Woohoo! We bought a car! Actually it is more like an SUV, a very pretty white 2000 Nissan Pathfinder which has been really well looked after. At the end of this post I write a “how to” on buying a car in Mexico and Playa del Carmen. Something which I think would have made this whole process a lot more stress free. Check it out if you’re planning on doing the same.
FINDING THE CAR
Sarah and I have been actively seeking out an SUV for the past month or so for the next stage of our adventure, even though the next stage is a good six months or more away, we decided that if we were going to buy a car anyway, we might as well have one while we are living in Playa del Carmen.
So I began searching out every bit of info I could find about a tourist buying a car in Mexico, which I soon learned has to be narrowed down to a tourist buying a car in Playa del Carmen because different states have different rules, some only slightly different, and some with seemingly no rhyme or reason. My first stop was Google of course, and Google’s veritable mountain of information ranging from useless to a little bit useful.
My searches online stated in no uncertain terms, from the keyboards of dozens of different typists, that unless you have an FM2 or FM3 (basically temporary or permanent residence) you could NOT buy a car in Mexico (Playa del Carmen). They stated that I either had to apply for one of these (which I would not be eligible for because of how much money you have to earn to get one), or you could ask a Mexican to register the car in his/her name and write a letter saying he gives you permission to drive it. Which if you know someone in Mexico you can trust is not such a big deal, until you want to take it out of the country (you can, but it makes a difficult process more difficult).
Deciding that I knew better, and having an acquaintance of Sarah’s suggest we should be able to do it no problem (directly contradicting everyone else), we headed down to the Mexican equivalent of the DMV (Recaudadora de rentas) to find out more. With a terrible lack of Spanish we proceeded to request information about buying a car. I think we got an answer to the question, and I think it was something like “All you need is a passport and contract from your apartment“. But it sounded more like “Blah di blah di blah blah passport.”
Feeling confident in having heard exactly what I wanted to hear, we doubled our efforts in finding the perfect vehicle. After the first few it became evident that post purchase, vehicle care is not a Mexican priority. Most of the cars we saw (which comprised mainly of Jeeps, Fords and Nissans) had already had the living shit driven out of them and were more or less on their way out.
It also became quickly apparent that lying about a vehicle is also fairly common practice, regardless of it being a definite that you would be caught out in the lie. Almost every ad we saw said the car had “such and such kilometers” on it, most were either just plain wrong, or in miles, which pretty much doubles the distance they have traveled. I think it was after the jeep with 350 000km which used about 10 liters of water every 100km (or miles, who knows anymore) that we decided to take our price range up from $40 – $50 000 pesos to about $70 000 (about US$5,800).
Suddenly we found a few decent cars in our new price range, one in particular. The Nissan pathfinder was perfect. Not 4wd, but a lot of clearance, big tires and it looks like it can handle off-roading a bit. So we set about purchasing this bad boy for $68 000 pesos (US $5,600).
First it was off to a mechanic who said “All good just get a new ‘solanoid’ for about $2000 pesos installed.” (*You can buy the parts yourself at Mardam or Ancona and take them to the mechanic saving yourself a bit of cash. We are using SpeedAuto and they seem very good.) Then we had our friendly landlord have a look over the documents of the seller Eduardo just to make sure everything was there.
You need a lot of crap to sell a car in Mexico, and if you don’t have it all as a buyer you are in a lot of trouble.
REGISTERING THE CAR IN MY NAME
We didn’t have it all. At least not exactly right (I’ll explain at the end everything you need). We didn’t have documentation showing the original sellers name. So we decided not to hand over the cash until we had tried exchanging it into our names. To Eduardo’s credit, even though this is not usually how things are done in Mexico (normally you buy it and then try and do the transfer yourself) he went along with it for our peace of mind.
It ends up the governmental side of things is nowadays pretty straight forward for a tourist, in fact it is ridiculously easy if you have all the paperwork from the seller. We went into the office and showed our documents, the guy behind the counter checked everything off and took our photocopies ( if you don’t make photocopies before hand they have a machine there, you will need photocopies of everything), he then sent us outside with a few documents and our ID.
A policeman told us to bring our car to one of the three parking bays directly in front of him. Not across the road, not four parkings down, directly in front of him. Except none were available because the staff had parked there so we would have to wait. Miraculously people moved and within ten minutes I was ‘body holding’ the space while Eduardo brought the car around. The cops checked the VIN number and our documents, signed something and sent us back inside.
We were almost home free, and then tragedy struck. Apparently two numbers on our factura (the original invoice of the vehicle) didn’t match up by one digit, and because of this we were told to get a new one from the company that originally sold the car 13 years ago! Or in no uncertain terms, “No car for you!”
Because we had not yet handed any money over, Eduardo set about trying to organize it all for us so that he could make the sale. If we had had to do it ourselves I can guarantee you we would have been screwed (you have thirty days after purchase to register your car). Within a few days and a lot of phone calls, Eduardo found there was nothing wrong with the document. The guys at the office just didn’t put a zero in the right box on their system.
So we returned with Eduardo and finished off the paperwork. At the last point where we needed to pay, another issue popped up and we were told we would have to pay $5000 pesos because the Tenencia had not been paid in 2009 (it is a tax payment I will explain at the end). Eduardo kicked into gear, spoke to the manager of the place and somehow managed to get him to discount it to $3200 pesos (US$266.00), only $500 pesos more than we were originally quoted.
