Registering a 1979 or older diesel BJ40 from Costa Rica

Can you register your older vehicle in California?  The short answer is maybe. California requires smog checks for vehicles newer than 1968.  However, they also say that they don’t need to do checks on diesel  vehicles older than 1979 which are imported. As long at the 1979 date is true, Californian BJ and HJ drivers should be good to go. Here is the link attesting to the date.  Below is the snippet from their website:

6-30-2016 10-55-14 AM

Calling CARB

If you call CARB, they will likely give you the speech about how cars of that age have to go through a lab, etc. They default to that speech because more often than not, people are importing gas-powered vehicles and NOT diesels. Diesels are special because they are exempt in California when they’re 1979 and older. So, if you call them, you can point out the exemption on their grey market page linked above. When I spoke with them and pointed that out the operator confirmed with me that they are in fact exempt if I can show that the vehicle is that age. (of course I can)

What are they looking for?

If you want to skip the CARB phone call, you can. What you do instead is go to DMV with your paperwork. This paperwork consists of the original title, registration, bill of sale, EPA exemption, DOT exemption and legal importation paperwork from Customs (Form 7501)  DMV will want to inspect the paperwork showing that the VIN and the motor numbers are original. This can be confirmed by the plate that is riveted into the engine compartment. It looks like this


It can be in a few places depending on the year. For 1979’s and 1978’s it should be riveted to the firewall like the above photo. Before that, it may be riveted to the fender in the engine compartment on the passenger side. The engine and chassis are also stamped. These stamps will match up with your paperwork. The chassis stamp is near the front of the vehicle on the frame.  Just behind the front wheels.  Should be on the right frame well, but it could be opposite. That number should match the chassis number on your title and paperwork.


Next up is the stamp on the engine.  The engine stamp may be a bit hard to see based on how dirty the engine is. Here is a drawing which shows approximately where it is located.


You need to look at the B and 3B engines drawing above if you’re importing a 4 cylinder vehicle. If you’re getting a 6-cylinder diesel, then you are looking at the 2H engine instead.

As long as you can point the DMV employee to the correct numbers and show that they match with all of the paperwork, then you should have no trouble registering a 1979 or older vehicle in California. Comment below if you have questions or other information.