Some weird things are going on in Maine. The Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) is actively deregistering Mitsubishi Delicas that were imported to the United States and previously registered in Maine under the well-known 25-year federal import rule.
The folks at Crankshaft Culture brought this news to our attention and published a fairly detailed report at the beginning of the month. Ever since seeing that, we’ve been trying to track down more answers from the Maine BMV and Maine Secretary of State’s office.
Here’s a summary of what’s transpired so far. Crankshaft Culture did the digging on the Mitsubishi Delica Owners Club Facebook page, and uncovered that Maine has been sending letters out to folks in the state who currently own Delicas. Those letters unequivocally state that “this vehicle is not eligible for motor vehicle registration in Maine and may not be operated on the public highway.” It then goes on to demand owners remove the plates from the Delicas and return them to the BMV. Furthermore, it states that “the registration may not be used as proof of ownership to sell this vehicle as an automobile.”
So no, Maine is not exactly mincing words.
Of course, the question here is: Why? Why is Maine deregistering Mitsubishi Delicas? These vans were imported under the federal 25-year import law. We know this rule, but here’s a quick refresher from the Customs and Border Protection’s website: “A motor vehicle that is at least 25 years old can be lawfully imported into the U.S. without regard to whether it complies with all applicable DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.” Theoretically, that’d make any Delicas over 25 years old legal to import here, along with pretty much any other contraption you want to bring that is old enough. Maine told us that it’s only targeting pre-1995 Delicas, so there’s no time discrepancy.
We went to the Maine Secretary of State to learn what is going on. The answers are slightly confusing, so bear with us. In short, Maine considers the Delica to be an "off-road vehicle." Maine’s law — Title 29-A — is very clear with “off-road vehicles.” It reads: “Off-road vehicles may not be registered in accordance with this Title.”
OK. Next question. What does Maine consider to be an “off-road vehicle?” And how does the Delica qualify? Here’s where a brand-new modification (LD 1433 Sections 1-8) to Title 29-A comes into play. The Secretary of State’s office informed us that Maine passed a law on June 15, 2021, that clarified this question. The definition of an “off-road vehicle” in Maine is as follows:
“‘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.”
The Secretary of State’s office provided even more information to us as it concerns the Delica, too.
“Given that these vehicles are generally right-hand steerage and have few, if any modern safety features or emission controls, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and EPA have both ruled that this class of vehicles may be only used for off road farming (or similar) use. Maine considers these vehicles to be ATVs.”
Now, hold up. We know what you’re thinking. Maine considers the Delica to be an “ATV?” The Delica is a minivan. From the era we’re talking about, you could buy Delicas that were nearly the length of most new minivans on sale today. They can hold either a lot of people or a lot of stuff. It’s no ATV by any stretch of the imagination, and while the vehicle is a competent off-roader, the Delica is no farm vehicle either. We explained to the Maine Secretary of State that the Delica was actually sold in the U.S. in a couple of forms (both passenger and cargo configurations) during the late 1980s, but that didn’t provoke any further discussion about the matter.
Maine has given its answer, and it appears to be final.
This definition of an “off-road vehicle” raises another question, though. It’s enormously broad. Being right-hand drive and not meeting U.S. safety or emissions standards are categories that a lot of vehicles imported under the 25-year rule will fall into. Crankshaft Culture pondered the same question.
We asked Maine about specific models that could theoretically fall into this bucket — older Nissan GT-Rs, Nissan Silvias, Toyota Hiaces and so on. Would the (surely few) Maine owners of these unique, imported vehicles be having their registrations revoked, too? Once again, Maine’s answer is vague, and a little worrisome for owners of said vehicles.
“Any vehicle found to be mistakenly registered would receive a similar letter to the ones sent out recently by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.”
Here’s how it was framed for us. Time and again, Maine said that it believes the Delicas were inappropriately registered (when they were registered in the first place) for on-road use due to their state-defined status as off-road vehicles. The Secretary of State’s office confirmed the same would apply to other vehicles it lumps in that broad “off-road vehicle” bucket.
That doesn’t guarantee other cars will be safe. Nor does it guarantee that they won’t be deregistered either. Without any clear answers on specific models, the future of these 25-year import vehicles in Maine is shaky at best.
To take this definition a bit further (just for the sake of it), any classic car sold in America from decades ago will not meet current crash safety or emissions standards. A Delica will crash worse and pollute more than a brand-new Toyota Sienna, but you could say the same for a 1990 Oldsmobile Silhouette or a 1929 Ford Model A. If that’s what Maine is getting at, then the language of this law falls into the old slippery slope cliché.
All of this can be attributed to the state, too. Go elsewhere in the country, and so long as you follow the federal rules to legally import the vehicle, you can buy and drive a Mitsubishi Delica on the road. Maine appears to be following its own rules, though, not the federal laws.
One final thing
You’ll notice that Crankshaft Culture’s report zeros in on Maine’s designation of Delicas as “mini-trucks.” That’s nearly as confusing as designating the Delica as an “ATV,” but we asked Maine about it for clarification. The state responded by saying, “We should have been more precise in our language around the Delica and mini-trucks.” Similar backtracking by the state can be found in Crankshaft Culture’s post, too. It sounds like the state has transitioned from using this "mini-truck" designation as a way to deregister them and now it entirely hinges on their calling the Delica an “off-road vehicle” instead.
We’ll be watching Maine and this space for any additional news, but for now, it looks like Maine Delica owners are simply out of luck.