Imported from Detroit

For many cross border shoppers and snowbirds the most daunting exercise is importing a car. The Transport Canada website sets the tone “Importing a vehicle into Canada from the United States is not as simple as buying a car, driving to the border and paying some duty”. Some on the web will recant horror stories, most their own fault. Basically if you use your head, do some research and make sure all steps are complete it’s an easy process that will save you thousands. Just in my small circle Rob M saved over $15K on his Acura, Pete B has saved over $30K on the five or six cars and motorcycles he has imported and my most recent exercise resulted in over $10K savings on the Subaru.

So this Blog is intended to help all you that are considering bringing a car, motorcycle or trailer over the border.

So first let’s talk vehicle; whether you are importing the vehicle yourself or using one of the vehicle import services you must follow the guidelines at The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) website for vehicle admissibility, RIV exemptions, recall clearance documentation, vehicle modification requirements, vehicle branding history and downloading appropriate forms. One of the most important sections is this is where you will find details as to what years and models of vehicles that you can import, also detailed is requirements that need to be met re modifications etc. The biggest thing to note is country of origin, where car was built and whether it meets all Canadian requirements such as daytime running lights. The people at RIV are pretty helpful if you have any questions. Even though you are importing from the U.S. there are extra duties that must be paid if the vehicle is not manufactured in North America. Here is a little tip, make sure the car has both MPH and KPH on speedometer, not an import requirement but it is a lot easier for day to day driving. Even if it doesn’t don’t worry you can get standalone GPS unit from Garmin or Tom Tom and use this as your speedometer.

Do you import or hire a company? There are quite a few companies offering importing services. Fees run from a low of $400.00 to $1,200.00 plus transportation so if you go this route shop around. In my case I was planning to drive the car into Canada so the hour or so at the border and couple of hours doing the certification was worth the $1,000.00 savings. If you don’t plan to fly or drive down to pick up the car there are many auto transport companies that can bring the car up for you like the following

Figuring out the savings. So you have a few cars in mind and now go shopping. First thing to know is that April and May are the most popular months in the U.S. to buy a car; people are spending their tax refunds. The best time to buy is July and August; Dealers are clearing out their lots in anticipation of the new model years so if you are looking for new great deals are to be found. Next is to spend some time on and, these are two sites that provide dealership pricing and will give you a good idea as to what you will pay for the car you have selected. If buying private eBay and Auto Trader are good sources. You can also look up the online editions of the city newspapers. They post autos for sale in their classified section. Also if you can get the VIN Carfax is a great resource for used car history. It’s also Free!

To calculate the rough savings in importing there is a quick calculator at that will show you your total importing cost with and without fees. Remember however that you will also need to add the cost of a Safety Inspection and Emissions test even if car is new. Also be aware that Canada Customs uses the Red Book price to calculate taxes regardless as to what your Bill of Sale says. In my case the Canadian Red Book price on my car, one year old, was more than I originally paid for the car when it was new! The Subaru was made in the U.S., had daytime running lights, an immobilizer and the required seatbelt tethers for car seats etc. After just one call Subaru U.S. Customer Services emailed me a letter stating that there were no outstanding recalls. So basically my costs were $220.00 for RIV, $95.00 for a Safety and $48.00 for Emissions Test and the cost of Ontario plates plus HST.

Warranty. Remember this is no more stressful than driving your Canadian car in the U.S. and something goes wrong. You do not take a trip to the U.S. just because you are worried about your Warranty! Depending on the car the Canadian Dealerships may or may not honor the remaining U.S. Warranty on the vehicle, check if buying new as many Manufacturers offer a North American Warranty for a modest charge. Ideally you would like for this to be so but it’s not a showstopper. If the vehicle is under a U.S. Warranty you get your car serviced at a local Dealer as usual, oil changes, general maintenance, recalls etc., in the event that you need a major warranty repair you pay for service and submit the claim to the manufacture in U.S. for reimbursement. Better yet and if convenient drive over the border for major service.


So there are a couple of things to know if you are a Snowbird and want to bring your U.S. car back to Canada. Firstly under Federal Law as a Canadian Resident you cannot drive a U.S. Plated car, even one you rent at Buffalo Airport, into Canada for day-to-day use. You can get a 30 day “pass” that will allow you to drive the car from the border directly to your home, park it for duration of stay, and drive it back to the border but that’s it. So what are your options – basically you have to go through the import activities detailed above to import and register the vehicle in Canada or park it. If the car is registered in your company name you may not want to change this as there are tax and insurance savings that can be had. If you need more on this let me know.

About 2sidesof49

This Blog is for all Canadian Cross-Border Shoppers wanting to maximize their returns on their U.S. shopping trips. Visit for tips and tricks and links to our partners websites, blogs and products. Also check out my book The Canadian Cross-Border Shopping Guide - guaranteed to save you money!
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