If the Estonian government does decide to confiscate cars with Russian license plates, many car owners who would like to re-register their vehicles in Estonia could find themselves in a difficult situation. This is mainly because a large proportion of vehicles produced in the West for the Russian market do not meet EU requirements.
Estonian Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets' (SDE) announcement that the government is considering whether to confiscate vehicles in Estonia with Russian license plates provoked a lively response. Not only do a number of people living in Estonia own such vehicles, but it was also felt that confiscating them would do nothing to prevent the financing of Russia's war machine.
Läänemets also suggested that such cars should be re-registered in Estonia. However, this may not be easy, as vehicles produced in the West for the Russian market, in addition to those produced in Russia itself, do not comply with the majority of EU requirements.
All passenger cars require type-approval, which is granted if the vehicle complies with all the relevant EU requirements. Some of these requirements relate to vehicles' lighting and safety features, while others focus on environmental issues such as exhaust emissions. There are also specific requirements regarding a vehicle's body structure, including those regulating the strength of its body panels, which can help to protect passengers in the event of a collision. The quality of spare parts is also covered by the regulations.
If a Western car manufacturer is producing cars for third country markets, such as Russia or China, it is clearly not sensible for them to ensure compliance with all the EU's requirements, as this would simply create unnecessary additional costs. Therefore, even in cases where the same model of car is produced by the same manufacturer at the same factory, if those vehicles are for different markets, they may be technically different.
Therefore, the owner of a car, which has Russian license plates and was purchased in Russia, needs to be aware that re-registering their vehicle in European Union Member States, including Estonia, may prove difficult and in some cases impossible.
There are exceptions for those migrating to Estonia
For the Estonian Transport Administration (Transpordiamet), the issue is not a new one, and while they have not yet seen a major rush for vehicle re-registrations, they also believe the situation needs to be addressed.
Helari Holm, an expert at the Transport Administration's vehicle technical inspection department, told ERR that vehicles produced for the Russian market do not usually have EU type-approval.
"This means that it is also necessary to submit additional documents proving the vehicle's compliance with the braking, noise and emission limits. The assessment of compliance will be based on the requirements in force at the time of the vehicle's initial registration," Holm said.
However, there is one very important difference under the law when it comes to the type-approval procedure. More specifically, a person moving to Estonia from outside the country is not required to produce documents certifying their vehicle's compliance with the emissions and noise requirements.
"In the case of a migrant [to Estonia], no documents certifying [their vehicle's] emissions or noise are required, so these vehicles can be registered if the Tax and Customs Board has issued a migrant's customs declaration," Holm said.
There is also a point in the law to this effect: in cases where not all the documents required for national type-approval related to the vehicle of a migrant have been submitted, but the Transport Administration has verified that the vehicle is safe for road traffic, the vehicle will be granted an individual approval.
However, in the case of a regular single vehicle type-approval, i.e. a vehicle not belonging to a migrant, all the necessary documents for that vehicle still have to be submitted.
"In the case of a regular single vehicle type-approval, in around 25 percent of cases, the emission documents are either not sent or are sent but prove useless, because, for example, the vehicle has an emission class of Euro 4 when it should be Euro 5," said Holm.
However, Holm added that individual type-approvals are quite rare.
Those wishing to register their vehicle in Estonia should contact the Transport Administration. To do so, it is necessary to make an appointment and submit an application. A state fee of €205 is then payable, along with an initial registration fee, which for a passenger car is currently €130.
It is not yet certain whether the Estonian state will actually decide to confiscate cars with Russian license plates in Estonia. The government is currently awaiting an assessment from the Estonian Tax and Customs Board, to determine whether such a move would be possible, how it might be carried out and what could be done with the confiscated vehicles.
Since most of the vehicles in question do not meet EU requirements, selling them on is likely to prove difficult, even if that option is deemed possible by the Tax and Customs Board.
Editor: Michael Cole