Canada Driving Advice and Car Hire Info
Driving In Canada
Canada drives on the right side of the road, like USA. Also like USA, its possible to turn right at a red stop signal. Don’t be surprised if someone sounds your horn if you’re waiting for the light to turn green! Rules and regulations on visitors driving licences vary by state but in general, if you have an English language photo ID from your own country, you should be OK to drive on that. If you don’t have an English language photo licence its advisable to get an International Driving permit- I’d advise you to check requirements in the state you’re visiting with the car rental company before you set off.
If crossing the US Border by car make sure you have your passport plus full documentation for the vehicle with you. Driving in Canada is a fairly laid back experience for European visitors, much like driving in USA. Potential problems to watch out for include the weather- extreme cold and snow in winter are likely in many parts of the country so exercise caution if you’re not used to driving in Slippery conditions. Make sure your rental car has winter tyres and have a test drive on a quiet road if its icy and you’re unused to the conditions. Practice skidding and keeping the car under control. Also, bear in mind at traffic lights and other junctions that other drivers may not be proficient at driving in snow and ice- check that no out of control vehicles are sliding towards you before proceeding. Also, sunglasses are invaluable to guard against snow glare if you’re driving any distance.
With the country covering multiple time zones, distances in Canada are huge. I once drove from Montreal to Toronto in a day and it was a long drive – I just didn’t appreciate the distance involved when looking on a map. Like the USA most Cities have been laid out with car drivers in mind. Places such as Quebec City are an exception and may be more of a challenge to navigate. In some areas, alongside the usual road signs warning of sharp bends or rock avalanches, there are signs alerting drivers to beware of certain wildlife that roam nearby. It’s not just to protect the animals; deer, elk and moose can be a real hazard for cars and their drivers. They often get mesmerised by car lights and stand frozen in the path of your car, or can bolt across the road out of nowhere. If you hit one of these large animals, especially a moose, you could be seriously injured or killed and it won’t do the rental car much good either!
Canada’s roads are generally in very good condition- even minor roads, though obviously conditions can deteriorate in remote areas in winter. All roads are now paved after the last 100km stretch of gravel in NW Territories was recently asphalted. The main route across Canada is the 5000 mile long Trans Canada Highway which runs from New Foundland to British Columbia and is one of the worlds longest roads.This website provides more info on driving the Trans Canada including attractions and accommodation options.
The Alaska highway also begins at Dawson Creek in Canada. For more info on driving this famous road see my Alaska section.
Toll Roads are a rarity in Canada with only two actual toll roads in the whole country (Highway 407 in Ontario and the Cobequid Pass in Nova Scotia), though you may have to pay to use bridges and tunnels.
For a country with so many roads in mountainous areas, few are permanently closed in the winter months, one exception being the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, which can remain closed until June . Most roads at high altitudes will close temporarily after heavy snow but soon reopen when slow ploughs have cleared them. In some areas, the Canadian army use artillery to prompt controlled avalanches, which prevent roads being closed by unexpected and dangerous shifts of snow from surrounding peaks.
Canada offers great opportunities for wilderness driving, and given the long distances with few, if any, services, you need to do some planning before setting off on a road trip. There are some useful websites to help you plan your adventure -
In North West Territories-
In British Columbia
Some driving times and distances are as follows –
Toronto to Montreal – 540 km, 6 hrs 30
Montreal to Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1250 km, 14 hours
Montreal to St Johns, Newfoundland – 2120 km , 18 hours driving plus boat
Toronto to Ottawa -400km, 5 Hours
Montreal to Ottawa , 200km , 2 hrs 15
Ottawa to Winnipeg, 2140km, 27 hours
Winnipeg to Regina, Saskatchewan – 570km, 8 hours
Regina to Edmonton, 780km, 9 hours
Edmonton to Calgary, 300km, 3 hrs 30
Edmonton to Vancouver, 1160km, 15 hours
Edmonton to Dawson Creek (start of Alaska Highway), 590km, 8 hours
Dawson Creek to White Horse, Yukon -1400km, 18 hours
Edmonton to Yellowknife, NW Territories , 1500km, 20 hours
Canada Car Rental -
Hertz, Europcar, Alamo, National, Avis, Budget, Dollar,Thrifty and Enterprise all have branches across the country. Also usually features on Car rental broker sites such as Argus Car Hire and Web discount sites such as ebookers.com. or Expedia, plus a thousand more options to use local companies and brokers Online.
This is a Canadian company with outlets in over 300 locations across Canada (and strangely, also in Australia!)
These brokers can arrange camper van (RV) rental across Canada-
This site offers one way RV Rentals -
If you’re flexible and looking for a cheap RV rental option, some companies offer heavily discounted one way rentals as ‘re-locations’. ie they allow you to drive their vehicles to another part of the country where they need additional vehicles available. The following company provides more detail on this-
This is a well established company who can arrange motor home/RV Rental in a number of countries around the world, including Canada
These companies rent RV’s and other vehicles from St Johns in Newfoundland.
This company operates from Whitehorse in Yukon and rents cars, 4X4s and vans
In North West Territories, Budget, Hertz and National all have branches in Yellowknife and there are a couple of local companies – Royal Rent a car (Tel 867 873-3400) and Yellowknife Motors (867 766-5000), though neither seem to have a functioning website. This is a local company in Inuvik who rent 4x4s
Canada Self Driving Rules –
Most companies will allow you to take the vehicle into USA with the possibility for one way rental for an extra charge in most cases. Depending on where in Canada you’re visiting, you may need to use car ferries. A trip to British Columbia, the Atlantic Coast, Ontario or Quebec could involve taking your car on a ferry and some rental companies may have rules which prevent their vehicles being transported on water . If you plan to use ferries, make the rental company aware when you make your booking.