18 August 2014

Losses and Lessons: Defender owner defenseless against EPA, DHS

VEHICLE: 1985 Land Rover Defender

WHAT WENT WRONG: Things aren’t always as they seem – and that can turn out to be pretty costly sometimes, as the owner of a “classic” Land Rover Defender found out. In the U.S., all automobiles manufactured within the last 25 years must meet strict safety and emission standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency through crash and engine testing. Since the automobile in question was purported to be a nearly 30-year-old 1985 Defender, EPA rules didn’t seem to apply. But nearly a year after buying his Land Rover, the owner received a knock on his door, and the vehicle was seized by Department of Homeland Security agents who claimed the VIN had been altered to conceal the true year of manufacture. According to the owner, the agents claimed the Defender was actually a much newer model, one not compliant with EPA guidelines. Numerous media outlets reported that a federal warrant listed more than 60 illegally imported Land Rover 90s, 110s and Defenders across the country, and approximately 40 of those vehicles were seized on the same day.

DAMAGE/LOSS: While the owner has appealed the seizure, he doesn’t have any additional paperwork that would help to prove that the Defender was manufactured in 1985. With little recourse and no idea where his vehicle was taken, it appears both the Land Rover and the money that he paid for it are gone.

LESSON: Do your homework. If you’re considering purchasing a car from overseas, familiarize yourself with state and federal regulations, and always match your paperwork to the VIN number on the car. Still not sure? Contact the EPA at (202) 272-0167 or www.epa.gov. Better to be safe than sorry.

