Thursday, July 27, 2006

How to ship a car across the Pacific ocean

Or an exericise in infinite imporobability.

So, let's say you've got a twenty year-old Soviet-made LADA, which is so awesome that you've decided to drive it from Moscow to London to Mongolia. And further, if and when you get to Mongolia, you (especially if the you in question goes by the name of Theo) feel attached enough to the LADA that you just want to take it home with you, what do you do?

I thought this was a good enough idea, that I've tried doing some research, and the short answer is you can't. The long answer is it's difficult. Searching the web for Pacific ocean freight companies got me a bunch of companies that, theoretically ship cargo across the Pacific, but I couldn't find one that was actually willing to ship a car for me. So, the next step was to go to a local Lexus dealership and see if they can help - I figured they have to know something about shipping cars here. Turns out they do, and they directed me to a shipping company, which happens to be exclusively staffed by Russians, and claims to just deal with shipping fish across the Pacific... But, if you ask for Alex, well, Alex knows all about shipping cars too (even though that's not what the company does), this is where I start suspecting that Lexus actually deals with the Russian mafia to ship their cars here... Alex, however, was quite helpful and explained that yes, you can in fact, put a car onto a container ship in Vladivostok and ship to North America somewhere, but there's a couple of problems:
#1. The full container costs $5000. The car won't take up a full container, but nobody will really want to share a container with some random Soviet car, so it's expensive.
#2. Once you get here, the US customs won't let you take the car out of the port, even if you promise not to drive it. The US customs office confirmed for me that it has to be street legal in the US (which includes some unexpected things like having an odometer in miles) in order to be allowed out of the port. Or you could take it to a company that'll modify it for you, or will even let you modify yourself (maybe), but you have to post a bond, and the modifications have to be done in a prescribed amount of time (~60-90 days). And the modifications aren't cheap: a Nissan Skyline apparently runs about $40K.

But there's a catch in all of this, our friendly neigbors to the North in Canada are a little more lenient - the Canadian customs office claims that they'll let you bring in and register a non-compliant Soviet car in Canada as long as it's more than 15 years old. So, if you were to take a Mongol Rally car back to the States, you'd have to:
1. Make it to Mongolia
2. Keep going East from Mongolia to Vladivostok
3. Load the car onto a container ship in Vladivostok and ship it to Vancouver (pay exhorbitant fees)
4. Meet it in Vancouver and figure out a way to get a Canadian registration for it (I imagine this involves finding a Canadian to do it for you)
5. Drive the car from Canada to the US and hope the American border patrol will be confused enough by the whole thing that they'll actually let you through with the Canadian registration, even though you won't be able to register the car in the US.
6. Park the car at Theo's house and either do all the modifications needed to make it street-legal in the US, or wait til 2009 when it's 25 years old, and at that point the US will also let you register anything.

Sounds far easier than getting it to Mongolia in the first place!

What if you disassemble it and ship the parts back to the states?

For some reason, it isn't too difficult to ship an Ultima (in pieces) from England to the US... (hint hint)
The customs guy did say that if you take the car apart and ship in pieces they *might* be willing to let you get away with it, but I'm not entirely sure that I'd want to take the car apart, then put it back together again. Going through Canada seems slightly less painful.
just remember that if the customs officials ask you if you have anything to declare, the correct answer is not, "um...potato chips?"
Any way you get the Lada back here, I'm all for helping put it back together. :)
Hmm, if you have a valid Russian registration, why would the US require you import it? Can't you claim that you are just 'driving through' on a Russian passport (it worked for me, as an American, with an American-registered car).

Alternatively, find a Canadian student who has a temporary visa. Then he/she can do a temporary import. There are no fees, you just have to promise to leave with it.
Well I give importing the car a shot every time I try to think of this kind of a scenario. It works well on paper, let us see how it does in practical.



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