By on July 20, 2021

The Mitsubishi Delica is one of those quirky right-hand drive, four-wheel-drive vans from Japan. They’re popular among outdoor enthusiasts, fans of ’80s/’90s “rad-era” vehicles, and people looking for a capable camper without having to spend VW Syncro bucks. But in Maine – The Pine Tree State – Delicas are not welcomed, at least by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The state has sent letters to owners canceling their registrations.

Thanks to the 25-year import rule, Delicas of the right vintage can be brought into the U.S. with little issue and typically registered with minimal hassle in most states (I’m looking at you, California). However, it came to light recently that Maine was sending letters to Delica owners telling them their registration was canceled, and not because they didn’t do the paperwork correctly.

I first heard about this issue from the MDOC: Mitsubishi Delica Owners Club USA group on Facebook, of which I’m an admin. (Full disclosure, I own a 1994 Delica Space Gear, albeit not in Maine). Some Mainers in MDOC USA posted photos of their state-sent letters talking about how under Maine rules, “minitrucks” can’t be registered, and how they’ll have three weeks to remove their van’s plates and send them back in. This, of course, leaves the owner with a 4,500 lb. JDM paperweight in the shape of a Delica. This didn’t seem right. Perhaps the Maine BMV had simply never seen a Delica.

I read more accounts of this happening; the first from May of 2021. Maine Delica owners were now putting their vans on the market as they are no longer considered road-legal. I had to know more and brought this to light on my website, Crankshaft Culture.

I reached out to Maine’s media contact, Emily Cook, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, with some questions about what was going on. The answers are pretty interesting, slightly confusing, and potentially bad – and not only for Delica owners.

Much Ado About Minitrucks … Maybe

The letters Delica owners in Maine were getting stated the reason for the cancellation was because the vehicles were minitrucks (e.g. kei vehicles), and they don’t meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS)or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. Maine isn’t the only state that doesn’t allow kei trucks to be registered for street use. But the Mitsubishi Delica—something about the size of a 2021 Toyota Sienna—is no kei truck.

I asked for Maine’s definition of a minitruck and if the state considered the Delica to fall under that definition.

Cook wrote back citing definitions about Japanese minitrucks, kei-class vehicles, and how they were right-hand steerage and/or had few (if any) safety features or emission controls. Cook went on to write that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and EPA both have ruled kei-class vehicles don’t meet U.S safety and emissions standards and can only be imported for off-road use only. And as such, Maine won’t register kei-class vehicles. Cook initially did not mention if the Delica was considered a minitruck even after I’d mentioned the Delica’s dimensions.

I also asked if Maine could shed some light on the state’s guidelines for vehicle registration, and why the Delica does not meet these requirements. Cook again responded, “While the EPA and NHTSA allow these vehicles to be imported into the U.S., it is for off road use only. Maine considered these vehicles to be ATVs, and they may be used legally for off road use only. See 29A section 354.”

Cook explained that Maine follows U.S. and American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) policies. They also stated that both BMV and Maine State Police have consistently ruled against registration of minitrucks based on EPA and NHTSA requirements and rulings. “BMV has stated our policy in public hearings on bills, and in official reports,” Cook wrote.

Finally, when asking if Maine works with any safety or insurance organizations, Cook referred to an NHTSA document with a best-practices guide to dealing with mini trucks, which the BMV follows. Cook also stated the Maine BMV works closely with the Maine State Police, who is in charge of inspections. There is also more about following guidance from the AAMVA and their published recommendations on dealing with off-road vehicles.

More About Minitrucks And Off-Road Vehicles

As you see, the language keeps going back to “mini trucks,” or “kei class” vehicles. In Japan, kei vehicles must have engines with displacements of 660 cc or less, be 11.2 ft. or shorter, 4.9 ft or narrower, and have a maximum height of 6.6 ft. Most Delica vans imported into the U.S. will have engines ranging from 2,400 cc to 3,000 cc, and they’re far larger than what would be considered a “kei” vehicle under the Japanese regulations. This didn’t make sense, so I asked for further clarification.

