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The exception is that if you are a Canadian, or a Mexican, you can drive your non-compliant car across the border; but, you aren't supposed to sell it -- you are supposed to drive it back to the country from which you came. Technically, you have to take it back out of the country after 1 year (I think -- I would have to confirm), or show proof that the car has been destroyed.
It's not like some non-compliant cars don't get in. First, I'm not sure how they do it. I brought in a FIAT 500, and someone from the Feds actually went and inspected the car to make sure that it was, in fact, a 1963 FIAT. If it weren't the car would have been seized by the Feds and it would have been ugly on several levels. In my case there weren't any shenanigans, so it came right on through. Additionally, so states require very little documentation and in one case the local municipality was actually encouraging licensing little Kei-class trucks! go figure. So there are tow things. There are the federal regulations AND the state regulations. You could get a non-compliant car into the country and still not get it licenses to drive if your state wasn't one of the lax ones. And, even if your state gave you a license to drive, the car would still be subject to seizure by the feds.
Having said that, if you got plates on your car and don't make a big deal of it (like posting on an open forum that you've succeeded in snookering the feds), you'll probably be fine. Still, the rarer the car, the more likely it would be that you might get found out, if you know what I mean. Plus, you may have extreme difficulty getting insurance etc. so that you could drive it (even assuming you live in an easy-to-register state).
I'm actually considering to buy a Honda Beat, and leaving it in Canada for 5-6 years and then bringing it in. I'm not really into messing with the feds and putting my cars/money at risk.
Last edited by kennyrayandersen; 03-17-2011 at 11:10 AM.