This is my experience of buying a car in Mexico; retrieving it from another state; and registering it in Jalisco. I did a lot of research, I had some challenges, and in the end, I scored a killer deal on a legendary four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Table of Contents
- Temporary Vehicle Import Permits (TIP)
- Cars In Mexico
- Mexican Used Car Websites
- Buying A New Car In Mexico
- Buying A Used Car In Mexico
- My Experience
- Paying For A Car
- Registering A Car In Mexico
The time had come to sell my old pickup with California plates and buy a car in Mexico. I needed a vehicle that was safe for a child’s car seat, everything was expired, and the market for used cars in the US was hot. It was time to replace a truck that I absolutely loved and I wasn’t going to settle for just any car.
I sold a 4×4 Toyota pickup after 20 years of adventures and I was set on finding something with four-wheel drive. However, in this part of Mexico, I wasn’t finding a lot of four-wheel drive vehicles within my budget. It took me months of research to decide on the vehicle that I wanted, what it should cost, and where I was going to get it.
Temporary Vehicle Import Permits (TIP)
Many people bring their foreign vehicles to Mexico while they have tourist visas or temporary resident visas. The temporary vehicle import permit (TIP) can be extended beyond the initial six month limit when you get a temporary resident visa. However, when you move to a permanent resident visa you may no longer have a foreign vehicle in Mexico. Some people prefer to stay as temporary residents as long as they can so they don’t have to get rid of their foreign vehicles.
At some point you come to the realization that you can either try to nationalize your vehicle (very challenging) or buy something local.
Nationalizing a foreign vehicle in Mexico is possible but it is a political and fluid process. The rules are always changing, and it’s time-consuming and expensive. In most cases, it will be a better idea to sell your vehicle back home and buy something here.
If you are dead set on trying to nationalize your vehicle you will need to speak with a customs broker and I would also recommend a local gestor. Customs brokers work at the federal level importing the vehicle and the gestor can help with local registration.
Cars In Mexico
There are a lot of cars in Mexico that I was not familiar with, either different brands or models that are not available in the US. Mexico has a massive automotive industry which includes domestically manufactured and foreign-made cars. Besides different trading partners, there are different emissions and safety standards.
I was not familiar with SEAT, Renault, Peugeot, and Atul until I moved to Mexico. While I heard good things about those cars it wasn’t enough to deter me from Toyota’s reputation for long term quality.
The Toyota Hilux is an amazing truck. It is the modern version of my 1985 pickup. They are absolutely bulletproof (figuratively not literally, that will cost you extra) and loved all over the world except in the United States. I guess they don’t meet safety and emissions standards, and probably cannibalize market share for the more expensive Tacoma. The only problem is that the four-wheel-drive version didn’t come to Mexico until 2018 and they are still expensive.
BMW, Audi, and Mercedes make some smaller cars that look great for the city but horrible for road trips. Nissan has a whole different line of light vehicles. The Nissan Tsuru replaced the Volkswagen Beetle as the iconic Mexican taxi. When you see a Nissan Versa it is most likely an Uber.
Cars by Nissan and Volkswagen are different from the versions in the US. Some cars are cheaper in Mexico because they have very different standard safety features. Cars are built to meet the safety and emissions standards of their final destination and the prices will vary greatly. There have been a few high profile traffic accidents where standard safety equipment was discussed after the fact.
The price of cars in Mexico will depend on the version and standard safety features.
Infinity and Acura are in Mexico but Lexus has yet to enter the market.
My sister-in-law has a Seat which I love but I don’t know anything about their mechanical longevity. A friend has one that is a few years old and it has some issues.
At least in Guadalajara and Mexico City, there is a dynamic market for classic cars. Volkswagen is iconic down here. Finding an old Volkswagen bus or beetle is a dream but the safety and performance issues deterred me from actually buying one.
I saw a few older cars out in the ranches that looked like they were in amazing condition. Cast a wide net just to see what’s out there.
