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Importing Auto Parts Into the U.S.

June 18, 2019
Andrew Doerfler
If you are importing auto parts into the U.S., expect to complete CBP Form 7501 and the NHTSA-DOT HS-7 Declaration form. If you are importing an engine, EPA Form 3520-1 might also be necessary. These documents guarantee that the vehicle parts meet the necessary regulations and standards for customs, safety and emissions.

Importing auto parts into the U.S. is no Sunday drive. Bringing vehicle parts and accessories over the border requires an understanding of the regulations and standards from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other official agencies.

If you are importing auto parts into the U.S., expect to complete CBP Form 7501 and the NHTSA-DOT HS-7 Declaration form. If you are importing an engine, EPA Form 3520-1 might also be necessary. These documents guarantee that the vehicle parts meet the necessary regulations and standards for customs, safety and emissions.

How to Import Car Parts and Accessories to the United States in Compliance

Most vehicles and vehicle parts imported into the U.S. need to follow the regulations set forth by the following federal regulatory authorities, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Department of Transportation (DOT) - National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA)
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Each agency has jurisdiction over a different aspect of importing engines and other motor vehicle parts to the United States. While there are exceptions, importers should be familiar with the rules from each body.

Certain states, such as Illinois and California, have regulations that go beyond the federal expectations. Importers must also be sure to pay any duties, tariffs or import taxes on the auto parts associated with the type of product and country of origin.

To guarantee that your imported vehicle parts are in compliance, it’s essential to have an understanding of the requirements of each regulatory authority.

Customs and Border Protection Requirements for Importing Auto Parts

Those bringing auto parts into the United States should expect to fill out CBP Form 7501, also known as an entry summary, at the port of entry.

CBP also requires that all foreign products imported into the United States are marked to indicate the items’ country of origin. The regulations say that the marking should be in a “conspicuous place” that is as legible and permanent as possible.

Manufacturers of auto parts must follow the “Agent for Service of Process” requirements in order to import their products, according to NIST. An Agent for Service of Process is the registered person who receives lawsuits or other legal action on behalf of the company or other entity. An agent must be on record for the auto parts to be released from the port of entry.

Department of Transportation Rules for Bringing Car Parts to the U.S.Department of Transportation Rules for Bringing Car Parts to the US

Most imported auto parts are required to follow the safety standards under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the agency under the Department of Transportation responsible for upholding these rules.

Motor vehicle parts subject to regulation include, but are not limited to:

  • Tires
  • Rims
  • Brake hoses
  • Brake fluid
  • Seat belt assemblies
  • Lighting equipment
  • Glazing
  • Motorcycle helmets
  • Child restraints
  • Compressed natural gas containers
  • Rear impact guards for trailers
  • Platform lift systems for the mobility-impaired
  • Triangular reflective warning device

In order to be imported in compliance with the safety standards, these items have to meet the version of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) in effect when the item was manufactured. A DOT symbol inscribed on the item or its container usually indicates that the item meets this standard.

A manufacturer looking to import auto parts to the U.S. must also follow certain NHTSA theft prevention standards. To learn more about these expectations, use the NHTSA manufacturer portal. The NHTSA has a manufacturer portal that provides additional information on these standards.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Best Practices

Beyond the strict requirements that the NHTSA enforces on vehicle parts imported to the United States, the agency also offers recommendations to help reduce the risk of non-compliance.

When it comes to importing motor vehicle equipment, the NHTSA outlines many best practices meant to ensure compliance and avoid defective products. A few of the best practices for auto product importers include:

  • Take care in choosing foreign manufacturers
  • Inspect foreign manufacturing facilities
  • Establish a consumer service program
  • Inspect goods before they are exported to the United States

Importing Engines Into the U.S.

If motor vehicle engines are among the auto parts you are hoping to import into the USA, you will also have to consider regulations enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Car engines release emissions, and the EPA is responsible for guaranteeing that these emissions meet established U.S. standards.

When importing engines into the U.S., EPA form 3520-1 will need to be completed. This applies to standard vehicle and motorcycle engines. For heavy-duty and nonstandard engines, such as marine and diesel, EPA form 3520-21 needs to be completed. These forms can be submitted electronically through an ACE manifest or can be included with your goods.

