Purchasing a used car is usually a memorable experience. There are oftentimes unexpected twists and turns even in a straightforward deal. My used car purchase in Costa Rica was something I will always remember. After moving my wife and infant son to Costa Rica to start a new business, a car purchase was at the top of my to do list. We were staying with a friend while we were setting up shop and were soon tired of buses and taxis. We had planned on finding a Costa Rican Holiday house first, but soon realized the incredible inconvenience of meeting appointments with landlords with no car. With the househunting on hold, we began our search for the perfect vehicle.
We first had to get over the shock of having to pay an extra 40-50% due to import taxes.
There are no cars made in Costa Rica, so this applies to every make and model. A car in the states that is worth $10,000 cost $14 or $15,000 down here. We spent the first 2 days educating ourselves by pouring over the want ads. It was soon obvious that we would get a better deal by looking in La Nacion for our car instead of the English paper called the Tico Times. Not only were there many more choices, but the prices seemed lower for the same vehicle. We had decided on some sort of four wheeled drive SUV for the safety factor. The roads contain many potholes and often run out of pavement suddenly. Since our business led us on many expeditions, it seemed a sound choice. Factor in the basic lawlessness of the roads due to very little enforcement, and a strong car that sets up high is even a more obvious choice for a family with an infant.
In Costa Rica, a lot of the business you due is done through your attorney. Litigation is rare, and the attorneys handle most all contract paperwork including submitting paperwork for your registration. On a previous trip, I had secured an attorney who spoke English. When I called him about the used car purchase in Costa Rica he walked me through it. Find the car you want, take it to a mechanic (supplied by him) and check it out, if it’s good bring the seller and car to my office and I’ll handle it. This was starting to actually sound easy. Our first car we looked at was a ’96 Toyota 4Runner. We met the gentleman at a casino parking lot that was close to my mechanic. We had resorted to looking online after educating ourselves on the prices in the newspaper. Online ads offered the benefit of multiple color pictures and it was easier for me to read Spanish than speak it over the phone. This 4Runner was supposed to be cherry with only 85,000 miles (137,000 kilometers) The pictures in the ad were of a spotlessly pristine body and even had a shot of a really clean engine. Well, either the car in the ad photos was a completely different vehicle, or this car had just been wrecked. The seller was very nonapologetic, and said if the car looked like the one in the pictures; it would cost 10 million colones (20,000 dollars) instead of 7.5 mil. ($15,000) His mom or aunt was with him, and we could see she didn’t share his business verve. She gave us some sliced mango in lemon juice, and we just walked away shaking our heads.
The next three cars we liked were all sold by the time we got there. Finally, the car I really wanted ( a deep green Mitsubishi Montero Sport 1999) was available for 6.9 mil.($13,800) It
was in my price range, had only 85,000 miles on it, just came in from North Carolina so it hadn’t had to endure the potholes; and I was the first inquirer. After grilling the guy three times about whether or not the pictures were accurate, we arranged to meet at my mechanics. I got there early to fill my mechanic, Rodrigo, in on what I wanted checked out. Sure enough, right on time, my future car drove in. There is something about the color of deep hunter green that has always given such a euphoric feeling to my senses. I think that half the reason I moved to Costa Rica is because of the deep green vegetation that is everywhere. But as MY car wheeled to a stop, this 17 or 18 year old kid jumps out. Clean cut, snappy dresser, he just looked like a player. We start going through the “car purchase dance.” We used broken Spanish and broken English and a lot of miming. After he showed me the elaborate 3 stage alarm system, (seriously, there are 3 levels including a hidden switch that just cuts off all the electrical to the engine, and another that kills the car 30 seconds after you start driving if you don’t hit another hidden switch under the seat) I knew he was a player. But, man, I loved this car. It just looked like my car.