I’ve been randomly browsing RightDrive.ca for a couple years, now, after my friend Michael Banovsky showed it to me. I’m hoping to import a facelifted Delica Star Wagon to Phoenix sometime in 2015, and want to be as prepared as possible. Even though I’m still a year-plus away, I figure now is the time to start preparing, and I’m going to share the journey with you.
Generally speaking you can’t import a foreign market vehicle to the United States until it’s 25 years old. Apparently, that’s when they become safe and clean enough for our “high standards” or something. (Don’t mind my sarcasm, there. I’m just a little bitter about it.) Assuming the vehicle you want to import isn’t otherwise prohibited for some reason, you have to use a “registered importer” to legally certify the vehicles comply with NHTSA (National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations.
STRIKES 1 & 2
The only registered importer in Arizona – whose website might very well have been a high school web design project – couldn’t be bothered to reply to my request for information, and a firm I was referred to in New Jersey – which I have to admit was exceptionally prompt in replying – told me they can only import Canadian vehicles built for the Canadian market (read: not a JDM Declia), and to expect it to cost upwards of US$15,000 on top of the cost of the vehicle.
I was personally referred to RightDrive by someone I trust who has worked with them in the past. Can you blame me at least trying to do business with a local or even domestic company? After two strikes, I finally got a pitch I could connect with. I did what I should have done in the first place. I contacted RightDrive.
The response I got back a couple days later from Michael Kent, President and General Manager, inspired me to share this journey with our readers. What follows is the actual conversation we had regarding my specific situation which shifts to a more generalized discussion around why you want to be just as selective in your choice of registered importer as you do the vehicle you will be buying from the far side of the planet, a high level overview of how the process works, and what to expect.
If you’re like me, there’s at least a couple machines out there you’d love to get your hands on one day. Wouldn’t you like to get the REAL deal on what it takes to bring one home? Let’s cut through the BS and do this together.
[bd] Hi. I’ve been randomly browsing your Canadian site for a couple years, now, after my friend Michael Banovsky showed it to me.
I’m hoping to import a facelifted Delica Star Wagon to Phoenix sometime in 2015, and want to be as prepared as possible. The only registered importer in Arizona couldn’t be bothered to reply to my request for information, and a firm I was referred to in New Jersey says they can only import Canadian vehicles built for the Canadian market (otherwise it’s US$15k+).
First, is my dream of owning a RHD Delica in Arizona a pipe dream? Second, can you give me some definitive information on what it will really take for me to do this legally? Don’t want “Homeland Security” to raid my house and crush my pride. ;)
Thanks for your time. Hope to hear from you soon.
[mk] Thanks very much for your inquiry – we love Mr. Banovsky here… just wish he would stop trying to rally our Renault Sport Spiders.
Not sure of the other firms you are referring to, but we have been in business for 7+ years and pride ourselves on finding the highest quality JDM vehicles.
In terms of the Star Wagon you’re referring to – what do you mean about a facelift? Are you referring to the 1989+ models versus the 1988- units? If you can elaborate that’d be great – then I can send over a few examples that will fit the bill.
The Star Wagon started production in October of 1989, meaning we can legally have one shipped to you (pending the build dates match) in October of 2014. So by the time 2015 rolls around we’ll have a bunch to choose from.
As we generally don’t keep the 1989/1990 Delica models in stock, your best bet would be hopping on to our Portal program, which is a no charge ordering program our firm specializes in.
What we need to get started is the following:
- Completion of this Portal order from: http://rightdrive.ca/portal_orders
- A copy of your Drivers License
- A $1500 vehicle deposit, paid by any method
Once active, you will receive emails with available units every 24-48 hours as they become available. You will be able to request inspections, additional details, etc. on every unit you see. Our staff is on hand to complete mechanical inspections, capture more footage, anything you require until you’ve found the unit that matches your search criteria best.
Upon purchase, your vehicle is insured and loaded onto the next container out. Upon arrival to our facilities in Toronto, the vehicle is prepared for delivery to you and receives a full tune up and final preparation. All advertised pricing includes all shipping fees, customs fees and titling of the vehicle in your name. The vehicle will be delivered to your doorstep.
