CLASSIC CAR imports to Australia are slowing to a trickle due to confusion over new regulations introduced in March this year, with fi nes of up to $180k for individuals and $900k for companies importing goods containing asbestos.

The rules changed in response to recent scandals where large quantities of building materials containing the toxic material were imported and used.

There was also a 24,000-car recall for Chery and Great Wall fi ve years ago, because of asbestos in brake material.

However spot checks are now being performed on classic cars crossing the docks.

Terry Healy, an experienced local importer and trade identity, has told Unique Cars that two of his recent purchases have been held up for over a month for testing that has cost near $15,000.

That’s in addition to what he estimates as being $12,000 of damage caused to the cars during the testing process.

Components under scrutiny have included fi breglass panels, windscreen seals, gaskets, brake and clutch linings.

“You can’t believe how insane this rule is,” said Healy.

“I’m not allowed to touch the cars, and they’re covered in plastic, surrounded by people in oversuits and face masks.

“I’m fortunate that I can pay for it. But if you had your life savings in the car, you’d be in trouble.”

Business owner Paul Sabine, of Brooklands Classic Cars, says there has been little or no consultation with the industry and that he has suspended imports until there is some clarity. At the moment, he is not inclined to risk an expensive spot check, or a massive fi ne.

Freight forwarder Warren Worswick of Bluefreight says there is no clarity on the issue.

“There is a lot of confusion among importers,” he confi rms.

In addition there is some dispute over whether customs offi cials working for the Department of Immigration and Border Control have the legal right to act in their current manner. Mike Nicholas, writing on the Ferrari Chat forum, claims that there is no authority for the offi cers to tackle pre-1988 cars.

He says, in part: “My preliminary view is Customs have exceeded their powers by failing to consider the date of manufacture of motor vehicles underpins their approval for importation (mandatory precondition) and accordingly disables the application of the asbestos legislation retrospectively to motor vehicles on importation.”

The Department was approached for comment and responded: "The ABF’s activities are not designed to impose undue inconvenience to importers, but to prevent goods containing asbestos from entering Australia and to protect importers and the wider community from the signifi cant dangers of asbestos.

"The ABF is continuing its focus on stopping goods containing asbestos at the border regardless of scale."

We’ll follow up this story via Trade Unique Cars online.