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Buying a Used Car Here Can Be a Nightmare

by Garland M Baker on April 24, 2006

Salvaged vehicles seem to be common in lots

Readers requested this article. Some helped write it by sending in accounts of their own experiences trying to buy a used car in Costa Rica. Most recount the endeavor as a terror. One couple has almost given up and prefer the bus to dealing with used car salespeople. They may import their old vehicle from the States, paying more in the process, because they know the car and do not want any more surprises.

The biggest problem is the twisted tongues of some of the sellers. Little that some state about a used car comes close to the truth, especially the mileage.

A perceptive potential buyer ordered the 30-day unlimited reports package from for $24.99. is a trusted provider of vehicle history information. Using the unique 17-character vehicle identification number (VIN) found on vehicle dashboards and title documents, the firm can instantly generate a detailed vehicle history report on any used car or light truck in the United States and Canada. Another such service is The services and costs are very similar in price.

Then the buyers hit the streets to buy a small car.

Unbelievably almost every car checked had the mileage turned back. Others had been in a major accident, a fire, or flood. The National Automobile Dealers Association estimates that Hurricane Katrina alone may have damaged as many as 400,000 cars.

The would-be buyers found leased and rental vehicles, along with taxis and police cars, with super high mileage miraculously appearing in Costa Rica with super low mileage. Some vehicles were just downright lemons and had been reported as such to the manufacturer by previous owners.

When the buyers asked a car dealer the origins of a car, most of them said Florida. Well reported none came from Florida. One originated in Canada, then went to Alaska and then two other states before ending up on a big car lot here.

Some in the used car business in Costa Rica appear to be feeding on the innocent. Used car lots are everywhere. This was not true several years back, so apparently it has been a profitable enterprise for many. The economics are easy enough for shady operators. Buy a salvage vehicle in the United States with gazillions of miles on it, ship it to this country, turn back the odometer, wash it up a bit and sell it to an unsuspecting buyer as almost new.

The taxes on used cars are higher too. Vehicles from zero to 3 years old are assessed 52.20 percent import tax. From 4 to 5 years the rate is 63.91 percent. Anything over 6 years old pay a whopping 79.03 percent.

Based on these facts maybe it is just better to import. This is no cakewalk either. One needs to calculate the cost benefit of doing so, adding in something for the hassle factor. Here are a few points to consider: One needs to find the right vehicle, get it to a port of export, locate and engage a customs broker, get it on a boat to Costa Rica, get it out of customs, pay all the taxes and associated fees, and license it.

Some shoppers may find it is better to buy a new car. There is a wide selection nowadays in Costa Rica offering a range of different warranties and service arrangements.

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