It feels like it’s been a long, long time since we dropped our Corvette off for shipping home. The reality is, it has been a long time. We left our 2002 C5 Corvette at the shipping company in New Jersey back in October 2023.

Read Part 1 of this series here.

Read the last part of this series here (Week 6).

Why so long? Shipping from the east coast of the USA always takes longer than from, say, Los Angeles, as the ship has to go through the Panama Canal. Two weeks is a normal shipping time from LA, while you can bank on two months from the East Coast. With the current (truck) transport costs to send the car from New Jersey to LA, it’s not worth spending that much cash to get the car home sooner. We were in no real hurry, although we had a car event in early March in the South Island, and surely the Corvette would be back home and complied by then (spoiler: it wasn’t).

With the huge hold-ups at the Panama Canal at that time, that meant I could watch the website following “our” ship and it just sat there, day after day, waiting for its turn to go through.

Eventually, it made it through and the ship docked in Tauranga on January 5th. Then, it should have been a simple train ride for our Corvette (in a container) to Auckland to go through customs clearance and MPI checks for bugs etc. It should have been simple, but roadworks at the time closed the train tracks completely. In the end, the car arrived in Auckland and I booked flights to go and pick it up, and trailer it home.

Naturally, this meant paying some money to be able to pick up our car. Quite a lot of money, actually. Compared to when we imported a C4 Corvette in 2019, all costs have gone up massively, and I covered this in Part 2 of this series . Now, I can give you actual numbers instead of guesstimates:

You can see at the moment it’s not worth importing a car from the USA unless it’s highly collectable or it’s simply a model you’ve always wanted and damn the expense. An average 2002 Corvette automatic in New Zealand with about the same km as ours (currently 70,000km) has an asking price of $35,000-$40,000, so you can see we are going to lose money on this car. Still, we had an amazing 7 weeks driving it 12,000km across the USA, and that is priceless. The fact that our car is a manual, one owner in the US and is completely unmodified should help its resale value.

2002 Chevrolet Corvette: Pick-up time 

After past experiences of picking up imported cars from a freight company, a dead battery was front of mind. It was almost guaranteed to be dead, as the car’s battery was not disconnected before going into the container. We went along with jump-start packs, jumper leads and a friend’s 12-volt battery in the hope we could get the car going and then simply drive it onto the trailer. 

But no.

It started well; I got the key and went to the car, where one of the shipping guys said he had already had it idling today, and it started fine with a big jump-start pack. Yes! One less thing to worry about. Until I tried to move the car. Even after jump-starting it and having it idling, it would not move more than a foot and then died – again, and again.

After multiple attempts, we decided that the battery was totally stuffed and pushed the Corvette outside – the shipping company did not want it inside any longer. Luckily it’s a fairly light car, and pushing it is easy. Next, we got on phones to find a new battery to fit, as close as possible to our location. It was a twenty-minute drive to a shop and we got the right size battery, but it cost $400. Far more than I was expecting. After putting it into the C5, it started instantly and idled, so we got the car onto a trailer and hauled it back to Wellington. On getting home, I parked it in the garage and looked forward to my compliance booking at a local VTNZ the next week.

2002 Chevrolet Corvette: Title is lost by a courier

Then I got an email from Kiwi Shipping that the courier in New Zealand had lost our title. The title in the USA is the proof of ownership – without it, you can’t prove you own the car, so you can’t get it complied. If you can’t comply it, you can’t register it. We cancelled the compliance check and then waited. Week after week, the courier (we hoped!) looked for the title and then we basically gave up. The title was gone.

More weeks went past and Kiwi Shipping came up with a plan; we could fill out what is effectively a ‘lost my title’ form, send all the evidence in with the application and hope for the best. In a sad twist of irony, Kiwi Shipping sent the documents etc for me to sign to my Wellington home in a “signature required” courier envelope. The New Zealand Couriers driver didn’t even ring the doorbell (my wife was home). He dumped it in the letterbox and took off. It makes a joke out of signature required, and I bet you all have a similar story.

I duly filled in the forms and then waited for VTNZ to come to my house. As part of this lost title process, they have to sight the VIN and engine numbers on the car and take photos. The next day, someone from VTNZ Porirua turned up and we went looking for the numbers. The VIN was easy – right there under the windscreen. The engine number – not so easy. Some Googling shows it’s located on top of the right-hand cylinder head, right at the back and under everything. There is no way to be able to see it, even with a mirror. In the end, we decided that it was safe to write down “can’t see engine number” and leave it at that. 

