How To Import a Used Car or Used Truck from Canada

You Can't Just Buy and Drive a Used Vehicle from Canada into the U.S.

Ford Flex
The 2011 Ford Flex looks like an American icon but is actually made in Canada. That doesn't mean you can buy a used one in Canada and bring it into the U.S.A. Courtesy of Ford

For those who live along the U.S./Canadian border, it might be tempting to import a used car or used truck from Canada that is being sold at an attractive price. However, you need to take certain steps to make sure your used vehicle is right for the U.S. market.

Obviously, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a lot of goods are shipped between the U.S. and Canada for sale in the two countries. There is little to limit the free flow of goods but that doesn't mean the average consumer can bring a used car or used truck from Canada without taking some important steps.

Look for the Manufacturer's Label

That may seem especially strange in light of the fact that companies like Ford, Chrysler, and GM have manufacturing plants in Canada that produce vehicles sold in the United States. Ford, for example, makes the Ford Edge and Ford Flex in Ontario. GM makes the Chevrolet Impala and the Chevrolet Camaro in Oshawa, Ontario.

Even though Canadian manufacturing facilities make cars for sale in the U.S. market, that does not mean all cars made in Canada, even by U.S. companies, are considered conforming to the U.S. market. The vehicle's manufacturer's label must be inspected to determine whether or not the vehicle was manufactured for U.S. distribution.

The label is usually found in one of the spots: the door latch post, the hinge pillar, or the door edge that meets the door-latch post, next to the where the driver sits. It's going to make things easier if the label says it was made for U.S. sale.

Used Car Import Standards

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which hardly sits next to Canada, has some good advice on its website about importing a used car from Canada: The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has advised that vehicles made in Canada for the Canadian market, U.S. manufactured vehicles originally intended for the Canadian market, or other foreign made vehicles available for the Canadian market may not meet the requirements of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (and the policies and regulations adopted as a result of this Act) and EPA emission standards. In addition, certain makes of vehicles, Volkswagen, Volvo, etc., for certain model years, 1988, 1996 and 1997, do not meet U.S. DOT safety standards."

NHTSA Standards

However, the standards are pretty lenient. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) says on its website: "Because the requirements of the Canadian motor vehicle safety standards (CMVSS) closely parallel those of the Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS), rather than determining import eligibility on a make, model, and model year basis, NHTSA has issued a blanket import eligibility decision covering most Canadian-certified vehicles.

"However, because there are some dissimilarities between the CMVSS and FMVSS, a Canadian-certified vehicle manufactured after the date on which an FMVSS with differing requirements takes effect can only be imported under the blanket eligibility decision if the vehicle is originally manufactured to meet the U.S. standard."

In effect, most Canadian vehicles are going to meet U.S. standards. It doesn't hurt to spend a few minutes to check out the NHTSA import rules, though.

EPA Importing Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also regulates the importation of vehicles for compliance with the emissions standards administered by that agency. For further information on those requirements, you may call the EPA Imports Hotline at (734) 214-4100 or visit that agency's website.

Who Can Import?

Anyone can import a vehicle into the U.S. if the vehicle is being brought in for personal use. It has to comply with U.S. EPA emissions and federal DOT safety standards as outlined above. Otherwise, a U.S. Department of Transportation Registered Importer must import the vehicle.

By the way, there is a system in place to check if a used car from Canada has liens, title problems, or has been reported stolen. Can you imagine the nightmare of paying for a used car and having it denied entry into the U.S.?

Canadian authorities strongly suggest that no vehicle be titled or registered until it is checked for liens, brands and stolen status. You can go to a website called AutoTheftCanada and follow the VIN/Lien Check tab. Also, will provide direct, online information regarding liens and brands in Canada. A fee is charged for each request.

Good luck if you happen to be used car shopping in Canada and live in the United States. Just remember that it's not as easy to bring a used car into the United States as driving across the border.