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5 worst mistakes when buying a car in Costa Rica

Many things can go wrong when you are buying second hand car in Costa Rica. For those arriving to live here for the first time, it is one of the most stressful and difficult hurdles to overcome.  When it goes wrong it can really sour your early experience of our beautiful country.

Not everyone selling cars (local or expat) has your best interests at heart. Get someone on your side to help you avoid disasters. Here we set out what we know to be some of the worst case scenarios... 

  • Damaged / imported car / cut & shut

  • Much worse condition than it appears

  • Price rip-off, paying way too much

  • Replacement parts hard to find / very expensive

  • The seller is not the owner

Damaged cars from other countries can make their way into the Costa Rica market. This can be as the result of floods or other events that make them unfit for sale.


Enterprising mechanics can take half of 2 written off cars and join the 2 good bits together. Hey presto! It looks like a new car!


You do not want to buy and be driving one of these. This might result in your death since these cars cannot cope with impacts in the way they should.

How easy is it to be fooled? Very easy. These types of fraud cars are professionally produced. 

How can it be avoided? We know what to look out for and what information sources to check to avoid this horrible mistake. Our mechanical inspections will reveal any signs of these issues and we conduct research on serial numbers etc

1 You buy a damaged / imported car / cut & shut


You buy a car in much worse condition than it appears

Unscrupulous people have a whole bag of tricks when it comes to hiding problems with cars. Unless you are wise to all these methods you could be taken advantage of. The CR Car Guy has seen it all!  Some things (among many) to look out for are:

The clocks may have been tampered with. Do you know how to detect this? Beware of super-cleaned engines so it appears very well maintained. There is a difference between a well maintained engine and one that has been cleaned to appear well-maintained.  Look out for temporary fixes so the car passes minimal inspection.

Watch out for possible misrepresentations as to age, history of the vehicle. We know how to verify all this information.

How easy is it to be fooled? Very easy. You need experience to know to look for these main tricks and a trained eye to spot others. 

How can it be avoided? Our inspection is an exhaustive search for exactly these things. If the seller has tried to fool any would-be purchaser, we will see it. We will also conduct extensive discussions with the seller, ask all relevant questions, and then check his representations. 


Whether you are buying from a private seller or using some 3rd party service, buying a car is always a balancing act between a fair asking price and a fair purchase price. Some 3rd party (expat) services add a large mark up to the fair market price!

When you don’t know the market well or you are dealing in a different currency, the buyer runs an even greater the risk of getting ripped off. 

How easy is it to be fooled? Very easy. We can all be ripped off on price. 

Not everyone (local or expat) is to be blindly trusted.

You get ripped off on price, paying way too much

How can it be avoided? The risk is less if you have a representative who is a Tico who understands the local mindset, is familiar with the local car market, has the mechanical knowledge to identify problems and the experience to be able to accurately price any car in the second hand market. That's why our service exists.

4 You buy a car whose replacement parts are hard to find / very expensive

Not all cars on Costa Rican roads are made for the Costa Rica market. Many cars on the open market are foreign imports. Especially when you buy from an expat, the car may have been imported from overseas. This may be fine until you need a replacement and then you begin to discover that the parts you need are not in the country. Even when the particular model of car is also made for the Costa Rican market, the parts may not be the same. Then you may be stuck with a car that cannot move and all the headaches and expense of trying to find the right parts.


How easy is it to be fooled? Easy. There are several such stories on social media.

How can it be avoided? We know what cars come from where. We understand the issues with replacement parts. We can advise you about all these matters and steer you away from trouble and toward cars that will run for years and give you minimal trouble in the future.  

You buy a car from someone who isn’t the owner

This would be 1 of the worst outcomes of all. There are some unscrupulous people around and car theft is not uncommon.


To get rid of a stolen car, selling it to some unsuspecting expat who doesn’t really know the system well can be a great result. You take the keys, you sign some papers, things look and seem official and off you go only to discover further down the line that you cannot be the legal owner of this vehicle!


Your money is gone and so are the people you dealt with. You have no way of tracing them and even if you did, are the police really going to pull out the stops to crack the case?


That experience is not very Pura Vida.


How easy is it to be fooled? Surprisingly easy, although it is rare. 

How can it be avoided? This type of error cannot be made if you use a trusted and reliable service like the CR Car Guy. We help you avoid this disaster among others, We also work with reliable lawyers and insurance companies so everything will be taken care of by the book. No need to lose any sleep!

Check out our customer articles or Facebook reviews 

Get in touch now if you need help buying a car in Costa Rica!

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