Maple Leaf

LAST UPDATED ON 2005-December-19!



What you read here is a report of our experiences importing a class A motorhome. Be forewarned that we have absolutely no experience with importing other types of recreational vehicles (e.g., towables like fifth wheels and travel trailers). If you're importing any other sort of RV you may use our experiences as a starting point, but many of the regulations and strategies will be different. You're going to have to improvise as you go along.


For nearly all motorhomes the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is the number on the chassis, not the engine block or any part of the superstructure. The logic should be obvious: The engine or any part of the superstructure may be replaced at any time that it is damaged or begins to fail, and any associated number will change as well. The chassis is the fundamental part of the vehicle and its number is literally etched in steel!


We have included a copy of our VEHICLE IMPORT - FORM 1 so you will know what one looks like. Be forewarned that this is a 50 Kb graphic and will require some time to load on a slow connection.



You'll have about two weeks between the time that you arrive home and the arrival of the envelope from the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV). As soon as possible, send a letter to the MANUFACTURER OF THE CHASSIS for your RV. For motorhomes that might be Ford, Freightliner or Workhorse. For towables, that might be the RV's manufacturer of record as listed on the Title. We suggest that you call the company first to verify the correct department and address for the letter to avoid delays.

That letter should inform them that you are importing a recreational vehicle into Canada and require a formal itemization of any and all recalls made against the vehicle. You will then have to enumerate the manufacturer, make, model, year and VIN (vehicle identification number). Double check the data that you list against the actual tags, labels and ID plates on the RV to insure accuracy. If there is any confusion or multiplicity in these items you should list them all and explain that fact in your letter, stating that "one or more of the following may apply."

Next, you should send a similar letter to the MANUFACTURER OF THE RECREATIONAL VEHICLE. That letter should inform them that you are importing a recreational vehicle into Canada and require a formal itemization of any and all recalls made against the vehicle. You will then have to enumerate the make, model, year and VIN (vehicle identification number). Double check the data that you list against the actual tags, labels and ID plates on the RV to insure accuracy. If there is any confusion or multiplicity in these items you should list them all and explain that fact in your letter, stating that "one or more of the following may apply."

In this case, duplicating your efforts is not necessarily a waste of time. There are several reasons for this.

Hopefully, one or the other or both will respond before the RIV's letter arrives.

The RIV inspection normally does not concern itself with the individual parts and appliances that comprise the coach itself. This includes such items as the refrigerator, water heater, microwave, etc. Do not waste your efforts by attempting to get such letters from the manufacturers of these items unless an advance discussion with the inspector indicates that they are required. (Or, go find another Inspection Centre and another inspector!)


The envelope that you receive from the RIV will contain, at a minimum, a cover letter, a REGISTRAR OF IMPORTED VEHICLES MODIFICATION AND INSPECTION - FORM 2 and a list of authorized inspection stations in Canada arranged by province. We'll discuss each in detail.


For your reference we are including a copy of the cover letter that they sent to us so you'll know what to expect. Be forewarned, however, that the letter they send to you may be entirely different. This is a 77 Kb graphic that will take some appreciable time to load, especially on a slow connection.

Note that there is a deadline date specified, beyond which they threaten to do dire things to you and your family. Also note that you can get that date extended if you have a good reason. Merely send them a letter or FAX in advance.

The "Recall Clearance Documentation" that they refer to are the letters from the various manufacturers that we discussed above.

Their statement regarding taking your vehicle to a Canadian Tire store will be discussed more fully below.


You can view a copy of our REGISTRAR OF IMPORTED VEHICLES MODIFICATION AND INSPECTION - FORM 2, but this is a huge file (127 Kb) and will take forever to download on a slow connection. We have reproduced the critical section, headed "MODIFICATIONS REQUIRED TO CONFORM TO CANADA MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY STANDARDS," here to save you the lengthy download. In it, the RIV lists those modifications that must be made and those requirements that must be met before your RV may be legally registered in Canada. Because this is so important we'll discuss each point in turn. Be forewarned that yours will almost surely possess additional or different entries. Use this only as an example.

RIV Nitty-Gritty



We cannot emphasize too strongly that the place to go for answers to questions about the RIV inspection is probably the inspector himself at the Inspection Centre of choice. Not only does this supply you with the front-line scoop on how your RV will be inspected, but it also opens up a rapport between they and you.

