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Importing a Canadian Montauk into the USA

Monday, May 29, 2017   (8 Comments)
Posted by: Larry Barasch #130636
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The Quest for the Holy Grail

I don't know if the impetus for pursuing this bike started by just the sheer desire to own one of the rarest modern-day BMW motorcycles, or from many who said it couldn't be done. I'd like to think it was the former, but it ended up being a combination of both. What started off quite casually, ended up being a tremendous amount of work, education, stress, disappointments, obsession and ultimately success. A true labor of love.

Sunday, August 14, 2016, started off like any other day, until I received a Google search notification for a bike that came up for sale in a suburb of Toronto. It was for a 2005 BMW Montauk. I presently own three BMWs; a 2002 R 1200 C Montana, a 2004 Montauk and a 2009 R 1200 RT. Being one of the Moderators of Chromeheads.org1, I eat, sleep and drink cruisers. About 44,000 cruisers were reportedly built between 1998 and 2004, with not too much data available with respect to exactly how many of each model were actually built. However, I did know that to memorialize the end of the cruiser line, BMW had manufactured 350 limited edition commemorative Montauks in a unique Piedmont Red and Silver color combination, with lots of extra chrome bits. I also knew that out of the total 350 produced, only six made it to North America. Those that did all ended up in Canada.

I contacted the owner to confirm the bike's authenticity. He was kind enough to read me the VIN, which confirmed the October 19, 2004 build date, the original color, and it having been a European-spec bike imported into Canada. The 75-year-old original owner had put only 30,000 km (18,000 miles) since new, and most of those were accrued over three round trips to visit his daughter in British Columbia. My next step was to contact some friends who live near Toronto to check out the bike for me, as I'm generally not one to make a purchase sight unseen. Several of my Chromeheads buddies trekked across Toronto and emailed me detailed photos of the bike. It looked pristine, and they said it ran like new. The owner meticulously maintained this garage-kept bike, and treated it as I treat mine. Later that day, a deal was struck and I thought I was on my way.

Not so fast, though. I learned many things during this adventure. The first was that an individual cannot just drive to Canada, pick up a bike, and bring it home. I was required to hire a registered ICC vehicle importer to handle all of the details. I hired a company from Hamburg, New York, to process all the paperwork.

The first hurdle was US EPA2 emissions certification. BMW US and BMW Canada both refused to supply me or the importer with any emissions documentation stating that this 2005 BMW met US EPA emissions standards. All my other BMWs have a sticker on the transmission housing indicating this, but this bike didn't have one; most likely because it was an imported European-spec bike. I thought that was the end of the line, until an extensive Google search resulted in finding a July 9, 2004 California Air Resources Board Executive Order (M-006-0114)3 certifying that a 2005 Montauk met US standards for engine exhaust and EPA certification was granted. Prior to this, I had been told by a Canadian-based BMW dealer that I would have to install a charcoal canister and change out the CAT code plug to meet US emissions. That proved to be incorrect.

The next hurdle was the US Department of Transportation4 safety inspection. I thought they would require verification of functional brakes, horn, lights, etc., but it was not that easy. Seems the DOT does not like the idea of US riders cruising around on bikes with speedometers in kilometers per hour, rather than miles per hour, as we might get confused by seeing the number 100 or 55 and cause crashes by not knowing our true speed. Since the '05's speedometer was indeed in KPH, I special-ordered a brand-new MPH speedometer from Germany via Max BMW5 in New Hampshire.

Once the speedometer arrived, I needed to secure insurance to clear hurdle number three. My insurance broker said "there's no such thing as a 2005 Montauk," plus since the vehicle was titled in Canada, they had no access to the VIN number to write the policy. I thought I was defeated, but several days later exceptions were made and I received the insurance ID cards.

Hurdle four was how to go fetch this bike. I don't own a trailer, couldn't rent one due to the type of vehicle I have, and didn't feel comfortable riding an unfamiliar bike all the way from Toronto to Long Island before I looked it over thoroughly. A generous friend from New Jersey offered to take a road trip with me, using his truck and Kendon trailer. My buddy gave up an entire weekend with his family to lend me a hand. We had to get this entire transaction completed over one weekend, and due to US/Canada border complications, had to get the bike back across the US border on a weekday.

