Drive-throughs are difficult, and card-operated parking ramps are worse. But for people who own right-hand-drive cars in the United States, the infrequent headaches are the price they pay for a unique kind of fun.
They might not have the wow factor of a Lamborghini, but right-hand-drive cars (besides the mail carrier's) elicit double-takes on North American roads just the same.
Roughly a third of the world's nations drive on the left side of the road, and cars from Australia, Britain and Japan with the driver's cockpit on the "shotgun" side are particularly desirable. Cars imported into the United States must pass federal safety and emission standards, but the positioning of the steering wheel isn't an issue.
Jeff Zurschmeide grew up in a family of automotive enthusiasts. The Portland resident's father loved British sports cars and passed that appreciation onto him. So when he got the chance to own a right-hand-drive 1976 Austin Mini 1000, he jumped at the opportunity.
"You might think that learning to shift with your left hand would be hard," Zurschmeide said, "but it's not. The hard thing to learn to do is to look up and left for the rearview mirror, instead of up and right."
Phil Hansford's right-hand-driving ways began in 2006. A teacher in Airdrie, Alberta, he spends as much time in nature as he can — mountain biking, camping, hiking — and a capable four-wheel-drive vehicle is essential to get him off the grid. He realized he could import vehicles he couldn't get in North America — short-wheelbase diesel SUVs, with manual transmissions, for example.
In North America, "aside from a rare few, pretty much every SUV is a V6," he added. "Our choice in diesels is limited to full-size pickups. Manual trans? Almost extinct in every vehicular application."
He and his wife own four right-hand-drive SUVs: two 1999 Toyota Land Cruisers (one a diesel), a two-door Mitsubishi Pajero and their crown jewel, a 1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution. Hansford said that this was a special model made for rally racing and that Mitsubishi sold only 2,500 of them. His is No. 581.
The right-hand-drive world isn't limited to sports cars and SUVs. A case in point: a 1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon. Built in Japan, this oddball is powered by a turbo diesel engine, with a manual transmission, and can be used as a cargo van or a passenger van for up to seven people, or sleeping quarters for two when camping.
One caveat: It's hardly a speed demon. There's even a warning system that makes a xylophone-like dinging when it tops 62 miles per hour — 100 kilometers per hour.
Which brings up another point: The speedometers in the foreign-built cars are calibrated in kilometers, so it helps if the driver is good at math (55 mph is about 88 kph). Additionally, fender-mounted mirrors on some of the vehicles (for curbside parking) seem to throw people off.
And parts can be hard to get. Online forums, international parts websites and social media groups can be great assets.
Life on the right side of the car has some quirks. "Drive-throughs are best done when you have a passenger," Hansford said. In some cars, the turn signal and wiper stalks are often opposite their North American counterparts. And Zurschmeide, who owns both left- and right-hand-drive Minis, sometimes walks up to the wrong side of the car when he wants to drive.
And he's not the only one.
"The expletives that came out of the old tire shop guy's mouth when he had to drive my truck into the shop," Hansford said, "I still laugh just thinking about it."