2002 Chevrolet Corvette: Carbon Credits

While the forms were off with NZTA, I decided to get my carbon credits sorted out. While the government has dropped the Clean Car Fee (which would have cost me many more thousands of dollars), there is still a fee for carbon for your imported vehicle, whether you import it privately or you are a dealer. This can add up to thousands of dollars – over $3,000 for our Corvette.

If you take your car in for a compliance check, you can buy carbon credits on the spot as NZTA will simply charge you a fee for your specific model, based on its carbon output. Basically, you get a certain amount (currently 128) grams/km of CO2 credits for free, and then whatever the difference is from that number to what your car outputs is the amount you have to pay when you multiply it by what NZTA are charging.

Our 2002 Corvette manual has a CO2 output of 317 and that meant I had to buy 189 carbon credits. If I did this on the day of compliance (assuming the car passed its compliance check, of course) that would be a charge of $3,450.

I checked around for other options. A friend suggested checking out Carbon Trading. This is a New Zealand carbon trading website, where (for example) a dealer bringing in more hybrids than gas guzzlers ends up with a surplus of carbon credits and is happy to sell them. After registering on the site and going through the Anti Money Laundering process (AML), I managed to purchase carbon credits for our Corvette for $1,323, saving me $2,077. Well worth the effort.

But there was more work to do here – I still had to create an account with NZTA to be able to accept the carbon credits. This wasn’t too hard, although I had to go through the AML process all over again.

2002 Chevrolet Corvette: The lost title appears

In a stroke of actual luck, on March 28th the couriers emailed to say they had found the title. Not sure how or who, but they had it. This was sent directly to VTNZ in Porirua, Wellington, where I would be booking the C5 for its compliance. 

2002 Chevrolet Corvette: Compliance Check Day!

At long last, Compliance Day arrived. Phil at VTNZ in Porirua had organised his vehicle inspector Chris to do the actual compliance check. Chris has done “thousands” of them, so is experienced in what to look for. He admits most of his compliance checks have been for Japanese cars, but has done more than his fair share of American cars over the last 11 years.

Chris was a little won over initially with our Corvette since it’s a manual – he’d not seen a manual Corvette for a long time. That was a good start to the day.

Ready to go up on the hoist and reveal all

The first job on our C5 Corvette is the easy one; checking all the lenses for standards. For an American car, this means checking that there is a ‘DOT’ standard on each of the lenses and that means headlights, brake light lenses, taillight lenses, and even the number plate light lens.

Why look for standards on those lenses? Well for a starter it’s the law, so Chris has to check them. His theory is that they could have been replaced with aftermarket lenses that point the light in the wrong direction, or if they have no standards marked they could be made from materials that are not up to scratch if there is an accident. He mentions that Japanese cars must have the ‘JAS’ standard marked on each lens to pass the check.

All our lenses are good, so next it’s bonnet open and time to check out the engine bay. In this area, Chris will look at the chassis rails for any signs of rust, damage or a bad repair. Any repairs must be certified before the car will pass inspection. He’s also doing a general visual check of the engine bay, as there could be tell-tale signs of things just not right, which would give him reason to be pretty thorough on the car. Since our Corvette has never been in a crash and is completely unmodified, it passes this check easily.

The boot is next, where all panels are removed and checks are made for signs of damage, or again, any repairs. There’s not a lot to see in the boot of a C5 Corvette, but Chris leaves his initials in places that he’s looked at to show he’s been there. This is evidence for NZTA, if they do a spot check on Chris’ work.

Yep, it’s a CD changer!

Next, it’s on to the hoist to lift the car. Luckily, I’ve got my ‘jacking pucks’ in the boot. These little round rubber spacers go between the jacking points on the car and the hoist’s arms. If you don’t use them, the hoist will damage the plastic sill covers. We lift the car – eventually, it’s so low it’s tricky to get this right – and Chris starts doing a visual inspection of the car’s belly. 

Before lifting the car, a Brake Pedal Depressor is fitted, and this simply holds down the brake pedal. Once the car is up, Chris can go through and check all the brake hoses for bulging and leaks, and brake calipers are checked for leaks. We are all good on this front, so it’s time to move on to a visual inspection that includes things like suspension links and leaking shocks – so some of this is part of the WoF check the car needs anyway.

Of course, Chris is also looking for damage or repairs. He mentions that in older American cars, rust and poor repairs are the main reasons for rejection at this point. It’s the same for Japanese cars, he says; under body rust and poor repairs. I’d already seen under our C5 in Kentucky when I installed a Skip Shift Eliminator, so I knew it would be good, but that’s not to say I didn’t miss something. After a while of looking around with a torch, Chris declares that it’s like new under the Corvette, so that’s another pass. 

