From Ontario to Michigan, in 50 easy steps

Written by Alan Lupsha

What's funny, pleasant, easy, or humane about trying to transfer your car from Ontario to Michigan?

Absolutely nothing.

For dramatic purposes, this document has been written in second person.

Since you've moved to the US and you work in Michigan, you want to transfer your car there as well, thus you wish to change from Ontario plates to Michigan plates. That has its advantages. First of all, fewer people discriminate against you having a car from Canada, and secondly, you belong more to Michigan, your car insurance is cheaper, and you're psychologically in one place instead of two.

Well, first of all, you need to go to the Secretary of State for the license plates transfer. This office is the equivalent of Ontario's Ministry Of Transportation. You go there this during work hours, since the Secretary of State office closes at 5pm every day, except Wednesdays, when it closes at 7pm. You wait an hour until your turn comes up, and then you talk to the clerk person. You're told that in order to transfer your car, you need to show proof of insurance. "Fine", you say, and you walk out.

You call your insurance company, and you request them to fax you a copy of your insurance file. Since you're a new customer, they can't do this until you show up in the computer, something which can take up to 3 days. You give your insurance company the phone number from the Secretary of State office, as instructed by the clerk lady. Big mistake. After numerous calls to you insurance company, the fax still doesn't come through. You get your dad to give you his fax number from work, and instruct the insurance company to fax your information there. After 2 days of this hassle, you get very fed up, and call your insurance company again, asking for a supervisor. A little shaken, the person who picked up takes the effort to walk to the fax machine themselves and fax you the information. Eventually, you get your fax, stating that you have insurance.

You go back to the Secretary of State, where you're told that the fax is no good, since it must clearly state on it "NO FAULT" insurance. You go back and call your insurance company, and get them to fax you a document showing that you have a "no fault" insurance. Back you go to the Secretary of State. The insurance paper is good, they say. However, it just so happens that they forgot to tell you that in order to transfer a car from Ontario to Michigan, you need to get a customs form, namely US Customs Form 7501. You thank them for their great service, and leave.

The hunt for the US Customs 7501 Form begins. You drive to the border, drive into Canada, pass Canadian customs and pay toll, then make a u-turn and return to US Customs, asking to go to their office. Once in the office, you're told that in order to obtain that US Customs Form, you need to get a letter that shows that your car meets Michigan EPA and DOT standards (something like emission tests and safety standards). You can get this letter from any Toyota dealer, you're told. Your Canadian license plates are now expired. You figure that you might be able to get your plates without the US Customs form. You go to a different Secretary of State. They flip through a huge book, and request the same customs form. You leave. You go to yet another Secretary of State office. Same story. Stressed beyond belief, you beg the lady at counter to issue you some temporary plates, and after a lot of pleas, she gives you a piece of paper to stick on your back windshield, for only $10, which expires at the end of the month. That's your temporary plate. Millions of "thank you's" flash through your mind. You have un-expired plates now. You're driving legally once again.

You go to a Toyota dealer in Michigan, and you ask for this EPA/DOT letter, showing that your Toyota complies with Michigan standards. They've never heard of EPA and DOT, and they say that since Ontario standards are higher than Michigan, you can't possibly need that letter. They tell you to get lost, and you thank them.

You decide to drive to the other US/Canada border, namely Port Huron/Sarnia. Things might be different there, and they might not require the EPA/DOT letter in order to give you that cursed customs form. You travel for an hour, and reach the Bluewater Bridge, and wait one hour to get into Canada, and another 40 minutes to get back to US customs. They give you a pamphlet which shows that you need the EPA/DOT letter. You bow your head down in shame and drive back home, another hour through the traffic. There is a lot of construction on the I94, and a lot of cars are waiting to get off the highway for the annual air show. Eventually, you reach home.

You decide to go to a second Toyota dealer. They are ready to send you for inspection, and they book you to come for inspection in 1 week. You can't afford a week, because your temporary license plates will be expired by that time! What do you do? You call a third Toyota dealer, who can do a safety test for you for the small price of only $160 US.

You decide that instead of wasting $160, you can contact the Woodbridge Toyota dealer who sold you the car in the first place, and ask for the documents. You make a collect call to Woodbridge Toyota, at 905-851-3993, and are told that they have no idea what the EPA and DOT standards are for Michigan, and thus you need to call Toyota Canada and get those documents. Good thing you didn't waste the $160 on the safety test and you might've ended up without the necessary EPA/DOT letter as well.

You call the 1-888-869-6828 Toyota Canada phone number, and Francine picks up.
Kindly, you explain how urgent this EPA and DOT document is, Francine requests that you fax a copy of your driver's license, as well as valid registration of the car. You photocopy your Michigan driver's license, both sides, as well as that expired green registration paper from Ontario, along with the Michigan temporary registration paper, which is valid for only a week. You fax all this, along with a letter explaining your request, situation, and urgency. You write in huge bold letters the words "very urgent", and put that on all the pages. To make sure everything is all right, you call back to check that the fax went through, and all the information you've sent is sufficient. You ask for Francine, and she says that the people who received your fax are in a different building, and they'll scan your fax and put it into the computer as soon as they get to it. Oh, and she forgot to mention that the computer shows that your car is still being leased, thus you don't own it. You need to call Toyota Financial to get a fax saying otherwise.

You call Toyota Financial at 1-800-874-8822 and wait 20 minutes, until a nice French dude answers. You make it as simple as possible, and explain that you need a paper showing you own the car, and it's not leased. You paid cash for the car, you should at least get that document! He gets your fax number, and tells you that he'll fax the "lease release" document.

