Recently GA DMV sent a policy notice to tag offices advising that department policies prohibits the titling and registering of Japanese Kei cars in Georgia. Georgia officials cite the small cars lack of compliance with US safety standards as the reason. Worse for car enthusiasts, this change in policy could have an impact on getting any imported car registered, particularly any JDM car. It has the potential to impact existing imported vehicle registrations as well.
Kei Vehicles are not compliant with U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Therefore, they are not “street legal.” Kei Vehicles are barred from titling and registration.
Japanese Kei cars and trucks refer to the smallest road legal vehicles allowed in Japan. While what qualifies as a Kei car in Japan has changed over the years, the most recent version limited them to 660 cc motors., 4.9 ft wide and 11.5 ft long.
The policy document does go on to acknowledge that the vehicles are street legal in Japan and are routinely imported into the US. However, they further reference a Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report that says Kei cars would not provide adequate protection in a collision with even the smallest road legal cars.
Further, the policy document goes on to note that Georgia would not accept title transfers, even from other states, for the Japanese Kei cars.
Potential Trouble For All Japanese And Imported Cars
This policy document identifies a 13 digital VIN was the primary way to identify a Kei car. In fact, while the bulletin focuses purely on Kei cars, it makes it very clear that Georgia will no longer be accepting registrations and titles for any non-FMVSS compliant vehicles.
…count the characters in the vehicle identification number (VIN). Motor vehicles that are FMVSS compliant have a 17-character VIN. If the vehicle does not have a 17-character VIN, it cannot be titled or registered. (This rule does not apply to vehicles with a model year before 1981.)Georgia Department of Revenue Motor Vehicle Division Policy Statement
In addition, the policy goes on to indicate that the department will be identifying those vehicles, requesting a return of the title and revoking the registration for any existing non-compliant vehicle. While the policy again goes on to specifically reference “Kei” vehicles, the standards they apply in the policy document are likely to impact any JDM or imported vehicle.
We are aware that some Kei Vehicles imported into Georgia have been improperly titled and registered. When the Department learns of such titles and registrations, we issue a letter (i) notifying the owner that the title and registration are invalid and (ii) requesting return of the title. We also cancel the title and revoke the registrationGeorgia Department of Revenue Motor Vehicle Division Policy Statement
One area we found to be a bit questionable was the policies statement that any vehicle that was imported and checked “25 years or older” automatically means the vehicle is not FMVSS compliant.
Box 1 is for vehicles 25 or more years old. If the importer checks that box, he is representing the vehicle in question is not FMVSS compliant. Because the vehicle is not FMVSS compliant, it cannot be titled and registered in Georgia.Georgia Department of Revenue Motor Vehicle Division Policy Statement
There are a number of flaws with this statement in our opinion.
- There are plenty of over 25 year old cars that are titled and registered, and therefore considered street level in Georgia that were not imported
- There are many vehicles sold in Japan (and other foreign markets) that would or could be FMVSS compliant. Many are built in the same factories and lines, and may even have FMVSS stickers, which the policy itself notes is one of the ways to tell if a vehicle is FMVSS.
In addition, the policy references a 13 digit VIN as a ways to identify a “Kei” car. 13 digit VINs were not exclusive to Kei cars. While the intent of referencing the VIN was probably not to truly identify Kei (as in the small, 660cc or less sized engine vehicles), it does speak to the policies overall mixing up of terms and/or using broad or incorrect definitions and statements.
The policy and its foundation feel more like a brash generalization of any imported car, rather than a focused attempt to identify and restrict registration around safety concerns.
While we have not yet seen any immediate impacts to the insurability of JDM imported vehicles, that may change if there are large scale revocations of registrations. Insurance companies may pickup on the trend and begin to refuse or cancel insurance for 13 character VIN vehicles in Georgia. While currently only speculation, Georgia stance on the safety issues may also be seen as liability exposure for carriers. We recommend talking to JDM insurance specialist or broker if you get a non-renewal notice.
Car Enthusiasts Protesting And Fighting Back
Major car enthusiast groups such as ImportAlliance and JDM import companies have taken to social media to protest the policy. The move not only directly impacts any potential Kei car owners, but the likelihood it will impact any JDM or other imported cars could have huge implications. Imported cars, particularly JDM cars, are a cottage industry in and of itself. Thousands of JDM cars have been sold and are being driven on roads all of the US and in Georgia. Also, because this decision wasn’t made at a national level, it puts Georgia at an uneven playing field.
The most common recommendation on how to work around Georgia titling restrictions is to register the vehicle in another state. First, the Georgia policy letter acknowledges that Kei vehicles may be title and registered in other states and considered “street legal”.
Montana trusts have been a common loophole for many years. Or of course, those with property or access to register in another state could take this approach. Both of these remain a gray area legally, but are common in practice for a variety of reasons.
First, titling in another state does NOT legally exempt you from paying Georgia taxes. Also, while driving a vehicle from another state is perfectly legal in Georgia, you may want to seek legal advice regarding using a vehicle 100%/full time from out of state.
Even if a Kei Vehicle was titled in another state, it cannot be titled in Georgia.Georgia Department of Revenue Motor Vehicle Division Policy Statement
Also, if you take this approach you will not be able to transfer the title to Georgia, at least until the rules change.
We hope Georgia reconsiders this policy. While we understand the need of the government to look out for the safety interests of Georgians, we feel this policy is unnecessarily broad with dubious foundations.
The reality is motorcycles, trikes and other road legal vehicles which would not meet FMVSS standards are titled, registered and driven daily in Georgia. There is plenty of opportunity to strike a better balance between meeting the needs of safety enforcement and allowing enthusiasts to enjoy a limited number of collectors vehicles.