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Kleppner: Used Cars

If you live on the US side of the border, here’s some advice: never buy a used car in Quebec. Don’t get me wrong: I love Quebec, and I’ve done business there, so I didn’t think twice about answering an ad for a used Honda in Montreal.
 

The owners and I agreed on a price, but my bank refused to issue a check in Canadian currency. The owners graciously agreed to accept payment in US dollars, so my bank issued a check made out to me and the seller, apparently standard practice for car loans.

Next, I turned to the import paperwork. The US Department of Transportation website lists everything needed to bring a foreign car into the US. This includes a so-called “compliance” letter from Honda of America stating that the vehicle meets US safety and environmental standards.

I called Honda of America, and explained that as a US citizen buying a car in Montreal, I needed a compliance letter.

“No problem, sir,” the polite young man assured me. “I just need a copy of your Canadian passport and driver’s license.”

“Uh, I just said I was a US citizen. I don’t have a Canadian passport or driver’s license. How else can I get a compliance letter?”

After a long discussion, it was clear that they were completely unable to help.

So I called Honda of Canada instead, who promptly emailed me a letter stating that the vehicle met Canadian standards. It wasn’t quite what I needed, but it was time to go get the car, so off I went.

I got to Montreal, signed the check over to the seller, and took the car.

When I got back to the border, the US officials said that without a letter from Honda America, they could only let the vehicle into the US temporarily, and that if I didn’t return to the border with the proper letter within 90 days, the government would seize my car.

The following Monday, the seller called and informed me that Canadian banks don’t take double-endorsed checks. I called my bank and asked them to cancel that check and issue a new one just to the seller.

“Oh, I’m sorry sir, we can’t do that. We need the original back.”

I had the seller’s car and was now asking them to FedEx the check back to me. Luckily, they trusted me enough to do that, and my bank reissued and overnighted the new check to them.

With payment finally settled, I asked the long-suffering sellers to send copies of their Canadian passport and driver’s license to Honda US, which they again graciously did.

That was good enough: Honda US sent the compliance letter, which I took back to the border, and got permission to have the vehicle in the US permanently.

Sorting out the Quebec and Vermont taxes was another saga, as was registering the vehicle and getting it inspected. It’s all done and legal now, but I repeat – never buy a used car in Quebec.