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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I'm ruminating a few build ideas, and my top pick is to try and convert a car that is 25+ years old that has been imported into the US. I'm wondering what the process would be for getting a car like this legally registered in California. Research into this topic quickly becomes madness, so I'm wondering if anyone has done any of this themselves.

In order for a gas-powered car to be registered in California, it must pass smog. This is a nearly impossible task for a car that has never passed California smog from the factory (such as an imported car, including those over 25 years old). It's not at all about emissions from the tailpipe, and very much about numbers on the car and whether they match up with numbers on California's law books (they will not).

It still seems like there is a way to do it without getting shady. My presumed course of action is this:

1) Buy a car that has already been properly imported. Clean Texas title with all documentation, for example.

2) Do not register it anywhere; keep it off the road.

3) Convert the car to electric.

4) Bring the car to a California ARB referee for a Statement of Facts which officially converts the car to an electric vehicle (and thus, exemption from smog).

5) Register the car in California...smog exempt.
 

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Having BTDT in Bakersfield: avoid big metro DMVs, find a supervisor or above and a referee/engineer and very politely ask them what THEY need to see for compliance on a day when they're not as busy. Get a set of rules and follow them, no shortcuts. Expect a hassle and embrace that hassle as a fun challenge. If it doesn't work, go find a different branch. Rinse repeat until done.

There are connected people that do this for a living, but they are $$$$ pricey. Rich people use these brokers all the time.

My ultimate question to my referee was" I will let you smog it if you can find the exhaust pipe"
 

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Discussion Starter #3
What were you trying to do?

My understanding of getting the EV stamp is that it's very straightforward, once you've removed the engine, exhaust, gas tank, etc. This is distinct from, say, showing up unexpectedly to smog a car that has no emissions.

https://www.arb.ca.gov/html/master_faqs/vehicle_faqs/ev_conversions.htm

My main concern is getting that stamp on a car that isn't yet registered in California.
 

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I had very little issue getting my 1977 Datsun certified electric in CA (though it was previously registered in CA as a gas vehicle). The DMV will give you a temporary one-day registration exemption to get it smogged, use that to take the car to a CA smog referee (these are NOT equivalent to SMOG shops). You could also just tow the car to a referee. The referee looked at the car, looked under the hood, asked to see the batteries. He spent barely 5 minutes asking me simple questions and taking pictures, then did paperwork for 20 minutes before handing me a certificate. Take this to the DMV along with the vehicle title, and they change the vehicle in the CA DMV system to electric drive which makes it thereafter smog exempt, and issue me a new title reflecting this.

Your 5 steps in the OP look correct to me.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I'm very much hoping that is the case, but it's a pretty big meatball to convert a car over months just to have to sell it out of state when complete.

When you went for the electric "certification" was your car already titled and registered in California?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I spoke with someone at the California BAR, and they said it would be possible to have an out-of-state vehicle exempted. I think I'm gonna give it a whirl.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
There is nowhere else in the country like it, and it's well worth the cost.

The benefit of a good climate cannot be overstated.
 

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There is nowhere else in the country like it, and it's well worth the cost.



The benefit of a good climate cannot be overstated.
I believe that. It's not for me, though. Colorado is a whole other kind of beauty, and it was easy to register my car, even without a title.

Sent from my SM-N960U using Tapatalk
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I can't knock Colorado...It has lots of snow for winter sports, but it's sunny enough that they don't even salt the roads...
 

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I'm very much hoping that is the case, but it's a pretty big meatball to convert a car over months just to have to sell it out of state when complete.

When you went for the electric "certification" was your car already titled and registered in California?
Yes, it was always a CA car and had been on registered non-op for 20 years
 

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Discussion Starter #12
To whom it may concern: My initial assumptions were either not correct, or the laws are changing, or the BAR refs I've been in contact with are wrong or overly strict...

Firstly, COVID-19 has changed some things...The first step is to schedule a call with a ref (takes weeks). During this call, I spoke with (I think) a BAR ref and he says 25-year-old cars need to pass the $5k lab certification, even if they've been converted to electric. When I told him my car could easily pass any emissions test in the world, he says he'd "speaks with his supervisor"...and he said I'm supposed to bring it to a lab. I believe they want to avoid people getting cars imported with temporary EV conversions which are then converted back to gas to avoid smog laws. This would cost more than buying and renting an apartment in Nevada during the time of ownership. It boggles the mind.

There are two places that due this lab certification: GNK Auto and California Environmental Engineering (which may or may not be the same organization). Both said to wait, as they're receiving instructions from a government agency with regard to what to do about EV conversions on imports. CEE said late August, GNK said late September.

Everyone ducks the question of who is deciding what. I really wish I knew the individuals who have the power to affect this policy. I can't tell if it's bad websites or intentional secrecy. Sigh.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Now I'm being told October from the lab(s). Is GNK Auto the same lab as California Environmental Engineering or what? Very few people want to provide me with information or names for who decides what...even at an organizational level. I'm trying not to be a pest, but boy.

Some random nibbles about the referee program: It deals with only the smog check program, and doesn't work directly for the DMV, BAR or CARB. It is independent from them to remain a liaison between the public, industry, and state sanctioning bodies in order to maintain impartiality. They are under contract held by the Foundation for California Community Colleges to support the BAR smog check program, and they only provide the information they deem necessary to perform their ref service.
 

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I looked into importing a Lotus Elise, back in the day when it first came out and it wasn't available here. Back then, maybe now, you were allowed to import one vehicle in your lifetime that did not meet Fed emissions. I can't recall the regs on crash cert though.

I got the '01 Z06 instead...
 
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