How to Get a Right-Hand-Drive Car in the US

Right Hand Drive Nissan interior

We all know that most of the world drives in the right lane of traffic as opposed to the left. We Americans and most of Europe poke fun at the UK for driving on the “wrong” side of the road, but do you know how much of the world drives on the left?

UK, obviously…Japan…maybe Australia, Singapore.

74 countries. 74 freaking countries drive on the left side of the road.

Left and Right Lane Driving
source: Wikipedia

Is Right Hand Drive Legal in the United States?

The simple answer: Yes, with some caveats. More on that later.

After all, nearly all postal vehicles are right-hand-drive, and we’re able to buy those once they’ve been retired from service.

But why would you want to?

Good question, and there are a few answers.

This is the only answer you need.

This is the only answer you need.

First, some cars are only available as RHD, like the Nissan Skyline above for example, and to get one in the States we have to import it grey-market-style. That’s done more often than you think.

Second, and you’ll see this almost exclusively in the “tuner” market – people want their cars to be unique and stand out from the rest. So there’s that.

Finally, some people need it to be RHD for business reasons. I guess that’s pretty legit.

So how can I get a RHD car?

You have basically two choices:

Conversion

DIY

Taking a LHD car built for the US and converting it is a pretty popular option. Just like anything, there are Pros and Cons.

You can go the cheap route and buy a conversion kit for a few hundred bucks and do it yourself.

But seriously, are you going to want anyone to see the inside of your car if it looks like this?

"Honey, I'm not sure this is baby car seat friendly anymore"

“Honey, I’m not sure this is baby car seat friendly anymore”

You could do up a proper conversion – buying all the necessary parts second-hand, taking the car apart, and converting it the time-consuming method. This will at least make it look decent.

But during the process, your car will likely look like this for weeks, possibly months on end:

RHD deconstruction

A proper DIY conversion is probably your best option though, if you have the skills and parts/tools available. But keep in mind it’s really easy to screw this up if you don’t know what you’re doing and possibly kill yourself or another driver.

"Man, I really shouldn't have done that conversion myself."

“Man, I really shouldn’t have hired that guy off Craigslist.”

Professional Conversion

There are quite a few companies that can complete the conversion for you, if you have the money. It’ll be far safer and carry a guarantee, but it’s expensive.

A quick look on US World Direct’s Facebook page suggests a LHD-to-RHD conversion of a 2013 Chevy Camaro base model costs $25,000, while a regular C5 or C6 Corvette (excluding the ZR1) will run you a cool $38,500. That’s not including the costs of transport, and they’ll only convert certain cars.

Needless to say, not many tuners who spent $5,000 on their car will go that route.

Importing it

importing a car

This is a pretty good option, barring a few important points.

First, you have to remember that the US EPA and NHTSA have very strict emission and safety standards. Typically much more than other countries, which is why you see so many more models available in Europe than in the US. Car companies simply don’t want to spend the millions it takes to get a car EPA-certified unless they know it’ll be a big seller.

So, unless a car is a grey market import (like the Skyline mentioned above,) you’ll have to import it yourself.

And to do this legally, it’ll need to be either considered a show vehicle and not driven on public roads, or already pass all NHTSA standards. Meaning it’ll have to be a car that’s already sold here in the States with LHD. And even that’s not a guarantee.

You see, foreign car companies make their cars the best they can be, then they modify them a bit to comply with US standards, and that’s what we get – typically. Usually it’s 10-20 horsepower weaker, but a cleaner and safer car to drive. But something as simple as the placement of an intercooler on a turbo’d car can make it illegal to drive on US roads.

Without getting into details, since each car is different, you’ll have to make sure your import is road-legal.

Fine, now how do I import the damn thing?

Easier than you think, actually.

The first step, of course, is to find a RHD car you want. If you’re serious about this, you’ve already done that. Your best bet is buying a car in the UK or Japan – if it’s a European car, shoot for the UK, if it’s Japanese, go Japan. Typically it’ll be cheaper if it hasn’t already been shipped halfway across the world. After all, look how much it costs UK customers to buy American cars:

As if you'd want to drive a Hummer in London

As if you’d want to drive a Hummer in London


source: import-car.info

Don’t get too cocky; European cars are much cheaper for them than for us.

Just look at local classifieds for the country in question and you’re good to go. There are also websites set up for Americans wanting to do just that (so you’re not looking at eBay Motors in Japanese.)

Once you find your car, make sure you won’t run into any problems with customs (that’s a whole article for itself and differs for each car.) Then find a shipping company you fancy and have them collect your car and send it your way.

Some car dealers already work with exporters, or you can arrange it yourself by searching around – there are hundreds of companies that will ship a car for you so you’ll have to get some quotes and search around. Expect it to cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 or more depending on the value of the car and the company.

That’s it?

buying a car headache

There are a lot of little details and laws that vary per state and per car that could be a hang-up for you, so make sure to do your own research.

This article is not a comprehensive guide – it’s a general overview that’s meant to be a generic guide for all vehicles to get you started. Make sure to look up specifics and ask around on forums for help from people who have already done this.