The fax didn't come through yet. You know how slow some office people are, so you call the other Toyota Financial phone number, namely the "End of Lease" phone number at 1-800-286-0652. The lady says that your car does NOT appear anywhere in their system, even though it did show up 30 minutes ago, when you talked with Francoise. "Jesus!" you say. Maybe they have two completely different computer systems, what a bunch of morons!

You call the main Toyota Financial number again, and Keisha answers, telling you that they can't release the "your car belongs to you and no one is leasing it" document. She advises that you call the place where you bought your car, namely Woodbridge Toyota, and they can get that document for you. But of course. Things can only get MORE messed up.

You call Woodbridge Toyota again (which by the way has the most possibly annoying commercials while you're on hold on the phone), and keep repeating your story, saying that you paid cash for a car that Toyota Canada's computer says it's still being leased. Eventually you get transferred around until you reach Vinnie, a very nice guy with a strong accent, a guy who is down to earth and will solve your problem. He finally sees your name in the computer, and yes, it shows you paid cash for the car, over a year ago! He updates the information in his computer, which he says will update instantly in the Toyota Canada's computer as well. You don't believe anything anymore. At this point, you do not believe anything anyone tells you.

You call Toyota Canada again, can't reach Francine, the first lady who you talked with, but the guy who picked up (Randy) says he can help you. He asks you if you managed to get the "lease release" letter. You nicely tell him that since it shows in the computer that you own the car already, you don't need a "lease release" letter anymore. Moron! What is this world coming to?! He agrees that you don't need the release letter, and is nice enough to go look for the fax papers with your photocopied license and registration. You wait 10 minutes on the phone. He has your documents, and inspects them for another 5 minutes. He tells you that you'll get your precious EPA and DOT letter by tomorrow. You beg for it to be done faster, and tell him to note that you need it by today. He notes that down. Now you wait... impatiently... for that letter.

You're an impatient person, you can't wait. You're aware of how perfect the Canadian office system works. You are also very aware that you are not in Japan, a simple difference which would not create all this hassle, since their computers match with each other, and you don't get every moron who picks up the phone to give you totally contradicting information. You call Toyota Canada again, knowing that someone else will pick up. The young girl who picks up, looks in your account, and tells you that your compliance letter is being drafted as we speak, and that "we'll do our best to get it done by today". You request once again that you have the word "urgent" placed in your file. It's funny though that she doesn't have your fax number where to send the letter. If you didn't call a second time, you would've been waiting forever! You give her the fax number once again, and she writes it somewhere in your file.

Hope fades, after you call two more times, and you find out that your letter is still being prepared. Randy is probably annoyed by you, but he keeps his professionalism high, thanking you for calling every time. How many hours does it take to create and fax a letter? 6 hours, so far. Then, you call them again. No, the letter is not finished. Randy pretends to be sorry for your situation, but he consoles you by telling you that they'll be working on the letter tomorrow as well. Sadly, you lose hope in life.

The next morning, you call again, and James tells you that the letter is still being prepared. You go on the Internet and look for "EPA DOT Toyota" and find some phone numbers you can call. Toyota USA, at (800) 331-4331 might just do the trick. They take all your information, and they fax you some documents, which apparently have the turn-around time of two weeks. You note that it is very urgent, and the guy puts a note in your computer mentioning that.

You walk down the fax machine. You see "Toyota" on one of the pages. It's for you! Toyota USA sent all the documents for you to fill out. Underneath everything, you find a fax from Toyota Canada! Unbelievable! You read it. You comply, to some extent, except for your odometer and certain markings. It seems like it's good enough to take to the border. You don't know what to do. Without the need of Toyota USA anymore, you stand up joyfully.

You quickly write an email to your boss, telling him that you'll be out of the office for 2 hours, and drive towards the border. Get enough cash out of the bank, in case you need to pay customs, and fill up gas. You reach the Ambassador Bridge at the Windsor-Detroit border. There is a line-up of cars of about an hour at least, as you know from your previous experiences. You dodge traffic, and go through shortcuts on tiny Detroit streets, until you reach Porter Street, and for a few feet you go the wrong way on the one way street, reaching the desired shortcut and passing that hour-long wait of traffic. After you pay the toll and cross the bridge, you see a traffic jam of about 30 minutes to cross into Canada. You kindly ask the traffic lady who walks by your car, if she can let you make a U-turn, so that you can return to the US customs. She lets you, and you're on your way.

After waiting 10 minutes at the US customs booth, while an older gentleman explains to a young trainee what to do, you're directed to the customs office, where you can import your car from Canada to the US. You fill out 3 forms, get served fairly quickly, and get your US Customs Form 7501 form, which you so badly need for the Secretary of State to give you plates. To your surprise, you aren't charged anything for customs here, unlike it would've been the case at the Port Huron/Sarnia border. Happily, you leave.

"Now, wait a minute", you remember. They never even checked your letter that says that your car passes USA EPA and DOT standards! They never asked you for it, and they didn't know you had it. You could've possibly got away with it. Possibly, that is. All that hassle and mental anguish!

You fly back to the Secretary of State, use your pink return pass so that you don't have to wait an hour in line again, and then called by the clerk lady. She tells you that the US Customs Form 7501 is unreadable, since it's an indigo copy, but she'll check with her supervisor, just in case. If you're over 65, a heart attack is probably unavoidable at this point. But, you're 25, you can handle the stress. She returns, saying that they're accepting your form. You get asked how much your car cost when you bought it. "$2000", you say. Then, she asks you how much you would pay for the same car today. "$1400", you say. Fine. She charges you a total of $160, gives you a new temporary registration paper, and a brand new orange Mackinac Bridge car plate. "Thank you, Lord", you think, and walk away.

And now, finally, you have plates.