If the staff at an Inspection Centre fails to supply meaningful answers or seems not to have time to deal with you, find another Inspection Centre! Though it seems at first that your options are very limited, they in fact are not.


The wording in the RIV's cover letter and the information given at the border all point preferentially towards Canadian Tire, tacitly implying that they are the only businesses capable of doing the RIV inspection. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If an importer is not alert enough to catch the inconsistencies, they are funnelled to Canadian Tire with no opportunity for choosing a different inspection centre.

We judge this to be a serious error in the conduct and performance of a government department because it preferentially promotes an unfair advantage for Canadian Tire over its competitors.

A big black mark for the RIV!


If questioned closely, the Alberta provincial officials probably would have some very convincing logic for organizing out-of-province vehicle inspections the way they did, but from where we sit, it looks pretty dumb! Surely, with a little extra effort they could have come up with a more enlightened system.

Alberta divides their vehicle inspection permits into two broad categories: hydraulic brakes and air brakes (presumably, "air over hydraulic" is considered under pure air brakes), thus splitting RVs and medium duty trucks right down the middle.

Those garages that routinely deal with semi-tractors and five ton deliver trucks generally only bother to get a permit to inspect air brakes. If your motorhome uses air brakes (e.g., large, diesel pushers) you go to one of these.

Your friendly neighbourhood gas station or garage, whose emphasis is passenger cars and light trucks, generally only bothers to get the permit to perform hydraulic out-of-province vehicle inspections. So, if your imported vehicle possesses hydraulic brakes, you go to a neighbourhood garage, right? WRONG! Not if it's a ten ton motorhome with hydraulic brakes!

In that case you have to find one of those rare birds that possesses a lift capable of handling over ten tons PLUS a permit to inspect hydraulic brakes.


In all fairness we have to report that the staff at Big Rig tried very hard to accommodate us, they were simply foiled by circumstances. Based on their efforts alone we would recommend them highly. A big gold star to Big Rig!

"INSPECTION CENTRE: Check this box ONLY if metric speedometer labels if required."
Note that this is a direct quotation and must be read with tongue in cheek! Our inspector interpreted this to mean that he should check the box if and only if metric speedometer labels were required to be added at inspection time. The RIV website states that the inspection facility is supposed to have these labels available for application at the time of inspection. If you need them you might call the inspection facility of choice and confirm this, possibly asking them for the appropriate labels in advance of the inspection so that you can apply them yourself and save the onerous installation fee.

Basically, every American made vehicle has come with the speedometer marked in both miles and kilometres per hour for years. We presume that this is kept here merely "just in case."
"INSPECTION CENTRE: attach miles odometer label if required."
If the odometer, which records the total distance the vehicle has travelled, reads in miles, a specific label should be applied to that effect to avoid confusion. This is a trivial point and our inspector merely smiled and went on to the next item.
"This vehicle requires daytime running lights."
Do the headlamps come on automatically as you turn the key in the ignition? Most later models do. If they don't you'll have to either contact the manufacturer about acquiring the hardware to correct this problem or take your motorhome to an authorized dealer to modify it.
"This vehicle requires a French SRS Maintenance label if it is equipped with an airbag that requires periodic maintenance."
As far as we can determine, our Dolphin does not possess airbags so we can offer little insight on this entry. If you suspect that your RV has airbags and that they require periodic maintenance you might consult either your proposed inspector, the manufacturer or a local dealer for that particular make and model RV to determine exactly what is required.
"Recall documentation."
This includes one or more formal letters from the chassis and coach manufacturers that we discussed above. You will also need to retain any and all parts and labour receipts and completed work orders to prove that you did indeed have the modifications done.
"Has this vehicle been modified?"
From their perspective, yes. The bare chassis was the original "vehicle" and the RV manufacturer modified it by building the coach on top of it.
"If yes, is the final stage manufacturers label affixed?"
It better be or you're in deep trouble! You should have checked for this before you bought it. Actually, Customs probably wouldn't have allowed it across the border without such labels.
"If modified, please indicate the name of the final stage manufacturer:"
In our case that would be "National RV." In your case it might be "Fleetwood," Winnebago," "Shasta" or any of several hundred other manufacturers. Note that this is NOT the model name (e.g., neither Dolphin, Nash nor Santara).
"Air bag equipped vehicles are required to have functioning air bags at time of inspection."
This is pretty much self-explanatory. Our question is how would one know without setting them off? In which case they would no longer be functional and we'd fail the test. Obviously, there's got to be a way to tell without destructive testing and this is a good example of why Stan isn't a mechanic!
"Contact RIV immediately if this is a class B motorhome as it is INADMISSIBLE and will FAIL the inspection."
Need we say more? But you already knew this because you read it on another of our webpages and when you perused the RIV website, no?
"Please confirm make/model."
Alright, so maybe the inspector is brain damaged and needs to be reminded. Or, maybe some bureaucrat assumes everybody else in the world is as brain dead as they are!
"Please confirm manufacturer."

