By on March 30, 2015



Sure, why not?

Jeremy writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Greetings (again) from Australia. I’ve got a question regarding converting from left- to right-hand-drive. No idea if you’re the right person to send this to (you could do worse – SM) but I’ll send it anyway.

My question is this – is it (relatively) easier converting a mid- or rear-engined car from LHD to RHD? My very limited understanding is that, aside from things like the dash and trim that would need to be made, the biggest technical problem is where to feed the steering column, as it’s generally got a nice path through/under the engine/ancillaries etc etc. So would it be theoretically easier if the engine wasn’t there in the first place?

I’m assuming that things like the pedal box etc are easier to shift over.

This all came to my head looking at the new Ford GT, and lamenting on the fact that even if I had the money, I doubt I’d ever see one in our part of the world. That makes me sad.

Take care,

Sajeev answers:

From what I’ve seen while upgrading my RHD Ford Sierra with engine/transmission/suspension components from LHD vehicles available stateside, the engine’s location doesn’t matter. Cars are modular, especially those with steering (rack) and chassis (subframe?) parts specifically engineered for RHD markets. The location of the engine bay on the body doesn’t matter.

Steering columns, shafts and boxes/racks are never in the way of an engine, they mount to one side and the engine’s in the center.  The hard part is making or possibly procuring right hand drive conversion parts that mirror the LHD ones.

Since the new Ford GT is far from a Ford-based initiative, odds are it uses steering, suspension and maybe even chassis components previously designed, tested and road legal in another life. This saves time and money, the last Ford GT was full of screwball parts: Focus steering column and engine air filters, Econoline inside door releases, signal lights from the 2001-2002 Cougar headlight assembly, etc.  Granted this new GT is far more expensive, it’s probably far more bespoke.

But odds are the steering rack is made by a third-party that also offers a RHD counterpart. And it’s designed to bolt into the same place as a LHD steering rack. Probably.

Now if you wanted to convert to center drive on a front engine vehicle, that’s a whole ‘nother story.


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24 Comments on “Piston Slap: Ease of Right Hand Drive Conversion?...”

  • avatar

    I have no idea how people can drive a manual that’s on the left of the driver. I watch Top Gear and think to myself, “if not but for the grace of God there go I”.

    • 0 avatar

      Lived in Japan for a couple of years and had no trouble at all driving stick on the “wrong” side. The one thing I never quite got the knack of was having wiper and turn signal stalks reversed. Lots of wiping a dry windshield when I wasn’t thinking about it.

      • 0 avatar

        Huh. I didn’t know that was the case. I mistakenly thought the indicator stalk was on the same side of the steering column no matter which side of the car the steering wheel was on.

        As far as using a manual transmission with one’s left hand when one is used to LHD cars, I don’t suppose it would take too long to get used to; it might be a conscious effort for a couple of short drives, and then quite natural after that. What always gets me mixed up, though, is the dog-leg shift pattern. I do not like it.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s funny that you say that with the wipers and turn signals. When I was in Australia, that was what I had the most difficulty with too.

        • 0 avatar

          Agreed. In the Caribbean, it always takes me a couple hours of seat time to stop communicating my desire to turn or change lanes by activating the windshield wipers. I guess I am that proverbial old dog.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting to know that some (many? all?) Japanese RHD vehicles have unique stalks on the steering column. Not so with my Sierra, I even bought a Merkur multifunction switch (the turn signal thing) and it bolted right in.

        • 0 avatar

          I think that Ford is one automaker that keeps the turn signal placement on the left for the UK and Ireland. There are other automakers that do reverse them.

          • 0 avatar

            Land Rover went one better. We had a bunch of LHD Defenders in Afghanistan. They didn’t even move the hood release…it was on the passenger side.

            My Frontier keeps the fuse box on the passenger side and has some components underhood which were obviusly: A. Put in prior to the motor and B: Designed for Right Hand Drive.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I’ve always thought I should live in Britain or Japan or some such place, but somehow I’ve muddled through in countries where you drive on the right side, in left-side-drive cars, with the gear lever on my right.

      If I, left-handed as I am, can do that, then I’d assume right-handers can shift with the left. Unless you’re saying they’re all so much stupider than us southpaws?

