Buying a Car In Costa Rica
By Rob Goodell
People often ask me about buying a car in Costa Rica or if it is better to just to ship their vehicle down from North America. Now I have friends down here that will only ship vehicles down while I prefer to buy a vehicle here and I will explain why in this article. First of all, shipping a car down here can be costly as you can expect to pay at least 50%-80% of the Blue Book value and it also can be a true test of your patience! You have to deal with a customs brokers and the Costa Rica government. My years of living in Costa Rica has trained me to avoid bureaucratic red tape like the plague and to try to maintain as much control of my personal endeavors as humanly possible so shipping for me, is out of the question.
What kind of car should I buy? Great question. My rule of thumb for buying a vehicle is to buy something that I see quite often as you will want something that has parts readily available so the local “mechanics” will be more adept at being able to diagnose the problem and to do the repairs rather than just start replacing parts until hopefully the problem is solved. I have seen many people who ship their Chevy Suburbans down here only to see them for sale 6 months later out in front of the local Auto Center after realizing that the simplest part could take up to a month to ship down, and with gas at $4.00 a gallon, having a gas guzzler can take a lot of the fun out of a road trip. On top of that, a full size vehicles just don’t fit on Costa Rican roads very well.
The most common vehicles you will see on the road here are Toyotas, Suzukis, Mitsubishis, Land Rovers and Hyundais with Toyotas being the most highly regarded. Why? Because they can handle the beatings that day to day driving in Central America includes. You will not see Cadillacs or Mustangs very often around here. They literally just fall apart. It is highly recommended to have a 4×4. This is even if you have no adventurous plans to go off-roading to remote locations as you can just as easily get stuck pulling out of your parking spot here in town. It’s not that bad but the road conditions here are not as subject to regulations as you are probably used to plus living in the tropics, we can get rain. A lot of rain. So definitely get a 4×4.
Where should you buy the vehicle? San Jose is the best place to buy a vehicle. Do not buy a vehicle that has spent its life at the beach, crossing rivers and regularly being covered in sand. Especially don’t buy a car that is in my home province of Gunancaste. Guanacaste is where cars come to die. What I do is go to a website by the name of crautos.com where literally every person who has a car for sale in the country posts up their vehicle for sale. This is a great website to educate yourself on what values of vehicles are. I’m not going to sugar coat it, cars in Costa Rica are expensive. The good news is they maintain their value. In fact, the last three vehicles I have had actually sold for more than I paid for them after years of use.
Back to the car hunt. I will typically set appointments to see 5 vehicles in San Jose that I think will work for me. Then I get a reputable mechanic on stand by to inspect the vehicle for major defects. Better get that compression checked! Also, have an attorney on stand by. Why do I need an attorney you ask? Much like doing a real estate transaction you will need to have an attorney oversee the purchase of a vehicle to make sure the car is free and clear of lens and that you are actually paying the owner of the vehicle. Closing costs are the burden of the buyer. My Land Cruiser cost about $15,000 and I think I paid around $750 for the closing costs which covered the attorney fees as well.
I personally recommend buying a Toyota Hilux, Prado, or 4 Runner. On the cheap, Suzuki Samari or Sidekicks are dependable and believe it or not they kick ass off-road! Anything Japanese, really… And don’t buy a black car. It’s HOT! Plus, it will always look dirty.
Hope this article has been some help. If my system seems like too much work, my nephew has a great car dealership in San Jose. Just remember, leave your full sized gas guzzler at home, they just don’t make any sense down here.