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Despite the high cost of insurance, there are about 75,000 right-hand-drive vehicles in Canada. (KATSUMI KASAHARA/AP)
Despite the high cost of insurance, there are about 75,000 right-hand-drive vehicles in Canada. (KATSUMI KASAHARA/AP)

Driving Concerns

What's wrong with buying a right-hand drive vehicle? Add to ...

I saw a Nissan Figaro on the street here in Vancouver and fell in love. I’ve found one on Kijiji for $12,000. But it’s right-hand drive – and I’ve heard that all right-hand drive vehicles could be banned from driving on Canadian roads. Should I be worried? Anything else I need to know before buying one? – Ryan, North Vancouver, B.C.

You’re all right to buy a right-hand drive car – there are no plans to ban them nationally, although two provinces have made it tougher to drive them.

Ottawa decides which vehicles can be imported – and right-hand drive cars come from countries like Japan, where they drive on the left.

“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 an e-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.”

Cars more than 15 years old, like the Figaro, can be imported without having to meet federal safety standards, although, once here, they have to meet provincial standards – including requirements for daytime running lights – to get registered.

“Each province and territory has complete authority over public road use, driver licensing, and the types of vehicles that can be operated on public roads,” Savoie said.

Quebec has a ban on registering right-hand drive vehicles – with exceptions for cars more than 25 years old, cars purchased before 2009 and public service vehicles like garbage trucks – and Prince Edward Island bans driving them on roads, with some similar exceptions.

Is right-hand wrong?

There isn’t a nationwide ban on right-hand drive vehicles, but there should be a ban on importing any more, says John White, president and CEO of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA).

“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,” White said. “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.”

“We’re talking about future imports – once they’re in the country, we’re stuck with them,” said White, who also wants the 15-year rule for importing vehicles changed to 25 years.

But, the rules aren’t changing, Transport Canada said.

“Transport Canada does not have plans to ban [right-hand drive] vehicles or to revise the 15-year rule,” Savoie said.

Not designed for North American roads?

So why might right-hand drive cars be wrong for Canadian roads? In 2007, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) looked at accident data and found right-hand drive cars were up to 40 per cent more likely to get into a crash. A 2009 study by Quebec’s insurer found right-hand drive cars to be 30 per cent more likely to get in a crash.

“The research showed that right-hand-drive vehicles represent an increased crash risk in a left-hand drive environment like B.C.,” said Lindsay Olson, Insurance Bureau of British Columbia (ICBC) spokeswoman, in an e-mail. “In the study, we also found the average time for a crash to occur after first purchasing a right-hand-drive vehicle was 223 days which is 68 per cent sooner than for left-hand-drive vehicles, which was 705 days.”

The British Columbia study’s conclusions were challenged by statistics researchers at the University of British Columbia who found, among other things, errors in comparing the small number of right-hand drive vehicles to the millions of other cars on B.C. roads.

Is right-hand right for you?

So why get a right-hand Japanese import?

“They’re neat cars that were never manufactured in North America with Japanese reliability – they’re an affordable entry into the collector car market place,” said Michael Kent, president of Right Drive Inc., a Vaughan, Ont.-based importer. “You can get a Toyota Sera with a 1.5-litre Camry motor but with gull-wing doors and these funky, weird little details.”

For example, the retro Figaro was only sold in Japan. There’s only one year – 1991. Only 20,000, all convertibles, were made – divided equally into four colours.

If you’re buying a 1991 vehicle, you’ll likely have more potential repairs than a 2015 vehicle.

“From a repair standpoint, it’s not really any more expensive than owning any other 15-20-year-old car – you have to wait a little longer for parts,” Kent said.

Another issue is insurance. It can be higher than it would be for a left-hand drive vehicle of the same age, depending on the province. For example, in British Columbia, ICBC treats them the same as other vehicles, Olson said.

And for cars more than 25 years old, like the Figaro, you can get classic insurance which costs less but often limits use to occasional pleasure drives only.

“We have clients who are playing less and clients who are paying more,” Kent said. “You can’t simply go online and get a quote from Kanetix, so be prepared to invest more time.”

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