[bd] Thanks for the awesome response! Exactly what I was after. It’s a little confusing when the NHTSA site says all vehicles newer than 25 years have to come in through registered importer, but then doesn’t say much else beyond dozens of year-old pdfs with links to sad websites owned by people who clearly don’t care.
I should have contacted you guys in the first place. Sorry about that.
By “facelift” I mean the Delica with the projector headlights. I think my dream would be a Chamonix with the Crystal roof, but we’ll see. Turbo diesel, 4wd, and I’m on the fence between automatic or manual. (Guys on Delica.ca say the 5mt had a weak 5th and fuel economy or longevity concerns are moot.)
I’m not entirely averse to an 89, as I currently daily drive an 89 Pajero, but I’m also not ready to pull the trigger either! Have to get a few things lined up this year.
Any chance you’d be up to answer a few additional questions for an article in Gearbox Magazine while we’re at it? I’d like to share this journey with our audience. Lots of misinformation out there on the forums. Thanks again for the excellent, inspiring response, sir. I look forward to shaking your hand and pointing my Delica toward Ohio for a weekend with friends on the way home to Phoenix one of these days!
[mk] Yup, it certainly is a bit confusing!
Hate to be a negative nelly (love Ned Flanders quotes…) but the Chamonix only came with a hard top roof. It was actually a “Winter Edition” Delica with bench seating up front, hard top high roof, dual batteries and a block heater. The Super Exceed may be the one you’d want as it came with the reversible captain’s chairs and the Crystal Lite roof.
Sure I’d love to answer any questions you’d have for the mag! Whenever you’re ready for the Delica we’ll be happy to help.
[bd] Thanks for educating me on the Chamonix. I’d heard it was a cold weather package, but real draw for me was the dual battery setup. Seems a good thing for extended periods in the bush. Not much need for a block heater in Phoenix, but being able to keep the whole family inside when sleeping is a big plus, as it seems most of the wildlife out here is venomous or otherwise creepy-crawly. You are correct. Super Exceed is the one for me.
You said you’ve been in business for 7+ years. Seeing as you’re President & GM, are you one of – if not THE – founding member of Right Drive?
[mk] Yes I most certainly am! I started RightDrive in 2007 in the basement of a dealership with one parking space out front. The first car we imported was a 1991 Toyota Celsior (which had heated and massaging rear seats!) and we sold it for a $200 profit. Not much, but the attention the vehicle garnished was incredible so I quit my job at an engineering firm and gave RightDrive a valiant effort. We have delivered thousands of pristine JDM vehicles since and have a team of 14 fantastic employees that bring dream cars to our customers on a daily basis.
[bd] Why and how did you get into this niche business?
[mk] Being a car guy, the overall condition and low mileage these vehicles were capable of being purchased with was intriguing. At the time I was dabbling in a small Formula Drift Career (I was the first Canadian to compete in a Formula Drift event whilst working at the Speed Channel) and I had just spent one year building up my Nissan 240sx into a pro SCCA drift car. Having scratched a few too many knuckles on rusted tension rods and jack-crushed sub frames, I was blown away that the same year vehicle from Japan was completely rust free. To this day, I get everyone who passes by our trade show booths down on all fours with dentistry mirrors out examining frame rails!
[bd] What set this all in motion?
[mk] There was certainly a want for performance vehicles in tip-top condition here in Canada, but performance vehicles can be difficult to maintain. What really set our firm apart from anyone else is how passionate all of our staff are when it comes to customer satisfaction. We were the first to offer competitive financing rates on RHD vehicles, the first to offer up to 2 years bumper to bumper protection on our classic JDM vehicles, and the first to offer fleet maintenance services to business moving towards a JDM diesel line up. The performance market certainly garnished the interest to take the first steps, but the commercial side of the business is what has kept it going.
[bd] Like I said, I’d like to share my journey with our readers. I’ve wanted a Delica for a LOOOOONG time. Now it seems like it’s within reach! Considering the specific model I want won’t be legal in America until sometime in 2015 due to the 25 year rule, I’ve got a year or so to get ready for showtime.
[mk] Start doing your pushups!
[bd] Aside from saving my money, what should I be thinking about in the next 12 months? Is there anyone with whom I should be speaking with locally? What, if anything, should I be asking them?