For some reason the RIV failed to mention awnings on our Dolphin. Normally, awnings must be removed before the inspection so that the maximum width of the vehicle falls within the maximum limits set by law. However, we could not find what that width was from the morass of Canadian government webpages. In the USA it's 102", translating to 259 centimetres.

We've said this before and we'll say it again. If the awnings' widths are an issue, remove them and carefully seal any holes to keep weather and vermin out. Get the inspection, then replace the awnings. The same goes for any other changes not in your best interests.


The trick is to get the required modifications done competently with as little cash outlay as possible. You have at least these options:

Anyone who is mechanically adept may be able to perform some or all these modifications themself in their own garage or workshop, thus saving considerable money. Just remember that these modifications must be done to professional standards. Jury-rigged, amateurish, band-aid solutions will not be acceptable. Even then, you may have trouble convincing the inspector (usually the service manager at a Canadian Tire store or some car dealership) that you performed them properly if they are given reason to believe that you did them yourself. In that case it's probably a good idea to contact the inspector before the fact to discuss your intentions and qualifications lest you waste a lot of time and effort on the project. Also, remember that if you botch the job, it's your fault, your responsibility and your expense.
Do you have a good friend or relative who is a good mechanic and trustworthy to boot? Enough so that you'd trust him with your life's savings? Remember, too, that if your buddy botches the job, not only might you have to pay someone else big bucks to correct it, but you might also lose a good buddy in the process!
Many such modifications can be done by a neighbourhood garage. Generally their hourly rates are lower than the big dealerships. The danger here is that an automotive mechanic may not be familiar with the intricacies of something as different and complex as a full-fledged motorhome, and may either take significantly longer to perform the task, or botch it entirely.
One would presume that the technicians here would be familiar with your make and model coach, and be competent to perform the modifications. One can hope, anyway. But for a price!
Virtually all approved inspection centres are either Canadian Tire stores or auto/truck dealerships. As such, they all have their own garages and mechanics and, at least in theory, can do the required work. However, they all have the same failings itemized under "Local Talent" above, but at a significantly higher price.


The last item in the RIV's mailing is a list of all non-Canadian Tire FEDERAL INSPECTION CENTRES listed alphabetically by province. We're not going to use the bandwidth to supply you with a copy of the list as there's nothing magic about it and you'll get your own copy soon enough.

The information given to us at the border and that presented in the cover letter are a bit misleading. While it is true that many, if not all, Canadian Tire Stores in Canada can perform the RIV inspection, there are lots of other businesses that can as well. But that fact is not clearly stated and can only be inferred if you carefully read a single sentence in their cover letter and apply considerable creative insight (i.e., "think outside the box"). We quote:

Only after you find the list of the other inspection stations, and only after you think about the issue a while do you understand that the sentence should read

Thus, if you have some reason for not choosing Canadian Tire you do have alternatives. YOU'VE BEEN ADVISED!


So now you've made all the modifications required and are ready for the inspection. Call the inspection centre of choice and make an appointment. When you arrive for the appointment, you should have your copies of FORM 1 and FORM 2, all the recall documentation sent to you by both the chassis manufacturer and the coach manufacturer, all sorts of receipts and signed work orders indicating that the required modifications have been made, and a big smile.

At that point the inspector will ask to be shown the RV and go over it, checking off each item on FORM 2 as he does so. He will also make a special point of confirming the VIN as it appears on the vehicle's labels and paper documentation. It takes about ten minutes. If you've already laid the groundwork by discussing the process with them, it may take even less time.

At that point they sign and stamp your copy of FORM 1, keeping one copy to FAX back to Toronto. If you paid for the inspection at the border you may now drive off with that big grim on your face. If you didn't, get out your cheque book or your Interac card and pay the man $182. Then drive off with that big grin on your face!