I’ve driven right-hand-drive cars in both the UK (left side of the road) and Europe (right side,) and let me tell you, it takes a lot of concentration at first, especially learning to shift with your left hand. It’s almost like learning how to drive again. But perhaps for you, the benefits outweigh the learning curve.

Have you ever considered converting or importing a right hand drive car?


Categories:: DrivingEditorialsHow-To


Comments (32)

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  1. Nicole says:

    How can I make sure the car is road legal and where can I find customs information? I am looking to import a BMW i3 from the UK, and am very confused how I can find the guidelines.

  2. Yasin Aodr says:

    My dad wants to import a Nissan Silvia from Japan but he’s a bit confused on how importing it
    Can I get tips cuz he’s a huge fan of Silvia and he really wants it

  3. Anoop says:

    Hi Christopher,

    Nice post. I recently moved from India to US. My 2013 VW Passat in India is still brand new with only 8000 Miles used. I wish to import it to USA. Is it a difficult process. Its a TDI Clean Diesel Sedan but yeah its RHD. The main worry I am having is whether the European Standards that VW has implemented in India is good enough to clear emissions in the US.

    Thanks,

    Anoop

    • Yeah, that’s a concern – luckily the US at least sells the Passat TDI so hopefully they’re close enough that they let it through. Best of luck and let us know how it turns out!

    • Rahul Raman says:

      Hey Anoop,

      The 2013 Passat that you have is a B7, which is nothing but a heavily face lifted B6 Passat. Unfortunately, you cannot import it to the US because of its suspension setup, it doesn’t have the urea injectors and it does not comply with the recently implemented NHTSA regulations. Hope this helped.

  4. Hyland Robinson says:

    Hi Christopher. I found a RHD 1994 and 1995 Mercedes Benz S-Class coupe in the UK. They both have speedometers in miles per hour, have driver and passenger side airbags and abs brakes and everything that left hand drive Coupes for the same years have in the USA. Since these cars have everything their LHD counterparts have in the USA ,would I be able to import them to the USA?

  5. Hyland Robinson says:

    OK, thanks Richard. I wish the USA would change the stupid 25 year rule. It is funny because earlier this year in March, CUSTOMS cleared my 1996 Chevy Caprice SS from Kuwait. It is in kilometers. It is exactly like a 1996 Chevy Impala SS in the USA, which is a WX3. My Caprice SS is a WX8 which is for the Middle East market.

  6. Ervin says:

    So, According to this article, the R-34 becomes legal in the U.S. this year (2014)

  7. jeevanhunt says:

    Hi Christoper. i will be leaving the US on this January 2015. i do have Audi A6 2014 model, its almost brand new car and i am thinking of to keep with me. is it possible to take it to india? if yes what is the procedure.

    • I believe it would be ok to bring to India with you without many problems but it’s definitely good to research specifics to make sure you don’t run into any problems.

    • Oh, I see someone has already done the research for you. Please see the comment above yours – it seems if it’s RHD it’s OK, not LHD. Again, good idea to research it yourself but I’m sure they’re on the right track.

  8. Worldview says:

    Hi Jeeva, I am moving to India in 2015 with the State Department and I have researched in depth the import of car as well as spoken to logistical folks at the State Department in India and you can bring it in if it is RHD – if not, you can’t. They do not allow any left hand drive cars in India.

  9. Jacky C. says:

    Hey guys, I was thinking about getting a right-hand drive c63 AMG but I have no idea where to find one. I’m planning to use it for a few years in the US and ship it back to my country where it’s right-hand drive. I’ll probably have to import it but where and how do I do it? Thanks.

  10. Gordon BrownArseTony BliarCu9t says:

    US car import rules are pure SHITE!!! Glad I live in the UK

  11. Gordon BrownArseTony BliarCu9t says:

    I think governments in all countries are basically cu9ts and 8astards!

  12. TheCrazyDragon V says:

    Hi i live in ohio in the the us and i want a car but the streeting wheel is on the right side and they haft to ship to the us if i get so what should i do

  13. mike says:

    I am hopimg to buy a 2007 Jaguar xk from europe with rhd. the comp. claims it will take care of a;ll the ship.coast proper papers for us market. What us problems will I face in New Jersey?..thanks

  14. William Edens says:

    It’s time to make a law allowing Postal Contractors to purchase RHD vehicles from overseas if the American car manufacturers won’t sell to the Postal Mail Contractor

  15. upul says:

    I recently moved to USA and I need to import my Toyota fortuner brand new vehicle 2013 RHD manufactured in Malaysia. Will it be possible? will it be highly cost? will RHD allow in USA. What is the custom policy for private vehicle importation for personal use.

  16. Miles Smith says:

    Now the Toyota FJ Cruisers are no longer available in the USA, 2014 was the last year. However I see that Australia still sells a RHD FJ Cruiser currently in 2015. Would you think they are manufactured in Japan and brought over to Australia? I would really like to have a RHD FJ, I currently have a 2007 USA FJ and love it. I just have no clue how to go about purchasing on and how I should purchase it from, a dealership in Australia or Japan ?? Would you think it could have the same emission standards as the US?

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