Canadian family member transferring car to US family member - how?
April 4, 2013 8:48 PM   Subscribe

One of my family members has a car registered in his name in Ontario. He wants to transfer it to me (US citizen), living in Pennsylvania. Right now, the car has Ontario plates. I'll be picking up the car and driving it to Pennsylvania. How do I do it?

Here's what I'm confused about:
1. What needs to happen before I take the car to the US? Is it just signing over the title?
2. What happens at the border?
3. What happens in Pennsylvania.

Thanks in advance.
posted by dzkalman to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure how plausible this is. Where was the car manufactured? I know a Canadian who recently moved to the US and was unable to re-register her vehicle (a Hyundai SUV, forget the model) on account of being unable to prove it complied with US crash standards, because it'd been built in a different factory than the US model and Hyundai was unwilling/unable to provide documentation that it was built to identical standards that would satisfy the relevant authorities in Maryland.

On the other hand, another Canadian friend easily imported a ca. 1970s Honda motorbike and registered it in California. Not sure what the differentiating factor was -- it may have been manufactured by the same plant that made the US bikes, or had different documentation available, or originated in the US? Worth looking into anyway.
posted by Alterscape at 9:20 PM on April 4, 2013

Response by poster: It's a 2007 Saturn Ion, if that helps.
posted by dzkalman at 9:26 PM on April 4, 2013

Best answer: The search keyword you want is 'import'. Here's a guide I found on google -- there are many -- look for 'importing car from Canada'.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:44 PM on April 4, 2013

Best answer: Here's the official page on importing a vehicle into the U.S. I assume (but am not sure) that you would also need to first transfer ownership in Ontario. Then you would need to pass safety and emissions, possibly pay sales tax, and pay fees to transfer title to Pennsylvania.

All of the paperwork, fees, tests, and massive hassle make it so, so not worth it. Especially given the value of that car, and that it probably costs more on the Canadian side. Unless you have some serious attachment to it, just have the family member sell it in Ontario.
posted by parudox at 10:02 PM on April 4, 2013

Best answer: Moving a car across the border is a lot of annoyance and headache. We just did this when we moved to California. I would strongly suggest that the family member sell the car, give you the money and then you buy a car in the states. By the time you pay for safety inspections in Ontario, the tax to transfer it to you, the safety and emissions tests in your state, the import tax, the $200 to GM who built the Saturn to get a letter indicating it meets US safety standards (which hopefully they will and it does) I am not sure how ahead you will be. Best case this will only cost $500 out of pocket. Additionally there are some restrictions about the amount of time you owned the car in Canada before bringing it across the border which may result in an additional fee.

Knowing what we went through I think we would had sold at least one of our cars rather than importing it. BTW Toyota was a nightmare to import (for future readers). Do not recommend.
posted by saradarlin at 11:01 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Forget it. Canadian cars don't have passive restraints and there is no way to register them in the US. Importing US cars into Canada is a relative breeze but going the other way is impossible.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:06 PM on April 4, 2013

Ummm, what? Canadian cars all have seatbelts, air bags etc... The Canadian safety standards are at least as safe as each State standard, more than some. Unless passive restraints mean something else...
posted by saradarlin at 11:17 PM on April 4, 2013

Oh, and of the 2 cars we just imported from Canada to the US one required no changes and onerequired changing of the dash light from the universal pictograms of passenger air bag on/off to a light with the words on/off (which was a $300 part!!). Everything else is pretty standard across North America. Except day time running lights. Standard up North but not everywhere down here it seems.
posted by saradarlin at 11:21 PM on April 4, 2013

Response by poster: Saradarlin, is there any way to tell what the associated costs will be in advance?
posted by dzkalman at 3:55 AM on April 5, 2013

Best answer: Well there are a few things you could try to look up first to get an estimate:

Do you count as "family" for the purposes of saving the sales tax on the car transfer. I would suggest calling the MTO (ministry of transportation Ontario) to find out as there is a specific requirements for this. If you scroll down on this link to the Tax Exemption to get an idea. Otherwise you are on the hook for the tax on the real value of the car, not what you paid.

Generally a safety inspection and e-test (emissions) is required for the transfer which is around $100 (assuming no issues) + $40 (assuming no issues). You will require temporary plates and insurance to drive it out of province. The plate cost you should be able to get from your MTO phone call but I am not sure about the insurance. Your family member could talk to their insurer to see if they could provide coverage. Another $20-$40 should get you a copy of the title/plate permit from the Service Ontario center you visit with your family member, the car, your safety forms, and transfer paperwork. This is is the minimum of what it will take to get the car in your name.

You should also call GM Canada /Saturn Canada and request a compliance letter stating the vehicle meets or exceeds US safety standards. This should cost $100-$250. This is where Toyota blows, they WILL NOT PROVIDE this letter. So in that case you have to go through an official car importer where your costs start at $500 + taxes if everything is perfect but can get much higher. Some info here. According to the letter we received a light on the dash of our GM vehicle had to be changed which cost $300. I have no idea what might need changing, if anything on yours. That's where it's hard to estimate your costs. Maybe GM will be able to give you the list before you pay for the letter then you can take the list to a dealership for an estimate?

Your Saturn was (I assume) built in North America so should hopefully be exempt from import tax/fee but I am not sure. All taxes will be assed on the book value of the car not what you paid to the family member if they apply to you.

Once you are across the border you have however long your state gives you to register your vehicle there. You will have to take it to the DMV for an inspection with all your paperwork, green Ontario plate/registration which is the "title" for the car and all your customs paperwork and hope that they have everything they need. For us we ended up having to go back to a customs office (we were able to go to a local airport for this) to have a form reissued that was never provided at the border. This was ~$50.

So that's my story. It's annoying but may or may not be worth it. Just make sure you plan to drive the car into the ground as it will have VIRTUALLY NO RESALE value down in the states. Neither individuals or dealerships will want your tainted Canadian car so they will give you serious lowball offers.
posted by saradarlin at 8:38 AM on April 5, 2013

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