Are Japanese Kei Trucks Legal in the US?

Japanese Kei trucks, known for their compact size and versatility, have gained popularity in various parts of the world. However, their legality in the United States is a topic of interest for many enthusiasts.

In this article, we will explore the legal status of Kei trucks in the US, including new imports and 25-year-old trucks, and discuss which states allow their use on public roads.

What are Kei Trucks?

Kei trucks are small, lightweight trucks that originated in Japan. They are designed to meet the country’s strict size and engine displacement regulations, which were put in place to encourage the use of smaller vehicles in densely populated urban areas.

Kei trucks typically have a maximum length of 11.2 feet, a width of 4.9 feet, a height of 6.6 feet, and an engine size of 660cc or less, with a maximum output of 63 horsepower.

New Kei Truck Imports

Unfortunately, importing new Kei trucks into the United States is not permitted due to federal safety and emissions regulations. The US has strict rules regarding the importation of foreign vehicles that have not undergone the necessary testing and certification processes. As a result, new Kei trucks cannot be legally imported and driven on US roads.

25-Year-Old Kei Trucks

However, there is an exception for Kei trucks that are at least 25 years old. In the United States, vehicles that are 25 years or older are considered classic or antique vehicles and are exempt from many modern safety and emissions standards.

This means that Kei trucks manufactured before a certain date can be legally imported and driven in the US without the need for extensive modifications or certifications.

State-by-State Legality

While 25-year-old Kei trucks can be legally imported into the US, their use on public roads is subject to state-specific regulations.

According to SlashGear, approximately 20 states allow Kei trucks to be driven on the road, albeit with certain restrictions.

In these states, Kei trucks are often treated similarly to Utility Task Vehicles (UTVs) or side-by-sides. They may be subject to speed limits and are typically prohibited from operating on highways. Some states may also require additional safety features, such as seat belts, turn signals, and brake lights, to be installed before allowing Kei trucks on public roads.

It is essential to research the specific regulations in your state before purchasing or attempting to register a Kei truck for on-road use.

Potential Uses for Kei Trucks in the US

Despite the limitations on their use, Kei trucks have found several niches in the United States. Their compact size and maneuverability make them well-suited for use in crowded urban areas, particularly for construction and building repair trades, such as plumbing. They are also popular among cleaning staff and maintenance crews at large resorts and campgrounds.

Additionally, off-road enthusiasts have discovered the potential of Kei trucks as affordable alternatives to purpose-built off-road vehicles. With their standard four-wheel drive and low price point (often less than $10,000), Kei trucks have gained a following among those looking for a unique and capable off-road vehicle.

While new Kei truck imports are not permitted in the United States, 25-year-old Kei trucks can be legally imported and driven in certain states, subject to specific regulations. Their compact size, affordability, and versatility have made them popular among various groups, from tradespeople to off-road enthusiasts. However, it is crucial to research the specific laws in your state before purchasing or attempting to register a Kei truck for on-road use.

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