The three biggest markets for used cars in Mexico are Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey. I found that there were more 4x4s in the north near Monterrey and that is where I ended up buying my truck.
Be wary about buying foreign vehicles on expired temporary vehicle import permits. It’s not worth the trouble to get them nationalized and the cops will give you a hard time about expired registration tags and paperwork that is not in your name.
Can I Buy A Car In Mexico And Bring It To California
Temporarily yes, permanently it’s not likely. However, I bought my truck thinking that I might be able to if we decide to move back to California. In order to qualify for importation, the vehicles must be built to US safety and emissions standards. I found this list of vehicles that qualify but I don’t know how recent it is and I have yet to try importing a vehicle to the United States.
There are cars in Mexico that meet the emissions and safety standards but they cost about the same in either currency. The cheaper vehicles in Mexico would not pass emissions and safety, and the cost of upgrades to qualify would defeat the purpose of buying a cheap car anyway.
You would be better off keeping a beach house in Playas de Tijuana and registering it in Baja California. You will need utility bills for proof of residence.
Buying a car in Mexico and driving to the US is permitted up to one year. It is not supposed to be permanent.
Toyota Of Mexico
I like Toyotas. If you take care of them you can put a lot of miles on them. The Corolla, Sienna, Tacoma, Highlander, Tundra, and Land Cruiser are all quality vehicles that can last for a really long time.
I had a 1985 Toyota pickup for close to 20 years. That truck is amazing and has taken me on a lot of off-roading adventures. I wanted to continue taking part in that lifestyle.
In the end I chose a 2006 Land Cruiser. It has four wheel drive and a legendary reputation as a high mileage vehicle. The 2006 is the 100 series with significantly more horsepower than the 2005. The 200 series came out in 2008 and is still out of my price range. They use a ton of gas but I work from home and don’t commute much. This truck is mostly going to be for family road trips and surf trips.
Become A Subject Matter Expert
I highly recommend becoming a subject matter expert on a few different vehicles. There are a lot of videos on YouTube of mechanics talking about the true cost of owning different vehicles. Old Audis and BMWs can be money pits because the parts are expensive and you need special computerized tools to work on them. Personally, I really enjoyed Scotty Kilmer’s lists of the best and worst cars for long term ownership costs.
Get to know the different years of the model that you like. Know which year the body style changed and which year got a performance upgrade. You will want to know if there are different versions of that model. For example, the Toyota Hilux has four different versions in 2018 but only two different versions in 2017. The price should reflect how many bells and whistles the car comes with.
You can get a 10 or 20-year-old Toyota with 200,000 kilometers that is just barely getting broken in. Just make sure that your 20-year-old truck has been well taken care of or quickly identify what needs to be fixed and factor that into your budget.
Mexican Used Car Websites
In the end, I bought my truck off of Facebook. The guy selling the truck was my age and opened his Facebook account in 2007. He didn’t look like he was going to disappear overnight or was running a fake account. It turns out his in-laws are from the same small town as my in-laws and they all know each other going back 50 years. Look for people that are trustworthy.
Solo Autos is based in Guadalajara with the majority of vehicles being listed there. The prices feel higher than on Mercado Libre but the platform is easier to use, the photos were generally higher quality, and there are fewer ads that alerted my scam radar. I found there was a pretty even number of private sellers and used car dealerships.
The site feels like an early version of eBay. The user interface is dated but there is a large inventory of vehicles all over the country. I found there was a pretty even number of private sellers and used car dealerships.
Other Aggregator Sites
Mitule.com and automexico.com felt like aggregators that just repost ads listed on other sites. I called on a few vehicles from those sites but the vehicles had already been sold and taken down from the site the seller used. The user interfaces are bothersome on both sites with pop-ups and redirects. I wouldn’t use those sites again.