If you are trying to import an engine that does not meet United States emission standards, you will need to work through an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI). ICIs have been certified by the EPA to legally import vehicles into the United States. The ICI, the EPA says, will modify, test and certify the engine to make sure it meets the requirements.

Are There Exceptions to the EPA Emissions Rules?

If the engine you want to import to the United States doesn’t conform to standards -- and you don’t intend to modify it to meet them -- you’re not necessarily out of luck. There are a few situations in which nonconforming engines can be temporarily imported into the country with a customs bond.

The items must receive pre-approval that the use of the engine qualifies for one of the following exemptions:

  • Testing
  • Display
  • Repair or alteration
  • Nonresident
  • Competition/Racing

EPA Regulations on Other Imported Auto Parts

Emissions aren’t the only environmental concern that are relevant when importing auto parts. Some light switches, anti-lock braking system switches, and active ride control system switches use elemental mercury. This substance is regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Manufacturers using this substance in items to be imported to the United States will need to provide notification to the EPA, which will then determine whether the use is allowed.

Federal Trade Commission Rules on Imported Auto Parts

The Federal Trade Commission expects imported auto parts to follow the same standards that apply to all products sold in the United States. This includes:

  • Prohibiting deceptive, misleading or harmful information and practices
  • Requiring packaging to identify the product, the manufacturer or distributor information, and the contents and quantity
  • Setting guidelines about making environmental claims in a product’s marketing

State Regulations on Importing Car PartsState Regulations on Importing Car Parts

When importing auto parts to the United States, there are other standards to consider in addition to federal regulations. You also have to make sure you are following the requirements of any state you are bringing the products into. NIST points out that the following standards are enforced by states that have enacted measures that could apply to your imported auto parts.

  • 45 of 50 states: All but five states have enacted the Uniform Packaging and Labeling Regulations, which require a label on non-consumer packaging with specific information in English. The five exceptions are Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Wyoming. All except North Dakota have their own laws and regulations related to this.
  • 19 of 50 states: Nearly half the country has adopted a law prohibiting the use of certain toxic materials in packaging.
  • California: The state of California requires a warning label on products containing lead and many other hazardous substances. California also has stricter regulations on the emissions released by engines.
  • Illinois: Selling products with lead is illegal unless they have the following warning label: “WARNING: CONTAINS LEAD. MAY BE HARMFUL IF EATEN OR CHEWED. MAY GENERATE DUST CONTAINING LEAD. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN” or another label as dictated by federal law.

For concerns about importing to a specific state, work with a customs broker that has knowledge of the import process.

Facts About Importing Auto Parts to the United States

More and more auto parts are coming into the U.S. from other countries. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that over the last 25 years, the global auto industry has nearly doubled. With that trend has come an influx of parts from abroad.

According to a 2018 CRS report about the imports of motor vehicles, more than 30 countries sold more than $100 million in auto parts in the United States in 2017. The United States imported the most in auto parts from the following countries in 2018, according to the International Trade Administration:

  • Mexico: $59.4 billion
  • China: $20.1 billion
  • Canada: $17.5 billion
  • Japan: $16.1 billion
  • Germany: $9.6 billion
  • Korea: $8.9 billion
  • Thailand: $3.5 billion
  • Taiwan: $3.2 billion
  • India: $1.8 billion
  • Italy: $1.7 billion

In all, the United States imported nearly $160 billion in auto parts in 2018.

Bringing Car Parts from Canada and Mexico to the U.S.

If you are importing car parts from Mexico or Canada to the United States, you should be aware of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The agreement, which went into effect on January 1, 1994, reduced barriers to trade among the three largest countries in North America.

NAFTA allows reduced duty rates on Canadian parts and grants “preferential trade benefits” to Mexico. This means that service parts made in these countries typically have a lower duty rate than those from countries outside of the agreement -- in many cases, there is no duty at all.

Importing Car Accessories from ChinaImporting Car Accessories from China

If you are looking to import auto parts from China to the United States, you’re not alone. More than $20 billion in car parts were imported to the United States from China in 2018. However, unlike the United States’ two other biggest car parts trade partners (Mexico and Canada), products made in China do not receive benefits under NAFTA. That means duties are not at a reduced rate. As of June 2019. there is a 2.5 percent tariff on most imported Chinese auto parts.

You should also expect to follow all of the standards and regulations of the CBP, DOT, and EPA when importing car parts from China. To learn more about the process for importing car parts from China, consider customs consulting services that can give you more insight into the process.

