I just wanted to drop you a quick note that perhaps you might be able to use as a reference or words from a happy customer.
Buying a car can be a stressful experience, factor in a different language, culture and a vastly different process for purchasing.
It took just a quick email to Russ and Kattia and Chris. I outlined what I was looking for and my price range. Russ came back a couple days later with some excellent options, we picked one had it checked by a mechanic and then agreed to purchase. Russ sent me pictures and a video from the mechanic and Russ ensured that the one switch that did not function properly was replaced.
Russ and the team at WheelsCR looked after the lawyer, insurance and ensured that everything was in line. Top that off by having the car show up in immaculate trim at our hotel at a time of our choosing. We were going to tee things up for the airport but we opted to play it safe and had the car delivered to our hotel. We were met by two members of the dealer where we went over the car, they showed me where all of the items are and how the sound system works.
They offered a test drive but knowing the previous inspection and reputations involved I opted to just take the keys. You might say trusting or naive, I say the process is quite fine tuned; the dealer reps brought a mechanic tested/driven car that was impeccably turned out. We have put quite a few kilometers on the vehicle with absolutely no problem, we both have absolute confidence in the vehicle and the buying process.
I found Russ to be very easy to deal with, always reachable and afterwards he followed up to make sure that I was happy with the car.
Many thanks Russ and team for a smooth and efficient process, the results speak for themselves.
It took the stress and any time crunch out of the equation, totally happy with everything from start to follow up.
As a part of Costa Rica’s efforts to become de-carbonized by 2050, the government institutions are required to reduce their emissions and also consumption of natural resources.
The National Registry is no exception, and in 2020 they stopped issuing paper titles for new and used cars coming into Costa Rica, and also for transfer of property titles to new owners. Read on to see how you can verify the title and also how you might get a property title or alternative documentation for a particular purpose.
I was a bit nervous about buying a car and going through the process here in Costa Rica. What i can tell you is that Russ, and Christian are a breath of fresh air! This service took every bit of anxiety out of purchasing a vehicle here!
If you are looking to purchase a car or any other vehicle in Costa Rica then you have definitely come to the right place! I told them what i was looking for, and they delivered in the best way possible! I got exactly what i wanted, and in my price range!
Very knowledgeable, fair, and honest! Thanks once again you guys!
Hi! Thank you very much for helping me with my car buying experience! Chris was terrific. I couldn’t have done it without him! I highly recommend your service to anyone that asks. I’m happy to be a reference! Warmly, Sayles
In 2020, because of pandemic related concerns, we began offering our same great service virtually. This is something we had done occasionally over the years when circumstances or the vehicle specifications required it. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic we realized it could be an essential tool to help ourselves and our clients avoid exposure. Here are some of the first successful experiences, enjoy!
We contacted Russ a couple of weeks before our arrival in Costa Rica and within a couple of days he had emailed us photos and information on all the suitable cars within his network of dealers.
We chose which ones we wanted him to look at for us and within a few days this was done with detailed feedback. We chose the car we wanted and Russ sorted everything out for us. All we had to do was wire the money to the dealer and the car arrived at our house in Costa Rica the morning after we arrived, along with all the relevant paperwork.
Russ also sorted out getting quotes for upgraded suspension etc so our new car will be better able to tackle the local terrain, taking all the leg work out of the process for us. All this has happened over email and it has been once less thing for us to worry about amidst the craziness of moving country. We wholeheartedly recommend the Russ and the Virtual Pass service. – Chloe and Ozzi
Using the virtual PASS was a lifesaver for me during COVID. Moving to Costa Rica during a pandemic is stressful enough, so having Russ assume the responsibility of locating and test driving several cars was a huge help. Russ was an absolute professional from beginning to end. He explained the entire process and then when the time was right sent me a detailed description of a few different options (along with many photos). Once I chose my car, he stayed connected with me as I transferred money from the USA to the dealer in Costa Rica and even helped me to get setup with car insurance. Since I had never bought a car abroad before, I had my doubts and suspicions and Russ was very patient in verifying everything that I needed to feel comfortable with the deal. The car (and the dealer, Kildare) was there to meet me when I arrived at the airport and within 10 minutes of exiting customs I was ready to drive away. Two weeks have since passed and I am very happy with the quality of the car. Thank you to Russ (and Kildare), I will definitely be recommending your service.
Thanks so much for all of your help . This process has been awesome !! You have an awesome business !! A truly a one stop shop !!