Buying a new car at the dealership
I went to go see the Toyota Hilux at the dealership. We looked at a few different models. The buying experience is exceptional because the salespeople are experts on high quality vehicles. Even if you are looking to buy a used car you should have a look at the new ones too. It is a part of becoming a subject matter expert.
The beauty of buying a new car is the simplicity of the paperwork. The dealership issues a factura with your name on it that serves as a title. When you register a vehicle you need to trace the ownership back to the original owner. If you are the original owner the process is very easy. When a car goes from the dealer to a company to a private citizen the paperwork needs to be in order at each change of ownership. Each factura needs to have all the same information like VIN number and motor number.
Buying a new car may make the registration process simple but it is expensive. I would never have been able to afford a new Toyota Land Cruiser. Plus, you need to be very careful about what you do with a new vehicle. Thieves know which vehicles are valuable and you probably won’t want to park it on the street or let a valet park it on the street. You get so much more for your money when you buy a vehicle that is a few years old.
Buying A Used Car In Mexico
Transferring a title in Mexico can be a complicated process. You need to trace the ownership back to when it was sold as new and make sure each change of ownership was done legally. Look for people selling vehicles that have the original factura that was endorsed to each subsequent owner. Everytime the vehicle changes hands tax needs to be paid. If you don’t have the paperwork it is likely you will be asked to update an old factura or pay the tax again.
Some states are more lenient than others. Mexico State is notorious for lax enforcement of the rules. When you try to transfer your vehicle’s licence plates from Mexico State to another state, especially if the previous owner didn’t actually live in Mexico State, you are likely to find some missing paperwork, some taxes that were never paid, or VIN numbers that do not match.
It is common for the person selling the vehicle to turn the vehicle over to the new owner with a ‘baja’. The ‘baja’ is where they turn the license plates into the State transit authority and relinquish responsibility for that vehicle. The new owner can get a permit to drive without license plates while they are registering the vehicle in their name.
In my case, I drove my new truck from Monterrey to Guadalajara with the old Nuevo Leon plates, mailed the old plates back to former owners, who then registered the ‘baja’, and sent me the original document. I highly recommend getting the ‘baja’ and permit to drive without plates before you part ways with the former owner. If you have any problems and the former owner is busy it may take you a while to get your registration in order.
Car Buying Service
If all of this seems like a lot of work or maybe you just want another set of eyes to look over the documentation, you should get in touch with Antonio Regalada of R&R Car Solutions. I posted this article in the MEXPAT Guadalajara Facebook Group asking for feedback and multiple people said that Antonio was THE man for all things cars in the Chapala/Guadalajara Metro Region. He will help you find the right car, sell a car, rent a car, get it checked out by a mechanic, registered, and even insure it.
After going through the registration process by myself, I can say that it would have been nice to have a little help. The paperwork can be tedious if you do not speak Spanish at the professional level or haven’t been through government offices before. Antonio is a really nice guy who comes highly recommended by people who have bought and sold cars.
My Experience Buying a Car In Mexico
I spent months poring over Solo Autos, Mercado Libre, and Facebook Marketplace. I started a little timid and was slow to call about cars that I liked. I quickly realized the best deals sell quickly and I had to jump when I saw them.
Originally, I started out looking for 2010-2011 Tacomas with 4wd and saw a few that were pretty beat up. The ones in excellent condition sell quickly. While I was doing research on Tacomas I happened across a 1989 Land Cruiser 60 series that was beautifully restored and within my budget. It sold before I could call.
There are a lot of YouTube videos exploring the different models and years of the Land Cruiser. This video really sold me on the 2006 FJZ100 series land cruiser. He also traveled across the country to score a deal and to do some off-roading. That sounded like something that I would like to do.
There are a huge number of Land Cruiser enthusiasts in Western Australia who like to teach people how to modify their vehicles for overlanding. The area around Perth, Western Australia is a bucket-list destination for adventure travel including surfing and off-road activity.