A couple of days later, Cook replied, “Maine law is clear in Title 29-A (which was just recently updated in LD 1433 Sections 1-8) on what off-road vehicles are, and that they cannot be classified as antique autos for on-road use.”

However, Cook then states, “We should have been more precise in our language around the Delica and ‘mini-trucks,’ but regardless, the underlying statute is what is being followed.”

OK, so it’s not a minitruck thing after all? So it’s an off-road vehicle thing.

If my logic is sound, Maine’s reasoning goes something like this:

  1. A vehicle that does not meet (or hasn’t been tested for FMVSS) and/or doesn’t display the FMVSS decal or meet EPA standards cannot be registered for road use.
  2. Any vehicle that cannot be registered for road use is an off-road-only vehicle.
  3. Off-road vehicles cannot be registered for on-road use.

Maine’s conclusion? The Delica, which has not been run through FMVSS or EPA testing seems to be an off-road vehicle and therefore can’t be registered for the road.

What About Other Vehicles?

It sounds like Maine has its mind made up on minitrucks and Delicas. But, there have to be dozens (if not more) vehicles in the state that have been brought in under the 25-year import rule and registered by enthusiasts. In fact, I’ve had direct contact with owners of other JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) vehicles including Toyota Hiace and Nissan Cedric owners, and none of them had received letters. The FMVSS and EPS stuff doesn’t just pertain to JDM vehicles, either. There are plenty of other vehicles from Europe and perhaps other places that won’t meet these standards too.

So I asked Cook the daunting question: What about other vehicles?

I specifically said there are other makes and models registered in Maine that also do not comply with FMVSS and EPS, many of which are also Japanese imports (and are also not minitrucks). Can owners of these vehicles (regardless of country of origin) also expect Maine to cancel their registrations?

Cook simply replied, “Any vehicle found to be mistakenly registered would receive a similar letter to the ones sent out recently by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.”

Take note, auto enthusiasts.

Delica Owners’ Thoughts

The U.S. Delica community (which I am a part of) is definitely up in arms about Maine’s actions. There are multiple accounts of similar explanations with other representatives at the Maine BMV, such as the Assistant to the Director. Most of that person’s language is similar to what I heard from Cook. This includes statements about FMVSS and EPA stuff. Some have been instructed to contact an individual at the Maine State Police Inspection Unit who is “very familiar” with Delicas and minitrucks. The thread I started on July 1, 2021, at delicaforum.com about this ordeal features multiple accounts of owners’ interactions with BMV and state officials.

Recap: Importation vs. Registration

The federal 25-year import rule allows vehicles to be imported into the United States even if they weren’t ever run through FMVSS and EPS tests. However, the federal government is not involved in vehicle registration. That is a state issue. So, it appears states have the ability to say what can and cannot be registered for highway use.

The Solution?

Right now we have not heard of any solution to this issue. The State of Maine has said these Delica owners have three weeks to remove the plates and send them back to the BMV leaving van owners with 4,000 lb. lawn ornaments (or really small Airbnbs). If someone were using their Delica as a daily driver, that could be a serious inconvenience. One would think there could’ve been some sort of clause that allowed currently registered Declias to maintain their licensure, but future Delicas would be prohibited from registration. However, that was not the direction Maine went.

A Slippery Slope?

As an automobile enthusiast (and avid JDM vehicle enthusiast), Maine’s stance on this is troubling. Will Toyota Hiace owners start getting these letters? What about owners of vintage Rolls Royces or even Land Rovers brought into the U.S. from the U.K.? And let’s face it: A 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air probably doesn’t stand up to FMVSS or EPS standards, either. Are their registrations next? Oh, they were sold here originally, so they’re grandfathered in, perhaps. But if all of this is being done in the name of safety and emissions, why stop at Delicas? Why stop at any 25-year-rule vehicle? Why aren’t antique cars, motorcycles, mopeds, and specialty vehicles being taken off the roads?