The Most Popular Crew Cab, Extra Cab and Single cab pickups in the market
Prior to the early 1990s, pickup trucks in Costa Rica were almost exclusively for institutions and for agricultural / commercial use. You will see old Toyota and Datsun pickups, plus the classic Land Rovers. These were used by farmers both on the farm and to bring produce to market. The other main use was for work crews and other institutional applications, particularly in rural areas. As such they weren’t very comfortable for the driver or passengers, and either slow or unwieldy on the highway (or both). For the most part they were 2 or 3 passenger trucks, although many fleets did have 4 door (crew cab) versions.
The Extra Cab Innovation
Starting with Extra Cab trucks in the early 1990s, you began to see “civilian” trucks appear on the market and in San Jose. One of the best examples would be the Nissan D21 models, that combined an aggressive look with high level 4×4 capability to become very popular as a combination city / country every day driver. Other popular models in Costa Rica were the Toyota Hilux and also the Isuzu Space Cab, along with the Mazda King Cab.
These trucks were pretty comfortable for the driver and front passenger, but mostly only offer fold up bench type seats for the 3rd and 4th passenger in the back. And being 2 door were difficult to access for adults. Great for kids, or on short trips they offer space for 4 adults and gear or cargo in the rear truck bed. But they were still mainly used for commercial or institutional purposes, or quite often people with rural weekend properties would find them a useful combination vehicle.
The Hybrid Family Workhorse
This situation continued through 2005, when Mitsubishi introduced the redesigned L200, which was followed by the Toyota Hilux in 2007. Both models were designed specifically for Latin America, and both were based on the same size and weight class SUV offered by the brands. They feature many distinctions, that transform the image of the pickup truck from a work vehicle to an alternative to the SUV as an every day vehicle that is multi-functional:
They ride much better on the highway, improved diesel engines offer much better acceleration at highway speeds.
The 4 doors and 2nd row seating transform the vehicle from something uncomfortable for everyone but the driver, to vehicle that will work for even long family trips.
The handling is also greatly improved, and the ground clearance is higher — better for going off-road.
At the same time, they still have durable suspensions for cargo loads and rough roads, and the true 4×4 for difficult situations on the job or on the beach.
SUV or Pickup?
While all of these features are great, they come along with a huge boost in the price of pickup trucks, which even today are similarly priced to comparable SUVs. For example, we received quotes for clients on the Toyota Fortuner and Hilux as brand new vehicles in April 2019:
2019 Hilux– 2.4 liter4X4 Crew Cab Manual Transmission This would be the basic work truck, priced at $37,700 (no A/C)
2019 Hilux Limited Edition SRV– 2.8 liter4X4 Crew Cab Automatic Transmission This has leather seats, 9 airbags, and the VSC stability control system at $58,300
2019 Hilux FULL– 2.4 liter4X4 Crew Cab Automatic Transmission This is with power windows, A/C and other niceties $44,900
2019 Fortuner Sport – 2.8 liter4×4 Automatic Transmission This options package is similar to the SRV Hilux, and the price too — $54,800
2019 Hilux FULL SRV– 2.8 liter4X4 Crew Cab Automatic Transmission This is the full extras version, but also has the improved 2.8 liter engine with common rail injection, price at $54,400
You can see that the prices for the comparable trim level are pretty similar, even though you might think a pickup should be cheaper than an SUV. Similar pricing holds true among all the brands.
What are the Most Popular Models?
Best in Class — These models are the most popular, they are similar in quality, 4×4 capability, cargo capacity and extra features.
Nissan Frontier / Navara
With any of these models you will get a popular truck that can be easily repaired by any mechanic nationwide. Parts are a good value, the brands that are less expensive are good quality. If parts are more expensive, they are high quality and worth the extra price. You also have the option of buying parts at a regular auto parts store, but if it is an unusual part it’s likely the dealer has it in stock, or arriving shortly.
2nd Tier — These models are less popular, but could be a good value. Parts are not as widely available as for the first tier models, so that sometimes means they are more expensive or harder to find. However, they are high quality and so can have a longer useful life.
As of 2013, these models share the same 5 cylinder / 3.2 liter engine. It is the modern Common Rail Direct Injection (CRDI) engine, so they have superior performance at highway speeds, and also the same or better cargo capacity. The Mazda BT-50 offers a 2.2 liter version that is also CRDI, which can be a good option if your aren’t as concerned with the cargo and towing capacity.
