Why Your Next 4WD Should be a Right Hand Drive

It has been said that Enzo Ferrari was asked this question “What is better, right or left hand drive?”, to which Enzo responded something like “Of course the right hand drive is better. I would prefer to shift with my weak hand and steer with my strong one”. Enzo has a good point, as most drivers are right handed, so the subtle, precise, and strenuous operation of the steering wheel should be handled by the strong hand, and the more intermittent and less critical action of shifting be performed by the less dexterous limb. After driving right hand drives (RHD) on all seven continents, and about 100,000 miles, I would agree with Mr. Ferrari.

So, why are there different handed vehicles to begin with? The origins are somewhat disputed, but 161 countries drive on the right with LHD vehicles and 75 countries drive on the left, with RHD vehicles. There are a few bizarre outliers, like the Far East of Russia, Burma, etc., where RHD vehicles dominate roadways regulated to driving on the right. It is believed the Romans rode and operated carts on the left side of the road, and that most rider traffic (horseback) traveled on the left, as it allowed the (typically) right-handed gentleman to draw and engage his sword. The sword is what resulted in the riding on the right, as Napoleon was left handed and changed the protocol in 1792 from keep-left to keep-right. With the history lesson out of the way, why does any of this RHD stuff mater to adventure travelers in North America? Because, 1990 1HDT, 5-Speed 80 Series Land Cruiser!

HJ61 (8)
Right Hand Drive Mega Cruiser. I give that a big thumbs up! So many cool trucks are right hand drive because so many of the trucks we love are designed and produced in RHD countries.

The United States has this draconian regulation that limits foreign vehicle importation to automobiles 25 years or older. This is why a new 2014 diesel Land Cruiser cannot be purchased in Gibraltar (http://www.toyota-gib.com/) and shipped here for your use. The vehicle has not been certified to comply with NHTSA, EPA or DOT requirements. However, once a vehicle hits 25 years from the date of manufacture, it can be imported. This is a big deal, particularly since diesel 80 series Land Cruisers will be hitting the quarter-century mark in January of 2015. HJ61 Toyotas are already 25 years old, as are diesel Defenders and the nearly indestructible Hilux, all with diesel motors, all awesome. We believe that these pinnacle overland trucks will be one of the most significant benefits to the American backcountry traveler since the invention of the GPS.

A mid-1980s 90 Series Land Rover (commonly referred as a Defender, but this is still a few years before the Defender “brand” was introduced). Available from Green Mountain Rovers

Pros and Cons of Right Hand Drive

1. The quality, low mileage JDM imports
2. Imports are typically diesel, an advantage to trail performance and efficiency
3. You develop a new skill. Traveling anywhere and operating either hand drive is now easy
4. Amaze your friends and terrify your enemies, or at least the person that thinks your dog is driving. . .

1. You will walk to the wrong side (a few times)
2. You will hit the windshield wiper instead of the turn indicator (a few hundred times)
3. It will take you much longer to get anywhere, as everyone will want to ask about your sweet diesel Land Cruiser
4. Every drive through becomes an expedition. . .


A Right Hand Drive HJ61 Land Cruiser. We drove this truck for over a month, including some serious backcountry exploration in Utah. It drove at 80mph on the highway and still managed over 20 miles per gallon from the turbo diesel. The high roof and other available options make these trucks incredible overland options. Available from Land Cruisers Direct

Driving Right Hand Drive, Every Day

It seems the only individuals that don’t like RHDs are the people that have never driven one. These are coincidentally the same people that warn against travel in Baja, having never been there. However, the fact remains, RHD is no big deal. Sure, the first few miles will require some adjustment, mostly to stop hitting the windshield wipers instead of the turn indicators. A few people will smack their right hand into the door grabbing for the shifter with the wrong hand. Others will drive way too close to the center divider until the orientation of the truck becomes more natural. In most cases, a competent driver will adjust within minutes. There are a few inconveniences that never go away, like the drive through lane, although I have just started backing through the coffee shop- everyone smiles. I also backed through the Jack in the Box drive through- no one noticed. Toll booths are pretty easy to manage by leaning over the passenger seat. For driving safety, there is one primary considerations; line of sight. Line of sight affected for both right hand turns and for passing. In reality, not a whole lot of passing happens with a diesel Defender or 70 Series Land Cruiser. You just learn to slow down and enjoy the cruise, or you lean over a little bit and look for a safe pass. While these items are of note, they would never keep me from owning a RHD. In fact, a recent study of road safety in Canada showed that RHDs were actually LESS LIKELY to have an accident. Most likely because of the type of people that buy RHDs- they are car people.

There are hundreds of reasons to buy a RHD, and those reasons are the dozens of dream vehicles coming across the pond. A browse of the webpage at Land Cruisers Direct will make you a convert, as will a peruse of Dividing Creek Imports or Green Mountain Rovers. Exciting times we live in- enjoy it!

Land Cruiser Importer: 

Land Cruisers Direct
801-376-3332 or email info@landcruisersdirect.com

Defender Importers:

Dividing Creek Imports

Green Mountain Rovers


A late 1980s Ex-MOD 110 (Defender). These trucks are tough and fitted with a reasonably reliable (but slow) 2.5-liter Diesel.

Note on Vehicle Imports: Unfortunately, there have been some seriously shady importers of Defenders over the past few years. It is critical that the vehicle you are importing is actually 25+ years old and not significantly modified from stock. If it has a Puma diesel, then that Defender is a sham. If you can plug in an OBDII into a Land Cruiser or Defender, it is not legal. Avoid the problems and DHS showing up at your door. Do the research and buy from a reputable importer like the ones linked above.
J8_FieldThe RHD J8 Jeep was part of our training fleet for over three years and allowed near-endless RHD testing in the field and with dozens of military and contract operators.

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Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar travels include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. He lives in Prescott, Arizona