Who We Are

Russ-Kattia-final

WheelsCR.com is a family business focused on assisting expats moving to Costa Rica in the purchase of a vehicle that meets their budget and needs.

Origin of the PASS Service

This service originated from 2 directions.  In 2003, we developed a web site for used car dealers, which would allow them to post their inventory to sell on line. Occasionally inquiries would come through in English, and we would answer these questions ourselves.

At about the same time, Kattia’s family sold a beach lot near Puntarenas to a couple from Canada.  In assisting the new owners through the relocation process, we saw how difficult it was for foreigners to purchase a vehicle.

In 2006, we began offering the PASS service as the English language section of the used car dealer’s site. Quickly it grew enough to warrant a full-fledged web site of its own, which led to the development of WheelsCR.com

About Us

Russ Martin moved to Costa Rica in 1994, while Kattia Wiessel is Costa Rican.  Both have started and operated businesses in Costa Rica over the past 2 decades, bringing a wealth of experience to WheelsCR.com .

A graduate of the University of North Texas, Russ came to Costa Rica to learn Spanish and to start a business, meeting Kattia in the process.  After moving here permanently, he worked at the Tico Times in the late 1990s, as a display advertising account executive. Seeing that the future was now, from there he branched out into the World Wide Web, becoming a web developer and marketing specialist.

Kattia has worked in family businesses from an early age, eventually taking over the full administration of their restaurant, La Cuenca. Looking to expand her horizons, Kattia took a sales manager’s position with ADT Security when this company expanded to Costa Rica in 2001. In recent years she has taken on construction management and sales of custom homes she builds. All of this experience allows Kattia to handle the great variety of problems and situations that come up in the process of buying a car in an efficient and professional way.

Chris has a great ground game.

In 2018, we brought Kattia’s brother Chris into the mix, he is now handling most of our “footwork”.  This means that he is the one on the ground, taking clients to see the cars, while Kattia manages the process from home.  Russ is now doing more web site development and foraying into social media, as well answering the initial correspondence from clients.  Chris studied English at INTENSA, one of the most respected and effective language schools, and which polished up his fluency that he had developed from grade school and high school at a bilingual school in our hometown, Coronado. He spent time working at Sykes using this language skill, as well as using his studies as a chef at the family restaurant. 

Our Standard Operating Procedure

Based on our experience, we have a strong preference for helping clients purchase their vehicle at a used car importer / dealer.  We currently have a pool of about 40 dealers that we have an established relationship with.

Firstly, search is more efficient with places that we know, and you normally have 2 or 3 candidates at any one place.

Secondly, we have visited their lots and driven their vehicles, and have had clients that have purchased a vehicle there with good results. We know that they stand behind their cars, and are trying their best to put a quality product on the market that will generate word-of-mouth business into the future. 

Thirdly, they are generally family owned or sole proprietor businesses, just like us! 

When it is necessary to look at cars from private owners, that is not a problem for us. If the budget is very low, or if it is an unusual vehicle for the dealers to carry, then we go the private route and attempt to pre-qualify the vehicle to avoid patently bad vehicles. However, the fact is that with private sellers you will see a higher percentage of vehicles that are “not ready for prime time” and the seller is not required by law to give the 30 guarantee on motor and transmission.

Our Philosophy and Vision

We are proud to say that we have a very high satisfaction index and success rate.  Our focus is to take a necessary process that is not very pleasant and make it go as smoothly as possible.  For most folks buying a used car is a stressful experience, even back home. Add in the language and cultural barriers expats encounter, as well as the fact of being in unfamiliar territory (either Costa Rica as a whole or particularly San José); then you can imagine the difficulties a lot of foreigners have encountered in buying a vehicle.

We are able to take this process and streamline it greatly.  In most cases our clients test drive 5 to 6 vehicles in the first part of the day and are able to make a decision by early afternoon.  Once the vehicle has been located, the sales and registration documentation, as well as payment for the vehicle, must be handled.  Having someone who really knows the drill can not only make everything go smoothly, but gives you a great deal of confidence that you are doing things the right way.

4 thoughts on “Who We Are

    1. We are based in San Jose, as are the vast majority of car dealers. We’ve been providing our service since 2006 and have established a pool of 38 dealers that we work with regularly. Although we’d be open to including new dealers in the pool and have on occasion removed dealers, generally we work exclusively with them because of the confidence level we have in their business practices and quality of inventory.

      In addition, cars offered for sale in coastal and rural areas have usually been used in those areas, which generally have harsh conditions. While cars in San Jose have been in a much more mild climate, and as well much better road conditions. Most of the dealers nowadays are dealing with cars that were originally purchased new in Costa Rica, they have relatively low kilometers and show little wear and tear.

      So I think you can see why we wouldn’t be able to perform the service outside of our own area. As of July 1st, 2019, our fee is $390 for the used car PASS service. You can see the most up to date fees and description here: Used Car Buying Assistance

  1. As part of your service, can you bring the car(s) to a qualified mechanic to check it out?
    Also, I have read that most dealers get their cars from auctions and import them. The cars may be salvage vehicles and/or have their odometers dialed back. Can you help make sure this is not the case for the car we buy?

    1. We don’t necessarily take the cars to a mechanic. The dealers are required by law to give a 30 day warranty on the motor and transmission. Because of this, they thoroughly inspect cars before they take them as a trade in or purchase them. We can also see the last RTV technical inspection. Quite often it’s very recent and that will show what problems they found with the car. If we do take a car to the mechanic it normally has to be close to where we see the car. We know several mechanics in different areas, or we can locate one nearby. They will charge from $50 to $70, depending on the location and equipment used.

      As for salvage title vehicles in Costa Rica, this seems to stem from some outdated information on the Internet. In our experience there aren’t any of these types of vehicles being sold in Costa Rica at this time. Customs does not allow wrecked vehicles or salvage title vehicles to be imported, they review online databases against the VIN number of all vehicles arriving in Costa Rica. Most dealers nowadays carry vehicles that were purchased new in Costa Rica, as opposed to imported from the US. And those that do import from the US are providing the car history, and of course people buying those cars can also check the history.

      For over 10 years now RTV has been noting the odometer readings of vehicles at the annual inspection, so this is also old / fake news. Any car that has a lower odometer reading than the prior year fails the inspection.

      On top of all that, we have never had any problem identifying cars that are not in superior condition, which is the case with any salvage vehicle. With our process you test drive 4 to 6 comparable vehicles within a few hours, it is really easy to see which one has been cared for and which aren’t at the same level.

      I don’t mean to imply that the old stories are untrue or that no one has had a bad experience, just that the problem isn’t as common as you would think based on the rumor mill online.

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