Canada: Cars Coming Into Canada: What You Need To Know To Import Vehicles

The decision to export vehicles for sale in the Canadian marketplace involves compliance with numerous safety and performance standards as set by the Federal government. These requirements aim to ensure that all automobiles (standard and electric) imported into the country comply with domestic standards. The following information identifies the regulatory bodies in charge of administering and enforcing these standards and includes a breakdown and summary of specific standards that apply to passenger and multi-passenger vehicles.

Motor Vehicle Standards


  • The Federal government has enacted laws and regulations which set out standards for the safety and environmental performance of motor vehicles in Canada.
  • The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) assists Transport Canada with the administration of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA) and the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations (MVSR) by administering and enforcing the conditions under which new and used vehicles are imported into Canada.

Motor Vehicle Safety Act and Regulations

  • The full title of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act is "an Act to regulate the manufacture and importation of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment to reduce the risk of death, injury and damage to property and the environment".
  • The MVSA empowers Transport Canada to issue the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards ("CMVSS"). The CMVSS prescribe the minimum performance standards that must be met by motor vehicles and equipment in Canada
  • The MVSA applies to manufacturers engaged in interprovincial trade and importers of vehicles or components into Canada.
  • Vehicles which are manufactured for sale in other countries other than Canada and the United States and do not comply with the requirements of the CMVSS cannot be altered by the company and cannot be imported into Canada

Key Elements of the MVSA

  • The MVSA applies only to certain classes of vehicles and vehicle components, including: 
    • Passenger cars
    • Multipurpose passenger vehicles (i.e. vans)
    • Trucks
    • Buses
    • Trailers
    • Motorcycles and restricted use motorcycles
    • Trailer converted dollies
    • Chassis-cabs
    • Snowmobiles and ATVs
  • The manufacturer or importer of motor vehicles or components is responsible for obtaining a certificate of compliance of applicable standards and regulations. This process is called "self-certification"

Key Sections of the MVSA/MVSR

  • Section 6 of the MVSA states that no company or person shall import into Canada any vehicle unless the requirements in sections 5(1)(a), (b), (d) and (e) are satisfied.
  • Under Section 2 of the MVSA, a "national safety mark" means the expression, "Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standard", and "standard" means a standard that governs the design construction, functioning or marking of vehicles or equipment for the purpose of reducing the risk of death, injury or property damage.
  • Section 5(1) of the MVSA states that no company shall apply a national safety mark to any vehicle or equipment, sell any vehicle or equipment to which a national safety mark has been applied,  or import any vehicle equipment into Canada unless:

(a) the vehicle or equipment conforms to the prescribed standards at the time the vehicle or equipment is manufactured;

(b) evidence of the conformity is obtained and produced in prescribed form and manner;

(d) the prescribed information is marked on the vehicle or equipment in the prescribed form and manner and on the prescribed place; and

(e) where required by regulations, prescribed documentation or accessories accompany the vehicle. 

  • Section 10 of the MVSA requires every company that manufactures, sells or imports vehicles or equipment into Canada, on becoming aware of a safety-related defect in the design, construction and functioning of the vehicle or equipment, to give notice of the defect to the following parties:
    • The Minister;
    • Each person who has obtained such a vehicle from the company; and
    • Each current owner of such a vehicle or equipment
  • Section 10 of the MVSR requires that all companies maintain records to prove that the vehicles and equipment it manufacturers or imports into Canada conform to prescribed standards. The company must retain these records for at least 5 years after the date of manufacture or importation.

Exporting a Vehicle from Canada to the United States

Information on exporting vehicles from Canada to the United States can be found in the Vehicle Transportation Regulations of the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Requirements to be Satisfied by a Manufacturer before its Vehicle can be Imported into the United States

The manufacturer must:

  • Submit a letter to the NHTSA designating an agent for service of process and a letter from the agent accepting the designation if the manufacturer is not located in the United States.
  • Submit to NHTSA information which the agency will use to decipher the manufacturer's vehicle identification number or "VIN" format not later than 60 days prior to offering the first vehicle for sale in the United States
  • Submit a letter to NHTSA identifying the manufacturer's name, address, and the products it manufactures that are subject to the Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS), not later than 30 days after manufacturing begins
  • Permanently affix to the vehicle, in a prescribed location, a certification label meeting the requirements of the regulations.
  • The vehicle must comply with all applicable FMVSS at the time of importation.

Certification Requirements for Motor Vehicles

  • A certification label must satisfy the requirements of the regulations that, among other things, identifies the vehicle's manufacturer (i.e., the actual assembler of the vehicle), states the vehicle's date of manufacture (month and year), and contains the following statement: "This vehicle conforms to all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) in effect on the date of manufacture shown above."
  • For vehicles other than motorcycles or trailers, the label must be affixed to either the hinge pillar, door-latch post, or the door edge that meets the door-latch post, next to the driver's seating position.