If Maine sets a precedent, what’s to stop the rest of the nation from adopting this stance? This could leave thousands of owners with unusable vehicles. And that is something all auto enthusiasts should not take lightly.

[Images © 2021 Andy Lilienthal, Mitsubishi]

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40 Comments on “Opinion: Maine’s Mitsubishi Delica Dilemma is Troubling...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’d say the Delica owners in Maine need to get together and hire an attorney.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Why not talk to the NHTSA? It is likely that the State of Maine misunderstands the intent of the 25-year rule. But still hire a lawyer. It has been my experience that most bureaucracies won’t respond appropriately unless forced to do so.

  • avatar

    Maine is not the state I would have expected for this. There are ton’s of grey market Euro cars in the state. In fact there is a importer and restorer of Land rovers in the state with a fairly big operation. It has also been a common place for people to register things they can’t register in other states. You see lots of things with Maine plates in CT because of this.
    Thinking a bit more thou Maine can be fairly arbitrary with things like this ( my friend had multiple vehicles taken off the road for rust in the state where other with holes the size of basketballs rolled around).

  • avatar
    mcs

    Hmmm, I’m probably headed up to Maine today. Maybe I’ll make a selection from the fleet that doesn’t meet FMVSS. I might be willing to take one of those Delicas. If so, I’d regularly drive it up in Maine as much as possible. The Delica owners might have another option. Moving across the border to NH. Shouldn’t be a problem there and the border isn’t far from most locations in Maine.

    Another point. How much will FMVSS compliance help in a collision with a moose anyway?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Damn if I didn’t see one. It was in a driveway on a backroad in Kittery. Didn’t see a for sale sign on it, but to be sure I’ll pull the camera footage.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Maine BMV: A government solution in search of a problem.

  • avatar
    Jeff_M

    As a lifelong Maine resident, this comes as no surprise. Over the past 15 or 20 years we’ve experienced an influx of residents from other states who seem to want the state to become another Kalifornia. I didn’t know about this latest revelation which is disturbing to say the least.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      And that has what to do with registering and using a collectible vehicle?

      If anything, I’ve always been under the impression (from 54 years in the collectible vehicle hobby) that odds are your average motorhead has a better chance of being a conservative than a liberal.

      Plus, those “Kalifornian” types you speak of seem to prefer to stay within a 100 mile radius of Boston. For all the time I’ve spent in the Bangor/Brewer/Orono area with my late wife’s family, rampant liberalism never seemed to be a problem in that area.

      • 0 avatar
        scottcom36

        Bangor isn’t making the rules, is it? The legislature and governorship are dominated by the left, thanks to the densely populated southern part of the state, much of which is within that 100 miles of Boston. Those people lay awake nights dreaming up new ways to tell the rest of us what to do.

        • 0 avatar
          Ol Shel

          Who tipped you off that we liberals are up all night dreaming of new ways to torture conservatives?! It’s true! Well, at least when we have a little time left over from promoting the ‘homosexual agenda’, advancing Marxism/Maoism/Communism/Socialism, dreaming of ways to take away ‘yer gunz’, creating more efficient formulations of flag burning accelerant, planning to eliminate all business/inject you with microchips, Jade Helm, trafficking children from the basement of a pizza joint with no basement, destroying your way of life, and eliminating freedom…that is.

          If it wasn’t so dangerous to others, I’d say you need to shut off cable TV news, turn off the interwebs, and get outside more.

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        Funny how those who think California is nothing but hippie liberals have never been to California. (And hippies disappeared about five decades ago.) This state is very, very diverse, and great swaths of it are predominantly Republican. Painting the state of California (with a K!), where 20% of the country’s population resides, with a broad brush is like saying everyone in Texas is a cowboy, and everyone in Virginia plays a banjo and drinks moonshine.