Other Solid Options — If you are looking for a strictly work truck, the Kia Bongo offers a 4×4 crew cab version, it is reasonably priced and actually seats 6, the boxy shape isn’t maybe the coolest, but very practical and if you really have a work crew to accomodate it’s a good choice.
US Versions — Most Costa Ricans prefer the diesel pickup, but you will find some gasoline models that could be viable, if that’s your preference: Toyota Tacoma and Honda Ridgeline. With the gasoline engine you generally expect better acceleration, particularly from a start and at highway speeds. Although some of the latest CRDI diesel engines are very close, it is still generally true. You give up some fuel economy with the gasoline engine, and the price to fill up is higher. But for some people that’s a fair trade-off.
The Dodge Ram is popular in the Central Valley as a work truck, or dual purpose vehicle, and it could be something to consider if you need to really tow something heavy. The size of the vehicle and narrow streets in Costa Rica would be drawbacks for a lot of people, and the lower fuel economy of the bigger engine as well.
The Ford and Chevrolet trucks are not popular, but if you live in the Central Valley or have a specific adaptation you might find them to be the only options. (Food truck, ambulance, camper, etc).
If you own a farm, or will be building, then a 4×4 pickup would be a very good option. As we know from our own experience, your contractor will always need something they forgot to put on the list. While quite often this can be handled with a car or an SUV, the pickup has the advantage in cargo capacity and avoiding wear and tear on the interior. And you will save money on transportation charges, particularly on items that won’t fit in the back of other types of vehicles.
As time goes along, it seems that SUVs have less and less off-road capability, so if you live in a remote area and want something very new, a pickup with 4 doors could be an excellent option. The Toyota Hilux (depending on the version) offers a rear locking differential, which is necessary in extreme conditions and very rare nowadays.
Disadvantages: In slightly older year models the pickup is as expensive or more expensive than the SUV. Also, because the rear suspension is tuned to handle heavy loads, they lack weight and give a rough and bouncy ride on rough roads when not loaded with cargo.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara has been a good go to vehicle in Costa Rica for over 20 years. The combination of durability, quality and value makes it a good choice, particularly for those who don’t want to break the bank for transportation needs. Read on to find out more about the different generations and their characteristics.
1999 – 2004 Introducing the Suzuki Grand Vitara
Building on success with their earlier models, Suzuki introduced the Grand Vitara in 1999. The Grand Vitara is a very similar chassis to the earlier Sidekick (aka Geo Tracker), but it has more the interior room. The Grand Vitara retains the same off-road capability, and also keeps the sturdy chassis and suspension. This means that the vehicle can go almost anywhere in Costa Rica.
The engines in the early Grand Vitara are most commonly v6, particularly in versions imported as used vehicles from the US. They are less fuel efficient than the 4 cylinder versions, but offer more power on the highway. They are common in manual transmission and automatic. The automatic transmission versions feature a “power” setting, this increases the RPM shift points for each gear, by about 300. It is very convenient in hilly areas, which is most of Costa Rica! When going downhill it means you brake less, because the engine does a lot of braking for you. When going uphill you mostly eliminate the tendency of shifting up right when you are passing that big truck, so you don’t lose power and acceleration when you need it most. Since the transmission is just 3 speeds (plus reverse), this flexibility improves the performance on the highway significantly.
These versions also have an overdrive, which can be thought of as the reverse of the power setting. If you ever find a flat highway where you can go 100 kmph (60 mph), then you can engage the overdrive, which lowers the engine RPM at high speeds, increasing fuel economy and reducing engine wear. The new road to Liberia is almost the only place you might need this, although some stretches on the 27 toll road could also be a good fit.
Most Grand Vitaras have a decent amount of extras, like power windows and door locks, but there are some economical versions with less features than others. In general the automatic transmission v6 will have more, while the manual 4 cylinder versions less.
2006 to 2011 – Super Size Me
The body style changed significantly in 2006, and also the interior design was updated to a more techno look. Upholstery took on a mesh look that is touted as more resistant to rough use. The v6 was eliminated and the injection system improved, so these year models have a more efficient 2.0 liter engine, which gives a nice combination of power and fuel economy.
The Grand Vitara retains it’s rugged roots though, all 4×4 models have the low setting. So you can still go anywhere, and you also retain the beefy chassis and suspension. The body is also wider and larger, so the 2nd row seats are more comfortable for the 3 passengers, they also have more cargo space in the rear area.
