Owners of Japanese Domestic Market kei trucks and Mitsubishi Delicas in the state of Maine are dealing with the scenario of every car enthusiast’s nightmares. The state says it’ll cancel registrations of imported vehicles that doesn’t meet federal regulations, leaving enthusiasts confused.
The federal government’s infamous 25 Year Rule restricts the importation of vehicles non-U.S.-market cars and trucks until they’re at least 25 years old. Even when importing something 25 years or older, dealing with the federal government is only part of the process as states set their own rules. Many owners of imported vehicles in Maine are finding out that the state can also change its rules, turning your pride and joy into a paperweight.
Mitsubishi Delica owners are hopping on forums and Facebook to report that they are receiving alarming letters from the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The letters tell them that their registration is cancelled pursuant to 29-A MRSA 354, a statute that says that an off-road vehicle cannot be registered in the state. Further, the letters claim that the Mitsubishi Delica is a minitruck that does not meet federal emissions and safety requirements and thus cannot be driven on the state’s roads.
The Mitsubishi Delica is a favorite of JDM fans looking for a right-hand-drive four-wheel-drive van that can go anywhere and turn heads at car shows. But “mini” they are not. Kei-class vehicles like minitrucks are legally required in Japan to be no greater than 660cc, be no longer than 11.2 ft, no wider than 4.9 ft and no taller than 6.6 ft. The Delica sits far outside of the Kei class, being about as large as an American minivan and having engines up to 3-liters in displacement.
The wording of the letters left owners with more questions than answers as their sweet kei trucks and Delicas sit, unable to be driven on the road. Making matters worse was when Autoblog reached out to the state and was told that it considers kei trucks and Delicas to be ATVs. The Delica isn’t a minitruck or an ATV, so it sounds like the state isn’t 100 percent clear on what they’re trying to do here.
Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, Emily Cook, told The Truth About Cars that the state calling the Delica a minitruck is merely a case of poor wording and that the statute is why the registrations are being cancelled, from TTAC:
“We should have been more precise in our language around the Delica and ‘mini-trucks,’ but regardless, the underlying statute is what is being followed.”
But why did Maine originally issue registrations to these vehicles then suddenly decide to take them away? It comes down to a modification of the aforementioned 29-A MRSA 354 made on June 15, 2021, which defines what the state considers to be an off-road vehicle:
“‘Off-road vehicle’ means a motor vehicle that, because of the vehicle’s design and, configuration, original manufacture or original intended use, does not meet the inspection standards of chapter 15, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s pollutant requirements or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s crash testing standards and that is not a moped or motorcycle.”
This definition of ‘off-road vehicle’ is quite broad and technically would include most vehicles enthusiasts would want to import from Japan, Europe or anywhere else.
Does this mean that Maine will start sending out registration cancellation letters to other imported vehicles in the state? Cook has an answer for that, albeit one that isn’t very clear, from TTAC:
“Any vehicle found to be mistakenly registered would receive a similar letter to the ones sent out recently by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.”
The same statement was sent to Autoblog.
I have reached out to Cook, asking if all imported vehicles that don’t meet federal safety and emissions regulations will eventually have their registrations cancelled. The news isn’t good:
You are correct with regard to Maine only registering vehicles that were manufactured to meet federal regulations for safety and emissions. The exception is for antique vehicles (which were manufactured to the regulations of their time and can only be driven in limited circumstances) and golf carts which are allowed on some coastal island roads. And it does mean that vehicles which don’t meet these standards aren’t supposed to be registered. When we find that any such vehicle has been inappropriately registered, we revoke that registration, which is what recently happened to a handful of pre-1995 Mitsubishi Delica vans. This is all, of course, to ensure safety on Maine roads and protect the environment.
At this time there really isn’t a solution to this problem as the state stands firm on the statute. Owners of kei trucks and Mitsubishi Delicas are figuring out what to do with their vehicles now that they can’t be driven on the road. Soon, it seems, owners of other imported vehicles may find themselves in the same spot.