He bought a car in the U.S. but can’t import it into Canada: Roseman
David Brown owns a 2008 Lexus that he bought for $ 30,500 (U.S.) while living in West Virginia.
The car, which is in mint condition, has 90,000 miles (144,000 kilometres) on the odometer. But it has sat idle at his father’s home in Stoney Creek, Ont., for the past two years.
Brown is back in Canada, but can’t use his Lexus, despite having paid $ 4,000 in taxes, recall-related repairs and safety checks to import it legally into Canada.
The problem is a U.S. recall on the 2008 Lexus front passenger airbag inflator, made by Takata Corp. in Japan. This means that the vehicle is not legal to drive in Canada, despite the fact that there is no recall on Lexus front passenger airbags in Canada.
“If the importation had taken place about May 15 instead of June 2, the car would have been admitted without issue,” says his father, Gary Brown. “Now it can’t be registered or titled in either country.”
Transport Canada does warn of potential problems buying a vehicle in the U.S. and importing it into Canada. There is a great deal of information is at its website, which some people may miss.
The government is quite clear about the financial risks of importing a car without knowing if it will be acceptable for use here.
“You must pay taxes and/or duties, and bring a vehicle through customs, before it can be inspected for importing into Canada,” the ministry says.
“Vehicles that fail the inspection or that are not clear of recalls cannot stay in Canada, even though taxes and duties would have been paid.”
In early June, David Brown asked Lexus U.S. about repairs to be done under recall. He had the car towed by trailer to New York State and completed most of them.
But he did not know about the recall for the front passenger airbag inflator, initially reported by Takata and Lexus on May 23 — two weeks before he started the importing process.
Takata had already initiated recalls for the driver’s side airbag inflator, affecting millions of cars around the world.
The problem is the propellant in the inflators, which may degrade after prolonged exposure to high humidity and fluctuating high temperatures.
Degraded propellant may cause the inflator to rupture when the airbag is deployed in a collision.
“In the event of an inflator rupture, metal fragments could pass through the airbag cushion material, striking the vehicle occupants, and result in serious injury or death,” the auto parts company said.
Despite the potential danger, Lexus U.S. is not able to fix the affected vehicles. The technology for the front passenger airbag inflator repair is not yet available.
“Lexus told us it would take at least six months before the technology was created and two to three years before it was David’s turn,” said Gary Brown, a retired city of Hamilton bureaucrat who has been trying to help his son.
David Brown, 31, a former professional hockey goaltender, recently completed a master’s degree at the University of Hull in England and is looking for a job.
The father enlisted his Member of Parliament, David Sweet, to send a letter to federal transport minister Marc Garneau asking for an exemption.
Sweet argued that Lexus vehicles with Takata front passenger airbag inflators are not a safety risk in Canada because of our cold climate.
Garneau replied that no exemptions are allowed. Vehicles less than 15 years old imported into Canada are ineligible for licensing until a U.S. recall is corrected.
After I met with the Browns, I tried to help them get the car on the road by contacting Toyota Canada (parent of Lexus) on their behalf. They said no one at either company would speak to them before.
“This is unfortunately not an issue that can be resolved by Toyota Canada,” said spokeswoman Alice Young Jeon.
“There are policies and regulations outlined by the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) that must be followed — such as completing any outstanding safety campaigns on the vehicle.”
Lexus U.S. did offer Brown a loaner vehicle to use while waiting for parts to become available. But he had to cover any costs beyond $ 35 (U.S.) a day.
“We found our own deal to minimize our costs and Lexus U.S. agreed to direct payment to the rental company,” Gary Brown said. “So, while Dave does in fact have a car (a Honda Civic), he certainly isn’t driving a Lexus.”
They hope to get preferential treatment once the fix is available, based on the unique nature of their case. But no one will commit to their jumping the queue.
Other than waiting, they have few other options. The airbag must be fixed by the original equipment manufacturer (Takata). And a vehicle that is not registered in either Canada or the United States would be hard to sell on the open market.
The Browns want to share their story after running into many roadblocks along the way. If you don’t want a U.S. car to be in limbo for a long period, you should think carefully about selling it rather than trying to bring it to Canada.
Ellen Roseman’s column appears each week.
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