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What’s The Penalty For Driving A Right-Handed Car In The US?

What’s The Penalty For Driving A Right-Handed Car In The US?

The FMVSS discusses nothing particularly about left/right-handed vehicles, but rather talks about the certain controls and displays that must be operating. Let’s dive into exactly what all you’ll need to check into before you are able to drive your right-handed vehicles. 

What’s The Penalty For Driving A Right-Handed Car In The US? It is perfectly legal to drive these types of vehicles in the US. Therefore, there is no direct penalty for operating one of these vehicles.

However, the car still needs to comply with all applicable FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards), which are issued by NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

Understanding the legality and regulations of driving a right-handed vehicle can be a bit tricky. There are certain things that must be in-line in order for a right-handed car. 

Operating Right-Handed Vehicles in The U.S.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at what all you must have done and in proper in order to operate a right-handed vehicle in the United States. The only penalty you may face is if you do not properly set up and register your vehicle before taking it out on the road. 

The first step to getting your new ride on the road is registering it.  Luckily if you are looking to import or build a right-handed car, the process is rather simple, at least compared to other legal processes. 

Contact DMV

The DMV is in charge of all vehicle registrations. Here is where you will find the proper paperwork, you’ll need from them and they can also provide you with the right steps you’ll need to take as well. 

Form MV-82

This is the form that will need to be filled out for vehicle registration. This can be provided by your DMW, or even online in PDF form. The application is universal for both left-handed and right-handed vehicles.


In order to submit the application, you’ll of course need quite a few proofs. This will include drivers license, proof of ownership, insurance, and so on. For more complete info on what you’ll need, take a look below:

  • Social security card
  • Proof of sale
  • Proof of residency 
  • Driver’s license 
  • Emission test results
  • Signed car title

Emissions Test

Also needed will be an emissions test. This consists of checking the vehicle primarily for pollutants and should not be an issue. If it is though, these could be some of the problems:

  • Oxygen sensor has gone bad
  • Ignition system is failing
  • Air injection system is faulty
  • Leaking vacuum
  • Fuel metering is out of specification 


Ah, the fun part to all registrations, the cost. Although I wish I could give you a straight cost as to how much you are looking at, there is no true answer. It will vary from vehicle, state, and so on.

These fees include weight of the vehicle, class, sales tax, and so on. Also, if importing the vehicle, those prices can be quite high as well. Some people have found the fees to be so expensive when importing in fact, it was cheaper and/or simpler to purchase a new vehicle entirely. 

Issues with importing

As mentioned earlier, importing vehicles are usually a giant hassle. However, since is the most likely option of why you are having a right-handed car, here are the steps towards getting the vehicle over to the U.S.


The first thing you should check on is to make sure the vehicle is legal to be brought into the U.S. based on its emissions test. There are some vehicles that do not past these standards, therefore will need to be modified if they are to be brought into the country. 

Shipping Arrangements 

The next step will be to set up how the vehicle is being shipped. If you are buying a vehicle from overseas, this process is a bit easier, as dealerships often times will help with this process quite a bit. 

If this is the case, then you should have a decent amount of help coming your way. However, if the vehicle is already purchased, don’t worry, it isn’t too complicated. What you’ll need to do is get into contact with an international shipping company and discuss prices. 

These companies can be contacted in either the U.S. or in the country the vehicle will be coming from. It may be easier to find an American company that can help you with the process, but either route is fine. However, U.S. companies tend to have lower fees as well, just as an F.Y.I.


The paperwork for importing a vehicle is extensive to say the least and may be the most monotonous part of the process. On top of all the paperwork that was mentioned earlier, you’ll need importing documents, tax papers, and so on. 

It is best to consult a professional that can help you with this, so you do it all correctly. 

ICI (Independent Commercial Importer)

The ICI can be used if your vehicle does not meet emission standards. Through this route, they will help in modifications needed, as well as anything else needed to have the vehicle approved. 

Import Prohibitions 

To see what vehicles may not be allowed, and other prohibitions, check OFAC, or the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Here, you can find out the most up-to-date information about prohibitions and sanctions that are in place. 

This may be worth checking into prior into looking at importing a vehicle in the first place, so you are aware of what is not allowed in. 


Overall, the import process can be confusing, long, and sometimes dangerous. I’d recommend using as many professionals as you can, and avoid as much overseas discussions as you can, simply due to the fact you cannot know for certain it is reliable.

There are many car-import scams that exist out there, where you can lose a lot of money, and even end up in legal trouble. These scams often times are set up to take the money you have spent, and not ending up with a vehicle shipped to you.

To watch out for these scams, here are some signs the company may be illegitimate. 

  • Odd payment methods- If they are asking for a type of gift card, western union, or what have you, it’s a good sign you are being used for your money.
  • Tax/Fee free- If the promises seem too good to be true, then they probably are. This is usually a ploy to interest people looking to grab the best deal and is a good trap for those not expecting it. If you see this, seriously look into the company. 
  • Cannot find location- Make sure you are ensured and have read over every bit of paperwork before purchasing anything through an import service. Often times, these scam businesses will point back to paperwork where it states they are not responsible for what may happen to the vehicle during the shipment process. 


Besides import, you may be looking into converting your vehicle to be right-handed. There are a few ways to go about conversion, listed below.

  • Personal setup
  • Conversion kit
  • Professional conversion

These methods all come with their pros and cons. The conversion kit is the cheapest route and is a rather quick and inexpensive method to converting your car.

However, these DIY kits tend to look pretty bad in your car, and it isn’t the most pleasurable driving experience. If you’re just looking for a quick, cheap fix though, this is the way to go.

The personal setup, complete with all the parts is more effective, but will take up quite a bit of time to finish. Also, this will be an expensive route as well, but not quite as pricey as the professional setup.

Last but not least, you have the best option there is, which is to have the conversion professionally done. Yes, it is without a doubt expensive to do, it offers peace of mind, knowing that it is done properly. However, the price point can become ridiculously high on these conversations, making the other two options a bit more appealing.