Buying a used car in Costa Rica

For the first five years in Costa Rica, I rode the bus.  I enjoyed it – it was cheap and easy and I didn’t have to worry about traffic.  When bus routes didn’t go where I wanted to go, I would take a cab – often riding with neighborhood piratas (unlicensed cab drivers).  After much mental hemming and hawing, weighing the pluses (going where and when I wanted to go some place) and minuses (waiting in pouring rain for buses or taxis that seemed to evaporate at the first raindrop) and changing jobs (to one requiring a car), I decided to buy a car.  Here’s how I did it: I put gas in the tank of a friend’s car and he drove me around and we visited used car lots – they are everywhere (replacing the coffee fields, I think) and can pop up overnight.  I finally landed on exactly the car I wanted and had my friend’s trustworthy mechanic look it over while I checked out the car’s history online via the VIN (vehicle identification number).  The mechanic made a deal with the used car dealer to fix everything that needed fixing and the dealer covered those costs (must have had a nice profit margin built into the price I’d been quoted before the dealer spoke with the mechanic).  In Costa Rica, you have a 30 day guarantee on your used car (by law).  According to the person who sold me my car, this guarantee does not cover electrical systems, CD players, etc.  The car dealer did whatever paper work was necessary to transfer title and have the car licensed (a lawyer was involved and this was included in the purchase price).  The seller also took the car to Riteve for its compulsory safety inspection.  I would not have bought the car without it being inspected and approved by Riteve.  (Each year cars must be inspected.  Once a car has passed inspection, the owner receives a sticker to display in the windshield of their car.  The inspection costs around $20.)  Prior to closing on my car, I spoke with a representative of INS (Costa Rica’s insurance company) so the car would be insured the moment I started driving it.  The insurance representative referred to a chart created by INS (according to make, model and year of car) to determine the cost of insurance.  I went with the best coverage and it was quite expensive relative to the cost of other things in Costa Rica.  (Cars are valued at about double what they are in the US.)  Each year between early November and the end of December, car owners must pay a marchamo.  The marchamo provides very basic insurance and gives cars the “right of circulation” on the roads.  Marchamo payments can be made online, at designated banks or at INS offices.  The fee is determined by the year and type of car.  After paying the marchamo, you are given a sticker to put in the wind shield by your Riteve sticker.  Then you are good to go!  A few tips:  Don’t worry about shopping around for the best deal in gas – prices are regulated by the government.  And when you park and see someone wearing an orange vest wandering around, you are to give this person a few hundred colones when you return to your car – they’ve been “guarding” it for you!  If you burn up your engine and have to replace it (talking from unfortunate experience here), a lawyer will need to do paperwork so the new VIN gets changed in the registro (national registry).  Riteve will give you the necessary papers to file the first time you go for an inspection after changing a motor.  You can probably do this change ahead of time with an attorney, but I didn’t realize I needed to do anything.  Fortunately, I had all papers involved in the purchase of the motor with me when I went to Riteve.  Hopefully, this “new motor” information is something you will never need to know.


3 responses to “Buying a used car in Costa Rica

  1. Pingback: Costa-Rica » Camerata Académica Bach, Dall´Abaco Third movement

  2. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any widgets I could
    add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
    I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time
    and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this.

    Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy
    reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

    • No, I don’t know of any widgets, but there probably are some. My blog is no longer active as I have left Costa Rica so I’m not looking for ways to “get it out there.” Good luck.

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