    • 0 avatar
      jcarey

      Never miss an opportunity to insult someone, do you? I know plenty of California residents who left Maine.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    So it seems the state legislature decided to amend the statute which was approved by the governor in June (check link for strikethroughs):

    C. Is not an off-road vehicle.
    Sec. 8. 29-A MRSA §101, sub-§47-A, as enacted by PL 2005, c. 577, §6, is
    amended to read:
    47-A. Off-road vehicle. “Off-road vehicle” means a motor vehicle that, because of the vehicle’s design and, configuration, original manufacture or original intended use, does not meet the inspection standards of chapter 15, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s pollutant requirements or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s crash testing standards and that is not a moped or motorcycle.

    This part I thought was very cute, though gov’t frequently does this because it is above its own laws:

    §354. Off-road vehicles
    Off-road vehicles may not be registered in accordance with this Title. Vehicles owned and operated by government entities are not subject to the provisions of this section.

    “Cook simply replied, “Any vehicle found to be mistakenly registered would receive a similar letter to the ones sent out recently by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.””

    So it would seem there was no mistake, the state’s legislative and executive branches decided to arbitrarily change the code without a clear path forward for existing registrants. I’m not sure if Mr. Cook and his office have been in communication with their solicitor or the legislature, but it seems they are taking the path of least resistance which is a big middle finger to Maine’s citizens. I hope the impacted owners seek counsel and are able to file suit, ultimately the best path forward is to prohibit future registrations but not penalize existing registrants. To allow otherwise is mildly tyrannist.

    Maine’s citizens should they have the coin should look into the Montana solution for this, my only concern for them would be insurance which I was told had to be an expensive commercial policy.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Yeah, that’s some bullsh!t.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I wonder if the Delica folks have tried to register their vehicles under either the “antique auto” or “hobbyist” provisions?

      legislature.maine.gov/statutes/29-A/title29-Asec457.html

      By the definition you gave I think a Model T would be considered an “off-road” vehicle, but if that is the case then what does the “antique/custom” registration exist for?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “Maine’s citizens should they have the coin should look into the Montana solution ”

      The New Hampshire border is minutes away. The Delica I saw today was at a home maybe 5 miles from the border.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Maine residents, this stupidity has been brought to you by:

    Representative Roland Martin (D-Sinclair)

    https://legislature.maine.gov/housedems/martinr/index.html

    and co-sponsored by:

    Representative Michael D. Perkins (R-Oakland)

    https://legislature.maine.gov/house/house/MemberProfiles/Details/125

    They cut off the title page in the previous link so you didn’t know which dumbasses to thank:

    https://legislature.maine.gov/bills/getPDF.asp?paper=HP1049&item=1&snum=130

    Release the robocalls!

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Regulators gonna regulate . . .

    This is ironic because many landscapers in Maryland are pulling utility trailers plated in Maine. Why? Maryland has regulations that require trailers to be inspected to see that they have working brakes, lights etc. Apparently Maine does not.

    Friendly tip to Mainers: plate your vehicle in South Dakota. South Dakota is unique as far as I know) in not requiring registrants of motor vehicles to be residents of the state (or have a SD driver’s license). My guess is that the folks in South Dakota — who are very nice, BTW — don’t give a fig about any of this. And, if you want to establish residence in SD, spend a weekend there, present evidence of having done that (along with a SD mail forwarding service address) and you can get a driver’s license, register to vote, etc. This is all above-board and well known to SD officials. Many full-time RV’ers do that, as did I when my wife and I sold our house in DC, put the furniture in storage and hit the road with our Airstream.

    I have personal knowledge that SD will register your motor vehicle without your being resident. My truck was an extremely rare combination (6.2 liter gas engine plus max trailer towing package that gave my 1960 lbs. of payload in a “half ton” truck. I couldn’t even order it in 2015 through any Washington DC area dealer. I found one at a dealer in Denver, made the deal over the phone and flew out to pick it up. Driving it home, I went through Rapid City, SD and titled the truck there and plated it. At the time, I had a DC driver’s license and was still a Washington DC resident.