  • avatar

    This *can* be easy , it depends on the vehicle (design) and your local availability of right hand drive parts…

    Here in La La Land (home to more cars than Detroit EVER had) , Japanese Domestic cars are easy and cheap to get as they’re _WORTHLESS_ in Japan once they’re 3 + years old so enterprising Japanese Junk Yards cut them in half just behind the front door hinges , through the windshield posts (‘ A Pillars ‘) , remove the wheels , fluids and batteries then ship them to us was ‘ used auto parts ‘ ~ mostly the Ricer Kiddies buy the fenders and lights plus some engine and tranny parts but occasionally some kids will cut their Honda in half and re assemble it using this front clip complete and then have a RHD JDM Rice Rocket to tool around in .

    Oops way too long a post , I was going to talk about wretched [email protected]$$ed Parking Enforcement Pickups and small cars …..


  • avatar

    The Nissan Skyline of prior generations had an issue because of the routing of the steering column and the exhaust and could not be converted to LHD. IIRC, the steering went through the exhaust loop and of swapped to the other side the intake was in the way on the inline 6.

    • 0 avatar

      Nope, a Finnish guy, Henri Helanto, had converted his R32 to left-hand-drive in order to register his Skyline for road use in Finland. He reported it was no issue routing the steering column and links through the exhaust system.

      Google Henri Helanto…

  • avatar

    It seems to me that initial design and engineering is essential. Cars that are intended for both markets like the old Jeep Cherokee (XJ) have “modularity” in their design to accommodate RHD or LHD. Without that forethought you’re looking at lot of trouble.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a Jeep Liberty (TJ) that was converted to RHD for postal delivery service. My experience with this vehicle is that it’s easier said than done, even with the modularity aspect.

      Either that, or the shop that did the conversion seriously half-assed it.

      Steering wheel: Moved with new rack, but it was hell trying to find the right PS lines.

      Dashboard: Replaced with RHD unit, no problem.

      Brakes: They left the master cylinder and brake booster in place, moved pedals to the right and used a bar to connect the two together. I’m not sure that’s now true RHD TJ’s are done, but it was effective, so no problem.

      HVAC: The shop completely ripped the existing system out. Not sure why they did that, but in the process, the plugged the fresh air vents and installed a JC-Whitney unit in it’s place. No part of the vacor HVAC system remained Very troublesome to fix because I’ve never seen something like this before, and when it rains the windows fogged up instantly because there was no fresh air coming in.

      Mirrors: They didn’t replace the door panels, so the mirror controls were relocated to the center of the dash. I also had to find a convex mirror for the left mirror to make it usable. US vehicles are mandated by law to use a flat mirror on the driver’s side.

      Windshield wipers: They never switched them over, so whenver it rains, the dead spot in the windshield that is too far from the wipers to clear potentially interferes with your vision.

      Security: They never switched that around, so the first door to unlock is the passenger’s door.

      If I had paid for this conversion myself, I’d be seriously pissed. But then again, my taxpayer dollars and faithful patronage to the USPS did paid for this conversion, so I’m pissed about it anyway.

      Long story short: It can be done, but is it worth the frustration of a jury rigged final product if not done right?

      • 0 avatar

        Gross, what a mess. But your post begs the question: Why? The Liberty was available from the manufacturer, DaimlerChrysler, as a properly engineered and built RHD vehicle — they sold plenty of them (under the “Cherokee” nameplate) in places like Australia, Japan, and the UK. Maybe South Africa, too, I’m not for sure on that. And I’m pretty sure they sold them in America, too, as special-order vehicles for postal delivery, parking enforcement, and that kind of thing, just like they did with the XJ Cherokee before the Liberty came out, and just like Subaru did for years with their wagons (and maybe still does? Not sure).

        Also the Liberty isn’t a TJ, it’s a KJ. The TJ was the ’97-’06 Wrangler.