41 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Jed Left Coast August 27, 2014 at 16:07
    The EPA is a disgrace to this country and the Americans who fought and defended it's citizens. This heavy-handed action is totally uncalled for and seemingly violates the Constitution (i.e. "due process" in a court of law).
  • 2
    Barry Florida August 27, 2014 at 16:21
    The bigger the government, the more oppressive it will become, and the less important the citizens, and their civil rights, will become. Our only recourse is to vote for small government politicians.
  • 3
    Ric United States August 27, 2014 at 16:30
    Since when does the Department of Homeland Security give a damn about cars? Aren't we taxpayers paying them to nab terrorists that are a threat to our people? How does confiscating cars accomplish this? Are we sure this isn't one of those "urban myths" type of stories?
  • 4
    bdk Kalifornee August 27, 2014 at 16:38
    The rules are well known for these "grey market" cars. People new to the hobby are either unaware or they are trying to skirt the laws. Usually the latter.
  • 5
    jim oregon August 27, 2014 at 16:47
    While in the long run, some EPA and other government rules have lead to more efficient, safer cars, bureaucracies never die and never seem to shrink...thus is unfortunate victimization by government overreach. They will always find something to "enforce."
  • 6
    George They know where you are August 27, 2014 at 16:51
    If true, it is a sickening state of affairs that we have allowed to come down upon us.
  • 7
    Adam Washington State August 27, 2014 at 16:58
    I find it hard to believe he truly thought he had 1985. Buy out your own risk. However if you want change, let's get this petition signed and pass it to all your friends: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/repeal-dotepa-%E2%80%9C25-year-rule%E2%80%9D-car-import-ban-15-years-and-allow-importation-non-conforming-cars-and/PhZ4RMgz
  • 8
    T.J. Connecticut August 27, 2014 at 17:39
    "Any questions, call the EPA." Call the EPA? Man, f$&@ the EPA. Good thing they're protecting us from the scourge of Land Rovers.
  • 9
    Mikeyc Anchorage, AK August 27, 2014 at 18:05
    Uhmmmm, he bought a stolen car that was illegal in the states. Sucks the purchaser of the Defender was duped, but like the author stated, do your homework or you'll get burned. The EPA needs more power and more oversight since it's been gutted year after year. I love my actual classic cars, but the world is in a sad state with climate change. I enjoy my calssics as the works of functional art that they are, but also do what I can to save our air and environment by not driving my classics too much and drive an alternative fuel car as my day to day, Here in Alaska, we see the effects everyday. Glacial melt in the area has turned a once picturesque landscape of eons old mountain glaciers and flowing Ice, into barren land. I for one (and apparently I'm the only one on this site) think we need the EPA and it's smog controls, and going forward, continue the tighter regulation of smog checks and exhaust guidelines. The technology is available to have zero emission cars, and going forward, that should be the goal. Look at what Tesla has done. It's not zero emission in the sense that it still uses electricity, but it's a step in the right direction, and those cars are gorgeous. We can have well designed and low emission cars, they are not mutually exclusive.
  • 10
    steve mcqueen LA August 27, 2014 at 18:24
    This article is completely vague. The headline says the EPA took someone's car, and warns against how one should buy vehicles and to "be careful" yet the article does't explain by what shady means this guy acquired this Defender. If it was brought here illegally then it's similar to buying a car you don't realize had been stolen. As far as how the year of manufacture connects to the seizure, this article doesn't really explain that either! Vague, confusing and incomplete. Thanks for nothing!
  • 11
    Gianni Seattle, WA August 27, 2014 at 19:04
    I'm glad the Department of Homeland Security is there and on the job, protecting me from illegally imported late model Land Rovers. I'm sure they used a SWAT team with a no knock raid to serve him.
  • 12
    Mark L. Bardenwerper Cambridge WI August 27, 2014 at 19:13
    When purchasing a car from overseas, only buy from reputable brokers. There are people who you can trust over there and they can make buying an overseas car safe and pleasurable. Swapping ID plates is not uncommon. The EPA must do something about it to make the rest of the importing industry safe from trickery and fraud. Any make and model of automobile goes through changes during its product lifecycle and it is not difficult for the expert to know if you are getting tricked. I imported a 1983 Citroen GSA a few years ago. I have no regrets because I did it right.
  • 13
    Bill Simmons VA August 27, 2014 at 19:38
    This has got to stop. What ever happened to the constitution. Now I know how the Germans felt when Hitler took over. Stop Fascism and listen to No Agenda.
  • 14
    rollie demay newark, ny. August 27, 2014 at 20:08
    Wow, am I relieved that my government has taken these 60 non-compliant vehicles off the road. After all, with over 100 million vehicles on American highways, these 60 have to be hugely responsible for the global warming and smog horror facing the world. I sleep easy knowing that this is a priority for this protective agency. Just the other day I followed a rusty, dented and smoking 1992 Chevy truck without rear brake lights,...and thought "Thank God for made in America". You go git'em boys!
  • 15
    Jerry Smith Wisconsin August 27, 2014 at 20:22
    10s of thousands illegals, excuse me, "refugees", coming across the border with no enforcement and this is an example of DHS's priorities. Gotta control these outlaws that might have the wrong car.
