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Federalizing a European BMW e34 3.8L M5 to the U.S.

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Do I need to Federalize a Canadian BMW?

No. This section does not apply to any Canadian BMW's. Please see importing a Canadian BMW. Only European specification BMW's need to be Federalized. If a Canadian car was originally a Euro spec. car it falls under these rules. Please read through this section and also see importing a Canadian/Euro BMW.

 

Why do I need to Federalize my BMW Euro M5?

All vehicles on American roads must meet certain minimum safety and pollution standards for use on public roadways. Federally, motor vehicle safety standards are controlled by the Department of Transportation (DOT), while emissions standards are controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). European vehicles meet minimum safety and emission standards set out by various governmental agencies in Europe. These standards are a little different than those found in the U.S. Before you can register your vehicle in your state and drive it on a public roadway, you need to have it federalized to meet the standards of the DOT and EPA.

 

What needs to be done to get my BMW Euro M5 to pass the DOT standard?

There is only about $1000 in parts and about a day's labour needed to get a BMW M5 to meet American DOT specifications. The following is a short list of things that need to be changed or added to the typical Euro M5: DOT low and high beams, amber front running lights, amber front bumper lights, red rear bumper lights, m.p.h. speedometer, 3rd brake light, seat belt warning buzzer, passenger side mirror graphic "objects in mirror are closer than they appear", "brake" and "parking brake" graphic swap in dash, a variety of English 'dummy' stickers, and American VIN tags.

European spec.
US spec.

 

What needs to be done to get my BMW Euro M5 to pass the EPA test?

Most BMW Euro 3.8L M5's will not pass the complete battery of EPA tests in their stock form. Most of the difficulty is encountered when the testing facility tries to get the BMW M5 to pass the cold start test. Essentially the testing facility lets your car sit for a protracted period of time to make sure the motor is bone cold. They attach a device which measures all of the emissions your car puts out the tail pipes for the first minute or so after it's started from cold. Hence the name "cold start test". It's not that the Euro 3.8L motor is a dirty motor. It's more of a case that the cold start test is extremely stringent.

To get a BMW Euro M5 to pass the EPA's cold start test, two things need to be done. Firstly, it must be in top mechanical form. All the filters, fluids and spark plugs need to be clean. We highly recommend that your car gets an Inspection II done in Germany at a BMW dealer prior to shipment. All the consumable components of your engine will be changed and the motor will be in top form. The cost of a typical inspection II completed in Germany is about $700. Secondly, the catalytic converter (cat) and oxygen sensor must be in perfect running order. An oxygen sensor is cheap to replace, but the BMW cat costs about US$1600 in Germany and about US$2400 in the States to get swapped out. We highly recommend that a new cat and an oxygen sensor get installed prior to shipment. A photo of a European and US BMW M5 cat is shown below. The US M5 cat is the one at the top of the photo.

 

If I get the Inspection II and a new cat, is my BMW M5 guaranteed to pass the EPA's cold start test?

No, nothing is guaranteed. However, we strive to reduce the risk as much as possible. Unless your motor has internal mechanical difficulties from excessive piston ring wear, valve seat wear, or other broken or excessively worn engine management components, the above noted tune up should get your car to pass the EPA test. Nothing will get a motor that is churning blue smoke out it's pipes, short of a complete overhaul, to pass the EPA test.

 

What happens if my vehicle fails the EPA test?

The Registered Importer will try to make any necessary further modifications to your motor to make your car meet the EPA standards and will re-test the car as many times as is deemed feasible. Ultimately, in the unlikely event that the car will never pass the EPA test, the car must be re-exported from the U.S. or destroyed.

 

Once my car passes DOT and EPA, is it California CARB compliant?

No. California has higher emissions standards than those imposed by the US Federal Government. The California Air Resource Board makes all vehicles which do not bear CARB compliance sticker get tested in CARB facilities. Once your car passes CARB testing, a California title can be granted. CARB testing costs about US$2500. These charges are over and above any Federalization charges. We have no experience importing BMW 3.8L M5's to California, and dissuade our clients from trying to register their cars in California as the tests are extremely difficult to pass for such cars.

 

Who can Federalize my BMW Euro M5?

Only a federally licensed U.S. based Registered Importer (RI) can petition the DOT and EPA on your behalf. It's true that most BMW enthusiasts with a wrench could get a Euro M5 to meet DOT and EPA standards by themselves. However, the federal government requires the RI to submit a large amount of supporting documentation to the DOT and EPA for inspection. In some cases before and after photographs must be submitted. Certain minimum waiting periods are mandated for each step of the process. Certain bonds and guarantees are provided by the RI and customs broker to the various governmental agencies.

 

Which Registered Importer do I want to use?

There are about 50 federally chartered RI's in the US. Only about 10 of them deal with importing European road cars. A very small number of those have regularly dealt with particular difficulties of getting BMW e34 3.8L M5's to meet federal standards. At this stage in the game, it is critical that an experienced RI is used to get your Euro M5 to meet spec. Our RI of choice is experienced enough to know how to further 'tweak' the 3.8L motor to coax it through the EPA's cold start test.

 

What does an RI charge to Federalize a BMW Euro M5?

Our RI charges about US$7800 to convert a BMW vehicle to meet DOT specs and to run your vehicle through the EPA test once. At the end of the process your car will be ready for registration in your home state. An inspection II and new cats are extra costs not included in the estimate. Re-tests at the EPA are very expensive, and can run over US$1000 per try. This is why it is very important to get your car in tip-top mechanical form before it arrives at the RI.

 

What other charges are there in the Federalization process?

Just as you need to pay duty on any vehicle that you import from Canada, European vehicle from Germany are subject to the same US federal duty of 2.5%. A customs broker must be hired to handle importation paperwork as well and to set up certain bonds and guarantees on your behalf. Typically these charges are in the range of US$1500. The customs broker hands off your vehicle to the RI for further processing.

 

What about shipping?

WILLZ.CA pays for shipping to the RI from Europe in a sealed container. Your vehicle is insured against total loss and destruction by the shipping agency. Unfortunately, there is no insurance available for a partial claim or damage for used vehicle. When the RI is finished with your vehicle, arrangements have to be made to pick up your vehicle.

 

How long does it take to get my vehicle?

It only takes about 10 days for a boat to cross the Atlantic. Our shipping company runs boats across the Atlantic every week. From stuffing the ocean container in Europe to destuffing it in the US takes about two weeks.

Once our RI receives your vehicle, it will likely take no less than three months to federalize the vehicle. Although it only takes about one day to make your vehicle meet DOT spec and one day to get your vehicle EPA tested, there are a few federally mandated waiting periods that hold up the process. It also depends on how busy the RI is and on the availability of the EPA lab. We believe that there are only 3 EPA labs able to process motor vehicles in the U.S.

 

Do I have to pay Canadian sales taxes on my purchase?

No, normally purchases in Canada are taxed at the Harmonised Sales Tax rate of 13%. European cars which are exported from Europe directly to the US and are not subject to any Canadian taxes.

 

See our broking frequently asked questions (FAQ) section for more information.

 

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Page last edited on July 27, 2011.