  • avatar

    i doubt its at all technically or financially feasible on a $150k supercar like a GT (I’m guessing how much it costs)

    on a 1969 corvette or mustang its fine

    about RHD… I’m right handed like the vast majority of the planet

    to me having the dominant hand holding the steering wheel and indicating is natural

    the left hand doing the gear shift is also natural but then the times Ive drive LHD I didnt have an issue with it either… in fact what happened is I spent less time resting my right hand on the gearknob as it was my dominant hand and it should be on the wheel

  • avatar

    I think the conversion difficulty on modern cars, which tend to be very densely packaged, is being vastly underestimated here. In the case of ordinary production cars (i.e. not the Ford GT being asked about) it’s already difficult enough. Yes, the parts are likely available from the corresponding other-hand-drive version, but you’d be amazed at how many you’d have to change.

    For instance moving the pedal box is the least of it, since each one of those pedals connects to something. In the case of a front engined car the brake pedal is closely linked to the vacuum booster, which then must be moved to the new side, and you can be pretty sure that there’s already some other component there that’ll have to be moved. I happen to know that the RHD version of one of my cars uses a different exhaust manifold to provide clearance for the steering column. Moving the instrument cluster to the other side calls for a whole new wiring harness, plus relocating the dozens of mystery electrical components currently there. And so on and so on.

    Weirdly it might be more practical —OK, make that less wildly impractical — on a mid/rear engined car, and especially if it’s an expensive car. Partly that’s because there’s more room and fewer other components under the front hood, but also because the conversion cost would be a smaller percentage of the car’s value.

    Still, good luck making a whole new mirror image dashboard from scratch.

    • 0 avatar

      Not really. There are the 3D scanners, computer-aided design, and 3D printers, which make the components easier to modify, replicate, and put together.

      In the old days, it was difficult task where everything is manually cut up and pasted together to make a mould for the dashboard and all of components were individually manufactured by hand like cratfsmen.

      I was in Australia during the 1980s and watched how the conversion specialist worked on modifying the North American vehicles to right-hand-drive. It usually took six months to one year and required lot of guesswork and experiment with locally sourced parts, i.e. steering boxes from Ford Australia or General Motors-Holden. Some were easier to modify due to symmetrical dashboard like 1984 Buick Le Sabre. Some required lot of work to mirror the asymmetrical dashboard.

      Today, with precise manufacturing of specialised components, it’s lot easier to convert the vehicles while maintaining quality and reliability. However, tthere are some materials that are difficult to work with, namely certain type of metal that cannot be welded or worked with. Unfortunately, the conversion cost hasn’t always gone down.

      If you are interested, this link has a fascinating chronicle of converting the SN95 Mustangs to right-hand-drive by Tickford under contract from Ford Australia.

  • avatar

    I visited Paraguay a few years ago and drove a couple Toyotas—an Echo/Yaris and a Corolla—that had been converted from RHD to LHD. (Evidently, a significant number of used RHD cars are imported to South America, I’m guessing from Japan, and converted to LHD.) Everything seemed normal on both cars except for the footwells, which were strangely offset and noticeably cramped on the left side and nice and roomy on the right side.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    In Australia we have few options(think” a mixture of Stalinist russia and 1984 sliding into poverty after 20 yeaers of high growth where free thought is not only discouraged but outlawed ” ) . You can import a car and have it converted (new cars attract 100% import duty unless you can prove you have ownee it overseas for 6-12 months) or you can wait 30 years and then register it as is .
    Converting to RHD is done all the time,there are several firms here in Queensland who convert all sorts of useless American trucks and muscle cars. The biggest issue they have today is the high boron steel which cannot be welded by conventional means . In the old days to convert a Mustang,as an example,they simply cut out the firewall and installed a local falcon unit . The dash was fabbed up in fibreglass and the instruments swapped side to side.
    With todays canbus etc and airbags this is now a huge job .With OZ’s pay rates starting at $30 per hour it can start to cost a lot of money to drive a Ford or dodge around.
    Far cheaper to go and buy an AMG or Audi supercar or buy a GT40 replica. they do make a good one here.
    BTW, more RHD cars are sold every year than LHD ones.

  • avatar

    It’s not just the physical layout that has to be changed, there are also headlights and even rear lights to think about; see . No big deal if the car in question was factory-available with other-hand-traffic headlights, or if it’s an old vehicle with standard round or square headlights, but a very big deal if it’s got aero headlights and there are no other-side-traffic units because that model wasn’t sold in an other-side-traffic market.

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