VIN Requirement

  • Under NHTSA's regulations, a motor vehicle manufacturer must assign to each motor vehicle manufactured for sale in the U.S. a 17-digit VIN that uniquely identifies the vehicle. The VIN must be correctly formatted and include a check digit in the ninth position that is mathematically correct under a formula that is included in the regulations.

Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

The following standards apply to every Passenger Car and Multi-Purpose Passenger Car in Canada. Listed below is a description of each standard. For a complete technical summary, please access the links provided.

Section in MVSR (Schedule IV)

Description of Standard

Multi-Purpose Passenger Vehicle

Passenger Vehicle


Location and Identification of Controls and Displays

Brief Description: list of controls, components and displays which must be operable and identifiable by a driver. Also includes identification requirements.




Transmission Control Functions

Brief Description: requirements for when a vehicle is equipped with an automatic transmission. Identification of transmission control positions.




Windshield Defrosting and Defogging

Brief Description: every vehicle must be equipped with windshield defrosting and defogging systems. Also includes requirements for passenger cars regarding defrosting and defogging systems. Testing requirements.




Windshield Wiping

Brief Description: every vehicle must have a power-driven windshield wiping system which has at least 2 frequencies or speeds, and has the following: (i) one frequency or speed of at least 45 cycles per minute; (ii) a difference of at least 15 cycles per minute between the highest frequency or speed and a lower frequency or speed that equals at least 20 cycles per minute. Also includes testing requirements.




Hydraulic and Electric Brake Systems

Brief Description: subject to section 135 of Schedule IV (light vehicle brake systems), every vehicle must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 105, which specifies requirements for hydraulic and electric service brake systems and associated parking brake systems. Also includes requirements for common and separate indicators which are used to indicate malfunctions, and wording requirements.



Brake Hoses

Brief Description: every brake hose, brake hose assembly, and brake hose end fitting that is equipped to a vehicle must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 106, which specifies the labelling and performance requirements for brake hoses, brake hose assemblies, and brake hose end fittings. Also included is a list of ASTM standards.




Lighting System and Retroreflective Devices

Brief Description: every vehicle must be equipped with lamps, retroreflective devices and associated equipment that is required by the Technical Standards Document No. 108, which specifies requirements for original and replacement lamps, reflective devices and associated equipment fitted to new motor vehicles. Also includes requirements for location, special wiring, retroactive sheeting and headlights, and information on daytime running lamps.




Alternative Requirements for Headlamps

Brief Description: compliance requirements for alternative headlamps emitting white light.




Tire Selection and Rims for Motor Vehicles with a GVWR of 4,536 kg or Less

Brief Description: every vehicle with a GVWR of 4,536 kg must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 110, which specifies requirements for tire selection to prevent tire overloading. Also includes language and form requirements for prescribed information.





Brief Description: list of requirements for mirrors installed on a motor vehicle. Also includes specific requirements for inside and outside rearview mirrors and testing requirements.




Hood Latch System

Brief Description: each hood equipped to a vehicle must be provided with a hood latch system. A "hood" is any exterior movable body panel that is forward of the windshield and used to cover a vehicle's engine, luggage, storage or battery compartment. Also includes requirements for a front-opening hoods.




Theft Protection and Rollaway Prevention

Brief Description: compliance requirements for immobilization systems.




Vehicle Identification Number

Brief Description: with the exception of walk-in vans, every vehicle with a GVWR of 4,536 kg or less must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 114, which specifies vehicle performance requirements intended to reduce the incidence of crashes resulting from theft and accidental rollaway of motor vehicles. Also includes language, form and information requirements for vehicle identification numbers.




Motor Vehicle Break Fluids

Brief Description: the hydraulic break system of every vehicle  must contain brake fluid that conforms with the Technical Standards Document No. 116, which specifies requirements for power-operated window, partition and roof panel systems in order to minimize the likelihood of death or injury from their accidental operation.




Power-Operated Window, Partition and Roof Panel Systems

Brief Description: every power-operated window system, power-operated partition system and power-operated roof panel system fitted on a vehicle with a GVWR of 4,536 kg or less must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 118, which specifies requirements for power-operated window, partition and roof panel systems to minimize the likelihood of death or injury from their accidental operation.




Tire Selection and Rims for Motor Vehicles with a GVWR of More than 4,536kg

Brief Description: every vehicle with a GVWR of more than 4,536 kg must conform with the Technical Standard Document No. 120, which specifies tire and rim selection requirements and rim marking requirements. Also included are the load range symbol requirements for vehicles equipped with light-truck tires.




Accelerated Control Systems

Brief Description: every vehicle must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 124, which establishes requirements for the return of a vehicle's throttle to the idle position.




Electronic Stability Control Systems

Brief Description: every vehicle must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 126, which establishes performance and equipment requirements for electronic stability control (ESC) systems.




Light Vehicle Brake Systems

Brief Description: every vehicle with a GVWR of 3,500 kg or less must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 135, which specifies requirements for service brake and associated parking brake systems. Also included are language requirements and requirements for when a common indicator is used.