[mk] Other than ensuring your underground parking can fit the monstrous 7 foot+ height of a Delica, not too much! Our firm takes care of everything from titling the vehicle, to all customs and brokerage fees and it is delivered to your doorstep registered and ready for the road.
Some tips for longevity would be to find a good local diesel mechanic who is comfortable working on older diesel technology. The best thing about the Mitsubishi brand is that all of their fuel pumps were made by Bosch so they are easily rebuilt by most local rebuilding shops.
Keeping a spare set of the consumables on hand is also a good idea so that you’re replenishing the garage rather than keeping your truck on a hoist waiting for FedEx to deliver an oil filter. Some of the consumables you should keep handy are filters, belts and brake pads. Other than that, everything is generally kept in stock by a number of suppliers North America wide (our parts dept is available at www.rightdriveparts.com)
[bd] As I’m sure you’re aware, navigating the backwoods of Federal import rules, regulations, and registered importers can be daunting. And there’s no shortage of misinformation out there on the forums due to misinterpretations and relatively limited personal experience in this area. As someone who’s likely overseen hundreds (thousands?) of successful – and unsuccessful – imports, what really causes the most problems?
[mk] There are two major risks one would want averted when importing a vehicle from halfway across the world. The first is, can this vehicle be Federally registered? The rules pertaining to JDM vehicles cannot be simpler – they must be 25 years old before they can be imported into the United States. Certain States have their own rules for registration (i.e. a 15 year old vehicle is considered a classic, etc.) but this is all trumped by what is federally allowed into the country.
ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has crushed many vehicles that are not playing by the rules as it is very easy to search by VIN number to see what month/year a vehicle was manufactured. The L300 Mitsubishi Delica, for instance, was manufactured starting in October of 1989, so October of 2014 would be the soonest one could be imported stateside as it would only be 25 years old then. The rules in Canada are different as vehicles only have to be 15 years old to be imported from other countries.
The second issue that makes an importation unsuccessful is the quality and overall condition of the vehicle. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to chase down phantom problems on a 25+ year old vehicle that cost over $10K to import.
Japan is like any other country, short of the fact that is has 14 original equipment manufacturers (OEM) located in a radius smaller than California. Buying new vehicles is as natural as brushing your teeth – so a large amount of used vehicles are available for purchase. But at 25 years of age, it is imperative the vehicle has been maintained and driven, even if it’s just 1,000 mile a year.
Japan is just like anywhere else – bad/rotted condition, rolled back mileage, undisclosed accidents, theft recoveries are all very possible to obtain. Given there are so many used vehicles in Japan, the number of these aforementioned units is actually just as high or higher than what you’d find Stateside. Importing something with a treacherous past can have it being driven to the junkyard within its first year of ownership and we’ve seen that occur with many private/single man operations.
But that being said, the number of quality used vehicles is also high. Our firm is unique in that we purchase vehicles that pass our rigorous inspections and ensure our clients are receiving the best quality for the best possible price. This is made capable with a ground team in Japan that can perform any mechanical test and supply photos/video to our clients here in North America.
When our clients are using a vehicle from us to put in a commercial application or take to a show, it’s really our product on the road as well so we have to ensure it’s putting a smile on the customers face every day. If it’s not, we haven’t done our job.
[bd] Someone on Delica.ca suggested it might be more expensive to import the vehicle to the United States (assuming North American point of entry being Long Beach, California) then re-importing to the States from Canada. Does this process actually result in such a thing or does the van simply pass through the US en route to RightDrive?
[mk] Hmmm… Not sure I quite understand the question.
The extra costs with going through a Canadian dealership like ourselves are the shipping costs from Toronto to the end destination state. If the container arrived in Wisconsin per se, and our head office was in Wisconsin (why would we do that?!?) then naturally that client wouldn’t have that additional charge.
Customs duty from Canada to the States is negligible (roughly 6%) and the end user still has to pay their state tax, but would pay no Canadian tax.
Where a customer could get lucky is by finding a unit on Craigslist that was allowed into the country based on year – something a Canadian has already owned and depreciated for some time. But based on the previous answers I shot over, the risks associated with that are large because you won’t know how mechanically sound the vehicle is.
With our firm offering warranty protection and satisfaction guarantees, our customers are ensured a trouble free driving experience.