We paid, got in another line, got given plates and a card registered in my name, and I walked out the door a proud fully licensed owner of a car in Mexico! Despite everything I read, it was ridiculously easy. The car was licensed to a different Mexican state and so there was an extra charge of $900 pesos and an extra step to get new plates, but still, all I needed was a passport and our apartment contract and hey presto, bought and registered!
THE HAPPY OWNERS OF AN INSURED CAR
Our first order of business was to head out and buy insurance, we had lucked on a place in Playa called Intercam who deals with money transfers, insurance and other bits and bobs. We bought a one year policy covering everything including 3rd party, medical, legal, theft and accident with a 5% deductible and high coverage for about US$400, Within thirty minutes we were fully insured and went to celebrate.
There is a place just near the highway in Playa called La Floresta that does the worlds best shrimp Tacos (I cannot verify this by any means other than my own personal feelings). We don’t often go there because although six tacos stuffed with prawns only costs us about $110 pesos, the taxi ride there and back adds an additional $120, and although it is not a hell of a lot, paying $20 US for a $10 US meal grates me the wrong way. This time we got to drive our beautiful SUV onto the highway, drive for another two minutes in a delightful sprinkling of rain, park outside and waltz in to devour our delightful meals.
We then took a cruise along the backstreets of Playa del Carmen with enormous grins of absolute freedom painted upon our visages. Sarah drove for the first time in Mexico and loved it, and although someone had a minor bang up near us we made it all the way home in one peace. The purchase of a car in Mexico and all the stress it entails behind us.
THE NEXT STAGE OF OUR TRAVELS
Now the next stage of our travels has become that little bit more real. Despite this being the worst kept secret ever, I am happy to announce that we will be driving across Central and South America in our pretty new/old Nissan Pathfinder!
*Hold for applause or the sound that awe and jealousy makes.
Yep, in about six months from now Sarah and I will pack up the SUV (assuming we don’t break it by then) and cross the border into Belize. Then with no real plan other than adventure, we will work our way down and across the continent. For me I would like to drive across the Atacama Desert and see the galaxy through crystal clear skies, and then head down to the Southern most tip of South America, and just maybe catch a boat across to Antarctica (assuming it hasn’t melted by then).
So big things ahead, big plans and big dreams. Right now though, I think I might go get some more prawn tacos…
HOW TO BUY A CAR IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN. WHAT YOU NEED AND WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
First off, as it currently stands as of July 2013 in Playa del Carmen a tourist can buy a car without needing anything more than a passport and a contract from your landlord (which really is not checked all that well, if your apartment owner will do a quick one up for you and sign it, you’re good to go).
I repeat, nothing more than a passport and rental contract is required to buy a car in Mexico (Playa), no matter what you read elsewhere, I know because I did it just last week..
The office you need to go to to get all your paperwork done is called “Recaudadora de Rentas” and is on the corner of 10th avenue and Calle 2 sur, south of Juarez. It is surprisingly not often very busy but prepare yourself to spend two or three hours there in a nice air conditioned office waiting in various lines. It is pretty stress free if you accept that things will be done in ‘Mexican time’.
When you walk in the door turn left and walk to the end, you will see a small cubicle that says Auto something or other (it was in Spanish). It helps if you can either speak the language or are with someone who can, without this things would have taken me a lot longer, especially with our specific complications.
They will take all your documents (which I will mention at the end of this schpeil) and assuming you have everything. send you off to grab a ticket at the little machine on the wall. Get your ticket, wait ten or twenty minutes depending on how busy they are. When your number beeps on the screen go to the designated window and hand your forms to the guy behind the desk. He will waft through them for a bit and then ask you for payment. For a license change and change of ownership you would pay about $1600 pesos including a handling fee.
He will then give you back your stuff and your receipt and send you to a cubicle in the corner near the one where you handed your papers over. They will check it and hand you a little piece of laminated paper which says the car is registered in your name (and if you had to change plates as well then the plates too). Walk out, attach the new plates and sticker, and drive your new car off into the sunset.
Well done, you just bought a car in Mexico!
THE DOCUMENTS AND WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR
The Factura– the original sales receipt with writing on the back from every owner handing it over to the next. Without this document you are screwed and better off looking for another car. If it is not signed by every previous owner don’t fret too much. They seem happy with anyone writing that the car is handed over and don’t check that side of things too thoroughly. But you must have the FACTURA.
Tax receipts – there was a tax in place called the Tenencia, and if the seller does not have the receipts for these payments being made, you will be responsible for paying them and can add up to thousand more pesos in the sale. If he/she says they paid it does not matter. Without the physical receipt you are responsible for paying it.
*the tenencia is no longer in effect but should have been paid in the past to avoid you paying. You still need to check that the regular tax has been paid or you are responsible for paying it.
Proof of previous sale – Although this doesn’t seem essential, it is helpful to have proof that the car was sold to the person selling it to you (for your piece of mind too). Usually this comes in the form of a written and signed letter or a printed form filled in and signed which is an agreement between your seller and the previous one. For me I wanted to see this, otherwise how do you know the car is not stolen without going down to the office?
Your documents – Just a passport and a rental contract. Easy.
Money – Depending on whether you need to change the plates or not, to be safe take from $1000 pesos to $2000 pesos.
AND THAT’S IT!
And that’s it. Assuming all the documents are correct and proper, all the VIN numbers, names, license plates and registration match up (check to make sure the correct names and details are on all the forms). And as long as the seller has ID which matches the forms (don’t forget to check). You have everything you need to buy a car.
If there is anything else you are not sure of let me know and I will help you out. The most important thing? Don’t stress, it’ll all work out as long as you check everything. Happy driving in Mexico!
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