Occupancy Protection

Brief Description: compliance requirements for instrument panel s, seats, interior compartment doors, sun visors and arm rests.




Head Restraints

Brief Description: every vehicle with a GVWR of 4,536 kg or less must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 202, which specifies requirements for head restraints in order to reduce the frequency and severity of neck injury in rear-end and other collisions.




Driver Impact Protection and Steering Control System

Brief Description: compliance and testing requirements for a vehicle's steering control system.




Steering Column Rearward Displacement

Brief Description: testing requirements for vehicles with a GVWR of 4,536 kg or less and an unloaded vehicle mass of 2,495 kg or less. Testing requirements for steering columns and steering shafts regarding permissible displacements. 




Glazing Materials

Brief Description: compliance, testing and marking requirements for glazing material.




Door Locks and Door Retention Components

Brief Description: every vehicle that is equipped with side doors or back doors must conform with either (i) the Technical Standards Document No. 206, which specifies requirements for vehicle door locks and door retention components, including latches, hinges, and other supporting means, to minimize the likelihood of occupants being ejected from a vehicle as a result of impact; or (ii) the ECE Regulation No. 11.




Anchorage of Seats

Brief Description: every vehicle must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 207, which establishes requirements for seats, their attachment assemblies, and their installation in order to minimize the possibility of their failure as a result of vehicle impact.




Occupant Restraint Systems in Frontal Impact

Brief Description: includes requirements for seat belt installation, seat belt fit, warning systems, release mechanisms, crash protection, air bags, tension-relieving devices and accessibility of seat belts.




Seat Belt Assemblies

Brief Description: every vehicle must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 209, which specifies requirements for seat belt assemblies. Also includes  requirements for the webbing of seat belt assemblies.




Seat Belt Anchorage

Brief Description: installation, positioning and strength requirements for seat belt anchorages. Also includes information requirement regarding restraint systems.




User-ready Tether Anchorages for Restraint Systems

Brief Description: installation and availability  requirements for user-ready tether anchorages. Also includes anchorage position and strength requirements.




Lower Universal Anchorage Systems for Restraint Systems and Booster Cushions

Brief Description: contains general information for lower universal anchorage systems. Also includes installation, positioning, strength and testing requirements.




Windshield Mounting

Brief Description: testing requirements.




Built-in Child Restraint Systems and Built-in Booster Cushions

Brief Description: testing requirements and surface requirements. Also includes requirements for the webbing of belts provided with a built-in child restraint system. Buckle and belt requirements. Label requirements regarding instructions.




Side Door Strength

Brief Description: testing and positional requirements.





Brief Description: conformance requirements.



Roof Crush Resistance

Brief Description: every vehicle with a GVWR of 4,536 kg or less must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 216, which establishes strength requirements for the passenger compartment roof.




Windshield Zone Intrusion

Brief Description: testing requirements and requirements for the lower boundary of the windshield protected zone.




Rollover Protection

Brief Description: every vehicle that is built in two or more stages not using a chassis-cab with a GVWR of 4,536 kg or less, and every vehicle with a GVWR greater than 2,722 kg but not greater than 4,536 kg and with an altered roof, must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 220, which establishes performance requirements for rollover protection, or the Technical Standards Document No. 216, which is referred to in section 216 of Schedule IV.




Fuel System Integrity

Brief Description: every vehicle with a GVWR of 4,536 kg or less that is equipped with a fuel system that uses fuel with a boiling point of 0°C or higher as a source of energy for its propulsion must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 301, which specifies requirements for the integrity of motor vehicle fuel systems.




LPG Fuel System Integrity

Brief Description: testing requirements.




CNG Fuel System Integrity

Brief Description: testing and marking requirements for CNG cylinders.




Flammability of Interior Materials

Brief Description: the interior materials of every vehicle must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 302, which specifies burn resistance requirements for materials used in the occupant compartments of motor vehicles.




Electrolyte Spillage and Electrical Shock Protection

Brief Description: every vehicle with a GVWR of 4,536 kg or less that uses a nominal voltage of more than 60 volts direct current (VDC) or more than 30 volts alternating current (VAC) for its propulsion and that has an attainable speed of more than 40 km/hour over a distance of 1.6 km on a paved level surface must conform with the Technical Standards Document No. 305, which specifies requirements for limitations of electrolyte spillage, retention of electric energy storage/conversion devices, and protection from harmful electric shock during and after a crash.




Interior Trunk Release

Brief Description: every vehicle must conform to the Technical Standards Document No. 401, which establishes the requirements for providing a trunk release mechanism which makes it possible for a person trapped inside the trunk compartment of a passenger car to escape from the compartment. It is also noted that vehicles manufactured before September 1, 2010 need not be equipped with an interior trunk release.



Noise Emissions

Brief Description: noise testing requirements.



The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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