Can You Drive (And Register) European Cars In The U.S.?

There are many things to think about when driving and owning an automobile, including the make and model of the vehicle, as well as the location of its manufacture.

If you’re a fan of European cars and live in the US, you might wonder if it’s possible to drive and register a European vehicle in the country.

We explore the rules and prerequisites for driving a European car in the US, whether or not cars with right-side steering wheels are legal, and if you can drive with European license plates.

Here Is the Short Answer to Whether You Can Drive (And Register) European Cars in the U.S.:

Driving and registering European vehicles in the US is possible. However, it involves laborious processes.

They include proper registration of the car, adhering to US safety and emissions standards, passing the vehicle inspection tests, and VIN (vehicle identification number) registration, among others.

Can You Register a European Car in the U.S.?

You can register a European car in the USA. However, there are specific steps and standards that car owners must follow to do this.

These regulations depend on the

  • Year
  • Make, and
  • Model

of the car, as well as whether it is a new or used car.

Here is why European cars are so popular in America in case you’ve been wondering. Note that European cars also have safety requirements as domestic American vehicles that they must meet to qualify for registration.

They include ratings based on accident tests, specifications for safety equipment like seat belts and airbags, and standards for mechanical components such as lighting and brakes.

Owners must also ensure that the vehicle adheres to specific emissions standards. However, some states have emissions standards that are stricter than the federal standards.

Once the vehicle satisfies all the criteria, owners must then have it inspected by a licensed mechanic and get a compliance certificate.

Also, you must get a U.S. title and registration. You can do this by contacting the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in your state.

It is crucial to remember that the procedure might be difficult, drawn out, and expensive. Also, owing to safety or pollution issues, the government does not allow some European cars for importation into the U.S.

Are Cars With Right-Side Steering Wheels Allowed in the U.S.?

Right-side steering wheel vehicles are legal in the US.

So far, they adhere to

  • Federal emissions and safety requirements laws
  • All EPA rules
  • Federal motor vehicle safety regulations, and
  • Emission standards

The law permits owners to purchase, own, and drive right-side cars on public roads. In fact, some postal companies provide right-hand drive vehicles for US postal workers in some rural locations. These include the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the Grumman LLV.

However, before attempting to operate a vehicle with a right-side steering wheel on public highways, it is crucial to learn the local laws and standards that apply to such vehicles.

Though it is legal to drive a right-side drive car on American roads, it can be more difficult to do. This is because most American roadways have designs for left-hand drive cars.

In a right-hand drive car, this means that certain moves may be more challenging and perhaps dangerous.

For instance, it may be challenging to use a drive-through because the driver is on the opposite side of the car from the window.

Drivers may also need to turn their heads to the left to position themselves correctly during some maneuvers. Turning left into oncoming traffic while changing gears with the left hand might be difficult for some people.

However, many individuals drive right-hand drive vehicles without problems in the United States. So, it may not be all that challenging.

Would you like to know about the differences between American and European cars?

Can You Drive a Car With European License Plates in the U.S.?

It is legal to drive a vehicle with European license plates in the United States. However, it’s crucial to remember that each state has its own driving and vehicle registration laws and regulations.

Owing to this, to comply with local rules, it is essential for car owners to have American license plates on any vehicle with a foreign license.

While owners can install European license plates on cars for purely aesthetic reasons, note that they do not take the place of American license plates.

However, for tourists or short-term visitors, the USA may permit such people to drive a car with European license plates in the United States for a limited period.

Visitors with foreign license plates can drive in the United States as long as they have a current driver’s license from their home country and they registered the car they are driving there or they have temporary import papers from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

It is crucial to confirm the requirements with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the state you intend to stay in. This is because state regulations on driving with foreign license plates differ in each state.

In such cases, however, individuals must always have their home country’s driver’s license with them.

They might need an International Driving Permit (IDP), a document that can translate your foreign driver’s license into languages and is acceptable in the US.

The second thing to do is to confirm that they have registered and insured the car legally and in their country of residence.

However, where there is a need to stay for an extended period, they might need to register the car in the state where they will live and get American insurance.

While European cars are popular in America, have you wondered why American cars are not popular in Europe? 

What Are the Rules Around Classic European Cars in the U.S.?

Certain factors influence the laws governing classic European cars in the United States.

One of these includes the car’s age, as certain U.S. emissions and safety regulations don’t apply to classic European cars that are 25 years old and above.

However, the importation of classic European cars below 25 years into the United States requires meeting certain US safety and emissions standards.

Regardless of age, classic cars are still subject to other restrictions, such as insurance and registration.

These are requirements for all vehicles operated on American roads, including classic European cars.

Owing to this, before using a classic European car on American roads, owners must ensure that they register and insure it legally.

Just like every car importation into the US, the importation of classic cars into the United States is also subject to stringent import laws, customs requirements, and documentation requirements.

The classic European car must adhere to these import rules and specifications set forth by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection organization if it is for resale purposes.

This entails making the required payments for

  • Duties
  • Taxes, and
  • Fees

as well as supplying supporting paperwork such as a bill of sale and registration papers.

4 Cars You Cannot Import Into the U.S.

There are certain cars you can’t import into the U.S. because they don’t meet certain U.S. specifications. Note that the rules and prerequisites for importing cars into the USA may change depending on certain factors.

1. Cars That Don’t Meet the U.S. Safety Standards

Automobiles that do not adhere to the FMVSS cannot enter the country. This includes vehicles lacking the required airbags, with low crash test results, and other safety measures mandated by US law.

2. Cars That Don’t Meet the U.S. Emissions Standards

The law also prohibits cars that don’t meet U.S. emissions from entering the country. This includes vehicles that produce excessive pollution or that don’t adhere to California’s tighter emission regulations.

3. Cars Not Originally Make for the U.S. Market

Most vehicles that manufacturers didn’t design for the American market may not comply with certain U.S. requirements.

Owing to this, such cars may not qualify for importation into the state and may require certain modifications to meet the requirements.

However, where the vehicle adheres to all U.S. laws. This includes the safety and emissions regulations, it is free for importation.

4. Illegally Modified Cars

The law does not allow the importation of vehicles that have undergone modifications that violate US safety and pollution regulations.


Importation and Certification FAQs | NHTSA

How to Import a Classic Car from Europe to the USA – Guidelines 

Can You Drive a Right-Hand Drive Car in the US? Capital One Auto Navigator

Why do Americans put European license plates on their cars?

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