The Origins Of Grey Market Import Laws


Before 1985, the United States had a successfully growing grey import market for foreign vehicles. The grey import market was the trade of a commodity through distribution channels that are not authorized by the original manufacturer or trade mark proprietor. Grey market products are products traded outside the authorized manufacturer’s channel. Due to a wider selection and possible cost savings, Americans imported a whopping 60,000 grey market cars in 1985 alone. Unlike today, these cars didn‘t need to meet a 25-year rule- and they were often unsafe and could even be completely illegal.

Mercedes was worried about the safety of grey market vehicles. A popular grey market car was the 1985 500 SEL with airbags. What U.S. customers got was a 1984 model, without airbags, with extra parts added dangerously to pass it off as updated. Unfortunately, this experience was not unusual. For every shop dedicated to making sure grey market cars were safely updated to obey American laws, there was another that focused on pumping out as many  as possible, through shady methods.

The public safety risk grey market cars presented, and caused, was too highAmerican car manufacturers were starting to get uneasy with the way imported cars cut into their gains. They were losing money on cars they couldn‘t secure or make sure were safe.  Many Americans, during this time, would just import a car that would be cheaper then buying from the dealer. Mercedes decided to fight back, they started in 1984 by warning consumers about the dangers of purchasing from the gray market. They said that aftermarket shops weren’t bringing the cars into compliance, and it would cost the owner more than they were saving in the long run.

In 1988, the Imported Vehicle Safety  Act was put into law to deal with these concerns. It basically bans the personal import of any foreign vehicle not meant for the American market. Written into the act is a rule for vehicles over 25 years of age, strengthening support that cars over 25 years of age are classics or olds. The 25-year rule represented an important agreement. Collectors could still have their cars, but the average American was going to need to buy something, the government and manufacturers, could certify as safe for American roads.