need one to cross the border. I had to make many calls, and many excuses to the folks at the border to get one on the spot, they are generally issued well in advance. Make sure you ask about this when importing.

This time when I went to the DMV I walked out with plates and reg stickers for a whole year. (still temp reg though) Its very odd how each time I go to the same DMV I get a different process.

I received my registration in the mail for my HJ60 about 40 days after going to the DMV. I did get a letter back from the CA DMV at 30 days saying they wanted the Toyota letter... I sent them copies of the EPA and NHTSA docs (which I did not get from the RI in my packet. I contacted Trevor for these and he had them faxed to me on the next working day.) I faxed these into the the DMV and called the next day to confirm (this seems to be critical if you want anything done in a timely manner) and they issued the reg the next day, and I got it a few days later.

I still dont know what the correct way to deal with the PAPS process is that went into effect March 05 at the BC border for driving across. Trevor (my RI) may now know how to do this correctly, you WILL need a PAPS bar code to drive across, so make sure you ask about it and have it sorted. This system also supposedly made it ILLEGAL for the seller (who is Canadian) to drive this down to me, so I had to pick it up (not sure if this is really the case though). You should make arrangements with customs agents (and get a name and what hours and days they work) BEFORE you get to the gate to get your PAPS code. This almost totally halted my delivery and I had to talk to the Customs supervisor for quite a while to get a one time exemption. Hopefully Trevor will have the correct way to do this sorted out soon.

The process in a nutshell that I have learned:
If you are looking to by a Diesel Cruiser under 25 years old (over 25yrs old you don’t have to do any of this stuff) here are the basic steps:

1. Make sure the Cruiser you are getting is a Canadian spec vehicle, not an import from another country into Canada. The Right Hand Drive, factory turbo motors and or being later than 1987 is generally a good tip off. If you want to import one of these other type of imports I don’t have any experience.
2. Locate a Registered Importer with experience in diesel Land Cruisers at the port of entry you are using. This is actually not too easy as it turns out, the RI list on line is out of date and almost none of them will touch a diesel Cruiser. I made easily over 100 calls (see my list below)
3. The RI should supply you with the following:
- A sticker of compliance they apply to the door frame
- EPA Declaration of Compliance
- DOT Bond to ensure Conformance with Federal Motor Safety Standards (NHTSA)
- A copy of the Registered Importer Policy to Ensure and Guarantee Financial Responsibility to remedy Safety Related Defects and Non Compliance.
- A copy of the Customs Entry Summary (this you will get at he border if you yourself drive it across)
The seller should supply you with:
- The complete title signed over to you with both halves
- A signed and dated bill of sale with their address and name (that matches the title) and the amount of the sale.
4. Once you buy the Cruiser it now has to get across the border. (See my note on the HJ above about the new PAPS process.) You can buy temporary registration and insurance at offices all over British Columbia for the drive home. I would receommend buying at least a 30 day permit to give you plenty of time to set things up in your state (your insurer may not insure the vehicle until you have final registration). Once you have it across and all the paperwork and stickers you go to the DMV. (Note that sometimes the importers had some of this paperwork mailed to them and may take a few days for you to get it all, the importer should be able to advise you, but you will need it all at the California DMV)
5. The DMV visit has two components, an inspection and the office part. First you need an inspection, and at my DMV all you do is drive up outside to the inspection zone (no need to wait in line inside) and they come out and inspect it. Have your paperwork with you, but I think they only need the title for this part. They may not get that it’s a diesel and you may have to point that out. They will write down info off the placard on the firewall etc. and then send you in to the office.
Here you wait in line with your form and then you will likely be met with all kinds of confusion. You just keep telling them that it is a Diesel (so they don’t need a smog cert) and that its from Canada which is why the title looks funny. Make sure they take a copy of all your paperwork (and make sure you keep a copy). They will need the original title though so make a copy of that before going. They should send you out with at least a temporary reg, make sure its for at least 90 days (they will likely try and give you only 30 days).
6. With your temporary registration you can now get insurance. I ran into a snag here as AAA said they could not insure a car with only temporary reg. I faxed them a letter with all my Import Documentation and they promptly insured the vehicle.
7. Wait... You may get a letter back from the technical compliance division asking for something you forgot, if so fax it in and call to confirm they got it.

Registered Importers. This is a list of people I have now dealt with, and seem to know what they are doing as well as a general idea of the fees I have paid:
Trevor Normand of Flatwater Enterprises in BC - 250-862-0897
Wayne Darby at CARCO - Chevrolake motorcars in Vancouver BC 604-273-2438
Susan at JR Imports in Plattsburgh NY - 518-562-3947

$ 450.00 Registered Import fee (this can vary $100 in either direction)
$ 41.31 Processing fee
$ 31.50 GST on RI fee only
$ 2.25% Duty on selling price charged by US Customs
$ 7.75% CA use tax on purchase price
$ ~$120 registration fee

So the total cost on a $10,000 vehicle (without any delivery or pickup costs which are usually between $500-1000) is about $1,642 all said and done. Good luck!

Note: "The infamous Toyota Letter" - As referenced in this document refers to a letter of conformity to North American Standards that Toyota should be able to supply to make this whole process go as smooth as silk. Toyota WILL NOT issue you this letter as near as I, or anyone I have spoken with can tell. They will take your order for the letter, and if it ever comes, it will say that the vehicle conforms to saftey but it is not proven to conform to EPA (which is a lie, its just that Toyota wont stand behind it for some reason unknown to all). So unless your dad owns Toyota, I would not recommend even trying. Many customs brokers, the DMV, and even the US border guards will tell you you can get this letter. They obviously have not tried with Toyota, with other manufaccturers this may be trivial, I dont know.