A STEP BY STEP GUIDE
Buying a car that isn’t road legal can be a scary prospect. What if you spend all that money only to find out the car is no good? There are plenty of uncomplied cars for sale at the moment, and, of course, if you decide to import your own, that will need to be complied, too. Hopefully, over the next few pages, you will learn that the process isn’t really that daunting, and, as long as you’ve got a good, safe car, getting it on the road is nothing to worry about.
The first step when planning to obtain a VIN for a car, or when looking at a car that hasn’t yet got a VIN, is to check the paperwork. Since you’re reading this magazine, chances are that the car you are looking at is over 20 years old. Assuming this is the case, you will require four main documents. Copies of the documents will not suffice; they must be original. If a car doesn’t have the original documents with it, walk away. • The vehicle’s overseas registration papers (certificate of title / pink slip). • Evidence of vehicle ownership (purchase receipt, bill of sale). • Evidence that you are the importer of the vehicle (i.e., import-entry documentation in your name, shipping papers, or bill of lading). • Evidence of your New Zealand residency (driver licence). If you’re confident that you have all the required paperwork, head on down to your local compliance centre. To run our test car — a 1977 Mercury Marquis — we turn to North Shore Compliance Centre, a company that processes hundreds of cars a week, many of them American vehicles, which comes in handy if your vehicle fails (more info in the sidebar, Other Things to Consider, on page 67). Once it has all the required documentation, it’s time for the inspection to begin.
Before any inspection can take place, the vehicle must be assigned a VIN — vehicle identification number — which allows the vehicle to be identified in the government’s system.
Technically, applying the number is referred to as ‘Vinning’ a vehicle, and the rest of the procedure as ‘compliance’, but it’s more common for the whole procedure to be referred to as ‘Vinning’.
As well as the small plate that is riveted to an immovable object in the engine bay, the number is sandblasted into the vehicle’s rear window. At this point, information about the vehicle, such as year, make, and model, along with engine size, is entered into the system. Until then, all an imported vehicle has is an identification number given to it by MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries) when it comes off the wharf. If a vehicle is deemed to be in damaged condition by MPI, it will have been flagged as such in the system.
The first part of the vehicle’s inspection involves removing the sill plates and rear seats. This exposes the areas of the floorpan and bodywork that aren’t visible from underneath. If a damage-flagged vehicle is deemed not to be damaged, the compliance centre is able to remove that flag from the car’s records. However, if, on inspection, it appears that the car has been damaged but repaired, a repair certifier must be called to check that the repairs have been done correctly. It’s important to note that you cannot just take an accident-damaged flagged vehicle to a panel beater to be fixed. The repair certifier is an independent person with authority above and beyond that of a panel shop.
With the rear seat removed, the inspector checks for any rust or damage. To proceed, there must be no signs of rust within 150mm of a seatbelt anchor or damage within 50mm. If there are any other areas that require further investigating, more of the vehicle’s interior may need removing.
Our ’77 Mercury test car is in great overall condition, and, having come from California, there isn’t a hint of rust on it.
Aftermarket seat belts can cause issues, so as long as the original belts are in good condition, it’s a good idea to leave them in the vehicle, unless you can find direct factory replacements.
Assuming the inspector is happy with the condition of the sills and under-seat area, he initials the windscreen and the vehicle is put back together.
Now it’s time to fully inspect the vehicle. It is put onto a hoist, at first lifted until the wheels are approximately 100mm off the ground. While it’s in this position, a special tool not entirely dissimilar to a
crowbar is used to apply pressure to the wheels to check for movement in suspension and steering components. Our low-kilometre Mercury again passes with no problems.
Next, the hoist is raised until the centre of the wheels is at around eye level. All four tyres are inspected for unusual wear patterns and any signs of rubbing. Aftermarket wheels don’t cause our inspector any concern, as long as they don’t rub on anything and as long as no wheel spacers are used. Tread depths are noted also, as the end result of the inspection, as well as compliance, is giving the vehicle a Warrant of Fitness.
Next up, the hoist is raised to allow the inspector full access to the underside of the vehicle. Starting from the rear, the inspector looks for any signs of rust and damage, as well as the condition of items such as shocks, brake hoses, drive shaft universals, seatbelt anchorages, engine mounts, and steering/ suspension bushes. Whatever the age of these cars, which is generally taken into consideration, every vehicle must be safe.
Our Mercury has obviously been well looked after and maintained, as we are able to go straight through to the next step without any hold-ups or repairs required.
The next stage is checking the car’s brakes. With all four wheels removed, the front discs and pads are checked for thickness, as are the rear drums. Another important note to remember is that if the wheels on the vehicle have lock nuts, it’s essential to provide the correct tool for removing them. Failure to do so will result in a failed inspection, as the brakes will be unable to be fully inspected. With the wheels off, other components such as body mounts, steering joints, and coil springs can also be inspected.
Now that we know everything looks as if it works, we put it to the test. It’s not uncommon for inhibitor switches to fail, resulting in a dangerous situation which a car fitted with an automatic transmission can be started while it’s in gear — in
which case, it won’t pass. Once that hurdle is passed, it’s the turn of the lights, head/ tail and indicators, along with the horn. The car is then driven up onto the braketesting machine, as first the front wheels, then the rear wheels, then the handbrake are all tested. The common failures in these tests are apparently caused by people not changing the headlights from right facing to left facing, or people purchasing cheap lights that they think are left facing but turn out not to be. These must be changed before a car can be complied. Obviously, if the car you purchase is right-hand drive, you shouldn’t have a problem, as, in theory, it will have come from a country that drives on the left-hand side of the road. The focus of the headlights is also checked, as it would be for a Warrant of Fitness.
And that’s the end of the testing procedure.
The process isn’t difficult at all — it’s really just like a slightly more in-depth Warrant of Fitness check-up, though, of course, this is assuming the vehicle is over 20 years of age. If it’s younger, it will require emissions standards and frontal-impact standards to be met, along with a more comprehensive stripout of interior parts.
Don’t necessarily shy away from buying a vehicle without a VIN, unless you aren’t sure about the quality of the vehicle or it doesn’t have the required paperwork.
The other thing to consider is that you will be registering the vehicle in the importer’s name, so make sure that it’s the importer you are buying it off, or, at least, talk to the importer first, and trust them. When it comes to getting a VIN, you will have to get them to the compliance centre to sign documentation and provide identification, and the same again when you get the vehicle’s registration. If you might not be able to get the importer to the compliance centre, you might end up in a sticky situation.
The key is to make sure you do your homework, know what you are buying, and absolutely have all the necessary documentation to ensure the process runs smoothly. Happy hunting.
The all-important VIN plate
The end of the process – the license plates go one the car