The Great Car Dilemna

by Judy King 25. April 2010 21:46

1956-Dodge-Royal-Lancer-red-black-ggr-2  I hate cars. I don’t like repairing them, dealing with their problems, buying them or selling them. In fact about the only thing I like is driving them. I’ve never been a car fan, lusting after specific makes or models.

I had a momentary childhood obsession with big finned black, white and red 1956 Dodge Royal that dr. Fee herded around the streets of town. Remember? They were tri-colored; mom liked the grey, pink and white that matched our new tweedy wallpaper and plaid slipcovers. Now that was a car. Then I felt a momentary warmth in high school for a friend’s 1962 white Impala with red interior.

Since then cars have meant transportation, nothing more – I liked them better if they were a decent color. Other than that, the only thing I require of a car is for it to be comfortable, start when I put the key in the slot and quit when I take the key back out. I’ve had a long relationship with my current vehicle, a 1996 Ford Windstar I bought in 1998 with 42,000 miles, and it’s given me barely a moment’s problem other than routine oil changes, a set of tires, replacing the shocks and struts, etc. through the ensuring 12 years and 60,000 miles.

Until…about a month ago when I was out in Jocotepec in the midst of one of the four-hour Lakeside overviews I occasionally do to help newly arrived folks get acquainted with the territory. My formerly well-behaved car stopped -- right in the middle of the street and wouldn’t go another foot.

Long story short - bystanders pushed it to the curb, I walked a couple of blocks to fetch a mechanic who called a cab to return my client and I to Ajijic while he towed the minivan to his shop – and what I assumed was the car equivalent of hospice care.

A day later, he called with the diagnosis. The bad news was I’d hit a rock or tope (speed bump) and lost all the oil. The good news was that engine is designed to shut down when there’s no oil, to prevent additional damage. The repairs were completed in two more days (the new oil pan had to come from Guadalajara). The entire bill was just over $100 US.

The long term prognosis, however, wasn’t good. There’s a lingering transmission problem. The cost of rebuilding that is estimated at about $1,000 – and that’s 1/3 to 1/2 of the value of the car and that doesn’t make sense to me, even though the interior is perfect, the tires good and the body just in need of a touchup in a few dozen spots. All those other mysterious systems will still be 14 years old.

So…I’m reluctantly car shopping. As I conduct the weekly Mexico Insights Newcomers Seminar, I outline the obvious and hidden costs of buying a Mexican-plated car and suggest strongly that they drive a US plated car to Lakeside. Now I’m facing these costs head on, and wondering where it’s best for me to buy a new car.

Here are some of the extra expenses involved when purchasing a Mexican-plated car:

1. Expect to pay 25% more for a car in Mexico as for the same car in the US. (Cars in the $7000 to 9000 range in the US are the peso equivalent of $8500 to $12,000 US here.

2. You may be expected to pay 15% IVA (sales tax).

3. You must pay Tenencia – that’s a road use tax that is 2.8% of the current value of the car paid annually for each of the first 10 years. Considering the low depreciation of cars here, that means that owners pay almost 25% of the new cost of the car in this tax during the first 10 years. (That cost soars to almost 75% for cars with a new value of $44,000 or more – so if you gotta have a Hummer or high end, fancy, smancy something, you pay for the luxury. A friend has a 2003 CR-V and paid about $300 US for this year’s Tenencia.

4. The process of converting the title to your name is $150 to $200 US

5. Annual licensing/registration is $30 to $50 US ($600 pesos).

6. Insurance is MUCH more expensive on Mexican-plated cars than on US or Canadian –plated cars -- approximately 2 to 3 times as much as for an equal US-plated car. Want a real example? When I put Mexican plates on my US Windstar (extenuating circumstances, don’t ask) the van was 10 years old and the insurance went from $220 US per year with Iowa plates to $650 US per year when we put the Mexican plates on it. Full coverage on the Windstar this year (she’s 14 years old) is still $350 US!

I toyed with the idea of searching for a car in Texas via the internet, taking the bus up, buying the car, and then driving back. If I wasn’t working -- editing both the Lake Chapala Review and Living at Lake Chapala and adding posts to the blog and conducting the weekly seminars and working on a special cross-cultural project, I’d do just that – and take time to visit family and friends in Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota.

DSC01613Frankly, much as I’d like to see everyone, I’m not sure that the reduction in cost would be worth the time required for the trip, the stress of driving from Texas to Minnesota and back to Texas and then the 700 miles in Mexico. That trip would be great fun, but it would also eat up a good deal of the savings, real or perceived.

There May Be a Reason for the Lower Cost of US Cars

While the cars in the US are cheaper, they also have many more miles on the odometer and all of the liabilities that extra use implies. 2003-2005 Mexican cars seem to have 40,000 to 80,000 kilometers – that’s only 25,000 to 50,000 miles. The 5-7 year old US cars I’m seeing online have “normal milage” of 80-115,000 – that’s twice their Mexican counterparts. Plus there’s the winter road salt residue and rust issues.

My Worst Fear

I have another concern about buying an American-plated car. It’s scary to walk onto a strange car lot and shake hands with one of those happy guys in the plaid jacket that you see in the Used Car lot commercials on TV. I shudder when I think of saying to him, “I want a used car. Can you do the paperwork fast so I can head back home to Mexico.” I have visions of Buddy calling his brother-in-law on the intercom: “Hey there Billy Bob, bring up that lemon, a… er, that nice car we’ve been saving from there in the back row.”

SO What to do…

The Windstar’s transmission is still perking along, more or less ok, a car genius friend is looking through the semi-nuevos (almost new or used cars) in Guadalajara. The problem at the moment seems that the domino effect of last year’s weakened economy means that fewer folks in Mexico’s second largest city are trading cars in on newer and better ones. One of these days he’ll find a good one, and I’ll make the purchase. I’ll settle for almost anything that is high enough to make it over the topes, has a decent back seat. A CR-V or Ford Escape might be good – as long as it isn’t beige.

(The cars in this blog? The photo of that 1956 Dodge Lancer just like Dr. Fee’s beauty. I spotted that hot pink limo in the Guadalajara airport parking lot a couple years ago. I wonder who they were picking up. The mind boggles. The perfectly restored Cadillac El Dorado convertible parked at the Real De Chapala Hotel  had just delivered the bride and groom to their reception.)

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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