After that, the inside of the tyres are checked for bulging and also to check they are on the right way for directional or asymmetrical tyres. The tyres are also checked to make sure they are marked with approved standards, and since ours are Michelin Pilot Sports, that’s not a problem.

Checking for runout on the disc

While the wheels are off, the front wheel arch guards are removed to the point where the inside of the front guards are visible, so again, checks can be made for damage or any repairs. As expected, our Corvette is like new in that area so Chris signs his initials in multiple locations. In fact, Chris will sign his initials everywhere he looks, so if there is an NZTA audit, he can prove he checked what needed to be checked.

We’re all done under the car, so the wheels and brake callipers were removed, as well as the brake pads. The discs are checked for runout, to make sure they do not need to be replaced. Weirdly, this measuring of the disc’s runout is a compliance check item, but for a WoF it’s a visual check. The brake pads themselves are checked to make sure they have standards marked on them, otherwise, the importer is advised that they will need to be replaced.

The brakes checked out fine, so it’s wheels back on and then wheel bearing play, as well as steering play. In 2020, our imported C4 Corvette failed on its wheel bearings and I was concerned about a deja vu moment here, but thankfully we had no issues, with everything nice and tight. 

In a milestone moment, our C5 Corvette is taken down off the hoist – that part of the compliance check is over – it was time to tackle the interior. I had reservations about this, after the mission of pulling apart the interior of our C4 Corvette in 2020; that was a mission not only pulling it apart but putting it back together. That time, I removed the interior and put it back together, but this time Chris would be doing it. 

Progress…on to checking the headlights

He says he mainly works at a car importer’s site, where he and other VTNZ inspectors are contracted to do compliance checks on Japanese imports, all day, five days a week. At that location, they have two people removing trim – that’s their sole job. Those two people have become so good at doing this task, that they can literally pull apart a Toyota Aqua interior for a compliance inspection in 2 minutes, and get it all back together in 5 minutes, says Chris. That’s impressive but I think the C5 will take a tad longer than that. 

He starts on the driver’s side and pulls the sill covers, then removes the bolts holding the seat belts in place. Some more trim is either removed or pulled back, to the point where Chris can see seat belt mounting points and other places where they might be damaged, or repair work done. Since our Corvette is made mostly of fibreglass, we won’t have issues with rust where other cars might.

Starting on checking the interior for damage and/or rust

All the places that need to be inspected are, and this takes only about 30 minutes – and then the interior is put back together. It’s a much easier job this time than the last. Like under the car and in the boot, where he’s looked, Chris leaves his initials behind as his evidence of inspection. 

One of the last tasks is an emissions test; since our Corvette is over 20 years old, that means a visual inspection. If a car being imported is less than 20 years old, it will need to have a ‘proper’ emissions test with a sensor stuck up the exhaust pipe.

That done, it was time to take the Corvette onto the rollers for a brake test. It’s come quickly, but this is the last part of the compliance check – actually part of the WoF check. The Corvette’s brakes pass this and suddenly, it has passed its compliance. The stress is over!

Checking out the entire underside of our C5 Corvette

I was silently hopeful before the compliance check, but you never know what pulling a car apart will reveal. Chris tells me he’s impressed on just how immaculate the Corvette is for a 22-year old car, and being unmodified helped hugely with it passing the compliance process.

Happily, there’s not much more to do now but pay more money to get the car registered with an MR2A form – meaning it will get number plates and a year’s rego. I’ve got some spare personalised plates, so they are sighted and then put onto the car.

There is a slight hassle when it’s time to go through the carbon credits part of the process. Even though I have them ready to go in my NZTA account, I still have to accept that they are being applied to the car. It feels like NZTA has added a pointless step in here, but I manage to log into the website on my phone and go through the acceptance process. It’s not difficult and hey, I still saved over $2,000.

Not long after getting the car legal to drive on the road, I took it for a spin to New Zealand’s newest car museum, Cars Inc. in Upper Hutt, and managed to grab a photo of our Corvette there. You can read the museum article here.

So, that’s it – our 2002 C5 Chevrolet Corvette is now legal to drive on New Zealand roads. Would we do it again? We’ve done this lots before – fly to the USA, buy a car, drive it across the country and then ship it home – but it would be a hard call to do it one more time. The cost of shipping, taxes, the exchange rate – it all adds up to being in the too hard basket. But who knows, in another year or two when things are settled down, perhaps we will. I hope so. Doing what we do as described is an amazing thing, and having the car you drive across America back in New Zealand to use is indescribable.

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Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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