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Right-Hand-Drive Vehicles: Opportunities and Challenges

Classics, Oddities  /   /  By Mercedes Lilienthal

The search for the globe’s most compelling vehicles might lead an auto enthusiast outside the United States. But what happens when you find your dream car—only to discover that the steering wheel is on the right side?

eBay offers a host of eccentric and unique right-hand-drive cars for sale from virtually every corner of the world. And no, the available right-hand-drive models are not all mail-carrying cargo vans. Although there are some unexpected and cool ones like this collectible 1963 Studebaker 8E5 mail truck:

1963 Studebaker 8E5 mail truck

1963 Studebaker 8E5 mail truck

The Federal Highway Administration explains how the US ended up on the right side of history. But about 75 countries (roughly one-third of the world) drives on the right side of the road.

Australia, Britain, and Japan are primary sources for right-hand-drive vehicles. The long list of otherwise unavailable models ranges from short-wheelbase diesels and customized work trucks—to peppy little Minis and high-performance Japanese sedans like the Nissan GT-R.

This 1994 Nissan GT-R Skyline is a stunner. But Godzilla is driven from the right side.

This 1994 Nissan GT-R Skyline is a stunner. But Godzilla is driven from the right side.

Here’s a gallery of some of the most exciting RHD vehicles for sale on eBay right now:

Are Right-Hand-Drive Cars Legal?

Yes, it’s entirely legal in the US to drive a car with the steering wheel on the right and the vehicle controls on the driver’s left. However, there are importation rules to consider. Any vehicle brought to the US (regardless of the steering wheel’s location) must be at least 25 years old. Canada stipulates 15 years.

Check with the seller to ensure that the car comes with the paperwork required by your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. An experienced importer can help with all the arrangements, including customs. Be prepared for a VIN inspection or smog test—and to spend money to comply with local rules if necessary.

If you’re open to buying a right-hand-drive car, an entirely new automotive world becomes available. Moreover, many overseas rigs are in great shape. That’s due to strict regulations and the low miles of use in many countries.

On the other hand, the 25-year rule means that right-hand-drive vehicles are older. And the models in many foreign markets often have less horsepower.

Right-Hand-Drive Cars: The Driving Experience

Owners of a right-hand-drive rig are an exclusive group. Expect to meet a fascinating collection of other RHD drivers. That’s part of the fun. But also be prepared to answer questions from others wanting to learn about your experience.

Here are other issues to consider:

  • Safe driving from the right side can be tricky. The tendency is to drift into the middle of the road. But as long as you keep the right-side road stripe on your right shoulder at all times, you should be fine. Use extra caution on two-lane roads, especially when passing.
  • Fast-food drive-throughs are difficult. Tollbooths are worse. Prepare for a long reach or, when possible, to park and go inside instead.
  • Speedometers and odometers will likely be in kilometers versus miles. Various smartphone apps make it easy to do the conversion.
  • Radio stations in Japan only go to 90 MHz. So US owners need to swap out the radio or get a band expander that allows you to pick up local US stations.
  • It takes a while for right-hand car owners to avoid turning on their wipers instead of flipping a turn signal. But wiper-blade and turn-signal stalks can be switched from one side to the other. (Fender-mounted mirrors on Japanese vehicles can also throw people off.)
  • Insurance and registration can be a challenge. Try first with mainstream insurers or consider specialty providers like Hagerty. However, insurance companies and a state’s DMV might refuse vehicles that lack a conventional 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • Parts for right-hand-drive cars can be challenging to find. Fortunately, eBay has thousands of them.

Right-Hand Conversions: Change the Steering Wheel’s Location

eBay offers dozens of DIY kits for converting right-hand-drive models to the other side—or the other way around. Kits are not available for every model. And these projects are not for the faint-hearted.

This conversion package for an Acura RSX moves controls to the right.

This conversion package for an Acura RSX moves controls to the right.

Professional conversions are also possible but can cost tens of thousands of dollars. That radically changes the economics of buying a right-hand-drive car. And it shifts the equation in favor of keeping the steering wheel where it is.

Besides, why would you want to remove a right-hand-drive car’s unique personality?

About the Author

Mercedes Lilienthal is an automotive journalist who writes regularly for publications like The New York Times, TREAD magazine, Expedition Portal, and more. Additionally, she and her husband founded and manage two automotive websites: Crankshaft Culture and Subcompact Culture. Mercedes’ freelance work includes writing, marketing services, and photography for various automotive-related clients.

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