Until these changes take effect, there are currently four options to import a vehicle under the Australian vehicle import rules, as follows.
Vehicles 1989 and newer that are intended for normal road use must be imported under SEVS (the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme). This scheme limits what can be imported and firstly excludes any model sold here new in full volume by the manufacturer. Providing it was not sold in full volume, a vehicle must then meet two out of the four SEVS eligibility criteria to be ruled eligible (unusual appearance, special design features, performance, featured in specialist publications).
Not every model listed as eligible will have compliance available. Registered Automotive Workshops (RAWS) invest considerable time and expense to add a new model to their schedule. Availability of compliance is therefore determined by financial viability based on consumer demand and vehicle availability. Rare or older vehicles for example may be eligible but there are so few of them that setting up for compliance is not financially viable.
SEVS eligible models must be ‘complied’ to meet Australian Design Rules (ADR’s) for safety and emissions by a Registered Automotive Workshop (RAW), the workshop applies for the Import Approval once you have sourced a suitable vehicle. The Import Approval is required for Customs clearance on arrival in Australia.
Note that structural repair / corrosion is not acceptable under the SEVS criteria. This can result in rejection of a vehicle by the compliance workshop meaning it can never be road registered, so you should only source a vehicle through someone you trust.
15 Year Rule (1988 and Older Rule since May 2005)
For normal road use, anything older than December 1988 can be imported virtually without restriction. This used to be a rolling 15 year rule until 2004 / 05, when so many good 1989 / 90 models were imported that the Govt. finally changed the rule in May 2005, locking it at 1988 and older only.
Conversion to RHD (particularly of European makes which are mostly LHD in Japan) may be required for some vehicles to be registered, depending on the State you live in. WA for example allows Left Hand Drive (LHD) vehicles older than 15 years to be registered LHD, while many other States require the vehicle to be more than 25 to 30 years old. So you should consider how this applies to the vehicle you are looking at and whether you want a RHD vehicle or prefer it to remain original LHD.
There are restrictions on certain modifications, mainly to prevent the import of older cars that have been substantially rebuilt with parts from newer vehicles (e.g. late model drivetrain in an old body). You may need to provide pictures and details of the vehicle when applying for your Import Approval. Contact DOTARS for more information if required. Each State also has its own regulations on the modifications that can be registered, this usually focuses on increased power output compared to original engine specifications, and safety. Contact your State’s Registration Authority for further information.
Race / Track
Virtually any vehicle can be imported for race use only providing you have a suitable CAMS license and can show DOTARS a genuine need for the vehicle and past motorsport participation. If you are unsure whether you qualify you can query DOTARS directly. Include your reason for needing the car and your race history.
Vehicles imported this way can only be used for racing and never road registered.
This means more than just importing a vehicle yourself. It is only available to Australian citizens or permanent residents living in another country with a vehicle registered in their name for more than 12 continuous months, who are returning permanently to Australia. There are significant restrictions on this method of import, and it therefore has limited application only to those in this situation. You cannot use this method if you are living in Australia.