    Caution: most states require re-registration of your vehicle within the state within 30 days of moving there. So, if the PD stops you for some traffic violation, you may have an additional problem.

    • 0 avatar
      eggsalad

      WRT that last line. Establish an LLC in the state you wish to register your car in. Montana is pretty popular for this – registration costs are low for luxury cars. Then if you get pulled over in your home state, you simply say that is a company car and your company is headquartered in Montana.

    • 0 avatar
      Oberkanone

      Felony Tax Evasion

      If you establish residency in SD (and you don’t actually reside there) and own real estate in another state or work in another state then be prepared for possibility of felony prosecution for tax evasion.

      Retired individuals owning only an RV, this is not targeted at you.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Something is only tax evasion if you’re actually evading taxes.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          It is pretty easy to make the argument that by giving your registration money to another state you are avoiding the taxes in the state you actually live in, even if the amount is very small and your intention is solely to be able to register the vehicle.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            One could argue many things but at least in Maine it is *not* felony tax evasion unless there are a lot of other things going on in the situation.

            legislature.maine.gov/statutes/29-A/title29-Asec514.html

            “a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $1,000.”

            I don’t advocate for people to break laws but you aren’t going to jail over it or even getting arrested.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            I’m sorry I didn’t meant to agree that it was necessarily a felony and I was speaking in general.

            In my state, WA, they do crack down on this sort of thing from time to time as we used to have a high personal property tax on vehicles that was payed as part of the registration and our sales/use tax is also high.

            The most recent crack down was aimed at Motorhomes. The “crazy trick” some people were using was to go and buy that $100k motorhome in OR and register it to a PO box in that state. That saved you $10k in sales tax and continued to pay dividends with OR’s then 2 years for $35 registration fee instead of the thousands it could cost for that first renewal in WA.

            There was also a time when they were going after the Montana plated luxury cars and they consider it tax evasion, not a traffic infraction.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Six months and one day residency is the IRS rule.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Interesting article.

    As for the Delica, how many exist in the US, let alone Maine?

    If the point of meeting safety regulations is, well, safety, how many people can possibly be threatened by traveling in an ‘unsafe’ Delica? Heck, 100 people die daily in vehicles that *do* meet regulations.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I do see them from time to time here in the PNW, due in part I’m sure since it is easier to ship them to the west coast. Pre-pandemic I used to see a lot more of them visiting from Canada since they have the 15 year rule.

      Of the JDM vans for whatever reason the Delicia seems to be the most common but there are some of the Toyota and Mazda/Fords too. The Kei vans/pickups can be seen out and about too.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “100 people die daily in vehicles that *do* meet regulations.”

      Coincidentally, when I went past the Delica in Kittery today, there was a vespa scooter in front of me. The Delica is easily the safer of the two vehicles. The rider was wearing a helmet, but I saw plenty without helmets.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Great article.

    More attention needs to be paid to the arbitrary and protectionist laws in place regarding motor vehicles.

    Ok Maine, so I can have a straight piped Harley and ride it helmet-less (since I’m just barely over 18, ahem) but I can’t drive a mini van? I’m sure it makes sense to someone.

  • avatar
    Greg Hamilton

    Someone said, “You will own nothing and be happy.” I just can’t remember who.

  • avatar
    SaulTSack

    Vermont’s got your back

    https://dmv.vermont.gov/faq/do-i-have-to-be-a-vermont-resident-to-register-a-vehicle-in-vermont

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    It’s rather annoying because the Mitsubishi Van and Wagon were imported to the US when new, sold here meeting all requirements at the time, and still grandfathered for use here.

  • avatar

    A Wise decision! The mkI is, really, a death trap. Please get rid of them:

    http://www.vwsyncro.eu/p/vs.html

    The Syncro Heresy

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Very Interesting. I agree with the author and the enthusiasts… this is a gross misrepresentation of the law as written, since the vehicle is absolutely NOT a Kei-class vehicle.

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