2012 to 2019 – the Song Remains the Same
These versions are mostly cosmetic changes, except Suzuki began offering the option of the economical 2000cc engine, or the more powerful 2400cc. This would be the better engine combined with an automatic transmission. While the 2000cc with a manual transmission provides superior fuel economy.
Suzuki Grand Vitara Summary
The Grand Vitara ages well and this is a great entry level vehicle for Costa Rica. It has room for 5 passengers, plus a small amount of gear in the rear cargo area. Fitting these SUVs with a luggage rack or carrier maximizes the vehicles potential. The rugged suspension and chassis will stand up well over time to rough roads, so you won’t have to replace suspension parts and linkages as much, if you commonly travel gravel or worse roads.
Suzuki parts are high quality and not expensive, they are a great value. Suzuki vehicles have been popular for a long time in Costa Rica, and most mechanics will have multiple clients with the same model car, so getting the maintenance and repairs done is easy.
The v6 engine isn’t very economical compared to similar size 4 cylinder engines, and not as powerful as other v6 engines. If that is a concern, then you would want to go with the later 4 cylinder models. But if you want the automatic transmission, on the older models, then the v6 engine is the way to go. And the smaller body size and weight make it more economical than larger 6 cylinder SUVs.
Pros: The Suzuki Grand Vitara is an excellent value compared to other models, it’s the only SUV in this class with true 4×4 with the low setting. So you can use it in rural and coastal areas with no disadvantages at all. The small size is great for parking, or narrow mountain and rural roads. It’s a vehicle that will blend into the local scene easily, so is less of a target for unscrupulous characters. You will pay less for the Grand Vitara than some other models in this class, and get the same or better quality.
Cons: The Suzuki Grand Vitara seats 5 adults, the 2005 and later models are wider, so they are a bit more comfortable. But long trips won’t be comfortable for 5, especially in the early models. Likewise, the rear cargo area isn’t ample, it has good height but it lacks depth. So if you commonly carry 4 or 5 people plus gear or luggage, you almost certainly need a larger SUV.
The short wheel base is an advantage in extreme off-road conditions, likewise the ladder type chassis construction. But these are a disadvantage in handling and highway driving. It feels like a truck, kind of the French Bulldog of the SUV world. But some people don’t like the boxy look and truck-like feel. If you don’t need the 4×4 low capability, then other models in this class have better handling on good roads and more capacity for passengers and cargo.
If you are driving in Costa Rica, one thing you should know is that the traffic police are always on the lookout for vehicles with out of date stickers. It’s not only a hefty fine, it can be extremely inconvenient as they have the option to remove the license plate from the vehicle, which they quite often do.
If you are unlucky enough to get caught and have your plate taken, it’s a messy procedure to retrieve your license plate. The registered owner must go personally, or you have to spend money on a power of attorney. And the plate will be in a regional depository, it goes to a unique one depending on where the ticket was issued. Which of course if you happened to be traveling may not be exactly in a convenient location.
In Case of Purchase … HOT TIP!
These stickers also have documents associated with them that must be carried in the vehicle. So you have to make sure that the document is current, as well as the sticker. If the documents are not current, then it isn’t necessarily a deal breaker — but you need to know what you don’t have and make sure the negotiation is clear as to what is included and what is the new owner’s responsibility. At the dealers we normally work with, the price is given including all paperwork being up to date. If a particular vehicle doesn’t have the marchamo paid, or the inspection is coming up — this will be taken car of before the vehicle is delivered and any paperwork is signed.
None of the stickers have an obligatory designated location on the windshield. Although the passenger side is a good choice, so transit officials can see the sticker clearly when they are stationed roadside. You avoid having them stop you by mistake because the sticker is valid but not visible. But many vehicle owners put the sticker along the top of the windshield, behind the rear view mirror so they don’t interfere with visibility. If you have a larger vehicle with ample mirror real estate, this is a good choice as well.
There are 3 required stickers, following is a section explaining each.
License Plate Sticker
The license plate sticker is issued along with the new metal plate by the National Registry when vehicles are nationalized. (New Plate Procedure Article) This doesn’t expire and the associated document would be the property title. If you recently purchased the vehicle, then you may not have your own property title as yet. Not to worry! Anyone can drive any passenger vehicle, so the driver identification doesn’t necessarily have to match name the property title. You can show authorities the old title in the previous owner’s name. And if you like, you can carry a copy of the sales document the lawyer gave you when you did the paperwork. If you didn’t receive the property title, then you may check with the lawyer who did the paperwork to have them send it to you. If that’s not possible for some reason, you can get a duplicate title at the regional branches of the National Registry. (See Costa Rican Vehicle Title Replacement article)
The marchamo is paid every year from the beginning of November until December 31st. This is the mandatory insurance required by every vehicle, it is valid from January 1st to December 31st of the current year. This insurance covers people outside the insured vehicle injured in a traffic accident and is designed to defray the expenses incurred by the public health care system emergency facilities due to these accidents. The payment also contains a few different taxes that have been added over the years, and the payment for these are based upon the fiscal value of the vehicle, newer and more expensive vehicles pay more.