  • 16
    Archie1954 562 August 27, 2014 at 20:44
    The US government is resorting to smash and grab.it is an affront to legitimate governance. You don't waltz in and steal someone's vehicle. You go through a legal procedure to prove it is a prohibited Automobile.
  • 17
    chris mahoney wellsville, pa August 27, 2014 at 21:57
    The federal government lacks the constitutional authority to steal cars that don't comply with the latest regulation. It is far away from the "penumbra" of powers that were delegated to the central government. This is entirely a state power--and it will someday be a state power once again.
  • 18
    Keith Bay Milwaukee, WI August 27, 2014 at 22:41
    Sign the petition even if you don't think it applies to you, as in 'the only cars I like are 35-40 years old!'. You may find out that there are some cars in the 25 - 15 year old bracket that you have never seen because they aren't imported and you would like them.
  • 19
    Mark Charlotte, NC August 27, 2014 at 23:11
    It wasn't mentioned that a SWAT team seized the vehicle as opposed to having an agent first approach the owner. Tax money from citizen's used involuntarily to their own repression and promotion of government bureaucracy. The founders of this nation would find this treasonous. We should all be outraged.
  • 20
    Max Havelock, NC August 27, 2014 at 23:36
    The EPA and Homeland Security don't make the laws, Congress does. But the agencies are required to enforce them. Apparently the Feds had good reason to believe that the car was part of a group of them that had had their identities changed in an effort to break the law. What do we want the executive agencies to do: enforce the law or not?
  • 21
    Rodney NC August 28, 2014 at 16:04
    Really?? !s that the best use we can make of Government time and resources? I'm quite sure these Defenders are a real danger to motorists! ?*$% Just to keep some perspective, there are hot rods, particularly rat rods that are truly dangerous to all around them, but hypocrisy rules! No wonder the USA can't balance it's budget.
  • 22
    Ron MN August 28, 2014 at 16:54
    To Max in NC, You say the EPA and Homeland Security don't make the laws, Congress does... maybe in your perfect world. Wake up pal, both do whatever suits them whenever they feel. I would greatly appreciate it if our executive agencies and the guy in the White House would enforce the law. More rif-raf and trash crosses our borders in one day than that Land Rover could carry in here in a year. Just another example of government overreach and misappropriation of man power in law enforcement.
  • 23
    Mike I. USA August 28, 2014 at 07:15
    It is nice to see that Homeland Security has captured all the terrorists, drug dealers, and murderers and can now focus on manaces to society like this. Seriously, post 9-11 it seems the terrorists have won and the average citizen needs to fear the government far more than anything else.
  • 24
    Tim T N california. August 28, 2014 at 20:02
    I take exception regarding those who don't like the regulations regarding protecting the environement and or fraud ..BUT.. I also don't care for the outrageously heavy handed tactics of our governments 'inforcers' . this is a grey area .. many of our 'collector' cars have been modified as to be unrecognizable from their original specs.. land rovers sourced from inclement cliamates ( such as UK) often have been completely rebuilt with later spec chassis and the accompanying coils springs and wider axles..which improve the vehicle no end .. we are talking about the very small 'hobby market' here.. there needs to be some slack and common sense applied .. I'd much prefer to fit a 300tdi power train to my older range rover.(which has not been used for over 4 years due to the fact it cant be trusted to get one more that 2 miles without an 'issue') for reliability and economy..but am not allowed to do it due to the regulations.. a diesel engine (clean enough for europe's tough laws)that produces some 24-26mpg is less damaging to the environment than a gas one that does 16-18MPG.. some common sense is needed.. perhaps a government 'for and by the people' is what we need ..instead of one beholden to the protection of corporate interests ..
  • 25
    jr PA August 28, 2014 at 08:23
    Hagerty and others need to put out articles to WARN about importing any cars from anywhere INCLUDING Canada where it appears from experience they will do nothing about frauds.
  • 26
    CW CT August 28, 2014 at 08:33
    This is a total crock of s*%#! How did the government even let it into the country, seems like the owner can sue Uncle Sam and make all those involved a bunch of fools!
  • 27
    Sam St. "Cloud" August 28, 2014 at 08:54
    The only sane comment was Adam's. Don't like a law, then have it changed. True, the ugly DHS ought to have better things to do (like "fight terrorism in the homeland," per their creator, Dubya) but they were doing what they were supposed to -- shutting down some grey market and forgery criminals, and they were supposed to seize the evidence. Not sure if a petition to the White House (Adam's) would repeal a law, though.
  • 28
    Bernard Maryland August 28, 2014 at 08:57
    I grew up in a US city where my dad packed a second white shirt in his lunch bag to change at midday. You want your kid riding around in a friends car without conforming safety equipment? Funny how the "law and order" types bristle when facing a law they don't like ... until it harms them and they scream LAWYER!
  • 29
    Hazel Colorado August 28, 2014 at 09:04
    Doesn't do any good to sign petitions, get it on the ballot and vote; just to have one judge overrule the people and throw it out. No democracy here!
  • 30
