buying a car in ecuador

This post originally published on a previously-owned blog and was imported here to simplify my life. Please excuse any confusion due to this merge. I hope you enjoy the content!

Written by Mike with the intention of helping future Ecuador missionaries…. remember, this is just our experience – things can change in a moment down here.

Most missionaries, particularly families, which serve in Ecuador will need to purchase a vehicle of some
sort in order to function efficiently and economically. In this post I hope to help you walk through the
process – from decision making on type of car all the way through all the paperwork and driving school.

The very first fundamental decision you should make is to buy new or used. In Ecuador when one
purchases a used vehicle much caution should be had for several reasons. First if the vehicle has any
fines or liens on it, you (the new owner) will assume responsibility for them. Second, if the vehicle is
stolen you could find yourself in a lot of legal trouble and potentially lose the vehicle. Additionally, if the
vehicle is registered in a different province the process to get it registered in your province (and thus be
able to use it) can literally take months.

When one buys new all of these concerns melt away. This makes for much less risk and much more
convenience for the buyer. Additionally, vehicles in Ecuador hold their value much more than in the
USA. You do take a bit of an instant depreciation hit by driving it off the lot, but it is small compared to
the USA. Additionally, new vehicles typically come with some sort of guarantee in case of mechanical
problems. Also, the dealership will do much of the upfront paperwork for you and guide you with the
rest. This is a major advantage for somebody adapting to a new language and culture.

One can have a positive used car buying experience; it is entirely possible. However, for Sydney and me
it made the most sense to buy new. Even when buying new the process is MUCH more arduous than
buying in the USA. Here is an outline of the steps involved.

Purchasing the Car: We did a lot of research and decided on the vehicle we wanted. We went to the
dealership and basically said we want this make/model. The sales person took us to a desk were we
confirmed the price we have seen from other sources, chose a color, asked for an alarm and told them
to start the process.

(At this point I need to explain that we did not really buy the car. The Church of the Nazarene Nor Andino
Field did. We gave the Church the money but they are the true, legal owners. This was mostly done in
case something was to happen and we were unable to sell the car. The Church will always have the
ability to sell the car in our absence.)

So, we did all the paperwork with the sales person and arranged to have a signer from the Church come
and pay for the vehicle. Later that afternoon the signer came with me to write a check and sign all the

Insuring the Car: In Ecuador you can insure your vehicle fairly economically against loss due to theft
or accident. This is something I wanted to do. Before I went to the dealership I called an insurance
company to get an idea on costs. At the dealership I asked them about insurance and they informed
me that they had an in house agent for a major company in Ecuador. I asked for a quote and it was less
than the quote I had received from the other company on the phone. In my initial visit to the dealership I
set up the policy. I paid the premium when I returned later that afternoon with the signer.

Tramites y Pagos (Paperwork and Payments): So now the car was paid for and fully insured. Time to
go for a drive! Not in Ecuador. I was told that before I could claim the car I had to make a number of
payments. The only catch was that I could not make any of the payments until the dealership sent me an
official receipt by email (this took about 12 hours) and the car purchase was “in the system.” This meant
that somebody and some computer somewhere had to input this car purchase. Putting it in the system
took about 24 hours.

Once I had the official receipt and the purchase was in the system I made the following payments:

SOAT: This is the obligatory socially funded health insurance in case of accident. Basically if you are in a car
accident in Ecuador this program pays for all medical costs. It is an annual fee of around $25 that can be
purchased at centers all around the city.

MARTRICULACION: This is the provincial registration/tax that is required for all vehicles. This is an
annual cost of around $320 for our small vehicle and goes up quickly for larger vehicles. This needs to be
paid at a “Servipago,” a private company that accepts payments for all types of things and has branches
all over the city.

ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW: This is the equivalent of DEQ in the USA. It is an annual fee of about $25 that can also go up for larger vehicles. This is also paid at Servipago.