We drove straight through from New Jersey to Hamburg and settled into a motel room for the night. Bright and early the next day we headed over to the vehicle importer to get the paperwork in order. Next I discovered hurdles five and six.

The importer said they needed a bill of sale before I could pick up the bike. I wondered how could I get a bill of sale from a technologically challenged guy I never met and before money had changed hands. I also learned of the requirement for a Vehicle Recall Letter certifying that this bike had no open recalls or campaigns. A call to BMW NA6 resulted in nothing, as they said they couldn't even access the Canadian database of VINs. A call to BMW Canada7 resulted in a customer service representative telling me he could see no open recalls on the bike on his computer screen, but did not have the ability to print it out and fax or email it to me. I was about to pack it in and go home, but I found Andrew Charters, Motorrad Service Manager at BMW Toronto8 who said he would have the paperwork waiting for me when I arrived.

George and I hit the road quickly, crossed the Peace Bridge into Canada and made it to BMW Toronto quickly, considering mid-day traffic in and around the city. Andrew gave us a brief tour of his fine establishment, and then we were on our way to the seller's home. After a brief test ride, the transaction was complete, the bike loaded on the trailer, and we headed back towards Hamburg.

When we arrived at the US border, the border patrol guard asked why we were in the commercial lane. We responded by telling him that's what our importer told us to do. He didn't look happy. My worst fear was that he would let us over the border, but not let my new bike pass through due to some missing paperwork.

After a few minutes, he returned from his station, and simply asked, "Do you want me to believe that you drove all this way just to pick up a BMW?"

I thought we were toast. We explained why we were there, the rarity of the bike, the whole story. He responded with "I could see if it was a Harley, but a BMW?" Thank goodness we found a border patrol guy with a sense of humor and a fellow biker! We passed over the border without further incident and made a quick trip back to Hamburg.

Once arriving back at the importer, I needed to make quick work of swapping the speedometers. Fortunately, the week before I had practiced on my '04 Montauk, so I had all the tools and knowledge needed for the quick transformation. Once installed, the importer had to take photographs of the new speedometer functioning, some import stickers required to be added to the bike, and some last-minute paperwork. I thanked them for all their help, said our good-byes, and we headed home. Since it was pretty late in the day, we stopped in Binghamton for the night and arrived back to New Jersey on Sunday. George was gracious enough to trailer my bike all the way home to Long Island.

Now I have this beautiful, rare motorcycle sitting in my garage, and can't wait to register and title it, and get riding. That brings us to my last hurdle.

Apparently the DOT has more rules, including (1) the speedometer should have been changed by the registered importer, not me; and (2) they were not supposed to release the bike to me until DOT and NHTSA9 approved the application paperwork. Since distance and time were an issue, I suppose the importer did what they thought was the right thing for me, but the DOT officials thought otherwise. The last document I had to wait for was a bond release letter from NHTSA, which is issued to the registered importer. They (the DOT) could not issue such a letter until they received conformity data on the vehicle from the registered importer who imported it. That package was sent to the DOT on September 24.

As per the Import and Certification Division Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance regarding the importation of Canadian-certified vehicles under Box 3 on the HS-7 Declaration form, regulations require a vehicle imported under Box 3 to be taken directly to a Registered Importer's (RI) approved modification or storage facility. The RI has 120 days to bring the vehicle into conformity with all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS)10. When all necessary conformity modifications have been performed, the RI is to permanently affix a label to the vehicle certifying its compliance with all applicable FMVSS and forward to NHTSA conformity data confirming that those modifications have been performed. If its review of the conformity data confirms the RI's claims, NHTSA will release the DOT conformance bond covering the vehicle so that it can be titled or registered for on-road use. If NHTSA does not release the bond within 30 days from its receipt of the conformity data, the RI is free to release custody of the vehicle. 

After 30 days and once the conformance report is approved by the DOT, the registered importer could then release the final document (the conformance bond release letter) to me to let me get on with my life.

From what I have gathered, the difficulty in importing a motor vehicle from Canada into the US stems from the devaluation of the Canadian vs. the US dollar. As the US dollar can buy more in Canada, it would be attractive and economical to cross the border and bring a vehicle back into the states, resulting in a substantial cost savings. I am told that many US vehicle dealers lobbied the US government to make that process difficult or nearly impossible to keep their customer base from shopping elsewhere. I suppose their plan worked, with one exception – me!

