The vast majority of Canadians continue to buy their vehicles in Canada. But the option to buy south of our border does exist. The process can be time-consuming and does require some attention to detail; however, importing is not particularly difficult.
Just remember that not all vehicles sold in the U.S. are admissible to Canada, based on Canadian federal regulations. Indeed, vehicles on both sides of the border aren't always similarly equipped, and modifications have to be made to conform to Transport Canada regulations.
Moreover, when owners go to resell their cars, those bought in the U.S. are considered "grey-market" vehicles. That is, they weren't built for the Canadian market and this can make them more difficult to sell.
Those considering a cross-border import should also think about the new-vehicle warranty. Most warranty work is honoured in Canada, but not all. And even if the warranty work is all in place, some items could still pose difficulties for owners. For instance, owners may have to pay for warranty work done in Canada and then seek reimbursement from the U.S. sales arm of the particular manufacturer.
Another consideration: Cross-border leases and purchases cannot be financed through auto makers. This means Canadians shopping in the U.S. are not able to take advantage of lease and finance rates offered in Canada. Instead, consumers shopping in the U.S. will need to arrange bank financing, lines of credit, or pay cash.
With those caveats in mind, if you're interested in importing a new vehicle from the United States, you will find the process outlined by the Registrar of Imported Vehicles at www.riv.ca.
In a nutshell, the process looks like this:
First, find out if the vehicle is admissible and can be modified to meet Canadian regulations for things like bumpers. Contact the appropriate manufacturers to verify admissibility and consult Transport Canada's list of admissible vehicles (available at www.riv.ca). If modifications are needed, importers must ensure that all are done by those authorized to do so; some manufacturers require an authorized dealer to do the modifications or the new-vehicle warranty will be in jeopardy.
Second, owner/importers need to be sure all safety recall notices have been dealt with before importing the vehicle.
Third, the Canada Border Services Agency provides for details on any additional duty and taxes, above and beyond the standard $195 fee, plus applicable taxes, required when importing any vehicle.
Fourth, the importer/owner must be sure to have all the right documentation: title, registration, sales receipt, statement of compliance label and recall clearance letter and any other required documentation.
Fifth, some provinces have requirements for importing a vehicle and those must also be met.
Sixth, imported vehicles must be insured.
Seventh, importer/owners must notify U.S. Customs 72 hours in advance of their intent to export a vehicle to Canada.
So when might it be worth it to go the U.S. route? In most cases, if the vehicle retails for less than $30,000, the savings are unlikely to justify the cost in time, money and effort to import. And given the average transaction price for a passenger car in Canada is about $25,000, most Canadians are unlikely to benefit from shopping down south.
But with high-end cars, the savings can be substantial – sometimes in the tens of thousands of dollars.