While I was researching I kept coming across a discussion forum called ih8mud.com which is dedicated to Land Cruisers and overlanding enthusiasts. The discussion threads about maintenance costs, 4wd modifications, and a detailed pre-sale checklist of common mechanical problems helped me score a killer deal and avoid one that was really beat-up.
I grew up with land cruisers and love off-roading to the beach to surf isolated waves. A well maintained Toyota Land Cruiser can easily go 500,000 km.
There are not a lot of Land Cruisers for sale in Mexico at any given time. When I made the decision to buy a Land Cruiser I also made the decision to travel to purchase it.
While I was making plans to fly to Mexico City to see a 2006 in perfect condition with only 60,000 km, someone put a deposit down and took it off the market. The deposit was put down the same day the truck was listed. Next, I flew to Culiacán, Sinaloa to see one that was really beat-up. Then, to Colima to see a lifted Land Cruiser with big tires but the owner wouldn’t negotiate the price. Lastly, I flew to Monterrey to see a 2006 with 260,000 km but had been well taken care of and was very affordable.
I used the Toyota dealership as a public place to meet the seller and get a presale revision. The Toyota dealership in Monterrey even changed a recalled airbag sensor while the seller and I were working on the payment. I talked with Toyota dealerships in Mexico City, Culiacán, Colima, and Monterrey. Their service departments are exceptional.
We met at the Toyota dealership in Monterrey and the service agent gave me a summary of the work that had been done recently and the results of the pre-sale evaluation. From there we went to the bank to process the payment. I was driving from Monterrey to Guadalajara the following morning with my new truck.
There is nothing like a nine-hour drive to get to know your new truck. The 4.7-liter V8 engine made the drive very enjoyable. The 1985 pickup I had just driven 30 hours to San Diego has a 2.4-liter straight four-cylinder engine that is gutless. The Land Cruiser was a significant upgrade.
One interesting hiccup that I experienced was trying to register the vehicle in another state. The motor number needs to be on all the facturas. In Jalisco it is just as important as the VIN number. I had two facturas: one original from the Toyota dealership and one from the second owner. The second owner didn’t include the motor number on the factura. The VIN (numero de serie) was explicitly stated on all facturas but the motor number was only one the original. The motor in the vehicle was the same as the original and had never been changed.
I was told to get an updated copy of the 2017 factura. This is never going to happen. A company is not going to be able to cancel and reissue a factura from a previous year let alone three years ago. They have already done their year end accounting and have zero interest in paying tax a second time on a sale from years past.
The previous owner went to the company that sold them the vehicle several years back and asked for an addendum to the 2017 factura. In the end it was enough for the fiscalia (policia investigador) and the validacion vehicular. The whole process set me back another week.
How To Check If A Car Is Stolen In Mexico
Before you pay for the car check if the VIN number has been reported stolen with the REPUVE on the Secretaría de Gobernación website. You will not be able to register a vehicle that has been reported stolen.
Paying for a car in Mexico
Before you pay for the car you NEED to review all the documentation. If there is a long history of previous owners you may want to enlist the help of a ‘gestor’ who can look at the paperwork to make sure everything is legal.
Make sure to check if the VIN number has been reported stolen with the REPUVE on the Secretaría de Gobernación website.
While doing research for this article I was surprised to see so many people pay for vehicles in cash. All I can say is be careful carrying around a lot of cash. Meet in a public place and do not talk to anyone about your plans. There are a million and one ways to lose a large sum of cash in Mexico. It is more common than you would think for bank tellers to signal bad guys about customers who are walking out of the bank with a large sum of cash. The viene-vienes (parking mafia) will probably take notice if you hit the same ATM every day for a month. It would be best to mix it up and not be predictable.
If you do a transfer from one account to another within the same bank the transaction is instant. If you do a transfer from one bank to another the transaction will take a few hours. Plan ahead and don’t wait until closing.
The best way to pay for a car is with a cashier’s check. You are documenting who is receiving the money and the sum is guaranteed by the bank, not the account holder.
