Wanna buy a Subaru?- A Peek Into the World of Right Hand Drive Cars


I am a traditionalist. I like convention and norms. Over the last few years, as I see an increasing number of right hand drive cars on the road, and after my little brother tries to convince me to buy his right hand drive car Subaru from him, I ask myself, What is the draw to these right hand drive cars? Are they worth owning?

Right Hand drive Cars

People make their choice for a vehicle by a variety of criteria- novelty, cost, functionality, interest and a dozen other reasons. In a world where two-thirds of its citizens drive a LHD on the right side of the road, more and more North Americans each year are choosing to import right hand drive cars. When the craze first hit the continent, the imports were often high performance cars; think, twin turbo with intercooler and the power of 300 horses. In the hands of eager, young drivers, right hand drive cars initially got a bad name. But times are changing. A wider range of motor vehicle imports are landing in the hands of a wider range of people. Many right hand drive cars are available for low cost, and they often come with very low mileage and a body that is in great condition. Shipping of such a car begins at a cost of around $1 500 USD to several thousand, depending on the car and shipping company.

Unfortunately, for those who want to import a right hand drive car into North America, registration, licensing and insuring a right hand drive car is a most difficult endeavor. Dozens of insurance companies may reject you before you find one that won’t. Studies around procedural road safety have scared away wannabe RHD owners. Making a left hand turn or passing another car seem to be the most popular accusations. In the numbers and details of insurance claims for RHD vehicles, however, there is no corroboration for these arguments. There simply seems to be not-enough data to make any sweeping claims either for or against RHD safety.

Other Considerations for Right Hand Drive Cars in North America

Another consideration for importing a RHD car is the inconvenience around maintenance and repair, which translates directly into cost for the owner. A foreign vehicle sometimes requires foreign parts which are expensive and very slow to make their way across the globe to your mechanic’s repair shop. You can be certain that some modifications will be required (e.g. headlights that were directed to the ditch on the left are now shining in the eyes of an oncoming driver). These should always be done by a certified mechanic. Converting your car to a LHD is also possible, at a variety of levels and costs. For a professional conversion, it will run you up a bill of around $20 000 USD.

Make sure that you are committed to your RHD vehicle. When it comes time to sell your imported car, it may not be as easy as you’d wish it to be. Very few dealers will take it as a trade-in, and personally selling a specialty car is just that much more difficult.

RHDs are not just a hot topic in North America, by the way. Around the world, there are interesting stories going on and lobbying on both sides of the issue. Recently, the president of Rwanda lifted a ban on 20+ year old RHD trucks and buses only, so that the country might increase cross-border transportation and thus, investment. In Spain, only immigrants are permitted to import and register a RHD; residents are not. Many governments ban imports that are not of a minimum age. In the US, a car older than 21 years is exempt from meeting EPA restrictions. If it’s 25+ years old (from the date of manufacture, which you’ll have to prove), it is also exempt from having to comply with DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Canada may allow a car that is 15 years or older to be imported as long as it complies with Canadian safety standards; regulation and licensing is governed provincially. (For example, Quebec currently has stricter legislation around RHDs than other provinces).

One thing is clear, however, no matter where in the world you look at the issue of importing a RHD vehicle into a LHD country; there is often a lot of red tape surrounding it. Make sure you’ll be allowed to register it. Make sure it’s going to be street legal and meet all inspection requirements- or have a plan to pay for someone certified to make those changes. Ahead of time, find someone willing to insure it. You can get started now in filling out the governmental forms you’ll need to import your RHD- there’s a lot of them. In short, do your homework.

I have to admit that I was tempted to buy my brother’s right hand drive Subaru from him. But I never did. Right now, someone else is enjoying it. I wouldn’t have known what to do with that many ponies under the hood, anyway. I instead purchased a Camry. Each to his own, I suppose.