Hi Guys - it’s been about 9 months but I finally picked up my CA plates for the car today. You heard right, I was able to successfully register an imported Mini into the great golden state of CA. After jumping through endless hoops I can now drive my favorite little car legally on some twisty coastal roads.
I’m posting my story and steps here for you guys in the hope it helps, with as many items as I can remember. Please note, these are the steps I followed for my personal situation. There could be other ways of doing this, but this is what worked for me and my car. My one piece of advice to those willing to go through all of this is: if you love your vehicle, be patient - and be prepared to spend some money. Good luck
1. My car was purchased from out of state. Because it’s a 1991, it passed all federal EPA requirements, and was stamped as “legal” for importation into the United States. The first step is to make sure you have all your importation paperwork on-hand: country of origin, EPA approvals for importation, anything and everything.
2. First stop was the CA DMV. Why? Because the car wasn’t actually in my possession, and I needed to be able to legally drive the car across the country (yes, my fiancé and I drove this Mini from VA to CA). I asked them for a “vehicle moving permit” and indicated it would take me about 2 weeks to get the car from out of state into CA. They walked to a counter and got their manager to approve a temporary vehicle registration, which I taped in the back window. This ended up saving us, because I was pulled over on the East Coast and the officers admitted to never seeing a car like mine on their roads. They verified the paperwork in the back window and let us on our way.
3. Now that the car was in the state, the next stop was, you guessed it, back to the DMV! This time I brought all the paperwork, including signed title. Couple oddities here worth pointing out: the car was never registered in the USA, but it was titled in VA by the importer. This titling was critical when trying to register in CA, however they were unable to locate my VIN in the federal database. So once again they took my paperwork to their management to approve (they did), and *voila* my VIN was now in the CA DMV. They made me pay my vehicle registration dues, and said they could not provide plates until after I completed two final steps: a CA Smog Check, and VIN Verification.
4. Ah, the CA emissions laws. Spent the better part of a weekend driving all over the Bay Area looking for a smog shop that would touch the car - none were biting. One gentleman was nice enough to tell me (after admiring the car and looking through his smog books) that for a smog shop to test the car they needed to have a target, or a spec to hit. My mini had no specs and no emissions targets because the car was never manufactured to be sold in the USA. Without these specs, a smog shop couldn’t even pretend to turn a blind eye and pass the car. Almost every shop suggested I make an appointment with the CA Smog Referee.
5. There are quite a few smog referees around my area, so I tried calling a few of them up to make an appointment. The first shop called me back and indicated the Ref would only be willing to see me if I could provide a copy of my “Certificate of Conformance” for the vehicle. I said I had no idea what that was, or where to get it. They said the manufacturer should be able to provide this. Of course I told them the manufacturer no longer existed, and they apologized and said they couldn’t help. The second Ref called me back, this time I was able to speak directly with the Ref and he explained that if the certificate of conformance didn’t exist, that one would have to be created. He suggested I read up on the DMV website.
6. So I went home and did some research. A lot of research. And let me tell you, the DMV website is not an easy read. But, after emailing some EPA folks and other agencies, I discovered there is a SINGLE emissions laboratory in the state that is certified to create this document: //gnkauto.com
, who are located in Santa Ana.
7. After chatting with George, the President of G&K, he told me they had converted Mini’s in the past and that the job could be done. After a few exchanges of emails and some more research online as to what exactly they would need to do to the car to get it CA smog legal, I went ahead and drove the Mini all the way down to LA and dropped it off. When dropping it off, they took about 30 minutes to look at the car, and came back and exclaimed the conversion could be done and that it would take about 3 months. They quoted me $5k for the work.
8. About 8 months later, G&K finished the car and had it taken to their local CA Smog Ref to get the BAR sticker. At the same time, they sent my passing emissions data to the DMV. George told me they had to replace the ignition system, carb needle, installed an EVAP system (which required some modifications to the gas tank nozzle), a pre-cat, and cat. Because the car is a 1991, there’s no concern that the EVAP system will throw a check engine light in the future since those flags weren’t in place (I believe it was OBD1 they started doing that, but could be wrong?). I was worried the car would be a total dog after the conversion, but truth be told, the car actually runs better!
9. Back to the DMV to get another vehicle moving permit. This time, since the car was already in the state of CA they gave me two slips of paper, that if pulled over, could be handed to the officer to let them know my car was legal and allowed to be moved on a CA roadway. With these documents in hand, my fiancé and I flew down to Santa Ana and drove the car back up to SF without issue.
10. Now with the emissions step out of the way, it was time to tackle VIN verification. I stopped by a local CHP office, who said they were booked up for 3 weeks. They suggested I contact a private company that specialized in VIN verifications…so I gave them a call.
11. The private VIN verification company returned my call, and asked what paperwork I had. Everything seemed fine, until the guy asked “is there a sticker on the vehicle that declares this vehicle conforms to US Federal Safety Standards”? I of course said no, and he said he couldn’t touch the car. Turns out within the past year the law has changed such that ONLY CHP officers can inspect cars that do not comply with US federal safety standards. So…I made an appointment with the CHP.
12. When I got to the CHP office, the guy was super nice and friendly. He also seemed like a car enthusiast and reiterated vehicles like mine should NOT go to the DMV for VIN verification. 10/10 times the DMV will just fail you and force you to go to the CHP anyways - a headache that you can avoid by simply going straight to the CHP. I brought all of my paperwork, and he made copies of every single page (he was especially interested in the importation documentation and EPA approvals). He said that the state’s primary goals with doing the VIN verification is to ensure that 1) the vehicle is not stolen, and 2) is not polluting the roads. He also indicated that he would have instantly failed me had I not received the BAR sticker. He took photos of all my cars identification plates and plaques (two on the engine bay frame near the grill, the motor, the BAR sticker, and the plaque the smog ref placed on the inside of my engine bay) and signed the documentation. He also made a comment that I’m the only person he’s known to have all the documentation and BAR sticker ready to go for the VIN verification, and that he may call me up when/if he ever sees another Mini.
13. With my two requirements from the DMV now complete, I had one final stop. You guessed it, back to the DMV. After waiting nearly 3 hours, I walked up to the counter with all of the paperwork, and the lady once again asked her management to come to the computer and verify the information, and while they were looking through all of my documentation I was on pins and needles. But she smiled, approved it, then handed me my new plates. Never thought I’d be so happy leaving a DMV.
That’s it. Now on to more pressing problems…like how to mount CA plates on the car
----------------"rude?? let me give the skinny on this.. the unfiltered version?/ are you STONED or just plain STUPIC??"
PS: @ thewerewolf...been waiting 9 months to say it, but "boom, how 'bout them apples?"