How to Buy Right-Hand-Drive Cars in the USA

This is the only answer you need.

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. Plenty of cars are available and perfectly legal including coupes and sedans.

After all, nearly all postal vehicles are right-hand-drive, and we’re able to buy those once they’ve been retired from service. If you are driving a car with an opposite side drive position to the road side then it’s a good idea to understand some of the dangers and how you can avoid. This video gives a good insight:

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:

Right Hand Drive Nissan interior

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.

Related: I Drive in the UK for the First Time – In a 700 HP Lamborghini

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

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?

  1. I want to bring a supra in from Japan to NY it’s RHD and I want to keep it that way but would I be able to bring it into the states with minor to no issues. My email is [email protected] (no caps) if u can help me out pls message me there. Thx

  2. I am looking for a newer RHD subaru for postal delivery here in the US. I am wanting a forester, 1998-2004 RHD. I have found a few in Japan, but am under the impression I cannot bring one to the US. The Forester is a popular model here in the US, and the RHD Legacy is a popular postal delivery car here also- Why could I not get a RHD Forester here? Aren’t thy the same car as the LHD Forester??
    I am needing a newer car for postal delivery and want to stay with Subaru for the AWD benefits.
    any help would be great!
    thanks-

  3. I drive a RHD 1953 Bentley R Type regularly. Not only is it RHD, but its stick shift with the stick on the right side of the driver (almost into the door). It looks like this (not my car) but gives you an idea:

    http://classiccars.com/listings/view/592163/1954-bentley-r-type-for-sale-in-grays-united-kingdom-rm17-6st

    Some things that this article did NOT talk about that are important with a RHD car:

    1) Toll booths, parking structures and drive thru orders are a challenge. You have to put the parking brake on, hustle over to the left side of the car and deal with the attendant while traffic backs up.

    2) Parallel parking on the left side of the street is a challenge. Especially with a 4000 pound car without power steering.

  4. I’ve seen conversions that simply look hideous, and not everything is where you’d expect it to be. If it’s factory done, everything is where you’d expect it to be. the steering wheel is where it’s supposed to be, the speedometer and all the gauges are where they’re supposed to be, right in front of you. I’d import one from either Australia, or Japan if the condition justified the cost.

      1. I agree. I’ve visited England, and they know how it’s done. Whether it’s done professionally or amateur, it should be done just as you see it. And it’s not just a matter of appearance either.

    1. Richard Dodge Nitros are common and RHD in Australia, they’re sold new here. Try looking on carsguide.com.au for used ones, also try a site called ‘just cars.com.au’.

  5. Chris. Thank you for referencing our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/usworlddirect) in your article above. There are several dozen so-called “RHD conversion shops” in the world but less than a handful of these can give you a factory-quality finish, and none of these are located anywhere in North America. We think we have the beats factory-quality conversions in the world, but we are admittedly biased on this opinion.

    US Federal laws regarding vehicle imports are a minefield and should not ever be treated lightly. There are not only Federal laws to consider but different regulations for different states. When it comes to vehicle import regulations into other countries, they can vary by quite a lot from country to country.

    If anyone has questions, please feel free to contact us thru our Facebook page or email [email protected].

  6. Im going to import a HONDA ODYSSEY RB3 to the US from JAPAN, does anyone know if here is a special shop here in the US i can have it checked out and fixed up to make sure its legal? I’m currently in NEW YORK STATE. I would appreciate the info guys, thank you.

  7. Chris – i’m an Australian working in the US for a couple of years and would love to pick up an exotic RHD vehicle to take back with me – can you advise on best options for sourcing RHD vehicles over here – also, would it be possible to walk into a Ford dealership and order a RHD Mustang here then export it?
    Cheers
    Phil

  8. As for someone who lives in the UK, it would make much more sense to import cars from the US (seeing your price comparison table). When added the customs duty, shipping cost and conversion, it may still be profitable. Always considered cars to be cheaper in the US than in the EU.

  9. I want to buy a mustang conv eco boost in the USA, but in rhd form and ship to U.K. who should I contact ??

  10. Chris,
    I am currently stationed in Japan and will be moving back stateside soon. I would like to bring my right handed drive 2004 Nissan Presage back and try to sell it but I have no idea where to start advertising it. Is there a website where I can find people looking to buy right sided vehicles?

    1. Great question Michael, and congrats on your move back! I don’t know of any sites specifically for advertising RHD cars, but the first step I’d say is list it on the normal platforms (eBay Motors, Autotrader, etc.) making sure to put the RHD as a main point so enthusiasts can find it with their searches. Also try listing it up on enthusiast sites, since they’ll likely be looking for something more special like yours.

    1. Hey Dave, depends on the use really; if you’re going to use it on public roads, I’d check with BMW/Mini about it, and check with the DMV to see if you’re able to register it.

      Good luck!

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