American Car Modifications and IVA

How to Import a Car to the UK from the USA

American Car Modifications and IVA


​There has always been a requirement from the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) 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, nowadays the rules are strict and the Single Vehicle Approval (SVA) test, that my first two US cars went through, has now been replaced by the Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) for cars up to 10 years old. If the cars don’t get through IVA you will not be able to register them and therefore can’t drive them on public roads. So it’s important to get it right.

​It’s worth noting that cars manufactured before 1960 are exempt from the MOT test so for some classic cars this is good news.

Of course there are folks out there who will help you handle the conversions and IVA test, for a fee.

​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 IVA 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 IVA 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.

These days (2017) the IVA fee is £199 and conversions start from £650 plus parts, plus VAT. Then there is an £85 + VAT charge to present the vehicle at the test centre and it will need a full tank of petrol with the guys will arrange for the cost of the petrol. So you are looking at over £1,000 for this part alone.

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!

​For my most recent import – a 2015 Expedition, I actually bought one that had had just been imported by a dealer and found a lovely bunch of folks at Oldcott Motors who also handle conversions and IVA up in the midlands – details below.

Useful contacts

Mildenhall Auto Centre Modifications, Servicing, Parts

9 Chiswick Avenue



IP28 7AP

Tel: +44-1638-713962



North American Motors Service, Maintenance, Parts

107 Park Road

North Camp

GU14 6LP

Tel: +44-1252-515750