[bd] Along these lines, I can understand how you might get my van to me in Phoenix from Toronto (enclosed/open vehicle transport), but how does the vehicle get from Japan to your facilities and how long does that usually take from the time I say “OOH! OOH! That’s the one!”
[mk] We ship out of Japan every 10 – 12 days, and subsequently receive containers within the same window. From Japan to Toronto we are in the 6 – 8 week range from the moment a client makes their selection on the Portal program. Of course, another “OOH” would get it shipped, just a bit faster.
[bd] As I’m sure you’ve heard time and time again, there’s always “a guy in Long Beach who imports JDM vehicles that might be cheaper and faster.” The big RightDrive selling point for me is not having to worry about the regulatory and legal aspects of importing a grey market vehicle, but right behind that is knowing you guys will deliver a tuned-up machine ready for action right to my door. What do you guys inspect/repair/replace before putting my vehicle on a transport (or advising me to schedule a flight to Toronto to begin my epic road trip)?
[mk] Those darn Long Beacheans… won’t they ever learn?!?
At our premium facilities here we actually go as far as to hire Japanese mechanics through the Japanese-Canadian Embassy permanent residency programs. This allows us to service everything from Kei Trucks to Skyline GTRs – and everything in between.
We work closely with the film and television industries and have special relationships in terms of fleet services to some fleets that are 100+. We could not meet those demands without ensuring that every possible angle is looked at by our staff prior to a customer beginning their experience. We try our best to sell people “Brand New” antiques and that includes brand new tire replacement, brake replacement, belts, filters, hoses, fluids, etc. all replaced at no charge for every vehicle we sell.
In addition, we take care of other creature comforts like key duplication, stereo replacement (to match North American frequency bands), etc. – all to ensure our customers can grab their keys and start their journey with their new (well, slightly used) Right Hand Drive vehicle.
[bd] Finally, aside from maybe the Skylines, Silvias, and early Evos, what have been the most popular vehicles you’ve imported in the last year? Anything coming available this year that might surprise people?
[mk] Having supplied the vehicles for blockbuster movies like the Resident Evil series, Pacific Rim and Robocop (just to name a small few…), we’ve had the opportunity to import almost everything under the sun. The weirdest perhaps were a set of Tsukiji Fish Market electric pallet trucks – they are called Turret Trucks and have a huge steering turret to rip through crowds of people and deliver fish. Naturally, it has a “Normal” and “Fast” setting – when the first one arrived I ended up plowing it into the front of our building – it was like a golf cart on steroids!
In terms of popularity, our largest market is in Postal Delivery so vehicles like Honda CRVs, Toyota Rav 4s and Honda Odysseys are what we sell most.
We have countless stories here – we’ve built and imported 5 vehicles that neared the 900hp range, off roaded Toyota HiAces across Canada, imported Mitsubishi Canter poop sucking trucks that we converted to become fuel delivery suppliers for vegetable oil and this year we are aiming to compete in the Targa Newfoudland with a Postal Delivery Honda CRV that we’re swapping some Integra Type R parts into!
[bd] You have other customers to serve – customers with deposits and inbound vehicles – so let’s keep this one short. What are some of the more popular vehicles you’ve imported to the US and Canada in the last seven years and some of the vehicles coming legal in 2015?
[mk] For more details of what is legal, constantly check back to our site at www.rightdriveusa.com as new vehicles are added every month! But yes if you have something specific you’d like to know about I’ll be happy to fill you in on an ongoing basis.
. . .
UPDATED: I was so excited to share this story, I forgot to wrap it up at the end! We gearheads tend to do things ourselves because we’ve been burned in the past. Getting to know Michael these past few weeks, my dream of owning a Delica Star Wagon has gone from just that – a dream – to something I really feel is only a matter of time. There’s a sense of inevitability now, and that’s got me pumped.
In the next couple months, I’m going to see if Michael can put me in touch with a past customer who imported a Star Wagon through Right Drive to get a firsthand account of the experience to share with you. Right now, however, I’d really be curious what 1989-1990 models you would like to import or just think are worth thinking about. And if you don’t feel like leaving a comment, it would mean a lot to us if you shared a link to this story around. Seems like all of us know someone with a JDM dream.