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Are right-hand-drive cars legal in Canada?

A man driving on the right side in his old MG. Stock photo by Getty Images

So you have a crush on for right-hand-drive British sports cars and couldn’t resist buying that old MG. Now what?

While driving on the left side of the road is illegal in Canada, driving from the passenger side is not. The problem is finding affordable insurance so you can hit the road in your new foreign car.

In order to protect Canadian car manufacturers and dealers, the federal Registrar of Imported Vehicles has strict screening procedures, but those are mostly directed at new cars brought into the country through the United States. 

Some businesses bypass those screening procedures by importing cars from overseas that are more than 15 years old, which are classified as “non-regulated vehicles” by Transportation Canada.

They still have to meet provincial safety standards, as defined by the provincial highway traffic acts, mainly:

  • daytime running lights;
  • DOT-approved headlights;
  • child-safety seat latches.

There are no rules about the steering wheel being on the right side of the car. As long as they pass safety inspection, they are legal. But once you’ve got your car through customs, can you take it straight to the highway? Not without insurance, which all vehicles are required to have.

This is where the approximately 60,000 Canadian RHD car owners run into problems. The Insurance Bureau of Canada, which supplies insurance companies with rates for every type of vehicle, only recognizes VINs from new vehicles.

This means companies where you normally buy your insurance have no data to offer you a quote. The broker can do their own appraisal to come up with a rate, or purchase insurance by becoming a member of an insurance club.

But still there are hurdles for RHD vehicles, because most appraisers are not familiar with them, resulting in rates that are way too overvalued or undervalued. This causes issues when there are claims.

Studies done in British Columbia and Quebec suggest that right-hand-drive cars are 30 to 40 per cent more likely to get into a crash in Canada, although these studies have been disputer by statisticians at the University of British Columbia.

It also means the insurance is steep, costing as much as $6,000 per year for a single driver.

Unless you’re a large business, like Canada Post, and can get a break on your insurance rate through sheer volume, you’re likely paying a lot for the pleasure of driving on the right side.

However, if you’re purchasing a foreign-made RHD vehicle money likely isn’t an impediment.

Read more:

Registrar of Imported Vehicles

Importing non-regulated vehicles into Canada

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