A fun fact is that you can no longer pay your marchamo in November and put the new sticker on the windshield, if you also remove the old sticker. You will get a ticket! You have to remove the old sticker after January 1st, but then you will probably have awkward spacing on your front windshield if you put the new sticker below or beside it. If you are a neat freak, that will bother you. But if you peel off the old sticker to maintain order, it will break apart (an anti-theft feature). One option is to go ahead and peel off the old sticker, but have some transparent tape ready to reassemble the sticker and paste it back on for the remainder of the year. Or make sure to switch on EXACTLY January 1st, you can make it part of your New Year’s traditions!
Also, beware of the little square that you have to detach from the marchamo document, this must be applied with the numbers facing out to the sticky part of the marchamo sticker.
Another interesting quirk is that quite often when you go to pay the marchamo in November or December, the vehicle appears to be in the old owner’s name! Not too worry, it’s just that when you’ve purchased a vehicle during the year the INS database doesn’t match the actual information in the National Registry. This makes sense if the vehicle was purchased towards the latter part of the year, to some degree, but it’s inexplicable why 1, 2 and 3 years can pass under the old owner’s name. But it’s not so important, as the marchamo is required on the vehicle regardless of who the owner or driver may be, so there is no penalty for having a misnamed marchamo, so to speak.
Revision Tecnico Vehicular
The RiTeVe (or RTV) inspection is the third sticker, the inspection is due once a year for passenger vehicles not involved in public transportation. The ending number of the license plate tells you what month the inspection is due, the last day of the month is the final date. So you can image that around the 30th of each month the stations get very busy with last minute inspections, that continue through the 1st and 2nd of each month. A good thing to know is that you can take the car during the month prior, so the middle of that month is an excellent time to have your car inspected.
The RTV inspection involves almost everything you can measure quickly on the vehicles. It began in the late 1990s after the emissions inspection was deemed insufficient and is modeled after what takes place in many European companies. RTV invested in multi-million dollar stations around the country that perform the inspections, each has 6 lanes with designated lanes for diesel vehicles. The stations contain sophisticated equipment to monitor the vehicles and the inspection process.
First, an RTV minion will visually inspect your vehicle: turn signals, other lights, windows, seat belts, tires, engine oil, engine compartment, belts, battery terminals, chassis number, engine number, and fluids. From there you continue through the guantlet where machines check the state of your shocks and suspension, vehicle braking capacity, the carbon monoxide and oxygen levels in your vehicle’s emissions. And you drive over a pit where they inspect the under-body and steering linkages.
The defects that they find in the vehicle can be classified as major or minor. Major faults result in a failed inspection. These can be big or small items, any light not working is a major defect, as well as a single tire worn past the tread wear indicator, and oil leaks. Some faults are a matter of opinion — how worn exactly are the belts? is there oil leaking below or is it just residue from a leak? While others are clear cut measurements, like the emissions test.
If it sounds difficult, don’t worry — it is difficult! RTV won’t turn a profit in any given year if they don’t fail a specified number of vehicles. So they are always asking the government to add items to the inspection, and train their operators to have sharp eyes and closed fists. (no open palms for greasing, if you know what I mean) So the inspection tends to be really nerve-wracking, and usually results in a failure on the first try. Many people have a local mechanic take the vehicle for inspection, this will cost from $30 to $50 depending on the area and the mechanic. Plus the cost of the inspection (currently around $25) and the repairs necessary for passing.
If your vehicle fails the first inspection, then it has to go through a partial inspection of the noted defects. You pay 50% of the price for each additional inspection. Once the vehicle passes, you get a clean inspection report and a sticker — which also has a detachable square that has to go face out on the sticky part of the sticker.
The classic Toyota 4runner is a great multi-purpose 4 x 4. It has a good amount of cargo space in the back and will seat 5 adults comfortably. The off-road capability and ground clearance are superior to most SUVs, while the classic styling looks good in the city and exploring on the back roads.