get it right
October 25, 2012 2:02 AM   Subscribe

Any MeFites with experience adjusting to an imported right hand drive vehicle?

I've been driving for about 15 yrs so I figure I'm pretty entrenched in my left hand drive ways. I realize that 99% of the time, driving is driving, but I'm still trying to prepare myself for doing certain things differently. A few difficulties I've already identified:

-Passing on single lane roads. Realize that this will be mostly impossible when driving solo. Not a big deal, I'm always willing to be late over risking safety. I've heard of people installing a second mirror so they can see oncoming traffic.

-Entering traffic from a parallel park. Tricky, but again patience and caution should make it ok. Luckily I live on a one-way street, so whenever possible I'll negate this issue by parking on the left side of the road.

-Drive thrus, but I never use them anyways, so a non-factor.

-Other toll booths/parking garage situations. Again, not a scenario I regularly encounter. I do take a lot of ferries, but it shouldn't be a problem to put in park and lean over to deal with the ticket booth employee.

Other situations I should keep in mind? Google mostly gave me reverse advice for adjusting to left hand driving, although I did find this blog which was helpful, and emailing the blogger got me some specific advice on what to look out for when I'm looking at vehicles.
posted by mannequito to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
oh and for clarification, I'm not doing the actual importing, so not looking for advice on that end. I'll be looking at a couple of local used vehicles next week, that have already been in Canada for years.
posted by mannequito at 2:03 AM on October 25, 2012

Other situations I should keep in mind?

I had the most difficulty negotiating roundabouts. It never felt natural.
posted by three blind mice at 2:19 AM on October 25, 2012

Another situation is parking alongside other people: other cars may park closer to you on your "passenger" side - which is, of course, your driver's side.

The biggies are passing and pulling out. You might also find some signage harder to read. And you need to a bit more careful when you join moving traffic on the freeway. Initially you'll find it hard to judge the car's position on the road because you've got half a car where you don't expect it.

And when you come to sell you might have that issue - either find a special buyer, selling through a specialist or cutting a lot off the value.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:27 AM on October 25, 2012

It sounds like you have thought of most of the potential issue already. I live in France and occasionally take our LHD vehicle back to drive in the UK. I also often hire RHD cars when in the UK. Changing driving sides and/or vehicle types feels a little strange at first but it gets easier with practice - its a bit like brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand.

The whole idea that to drive on the right one should have a vehicle with a steering wheel on the left seems to have been a somewhat arbitrary decision popularised with the model T Ford. It does help with overtaking - but it equally puts the driver on the side of the car which is most vulnerable in a head-on collision.

I would recommend that you check with your insurer and whoever will be servicing the car to make sure that there are no problems. Beware of regulations that require you to show tax disks, parking tickets, etc on a particular side of your car.
posted by rongorongo at 2:30 AM on October 25, 2012

I briefly drove an MGB with RHD here in the sound region; I didn't find it much of a challenge, but your points above pretty much cover all the bases.

(If I had to hazard a guess, you're possibly thinking of buying a late BMC or Rover Mini, or an earlier NZ import. If you are considering an older "classic" British car, nearly every one of them can be (relatively) easily converted to LHD if you just can't stand it; the bodies are generally symmetrically built with blanking plates over the redundant holes; it's just a matter of getting the LHD mechanical pieces and installing them.)

One thing to consider is your passengers, they will not be used to occupying the left-hand seat and if you do a lot of passing you could have quite a nervous friend along.
posted by maxwelton at 2:41 AM on October 25, 2012

I'm looking at early-90s Mitsubishi Pajeros, and my main co-pilot will be a rottweiler. He doesn't care what's going on as long as there's classic rock playing and something to bite.
posted by mannequito at 2:49 AM on October 25, 2012

Will you be getting a manual or an automatic? The idea of having the gearbox on the wrong side has always scared the hell out of me. (And a story I just found about someone who almost opened the door while driving because they were reaching for the shifter on the wrong side is not helping.)

It'll be an issue for other people to drive (or avoid driving) your car. For example, on long road trips where you split the driving. There's also a small subset of emergencies where it's helpful to have someone else drive your car. You can definitely work around it, but it's still a nuisance.
posted by anaelith at 3:20 AM on October 25, 2012

People in the UK and northern Europe make the transition from left to right and back again all the time, mostly with manual transmissions. The first time, when you open the wrong door to get in and feel like an idiot, it can seem a little daunting. But then you find that your brain just makes a switch from driving without thought to driving with thought, and everything adjusts. The first roundabout can be a little daunting, but the road layout and markings act as cues and it turns out not to be as much of a thing as you thought.

In my experience the biggest issue in switching from one side to the other was the number of times I reached out to controls on a phantom dashboard somewhere outside the car. More funny than dangerous.
posted by pipeski at 3:30 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

(I think you're in BC so this probably won't apply, but one thing to investigate is what your local government requires for grey-market imports if the car you're considering isn't already licensed in your jurisdiction, and wasn't conforming to your local regs when new.

A friend bought a gaggle of Toyota Serahs with the idea of reselling them here in the states, and he has to sit on them until they're 25 years old, which the earliest may finally be approaching. Sometimes just a model year's difference can make licensing much more complicated.

I'm putting this all in parens as it's not directly related to your Q and may not even be an issue in BC. But if you are in the states, be very aware of this, customs doesn't fool around with this stuff at all any longer and I think all of the "loophole" states are largely gone, now.

