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Importing trailer boats USA to Australia – Buyer beware!!

02 May 2011 02 May 2011

Importing trailer boats  USA to Australia

Customs have very  recently clamped down on trailers  without a  vehicle import license . Trailers can be impounded  and attract very expensive storage charges. They will insist  you sign a guarantee to  ADR comply  the trailer  you may have to pay the government to destroy and scrap trailer .(or you can be asked return trailer to country of origin ).

Here are some of the compliance issues …….

Brake systems do not comply and need to be replaced to comply .(can be very expensive )

The trailer coupling and /or the drawbar don’t comply and need to be replaced  to comply .This will require government approved engineers certification and is not cost effective unless you intend importing each model in quantity.

The trailer width is over 2.49 wide and  won’t comply .

Wheels and tires are load rated too high affecting compliance.

Axle is not legal for load rating in Australia .

Carrying capacity is too high for Australian ADR .

The coupling and swing draw bar are not stamped with ADR approval numbers .(note this is part of the ADR requirements )

If you are actually  granted a license you are required to sign a document (personal and/or company) that guarantees you will make good

the compliance of the vehicle/trailer to comply with the Australian design rules (ADR)  and ensure the necessary approved compliance numbers stamped onto  coupling . The implications of this are ongoing years later even if you on sell the boat and it is involved in an accident  unrelated to yourself .What can happen is the motor  vehicle insurance assessor can  deny the property damage and even 3rd party on the bases that the motor vehicle has been made unroadworthy  by the attachment  of an non roadworthy trailer .If this happens there is a paper trail which  could lead someone to sue for failing to comply .It may also follow with criminal charges for fraud not to mention coronial findings if there is a death with  no insurance protection whatsoever.

Although it is sometimes possible to register these trailers it does not exonerate you from your guarantee as the importer to comply .If trailer needs a road worthy or re-registration years later there will be a trail back to the importer via the VIN no. which DOTAR and the registration authority record on the Australian data-base.

If you import the trailer as a dolly because DOTAR and RTA don’t have the hin on record you cannot register .  These laws have been around for many years however trailers have not been focused on until very recently  and can take more months rather than weeks to resolve if indeed you have the resources.

Grey importing a boat also has some pitfalls .

If fitted with a fridge or air con you will need a import license and need to have a licensed gas fitter supply documentation from the place of origin .

Without this you may be denied entry into Australia.

Also it is quiet likely the wiring also may not comply and may need to be replaced and also may stop entry into Australia .

The other area to be careful of is servicing . Most of the engine diagnostics and also parts manuals now require a HIN number to activate or search.

In most cases the authorized dealer will be reluctant to work on grey imports because of these issues .

All of the above points and also the inherent risks will also impact on the resale value and often will be refused a trade-in option further

reducing the resale value .The USA trailers are easily distinguished from Australian ADR  compliant models . Future boat buyers may be able to report the importer  to DOTAR and   cause the importer to be investigated many years later . Importers may also fall prey to subsequent owners who  insist  you fully ADR   the trailer free of charge or face being reported to Dotar .The convictions are potentially criminal and the fines very high . Don’t believe what the exporter tells you and insist on importing on a timber dolly if you go that way .Also be aware that there are many  hidden charges at each end the larger ones are Import duty and gst .Make sure you way up the risk against the savings you may better off to source boat locally or interstate .

The national code was developed by the Australian Government in close consultation with the states and territories as well as the nation’s peak industry body, the Recreational Vehicle Manufacturers Association of Australia Inc. It is supported by new regulations made under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989.

Changes will also be made to the Personal Import Scheme to limit the importation of eligible vehicles to one every five years instead of one every 12 months.

This move will still allow Australians returning home from long periods overseas to bring with them their personal vehicles, whilst reducing the potential for abuse by organised syndicates seeking to bypass our rigorous motor vehicle certification arrangements by using third parties to import non-compliant vehicles.