Registering a car in Mexico
There are a lot of documents required to register the vehicle and every state is going to have different policies.
My experience is taking a vehicle from the State of Nuevo Leon to the State of Jalisco and registering it there. This involves returning the Nuevo Leon license plates and getting new Jalisco license plates. When a vehicle changes states there is an inspection to make sure the VIN and motor numbers match the faturas, among others.
If you are processing a change of ownership within the same state, and the vehicle is relatively new, you do not need the inspection and can simply show up to the recaudadora.
The previous owners did the ‘baja’ in Nuevo Leon and I did the ‘alta’ in Jalisco. I needed the original piece of paper with the ‘baja’ in order to process the ‘alta’. Because the ‘Alta’ took a few weeks I went to another transit office and got a permit to drive without license plates so we could take the truck to the beach.
Start by gathering the following documents and making TWO copies of everything:
- Original factura and all preceding changes of ownership.
- Proof of residence
- Identification (I used a US passport)
- Proof of legal residence in Mexico
- ‘Baja’ from the last owner or the licence plates
- Receipts from the last 5 year of ‘tenencia’ payments
Once you collect all the necessary documents you need to make an appointment with the Verificación Vehicular. If you are just transferring ownership within the same state you can go straight to the local Recaudadora office and show them your paperwork. A purchase within the same state is much faster.
- Print out your appointment confirmation or they won’t let you onto the property at the Verificación Vehicular
Once all of the inspections have been approved you will need to pay some taxes. Jalisco licence plates cost about $2,000 pesos. If the transfer is between private citizens then they will levy a tax of 7% over the valuation of the vehicle. The valuations tend to be much lower than the market value. I paid $185,000 pesos for my truck but looked at four 2006 Land Cruisers that were priced well above this. The government valued the vehicle at $122,472.57 pesos. They obviously have a formula and are not making it up on the spot. For everything (license plates, taxes and fees) I paid a total of $10,367 pesos.
In Jalisco there are two offices that do Verificación Vehicular: Tesistan and Tonalá, on the outskirts of Guadalajara. People were coming from all over the state to get their Jalisco plates. I had to go three times to get all the documentation in order.
The appointments are scheduled for 7 am and it is best to get there at least a half-hour early. People who arrived after 7 am were not allowed in and lost their appointment. Keep your documents and copies organized because you will be asked to show them to three different people looking at three different things. They will open the hood and check the VIN numbers and the motor number.
They will give you another list of documents that you need to get from the makeshift office on the sidewalk. In addition to the documents above they want a printed copy of a Google Map showing the address on your proof of residence document and a print out from REPUVE that there is no report that the vehicle has been stolen. The additional documents will cost about 30 pesos for all the copies you will need. I am curious what they do during the rainy season because the copiers, computers, and extension cords are not going to function well in the rain under that fragile canopy.
My father-in-law went through the same process bringing a car from Michoacan. He was asked to pay five years’ worth of registration fees because he didn’t have the paper receipts. He has the stickers clearly visible in the rear window but the previous owner is 95 years old and didn’t have the paper receipts. He ended up taking the car to Colima where he has a second residence and was easily able to register the car without paying the five years of registration a second time. That saved him like 12,000 pesos.
Mexico State is notorious for registering vehicles that can’t be registered in other states. If you are buying a vehicle with Mexico State license plates you should get a ‘gestor‘ to look over the paperwork before money changes hands.
In most states, you will need a resident’s visa to register a car in your name. I keep hearing that the state of Nayarit has a workaround to this issue. You can get in contact with Pat’s plates on Facebook to find out more.
When I flew to Culiacán to see my first Land Cruiser I wish that I would have known what I was getting myself into. Buying from a dealership is one thing but buying from a private seller is another. I was very lucky that the person who sold me the truck was honest, trustworthy, and motivated to help me solve the registration problem. He solved the problems in 24 hours and overnighted the additional documents to me. Not everyone that I met on mercado libre would have been so predisposed to help.