A few weeks after the inspection we received a CANADA CERTIFICATION LABEL from the RIV to be affixed next to all the others in the cabinet above the driver's seat.


The province, as they say, was a horse of a different colour!

Before we proceed we need to stress that our experience is with the Province of Alberta only and with a motorhome only. Each Canadian province and territory suffers from its own brand of insanity and their methods with dealing with registering an imported RV will vary. We'll talk about our experience in Alberta and you'll have to wing it if you live anywhere else.


Once we had the approved RIV FORM 1 in our hands we had to arrange for an "Out Of Province" inspection for Alberta. We had to find a friendly neighbourhood Alberta Registry Agent, saunter in and pick up a REQUEST FOR VEHICLE INSPECTION. This did not present an overwhelming problem.

However, right after that is where the problems begin.


The inspection involves many things, but the key item is that the vehicle must be hoisted, the wheels removed and the calipers, pads and disks or drums and shoes examined and measured.

The mantra holds that just about any mechanic or garage in the province can do the inspection, so we started calling around Calgary to find someone who would. Just about everybody we called said "Sure we can! Just bring it over. It only takes about an hour." And, virtually every garage we called would charge $90 to $100 for the inspection.

However, closer questioning revealed a serious snag. The dry motorhome weighs something like 18,000 pounds (8,200 kg) and is 36 feet (eleven metres) long. Garages that can accommodate a vehicle that size and weight are not resident in every neighbourhood. The garages that we had called clearly needed to do a quick reality check. Where to look, then?


One of the obvious solutions was to look for garages that serviced big trucks like semi-tractors and five ton delivery trucks. We found one garage, Big Rig Lube & Service, Inc. (403-273-2502) that claimed that they could do the job, but when we finally arrived we ran into another snag. They were approved for inspecting vehicles with air brakes (as in semi-tractors) but not vehicles with hydraulic brakes. (See the sidebar.)

So, we had to return the motorhome to its storage lot and look for another garage that could handle the job.

After many more calls we finally tracked down a branch of Fountain Tire that could do the job. In fact, we drove past their installation a few days before the appointment and they had two motorhomes in their drive waiting for service. This is not too surprising since they are right behind a stretch of a major thoroughfare (Barlow Trail) that is sometimes called RV Alley! We presume that they get a lot of subcontract business from the numerous RV dealerships there. We made the appointment, showed up at the appointed time and presented the motorhome.

They were quite busy and had some trouble getting the Dolphin into a service bay because another truck had been partly dismantled there and couldn't be moved. So, their technician grabbed four BIG floor jacks and hoisted the motorhome off the pavement at a level spot just outside the garage. The motorhome has disk brakes on all four corners bigger than most car's wheel covers. The differential is the size of a bushel basket. For a non-mechanic like Stan, it was impressive!

The entire project took almost all day and we were relieved for several reasons when Fountain Tire handed us the approved OUT OF PROVINCE VEHICLE INSPECTION CERTIFICATE. (Not only did we want the Duchess approved, but the chairs in Fountain Tire's waiting room were beastly hard on Stan's buns!)

The fee, you ask? $200.

We are including a copy of the approved certificate so you can see what one looks like. Be forewarned that it's a huge file (96 Kb) and will take some time to download on a slow connection.

One additional item: Do you remember the issue of the oil slick on the right rear wheel? On the Dolphin, all four wheels' bearings are immersed in oil rather than packed with grease, and some oil had apparently merely been spilled while servicing the motorhome before we purchased it. We can now breath a big sigh of relief. The wheel isn't going to fall of!


Having gotten the required "Out of Province Inspection" we immediately beat a hasty return to an Alberta Registry branch, presented the Texas Title, notarized Bill of Sale, approved FORM 1, Out-of-Province Certificate, proof of insurance and $64. In return the clerk gave us a Vehicle Registration Certificate and a license plate.

Finally, the Odyssey was completed!

The Duchess was, indeed, now a Canadian!


BUYUSA.GOV -- U.S. Commercial Service: An overview of bringing US goods into Canada set up by the US Government.

TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS TO CANADA by the U.S. Department of State.


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Copyright © 2004, Stanley A. Schultz and Marguerite J. Schultz.
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This page was initially created on 2004-March-16.
The last revision occurred on 2005-December-19.