    ferd the cloud August 28, 2014 at 09:16
    Wow, we hear an unfortunate case where a buyer either didn't do his homework or tried to skirt the law and the comments mostly want to blame the Government? How irresponsible – exaggerating the idea of freedom to mean you should be able to do anything you want no matter the consequences. I'm not a big fan of Government regulation either, but as a society we've proven again and again that we need governance. Check out the air quality in Beijing, but you might want to wear a gas mask – China doesn’t have an EPA. Like them or not we have to adhere to our laws. If you don’t like a law then lobby to change or repeal it – don’t just ignore it and get self-righteous if you are punished. And like we were taught in kindergarten, calmly and logically working through the system is much more effective than throwing tantrums. Grey market imports have had known problems for decades. A friend found this out the hard way in 1994 when he bought (and lost via seizure) a Porsche that didn’t meet U.S. emissions or safety requirements. My nephew recently almost made the same mistake with a Japanese sports car that isn’t legal here – the seller told him he could import it as an off-road racing car, then license it for the road later. That was false, and fortunately he realized it when the seller wanted to ship it in pieces (as parts) to avoid any backlash. The lesson stated in the article is spot on. With grey market cars the Government isn’t your enemy – unscrupulous sellers are.
  • 31
    Jack Weiszer Portage, Michigan August 28, 2014 at 09:45
    The U.S. government is out of control. The department of Homeland Security is involved in this BS? There are terrorists to deal with. Where is the common sense in this world?
  • 32
    Joe Sellers Georgia August 28, 2014 at 10:37
    If, in fact, this car was purchased through "shady" means, local law enforcement should handle it, not the department of HS. Focus on protecting our borders and hunting down terrorists. Not unsuspecting car collectors. This is ridiculous! Big Brother at it's worst!
  • 33
    Bob Colorado August 28, 2014 at 12:04
    A few "illegal" cars...er, "undocumented" cars is not a big issue for me. Heavy handed government action is. Those who participated in this seizure should have their citizenship checked. Obviously, they are not too keen on the Constitution or its restrictions of the federal government!
  • 34
    FusionPilot New England August 28, 2014 at 12:08
    Why must the government resort to gestapo-tactics with the secret Homeland Security SS troops? Why not serve papers on the owner of the alleged violation and have them appear to refute or accept the charge? What happened to due process? No warrant, just (as someone else said) "smash and grab"? Is this really America? It's not the one I was raised in !
  • 35
    Jon Mortrud Madison, Wisconsin August 28, 2014 at 12:41
    What is missing in all this is “Due Diligence”. The government has rules that you are required to follow so follow them BUT document all of it. During this due diligence comes awareness of the rules and the governments reach and simply stay out of their reach. Have the local law enforcement certify everything. Do not hide because you cannot so stay in plain sight (or hide in plain sight). I have been dealing with the feds for years and the only way to deal with them is through their ignorance of their own rules (not stupidity) (CYA) (know your enemy if nothing else). Best advice “doctor doctor I broke my arm in 12 places… So stay out of those 12 places”.
  • 36
    Frank Wichita, Ks August 29, 2014 at 10:32
    Was his 'collector car' insured with Hagerty? If so, did they pay up?
  • 37
    jt United States August 29, 2014 at 23:22
    Will he get it back when it actually turns 25? I mean he paid for it fair and square, well besides knowing the age of his Land Rover. Does the EPA know the actual age of manufacture?
  • 38
    David UK August 30, 2014 at 08:11
    What a country where a monstrosity like the Hummer was conceived but the government seizes a Landrover because of emissions. You couldn't make it up, people wouldn't believe you ;-)
  • 39
    AmyP Atlanta August 30, 2014 at 12:48
    My daughter tells me that they have seized and crushed cars with VINs not on the list of 60.
  • 40
    apoch coastal NC August 31, 2014 at 11:18
    I have seen this and know it is real. Many of these illegal Land Rovers with switched VIN's were comming out of a tonw very close to me: wilmington NC. The place was raided a year or so ago and a bunch were confiscated. I know the guy who was doing it, at least here, certain there are more. I don't think the importation and fraud associated with these vehicles should go unpunished, and the buyer bears some culpability, but the seller/importer is really the issue. DHS should not be involved as it has little to nothing to do with "protecting the homeland." that is just gestapo tactic and they are way overstepping thier boundry - we can than president O for letting them become what they are. EPA should follow this like any other crime, not with the tactics used here, and should really go back after the importer with more of a heavy hand. the buyer should share the responsibility, but the importer is the key.
  • 41
    M. United States December 22, 2015 at 17:20
    "Some stellar news today for fans of classic Land Rover Defenders, imported vehicles and anyone who’s not a fan of civil forfeiture: Nearly a year after they were seized by federal agents in pre-dawn raids across the country, and a few months after our big exposé on the seizures, more than two dozen imported Defenders will be returned to their owners after the government agreed to drop their case." Looks like at least 24 of them were incorrectly seized.

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