Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota Land Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

Article by Matt J. Simmons; photos by Greg Wilson

Photo Gallery: Looking for a RHD Land Cruiser

Victoria, British Columbia – Ever pull up at a stoplight and glance over to see the driver in the car next to you, actually sitting next to you? I mean, on the right-hand side. He could lean over and shake your hand if he wanted. Instead he gives a little grin as he pulls away and you sit slightly bewildered for a second before shaking your head and continuing on your way. It’s happening more and more these days-right-hand drive (RHD) imports are flooding the market. Victoria and Vancouver are rife with the things. The big question is, why?

I’ve been researching my next vehicle purchase for months now. My wife and I brainstormed a “little” list of what we want out of a car. We want space for the two of us, our daughter in a car seat, at least two comfortable adult passengers and all the assorted baby and camping paraphernalia for road trips. Oh, and we want fuel economy (doesn’t everyone these days?) and low greenhouse gas emissions. Whatever we buy has to be a 4×4, preferably hardy enough to take on some of BC’s more challenging Forest Service Roads. I looked at hybrids, flexible-fuel vehicles, bio-fuel, electric cars and natural-gas conversions. I read up on trucks and SUVs, minivans and station wagons. I compared the carbon footprint of owning two vehicles-say, one old 4×4 pickup and a fuel-efficient small car for around town and short trips – to owning an SUV, a wagon, a minivan, a crossover and so on. In short, I read a metric crapload of info.

Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota Land Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

And sifting through it all, I slowly came to a couple of realizations. One, a lot of fuel alternatives being touted as green aren’t necessarily as eco-friendly as they seem. Take ethanol for example. Grown from renewable crops it gives off fewer tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions. But, the process from seed to harvest to propelling your truck down the road leaves an equal or greater carbon imprint as gasoline, apparently. Plus, if ethanol were to become the primary fuel for our country or our neighbour to the south, arable farmland would be significantly affected by the crops for ethanol-production, which tend to take up a lot of room. The debate continues.

Another thing I learned is that diesel – though a non-renewable source – also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. Diesel is also more efficient, therefore goes further. Now we’re getting somewhere. And, if you install a propane-injection kit, it goes even further, burns even cleaner and gets significantly more torque. That isn’t to say diesel’s perfect – it produces smog, and diesel engines tend to be noisy – but it has a lot going for it. I thought about the Volkswagen Jetta wagon for awhile, but it’s pretty tiny for passengers. Fuel economy is great though, at a whopping 50 mpg in the city and 65 mpg on the highway. But I kept looking, and during one of our discussions, my wife suggested, almost jokingly, the Landcruiser. I started a new line of research.

Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota Land Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

Toyota Landcruisers are spoken of in hushed, almost revered tones. The typical picture of one of these legendary trucks is halfway up a ridiculously steep slope somewhere in Africa, with elephants and giraffes in the background. They’re known for durability, power and limitless off-road capabilities. Interestingly, they’re not really known for what drew me to them in the first place: fuel economy. Diesel Landcruisers typically get between 20-30 mpg, depending on engine size, model and year (not to mention condition). When you consider that this is a 5,000 pound 4×4 truck we’re talking about, that’s a pretty impressive figure. Ok, it’s not really comparable to the 50-65 mpg of the Jetta, but hey, you can easily get in 4 adults, a kid in a car-seat, with lots of room for gear. Plus, some models have folding third row seats, so turn that into seven people and a kid. But where do you get a diesel Landcruiser? Well, they’re common in Australia, England, Europe, Africa . . . and Japan.

Here we get to right-hand drive again. There is admittedly some “cool factor” to driving a RHD import. At stoplights you get that look and everywhere you go, people check you out . . . especially if you’re driving something that looks different. A lot of the Landcruisers look like the North American 4Runner or a Bronco – not overly distinctive. But drive something like the Mitsubishi Delica – an increasingly popular import choice – and you’ll be turning heads everywhere you go. The Delica is an off-road minivan.

Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota Land Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

Yep, that’s right – a minivan with a bush bumper and bush lights. They’re narrow, tall, weird-looking things, usually with a ladder leading to a safari rack, that reputedly go over any terrain you chuck them on. Then, there’s the Nissan Skyline. The classic Japanese racer is coming over to Canada in droves. And while they might get by unnoticed in traffic, to the discerning eye they are indisputably cool cars. A few of the funkier JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) models are hitting our streets too. Like the Suzuki Cappuccino – a little retro-styled sports car – or the amusingly-named (and shaped) Nissan S-Cargo. These bizarre throwbacks guarantee comments and quizzical looks.

Some obvious questions arise: What’s involved in getting one? How much do they cost? Is it hard to drive a RHD? Are they safe to drive over here?

There are a few choices in buying a JDM vehicle. Buy one direct from Japan and ship it over; pay an agent to do that for you; or buy one from a dealer already landed, that has cleared inspection and duties and all the bureaucracy necessary to import. Oh, and don’t bother looking for anything newer than 1992 – there’s a Transport Canada restriction on any vehicles newer than 15 years old. With that figured out, start your shopping. I’m a little lazy on the paperwork side of things and frankly, I want to test drive anything I’m going to drop $20,000 on before I buy: to the dealers then. There are, as with any used vehicle purchase, good dealers and bad dealers. JDM dealers are particularly tricky because there’s a lot that can be wrong with a foreign vehicle that can be easily concealed from the consumer. The biggest piece of advice I can suggest . . . do research and ask questions: lots of questions.

Imported Landcruisers go for anything between $10,000 and $30,000. The difference? Drastic. Test-driving a couple that were listed at around $18,000 revealed transmission issues, faulty electrics, suspension that needed replacement, illegal Japanese headlights and a myriad of other problems. So why bother? Well, again back to my list. Plus, with proper maintenance, Landcruisers are virtually indestructible. For around $20,000, with research done, lots of checks in place and advice sought and got, you can get a clean, well-maintained truck that only has 100,000 (or less) kilometres on it. And by well-maintained, we’re talking pristine interior and exterior. There really is nothing comparable in Canada. As well, a good ‘cruiser will drive for over 500,000 kilometres. With that in mind, 1992’s not such a bad year.

Power Take Off (PTO) lever drives front-mounted winch
Toyota Land Cruiser
Power Take Off (PTO) lever drives front-mounted winch (top) photo. Click image to enlarge

There is an important safety issue to be considered when buying a RHD vehicle. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia recently published a report that states RHDs are 40 percent more likely to get in an accident than LHD vehicles. In the actual impact, they’re just as safe as any other car on the road, but ICBC argues that being on the opposite side of the vehicle increases the risk of crashing. Things like changing lanes and overtaking leave the RHD driver with less visibility. It can be argued however that the statistics in the ICBC report were drawn from a market where cars like the high-performance Skyline may be used for street racing. My own experience driving a RHD car in France, where they drive on the right, was strange but I adjusted to it.

I intend to retire my little Ford Escort wagon and switch driver seats later this year. My new ‘cruiser is going to take me up some snowy mountain roads this winter and to places like Utah’s Moab Desert in the spring, climbing over battered roads, grumbling its propane-injected diesel engine all the way. Look for me grinning over at every stoplight along the way.

RHD buying tips

If you’re going to buy a Landcruiser, an indispensable resource is the forum at ih8mud.com, a community forum for Landcruiser owners, dealers and fans. There is a wealth of information on there, including links to dealers, registration and inspection info, Transport Canada guidelines and so on. Transport Canada regulations can be found here and the ICBC report mentioned above, here.

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