New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: Todd Wylie

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.

Step one

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.

Step two

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.

Step three

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.

Step four

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.

Photos: Dan Wake­lin

The all-im­por­tant VIN plate

The end of the process – the li­cense plates go one the car

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