How to Import an Engine from Japan

Importing car engines from Japan has become popular due to interest among auto enthusiasts in “Japanese Domestic Market” vehicles and parts. Car enthusiasts in the United States often seek to outfit their cars with parts made to meet specifications and regulations from the Japanese market, as opposed to U.S. standards.

JDM engines are often designed for lower-mileage and shorter-term use and may include features or specs that have not been adopted widely in the United States. They often differ from versions of the same car and engines that Japanese manufacturers export to foreign markets.

If you are importing an engine from Japan, you need to make sure the import follows all the processes outline by the CBP, the DOT and NHTSA, and the EPA. A JDM engine might not have been certified as meeting EPA or DOT standards. You may need to work with an Independent Commercial Importer to guarantee your import is not running afoul of any regulations.

What is the Import Tax on Auto Parts?

When importing auto parts, you have to be mindful of the tariffs and duties required to bring the items into the United States for sale. Every item has a different code under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS), which you can use to confirm the specific duty associated with the item.

Most auto parts have a tariff of 2.5 percent. However, there are many exceptions depending on the country of origin and the type of vehicle the part is associated with. For more information on the HTS, read our article What HTSUS Codes Mean to Importing Goods.

Do I Need a Customs Bond to Import Auto Parts?Do I Need a Customs Bond to Import Auto Parts

Commercial importers of auto parts need to familiarize themselves with customs bonds. There are two main situations that usually call for an importer to obtain a customs bond:

  • The products are worth over $2,500 and are being imported for commercial purposes
  • The items being imported are regulated by another federal agency

Either or both of these situations could apply to your auto parts. Engines, for example, are regulated by the EPA. Other auto parts are overseen by the Department of Transportation.

A customs bond guarantees that Customs and Border Protection receives the necessary duties and taxes on the items brought into the United States. In the event that an importer cannot pay the required costs, the surety company that issued the bond will pay the remainder.

To determine whether your auto parts require formal declaration through a customs bond, consider import consulting services that can ensure you are following all of the requirements on the federal and state levels.

What Kind of Bond Do I Need to Import Auto Parts?

The type of bond necessary for your import will be based on your business needs. There are two main types of bonds. Which you choose depends on how frequently you import goods into the United States.

Single Entry Bond

A single-entry bond covers a one-time importation. If you will only be importing a shipment a single time over the course of a year (or even just two or three times), a single entry bond will usually be sufficient. Single entry bonds are for the value of the items along with any duties, taxes and fees.

Continuous Bond

If you will be importing items many times throughout the year (say, four or more), a continuous bond is the best option for your business. These bonds cover multiple transactions and are typically 10 percent of the duties, taxes and fees paid by the importer in the last year.

The Import Documents You Need

When importing items into the United States, there are documents you need to prepare to clear the customs process. These documents will make sure your items successfully make it into the country:

  • Commercial invoice: This lays out the products, their value and quantity, and information about the manufacturer and importer.
  • Packing list: For each container, this document lists the contents, dimensions and weight.
  • Bill of lading: The bill of lading is a contract between the carrier and the shipper that details the shipment’s contents. It serves as a receipt that the carrier received the items for shipment.
  • Arrival notice: Issued by a U.S. agent, this document details information about the shipment’s arrival and other information needed to clear customs.

Do I Need a Customs Bond Broker?

The customs bond process can be intimidating for newbies, whether you are importing cars to the USA , importing motorcycles or auto parts. When you’ve determined that your auto parts require a customs bond, you should consider enlisting a licensed customs broker to take care of navigating the process.

An experienced agent or broker has the expertise necessary to make obtaining a customs bond as smooth as possible. They will ensure that your shipment meets all of the requirements, and will help avoid any delays or issues that could arise from mistakes made in the customs process.

A licensed customs broker works on your behalf to make importing easy. If you need guidance with your import, use the chat feature to learn more about customs brokers and consulting services.

0 comments on “Importing Auto Parts Into the U.S.”

  1. I have volkswagon partsin mexico that are needed in the us. Like switches hub caps horns all brand new. Trimming. May i cross things like this over to us soil

    1. Hi Angel, all items entering into the United States whether you ship them or carry them, will need a declaration to US Customs when they enter the country. Some countries also require a declaration before you leave the country. If you'd like more information, please email us at

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