Importing a vehicle into the USA from Canada can be done, but it is a giant political and paperwork pain in the butt. For me, all the hassle was worth it.

As I write this in March 2017, my new bike is insured, registered and titled. The VIN has been transferred to the BMW US database for future service recording. It now proudly wears New York plates, has a MPH speedometer showing all of 91 miles and we are ready to begin a lifetime of adventures in the lower 48. I am now on a quest to locate the other 349 Limited Edition Montauks around the world. Social media has permitted me to find four others, but I have a ways to go. Maybe Ancestry.com could help since they are all somewhat related.

 

Resources

 

About the Author
Larry Barasch #130636 has been a Real Estate Broker for the past 25 years, lives in Long Island, New York, has been riding since 1982, and thinks MBD (Multiple Bike Disorder) is a good thing.

This article appeared in a slightly different format in the June 2017 issue of Owners News.

Comments...

Kathryn P. Murphy says...
Posted 38 minutes ago
It is really stressful, when you have to move your bike from cross country. The paper work, certifications, rules and regulations can turn you insane, but the joy you have when you receive your bike at the destined place is immeasurable. Just a month ago, my brother tried to move his BMW R1200 R bike from Canada to California. He started searching the internet as well as enquired a lot. Lastly, he came across a certain shipping company that assured him of all official and packaging work. The staff at http://www.wewilltransportit.com closely inspected his vehicle and took care of all paperwork. From Auto Transport California, while packing, utmost care was taken like Motorcycles, when placed in a carrier, are first created and then loaded into an enclosed trailer. It's true you can buy more With US dollar in Canada, the shipping charges were also affordable. So at last we received the vehicle at our place safely and without any blemish.
Andres Sulla, Jr USA (Retired) says...
Posted Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Thanks for posting. Great article!
Cole A. Mills says...
Posted Friday, June 2, 2017
Congrats on the new bike, especially when it is a "rarity." But, you put too much effort into importing the bike from Canada. Having imported several bikes from our brothers up North, it is very simple. At the border, explain that you bringing the bike in for repairs. Generally, this means an oil change for me, but it could be more. I have never had an issue with registration. I walk in to the DMV with the title (or on really old stuff a bill of sale) on a Friday before closing and walk out with a title and plate. I still have 438 words left!
Michael F. Lynch says...
Posted Thursday, June 1, 2017
My mistake, the Hurricane was a 1984 model.
Michael F. Lynch says...
Posted Thursday, June 1, 2017
Reminds me of my incident where I tried to bring an out of state motorcycle into California. In 1995, I bought a brand new Honda CBR1000F Hurricane in Scottsdale, AZ. I was a resident of CA then. I drove it home. I took it to the CA DMV for processing. I gave them all the paperwork and they inspected the bike and PASSED it. They even took my $150+ registration fee. About 2 weeks later I got a call at work from the DMV telling me that the motorcycle was not a CA emission vehicle and that I had 7 days to get it OUT of the state. It was not legal in CA. Would they reimburse me the $150+ that THEY TOOK after passing the bike? Of course not. Welcome to California!!!
Jeff Dean says...
Posted Thursday, June 1, 2017
Wow! That is a helluva story. Thanks for writing and publishing it. http://bmwdean.com/index.html
Robert P. Prince Sr. says...
Posted Thursday, June 1, 2017
You did a nice job writing your quest story up. I am fairly confident the US bureaucracy is not responding to a weak Canadian dollar by implementing all these hurdles. Modern vehicles destined for the Canadian market already comply with US regs. Even our speedometers are metric/English. A lot of your issues were from a Euro spec bike being imported. The weak Canadian dollar is causing large numbers of vehicles, particularly trucks, being imported into the US from Canada. For once our Canadian bureaucracy is more logical than the US bureaucracy. All modifications and recall work can be done after importation. Then the vehicle is taken to Canadian Tire for inspection. Btw, exporting a US vehicle is almost as bureaucratty bad. I bought a Florida 1994 F250 last year. It took me hours to figure out how to get an EIN. The physical export and import was easy peasy though.
Michael Gore says...
Posted Thursday, June 1, 2017
Larry, congrats on the very fine ride. You have far more patients than the average person. The importation rules in the USA are insane. My son wanted a Japan only Nissan. no could do. now 25 years post last production, its a antique. No Problems. Congrats on your ''new'' ride.

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