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Paul Sakuma

I have seen ads from Canadian car dealers who have purchased used cars in the United States and have imported them to re-sell in Canada. I even know of one dealership here in the Niagara region that specializes in doing just that. He mostly sells three- to five-year-old U.S. models that are often just off lease. Obviously their speedometers will default to miles, rather than kilometres, and some of the trim packages will be different than the Canadian versions. But aside from that, is there anything I, as a potential consumer, should be aware of, or perhaps even be wary of? - Michael in St. Catharines, Ont.

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You're not alone in considering a car imported from our American cousins. Since 2008, half a million used vehicles from south of the border have become permanently resident in Canada.

Purchasing cars that were born in the U.S.A. can save Canucks money - especially when the loonie is surging. The U.S. market offers a veritable used-auto buffet, meaning you can easily find models not widely available here.

A number of dealers in Canada offer used U.S. imports, saving you the hassle and risk of a private cross-border sale. But any used-vehicle purchase is buyer-beware, and in the case of these dealers, there are a few things you should consider.

"Number one is a CarFax report. The dealers get them through us, or they're available to anyone online," says Bob Pierce, director of member services for the Used Car Dealers Association of Ontario. Among other things, the CarFax report should provide you with information on any title problems, ownership, service history when available and whether the vehicle has been involved in an accident.

CarProof is the Canadian version of CarFax. "Sometimes CarFax will show no signs of any problems, and yet CarProof will," says Bob Cullen, owner and general manager of Brian Cullen's Elite Auto Collection in St. Catharines. Even if the reports are good, he adds, you have to know the condition of what you're buying. "We have many tests - a paint meter, for example - to tell if the paint is original or not, which would indicate whether it's been in an accident."

Depending on the age of the vehicle, watch out for warranty issues. "Certain manufacturers do not transfer warranties to Canada, such as Honda, Acura and Chrysler. Although people could purchase extended warranties in these cases," says Cullen.

Trim packages may vary between countries, but the optional extras available in different markets and geographical regions may be of greater concern. "Car to car, there are sometimes differences between the two countries. A friend brought an Audi Q7 up from California, and later found out it didn't have heated seats - which he sure could have used in Winnipeg," laughs Pierce.

You'll also want to know about the life your car had south of the border - was it cruising Miami boulevards or sitting at ground zero in Hurricane Katrina?

"This year, Ontario passed new laws regarding the disclosures used-car dealers must make to consumers. You must be told if it's a U.S. vehicle, and the jurisdiction it came from. If it came from Louisiana versus Pennsylvania in 2005, that's a big difference," says Pierce.

The price you'll pay at a dealer includes costs such as the Registrar of Imported Vehicles registration fee, an air conditioning excise tax and duty on vehicles not manufactured in North America. Consider the value of the time you'll save, and the avoidance of potential frustration in dealing with people, paperwork and red tape.

Joanne Will welcomes your questions. E-Mail Ask Joanne at

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