Transitional arrangements will apply for a year so vehicles already purchased will not be affected. More detailed information can be found at:


Related Links
New Arrangements on Importing Trailers
Standards Bulletin VSB1
Standards Bulletin VSB6
Street Rod Manual
VSB 11 – Certification of Road-friendly Suspensions

De-rating of Aggregate Trailer Mass
Plating of non-standard vehicles

As you may be aware, Vehicle Standards Bulletin (VSB) 1 “Building Small Trailers” permits manufacturers and importers of small trailers to self certify compliance of light trailers against the applicable Australian Design Rules (ADRs), and in so doing to by-pass the certification requirements applicable to other categories of new vehicle under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 (the Act). In permitting this, manufacturers and importers of small trailers are obliged to have systems and procedures in place to ensure that every vehicle to which they fit a trailer plate complies with the requirements set out in VSB1. It is an offence under section 14 of the Act to supply a vehicle to the market which is non-standard.

This offence carries a maximum penalty $13,200 for individuals and $132,000 for corporations for each offence.

It has come to my attention that some importers of trailers are de-rating the Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) from that specified by the original manufacturer. The ATM is defined in the Australian Design Rules as:

The total mass of the laden trailer when carrying the maximum load recommended by the ‘Manufacturer’. This will include any mass imposed onto the drawing vehicle when the ‘Combination Vehicle’ is resting on a horizontal supporting plane.

For the purpose of the ADRs, the Manufacturer of the trailer is considered to be the person taking responsibility for the compliance of the vehicle when supplied to the market. However, the specification of ATM is intended to be based on the design of the trailer and should take into consideration information used to design and build the trailer. Things that should be taken into account when setting an ATM are the capacity of the suspension, the design strength of the trailer drawbar and coupling and the capacity of the trailer brakes. The result of this is that generally, only the original manufacturer is in a position to specify the ATM and any variation from the OE specification will be considered carefully.
In all cases the ATM must be greater than the “Tare Mass” of the trailer and generally there should be reasonable capacity between the Tare Mass and the ATM to allow the trailer to carry the goods expected to be carried in normal service.

The de-rating of ATM to avoid certification requirements is not permitted. The de-rating of ATM has some serious consequences which trailer importers may not be aware of. The main impact is that users of these trailers are likely to load the trailers above the ATM. While the trailer is likely to be able to survive such use, the towing vehicle being used may not be specified to tow a trailer of that mass. This means that the combination may not have adequate braking, the steering and dynamics of the combination may be compromised and the driver may not be adequately licensed.

Applicants wishing to import light trailers will be asked to provide specifications from the original manufacturer. Importers will be asked to provide a technical justification where there is a difference between the ATM in the application to import and that listed in the original manufacturers’ specification.

Where the trailer has an ATM above 4.5 tonnes, the importer must apply to import a test and evaluation vehicle. The application to import must include the details of the design and production facilities used to build the trailer and those facilities must be registered in the Road Vehicle Certification System. The importer must be able to demonstrate that they are connected with the production and design facilities and must be able to give VSS inspectors access to them to conduct conformity of production audits. Before an identification plate approval is issued the applicant must have provided details of the systems used by the design and production facilities to ensure that each vehicle fitted with an Identification Plate is built to the same specification as that covered by the approval.

It is the responsibility of the person supplying each vehicle to the market to ensure that each trailer complies with the appropriate ADR requirements based on the trailer’s ATM and individual specifications. Where a trailer does not comply with the requirements either set out in VSB 1 or in the applicable ADRs, a trailer plate must not be fitted. This includes, among other things, where vehicle lights have not been tested to the ADRs, where the entry door on a caravan is on the right hand side of the vehicle, where the maximum width of the vehicle is greater than 2.5 m or where the maximum overhang is greater than that allowed for in either VSB 1 or ADR 43/…

I appreciate that this may have implications for some models of trailer, particularly large caravans; I trust that you will understand that these requirements have always existed and that I am simply enforcing them to ensure that the intent of the light trailer arrangements is maintained.

Yours sincerely
Peter Robertson
Administrator of Vehicle Standards

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