Car Pick Up: Finally after all the paperwork and payments are made the car can be picked up. Again,
since the Church was actually the purchaser our signer had to come for this meeting. Here we signed
a number of additional documents and picked up documentation for the insurance. We produced the
receipts for all the payments made. We were then led thorough an hour long description of all the
features of the vehicle and presented a coupon for a free vacuum. Note that this is for a real vacuum,
not just a onetime vacuum service. However, part of the agreement is that the vacuum only be used on
the car. 😉

Also at pick up we were told of the fees for service every 5000km that were anywhere from $50 – $150
in order to maintain our guarantee. This is your typical oil change and maintenance. Additionally we
were told that we must do the environmental review within 30 days or be fined. The agent promised to
call us in a week or two to once the license plates arrive and we could come in to have them installed.
After all this it was finally time to drive!

Environmental Review: There are about a half dozen stations scattered around the city to provide
this service. I am not sure how many cars need to go through each year but I am sure there are not
enough stations. I was told to arrive at about 7:30am, approximately 30 minutes prior to opening.
When I got there the line was at least a mile long. Frustrated, I decided to go home and come back
later in the day. At about 1pm the line was about the same. I decided to get in line and see how fast
it was moving. After about 10 minutes of no movement and being offered all sort of services on my
car by people hanging out on the street I decided to go home. Once home I found this website. Here I found out where the other stations were located as well as webcams to view the lines at many of the stations.

With this new information I went the next day to a station that appeared to be less busy and have a line
that seemed to move a bit quicker. Sure enough, I arrive at about 12:30pm. By 3:00pm I had completed
the process!

Near the front of the line a man came and asked for my official receipt for the vehicle and my payment
receipt for the environmental review. He put a stamp on the review receipt and gave both sheets
back to me. Inside the compound I was instructed to back into a particular spot and take my keys and
paperwork inside.

Inside I went to window number one where they took my keys and review receipt. In exchange they
told me to take a few steps to my left. I watched him put a “66” or was it “99” sticker on my keys. A few
minutes later the same guy tore off a piece a paper that had a very clear “66” on it. I asked the guy next
to me what I do next. He told me that I just need to wait.

I wandered over to the window and watched as another guy opened the truck of my car and verified
there was a spare tire. He then got in and drove it to the other side of the building. I wandered over
to the glass windows that let me see what we will call the “lab,” the place where all the testing is done.
Inside the lab they connected on cables/tubes to the engine and another to the exhaust. After a couple a
minutes they drove it to other stations where the car was put on shake plates and on rollers.

After about 10 minutes in the lab the car was driven to a different parking spot and the guy got out
and walked back to the building. I went to the counter where I last saw my keys and saw them already
sitting there once again. After finishing a conversation on her cell phone the lady looked at the keys for a
couple minutes, then printed up a sheet of paper and stapled a sticker to it. She then called out “Iglesia
del Nazareno,” I walked up, signed a paper and I was off with paper, sticker and keys.

I got in the car, excited to put my new sticker on the windshield when I got home. Before I left the lot,
though, a worker stopped me and asked for my papers. He went ahead and put the sticker on for me!
What service!

License Plate Pickup: I have not done this yet, but the dealership said they would install them for me.
The insurance guy said he would have all the insurance paperwork for me. And the friendly saleslady
said she would have the vacuum for me if I gave her all 5s when I receive a call for an evaluation on the
service she gave.

Driving School: In order to be legal one must complete driving school and pass the test to obtain a
drivers license within 3 months of entering the country. A whole new post on this experience will come

2 thoughts on “buying a car in ecuador

  1. Buying a car is truly an overwhelming task. We need to have lots of patience because of its long process. That's why I tried to buy a car online to avoid the long wait in lines. But I think if I experience this kind of service, it would be worth the wait. Let me just say, that's one lovely car. I hope you're having a great time driving it until now. #Ashely @


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