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How to import your older vehicle (25 years or older)

So you’ve found your dream classic car.

It could be a Mini Cooper S like the ones featured in The Italian Job (the original Michael Caine movie, not the remake) or a 1967 Shelby Ford Mustang GT 500, the same model Jim Morrison from The Doors drove.

However, there just might be a problem. The car may not be in Australia and you’ll have to import it. Or maybe it’s been lying dusty and forgotten in a garage for years.

You might be wondering whether your dream of getting your classic car on the road in Australia is about to become a red-tape nightmare. Well it shouldn’t be if you follow a few simple steps.

With the introduction of Australia’s new Road Vehicle Standards (RVS) laws on 1 July 2021, people are now able to import a wider choice of older classic and collectible vehicles, including passenger cars or vans, motorcycles and light commercial vehicles (weighing less than 3,500 kg gross vehicle mass).

Your vehicle must have been originally built (or significantly modified) more than 25 years ago to qualify. Following a successful application, you will be granted an approval for your vehicle to be entered on the Register of Approved Vehicles (RAV). This approval also gives you permission to import the vehicle if it’s overseas.

The RAV is an online publically searchable database of vehicles that have been approved to be provided to the Australian market. It replaces the compliance plate scheme and is a pre-requisite for registration. Please note however, you should also check with your state or territory registration authority for any other registration requirements for older vehicles before you commit yourself to your new wheels.

This article explains what information you’ll need to provide and how to apply to have your vehicle entered on the RAV.

Information you’ll need for your application

Anyone can apply to import an older vehicle and people often get an agent to organise this for them. Either way, an approval from the department is needed before you import your vehicle.

Without one, your dream could potentially turn into a nightmare. But regardless of what country your vehicle is in, how dusty and distant the garage is, who owned it previously or whether it is left or right-hand drive – applying for an approval is a pretty easy process.

Before applying, gather all your supporting information.

First up, you’ll need confirmation that your vehicle actually is 25 years or older. To get this, find out when your vehicle was built.

This is easy if you know where to look and what to look for. Vehicles usually have a month and a year in their build date. Information showing a vehicle’s build date can include:

  • the original sales document
  • a deregistration certificate (in some countries), and/or
  • a photograph of your vehicle’s identification number (VIN), chassis number or compliance plate from the country it was first registered in.

Some very old cars don’t include the month. In that case, the month is assumed to be December of the year it was built.

If your vehicle has been significantly modified, you’ll need to show the modifications are 25 years or older by providing:

  • information on the nature of the modifications
  • dates they were performed, and
  • supporting material, such as photographs of each significant modification, and material to support the date of each listed modification.

The types of changes considered to be significant modification to a car or light commercial vehicle include:

  • body modifications
  • chassis modifications
  • modifications to the drivetrain
  • braking modifications, or
  • steering conversion.

For a motorcycle, significant modifications include modifications to the frame or the drivetrain.

Once you have all this information, the application process is straightforward.

Please note that if the significant modification is less than 25 years old your vehicle won’t be classed as an ‘older vehicle’. You can still apply through the single road vehicle application process, but for a ‘significantly modified vehicle’. (See below.)

How to submit an import application for an older vehicle

Apply in ROVER, the department’s online applications and approvals portal. ROVER manages all applications and approvals under the RVS laws.

First, you’ll need to create a ROVER account and provide 100 points of identification to verify your identity. Verification can take a couple of weeks.

Single Road Vehicle Approvals - Apply for a Single Road Vehicle approval (concessional RAV, non-RAV, reimportation)Once your account is verified, you can start your application in ROVER. To import an older vehicle, you’ll need to select ‘Single Road Vehicle Approvals’ in the New Applications section.

Next, fill in the questions on the Vehicle use page. For example, the vehicle type (e.g. passenger car or van) and whether it will be used on public roads.

Once you complete these questions, ROVER will generate an application number and create a draft application in your ROVER account. You can continue the application at this point or exit ROVER and recommence later.

To complete the rest of the application, you’ll need to provide the vehicle’s details, including make, model, VIN or chassis number and upload supporting documentation, such as photos of the vehicle and the VIN or chassis number on the vehicle and, if necessary, details of modifications and the date of those modifications.

Once you’ve filled in all the details and checked they are correct, submit the application and pay the application fee. Until the fee is paid, your application won’t be assessed.

Your application will be assessed within 30 business days. If your application for a single road vehicle (a concessional RAV entry) approval is granted, you’ll be provided with documentation confirming the approval and setting out when the vehicle will be added to the RAV and that the vehicle is permitted to be imported into Australia.

Your approval may have conditions you need to meet, such as marking any allocated VIN on the vehicle. If you are required to meet a condition before the vehicle will be added to the RAV your approval document will clearly state that, but you have permission to import the vehicle as soon as you receive the approval.

What if my vehicle has been significantly modified in the past 25 years?

If the vehicle you have your heart set on has been significantly modified in the past 25 years, it is no longer considered to be an ‘older vehicle’.

The vehicle may meet the criteria for importing a ‘significantly modified’ vehicle. However, please note that vehicles imported under this pathway will not be added to the RAV and are not eligible for general registration. You should check with your state or territory registration authority to find out whether the vehicle would be eligible for restricted registration.

Getting the vehicle registered

Getting a concessional RAV entry approval doesn’t guarantee you can get the vehicle registered. It’s up to each state and territory whether they will register your vehicle – this is especially important for vehicles that are left-hand drive.

If you plan to seek registration for your dream car, then it’s best to check your state or territory’s registration rules before you start the importation process – for peace of mind.

Once your vehicle arrives in Australia, you’ll need a VIN to get it registered to use on the road. If it doesn’t already have one, the department will issue your vehicle with one during the approval process. The VIN must be stamped on your vehicle before you present it for registration in accordance with any requirements of your state or territory.

It can take up to 48 hours after receiving your approval before your vehicle appears on the RAV. You can check it is on the RAV here. Be sure to check your vehicle is on the RAV before presenting it to the registration authority. Also take a copy of your concessional RAV entry approval to the inspection.

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