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  There has always been a requirement to modify vehicles brought into the UK to ensure that they are roadworthy under UK law. This is tested every year for cars over three years old using the Ministry of Transport (MOT) test, which is inspected when you buy your vehicle registration. For new vehicles there was little testing to ensure that lights were correct etc during the first three years.

However, in the last few years the Single Vehicle Approval (SVA) test has been introduced to test that cars up to 10 years old, when imported to the UK, meet the requirements. The general view of those that have been through the test (I brought my car here before the test was introduced) is that whilst the theory is sensible, the test seems to be too picky at silly little details, can be costly and fairly painful.

In general, the test is looking to make sure:

  • Rear indicators are separate to the brake lights and the right colour (this is different to US cars)
  • Front indicators are the right colour and have repeaters on the side of the vehicle. This may require small indicators added to the side of the car and holes drilled in the wing as appropriate to accommodate them.
  • A red rear fog light is fitted - US cars often don't have these.
  • The correct white parking lights are present.
  • Headlights are pointing the right way - check before you bring the car in that this does not mean a costly set of new headlights!
  • Tyres match the advertised top speed of the vehicle. Tyres have a code (R, S or T rating) on them which matches a theoretical top speed. If the rating is lower than the manufactirers advertised top speed - you'll need new tyres (for the SVA anyway!)
  • The speedometer has Kilometer as well as Mile readings.
  • The right brake fluid level indicator is present on the dashboard or else the reservoir is clear.
  • The number plate meets UK standards (correct size, shape, lettering)
  • Protrusion standards are met (ie removing long exhaust pipes, bull bars, mascots etc)

My advice is to talk to an SVA aware garage that can handle the conversions for you before you bring the vehicle in. I used a place called Mildenhall Auto Centre who specialise in this kind of work and did a good job for me in 1998. In 2001 I spoke to them again to get the latest advice on what to do.

Using a Ford Expedition as an example they quoted me 200 for all the light conversions and confirmed that the speedo was already correct and that I should look to buy the vehicle with the right tyres in the US rather than have to replace them in the UK. They informed me that the SVA test costs 150 and that for 80 they would handle the conversions and take the car to the Norwich test centre and take it through the test for me.

Given that the test centres have a reputation of being a bit picky and that the Mildenhall chaps work closely with the Norwich test centre, this seems like good value for money as the chances of them getting this all sorted first time, seem pretty good.

It does mean leaving the car with them for a couple of days but with a bit of planning and a list of local Bed and Breakfasts (which they faxed me!!) you can make this a nice little trip to the East of England!!

On my second import - the chaps at Mildenhall did the conversion again for me and handled the SVA. It passed first time. They had to adjust the headlights a little, add parking lights (by drilling small holes in the rear of the headlamp unit and inserting small bulbs), change the reverse lights into orange indicators and add a rear fog light and reverse light. This avoided making any nasty holes anywhere and looks neat and tidy. It also means that the existing switches work fine inside so I don't get a nasty switch added to the dash. I didn't need side repeaters as they already exist and the rest just went through as-is.

Note you are allowed to drive the car to the place of conversion/testing according to the DVLA paperwork, even though the car may have no licence plate, is untaxed and unregistered. However I'd avoid drawing attention to yourself as it's also technically illegal to drive an unregistered and untaxed vehicle around here! The theory is that as long as you do all this in a timely manner after the car arrives you'll have a believeable story. Otherwise it's down to your negotiation skills with the copper and his or her mood!

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