Good luck, I get a lot of satisfaction out of driving "unusual" machines and applaud your efforts.)
posted by maxwelton at 3:31 AM on October 25, 2012

Having driven both right and left hand drive cars (Left in USA/Canada/Germany Right in UK) it would probably cause me to drive on the wrong side of the road. As you shouldn't have that problem I think you've covered the problems (ie mostly drive throughs and tolls) and have a realistic expectation of the new driving experience.

Have fun with the new (to you) car.
posted by koolkat at 5:06 AM on October 25, 2012

I hate to ask, but why? That vehicle was sold by the boatloads all over the Americas in LHD versions. Why specifically a UK or Japan import?
posted by 1adam12 at 5:35 AM on October 25, 2012

I have driven a lot of miles with LHD vehicles in RHD countries -- the same thing you are talking about doing, but on the opposite side of the road. (Like driving a US car in the UK, say.)

Honestly, it was a huge pain in the ass and never felt safe to me. I'm no speedracer, so I thought overtaking would be a non-issue, but I had never realized how often you need to pass a slow truck, like a delivery truck or a milk truck on a back road. To see around the truck, you have to pull out far enough into the oncoming lane that if someone was coming fast there's a real chance of an accident. But when the truck is grinding along at 20mph, you really to need to get around it, so you end up taking risks you shouldn't.

And around town, all the time you are having to pull out and around stopped delivery vans and trucks; it's a real pain in the ass to have all of those become a big deal and inching out, craning your neck, instead of just looking and driving. If there are a lot of bicyclists where you live, you'll need to learn to be incredibly aware of them, particularly popping up in new blind spots in intersections.

Parking was never an issue for me, and shifting is easy peasy. You will probably shift the window crank once or twice and then at some point muscle memory takes over, no big deal. Sight lines through complex intersections are a bit different, but also no big deal once you are used to it. There are a bunch of little things to deal with, like headlights that have to be changed to avoid blinding oncoming drivers, but that may happen as part of the legal importation process.

So my actual advice, based on what it was like to drive a wrong-side vehicle, is don't do it unless it is a model where you can buy the parts to convert it to LHD. It's often not that big of a deal as long as they sold them in both LHD and RHD versions somewhere. (The Pajero was sold in the US as a Montero, so you'd want to look into parts compatibility that way, and was sold around the world in LHD as the Pajero, so I don't think you are going to have trouble with this one.) But add the cost and hassle of the conversion to the price, and see if it still makes sense to you. Glancing at google, I see a bunch of companies offering complete RHD/LHD conversion kits; you'd have to figure out whether it made more sense to go that route or to buy a parts vehicle and swap parts directly.
posted by Forktine at 5:41 AM on October 25, 2012

Another option, of course, would be to buy a LHD US/Canada Montero and swap in the drivetrain (diesel and stick shift) that was mostly used elsewhere. Monteros aren't particularly collectable or much-loved vehicles, so this might well be the cheapest option overall.
posted by Forktine at 5:43 AM on October 25, 2012

I'm actually in a RHD manual at the moment waiting to get on a ferry back to the UK from France. I'm an American raised on LHD automatics, learned RHD manual in the UK, and just spent 10 days driving the latter in France. It was fine. You figure it out. That first day is weird but then you figure it out. Overtaking on two lane roads, as you said, is impossible without a human passenger to help, but otherwise it's been fine. Some four way intersections in small towns or with hedges on the corners are a challenge. Otherwise I can't say I've had trouble here -- I've been parallel parking just fine too.

Your brain will figure it out. Just be prepared for a mindfuck on day 1.
posted by olinerd at 6:28 AM on October 25, 2012

Please put a large stuffed panda in the passenger seat
posted by ibakecake at 7:38 AM on October 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

I switch between driving in the US and Australia a lot the main problem I've found is sitting in the wrong part of the lane as my mind map of the shape of the car in relation to my body was out of kilter making me drift out of my lane scarily until I realised what I was doing. As long as I make a point to focus on which side the bulk of the car is in relation to me I do much better, things like the basic rhythm of driving a car is the same on either side and a lot less of a worry than you think they will be even if gear sticks etc are on the other side.

Oh and you'll go to the wrong door a lot.
posted by wwax at 8:28 AM on October 25, 2012

A friend bought a gaggle of Toyota Serahs with the idea of reselling them here in the states, and he has to sit on them until they're 25 years old, which the earliest may finally be approaching. Sometimes just a model year's difference can make licensing much more complicated.

From what I've read it's 15yrs in Canada, at least BC.

Good call on the panda.
posted by mannequito at 10:25 AM on October 25, 2012

Although we try to discourage it, our dog loves nothing better than sitting in the passenger seat and looking out ahead. When driving a "wrong side of the road" car it is always interesting to scan the faces of oncoming drivers so expect to see a human. So have fun with your rottweiler if you choose this option (sleeping passengers can have an equally strong effect).
posted by rongorongo at 3:19 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

hehe, thanks rongorongo. It's more his choice, I'd prefer to keep him in back, but I'm not gonna fight him while driving.

I wound up buying one of the cars today, so I'll give it a couple of weeks before updating on my RHD learning curve. But based on the 2hr drive home, and subsequent evening city cruise, it's been an absolute non-factor. Nothing felt different.
posted by mannequito at 1:23 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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