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By Jim Kerr

With the Canadian dollar up again against the American dollar, some vehicle buyers are looking to the U.S. market again to buy a vehicle. This may seem to be a valid option, but there are several things to consider before venturing south to make a purchase.

First, when you are comparing vehicles, are you comparing apples to apples or apples to oranges? Just because the vehicle has the same name and model doesn’t mean it comes with the same equipment. For example, I know of someone who thought they made a great deal on a Ford Expedition. When they picked the vehicle up they discovered it was two-wheel drive. In Canada, the Expedition is sold only with four-wheel drive. Then there is the problem of parts. Many parts such as the transmission, front axle, dash controls and wiring harness differ between the two models so getting repair parts from a Canadian dealer could take a while.

Other features often included on Canadian vehicles but optional on U.S models are traction control, stability control and block heaters. We may also get the heavy duty engine cooling system and higher capacity heater systems. Seat heaters are also a more common feature on Canadian vehicles that are usually optional south of the border. Compare apples to apples when looking at price differences for vehicles outside of Canada.

Canadian vehicles also have to meet different safety standards. Our bumpers have an eight km/h crash standard without impairing the function of the vehicle, while U.S. vehicles must only meet a five km/h standard. This regulation was amended this past August so that the standards are uniform, but before that time period it was more costly to build a vehicle for the Canadian standards than the U.S. ones.

Child safety restraints are another difference. While many U.S. models have the integrated fasteners already on the vehicle, there are some that do not. To import that vehicle into Canada, it must be upgraded by the manufacturer or it is not allowed into the country.

Warranties are another issue. As consumers, we see a Toyota as a Toyota, no matter where it is found. However, there is Toyota Canada and Toyota USA, two separate companies. Each cooperates with the other and both purchase from and provide product for the Toyota parent company – but each is still an independent entity. I have used Toyota as an example, but this happens in many auto companies including Porsche, Honda, and even GM. Because of this separation or independence, we see different models, trim variations, warranties and pricing in Canada. Canadians tend to purchase smaller cars with a higher level of standard equipment, while U.S customers who buy small cars are more often buying a base level vehicle as a second vehicle.

When it comes time for a warranty repair, some Canadian companies will honour the warranty provided by the U.S company but other auto manufacturers will not. For example, for a while GM Canada would not honour the warranty on a new diesel truck purchased in the U.S. but would if the truck was imported as a used vehicle with several thousand kilometres on it. Before purchasing in the U.S, check to see what warranty you will have on an imported vehicle.

There are good deals to be made in the U.S. Some of this is because of the current poor economy where many items including real estate are being sold very cheaply. Also, because of the population base, the U.S has many more of the same vehicle on the market at the same time, where in Canada you might only find a handful of that model for sale. The larger choice in the U.S, especially on used vehicles can drive the price down.

Before considering importing a vehicle, check with Canada Customs and U.S. Customs. Requirements such as a clear title and a letter from the manufacturer regarding recalls on your vehicle are required to export it from the U.S. Canada only allows some vehicles in and then they have to be inspected and converted to meet standards here such as daytime running lights or speedometer readings before they can stay in the country. There are deals, but is it worth the effort?

Only you can decide. Personally, I support my local dealers – I want them to stay around.

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