Canadians get a sweet deal on 15 year old right-hand drive import vehicles, but there's more to the story than that.

Right-hand drive (RHD) Japanese imports are rather popular here in Canada especially when they become fully exempt at 15 years old. Even our neighbours to the south admire the relative ease in which we can import Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) vehicles compared to the more restrictive American laws that limit their access to 25 years.

But owning JDM vehicles isn’t always easy; in addition to the limited service support from manufacturer-specific dealerships, owners also face varying regulatory climates and often challenging insurance situations.

“Federal laws do not ban the sale of newly manufactured or used imported right-hand drive vehicles in Canada,” Daniel Savoie, Transport Canada spokesman, said in a statement given to The Globe and Mail. “However, for imported vehicles newer than 15 years of age, the manufacturer or importer must certify that the vehicle complied with the applicable Canadian safety standards at the time of manufacture.”

While federally, Canada is open to foreign market imports, each province gets to set their own rules and regulations around licencing for these vehicles.

JDM imports in Canada
JDM imports in Canada
JDM imports in Canada

Quebec has the strictest restrictions for JDM vehicles in the country. Citing a study done between 2007 and 2008 that stated RHD vehicles are 30 percent more likely to be involved in collisions, the province does not allow registrations of imported RHD vehicles that are less than 25 years old (though some exceptions do apply).

If it were up to the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA), RHD vehicles would be similarly restricted across the rest of the country as well. In a statement made to The Globe and Mail, CADA president and CEO, John White says “They shouldn’t be allowed into the country – new right-hand drive vehicles are not permitted in Canada because they’re not certified and don’t meet safety requirements. And right-hand drive vehicles are usually another market’s problem dumped into our market – they’re usually older and don’t meet environmental standards.”

While special interest groups like CADA oppose RHD imports, Transport Canada says they have no intention of changing or revising the existing laws around imported specialty vehicles.

One of Canada’s best sources for all things RHD, is Ontario-based RightDrive Inc. Founded nine years ago, the company is the eminent source of imports, sales, service and parts for RHD vehicles. Speaking with Motor1 Canada, Michael Kent of RightDrive walked us through the ups and downs of getting into the JDM market.

Since RHD imports have to automatically be at least 15 years old, and exist here in far smaller numbers than standard left-hand drive vehicles, they are more comparable to owning classics and collector cars than a regular car. As Kent points out, many RHD vehicle buyers are younger, and new to the world of classics and advises learning about what you’re getting into and being aware of a few things. For example, keeping a small stockpile of wear and tear parts like belts and hoses would mean you can take your import vehicle to any local garage for work and not have to wait to for the parts you need be shipped on a slow boat from Japan.

He also points out that insurance can vary case by case. While some owners have no issue adding their RHD vehicle to an existing policy, others find themselves turned away by many insurance companies that refuse to insure these vehicles.

JDM imports in Canada

Wanting to find out what it would be like for me personally to insure a RHD vehicle, I approached the insurer of my classic 1966 Ford Thunderbird, Hagerty Classic Car Insurance about coverage for an imported JDM vehicle. They had no issue with it and quoted me very favourably on a couple of sample options they considered collector items and because I was already a client. Keep in mind, if I were looking to insure a daily driver, this would not be the case.

Even how we define classic cars is changing. According to Kent, the generations who grew up in an era of Toyota Supras, Mazda RX-7s and Nissan Skylines are looking at JDM vehicles from the 90s as their idea of classic and collector cars, challenging, in a way the notion of how we traditionally define those terms and these vehicles as they approach the 25 year mark.

While the insurance aspect of JDM car ownership can be difficult for some, and vocal opposition of these vehicles exist from some, there are no current or impending issues with them from a regulatory standpoint for most Canadians.

For those willing to do a little homework, and practice due diligence, a right-hand drive vehicle can be a rewarding ownership experience and an indulgence in the world of modern classic car culture.


Photos: RightDrive

Source: The Globe and Mail


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