By Debbie Banaszkiewicz
Actually our story begins about a month before we moved to Mexico. We had to sell both our cars because they did not meet Mexico’s import standards. I began researching auto sales online such as Craigslist Mexico. I noticed that the cars for sale by owner tended to be listed higher than the highest Kelly Blue Book price. I was told that it was because good used cars in Mexico were scarce. I accepted this and we made arrangements to meet with the seller a few days after arrival at a mechanic’s shop that had come highly recommended by members of the expat group on Facebook that I corresponded with.
In the meantime we began taking a taxi all around the area looking for basics like pillows, food, etc. As it happened we met a very nice cab driver who spoke excellent English and Spanish. He drove us around for about two weeks and was very helpful. My husband and I were asking him about taking us to meet the person selling the car. He asked some general questions about the car. We told him it was a 2007 Honda Accord that looked to be in perfect condition, but had 77,000 miles on it and the seller wanted $8900 usd for it.
He said, “Let me do you a favor. I know a salesman that works at the Toyota dealership in Playa Del Carmen, (a town about 45 minutes north from our home). Let me call him and see what he has on the lot.” As we later found out they don’t keep a large selection of new or used cars on the lot. Instead they get a list once a week that lets them know what cars are available. So our cabdriver would call us once a week when the list came in to the dealership and let us know what was available. We knew we needed a mid-size car, but weren’t sure what. One day he called and said they had a 2015 Toyota Avanza with 6,000 km, excellent condition with a 2 year warranty for $9000. It just so happened that his cab was an Avanza so we were well aware of it’s capabilities and space inside. He took us to look at it and it was perfect. Exactly what we thought would suit our needs.
The salesman told us to come back in a week and it would be clean with a fresh oil change ready to go. Keep in mind the salesman does not speak one word of English and my Spanish was sketchy then. Our cab driver translated everything and explained the process of buying a car in Mexico. When we returned in a week, it was time to pay. I had been carrying around over $8,000 usd in my purse. When I pulled it out to pay our cab driver gasped. Then we were told that they could not accept that much cash in usd. The cab driver and I walked next door to an exchange station. They could not exchange that much money into pesos so our driver took us to downtown Playa Del Carmen where the main exchange store was located. We went inside and they locked all the doors. They put down the shade in the front of the office. Our cabdriver counted and recounted until he was satisfied. Then we returned to the dealership with my large purse filled with Mexican money. I felt like a gangster and then I started to worry about carrying so much cash. Back at the dealership, our salesman had the cashier run the money through a counting machine, kind of like the one you see in a casino.
We hit a snag when the salesman asked for our residency cards. We were still in the process of getting them completed and weren’t aware of this requirement. We presented him with a letter from our notary that was working on getting the cards stating that all was in process. He seemed content with this. We asked to drive the car before we signed the papers and he agreed reluctantly. Later our cabdriver said that is not the norm in Mexico. Both the salesman and our cab driver rode in the backseat while my husband drove. I was in the front seat and heard lots of gasps, oohs and aahs coming from the backseat. This is funny because Mexicans are very aggressive drivers and my husband was driving the way he would in the USA. At the first turnaround they told him to go back so he did.
Once we had completed all the paperwork, got a map showing where the tags could be picked up, we received a driving lesson from our cabdriver. He told us the rules of the road in Mexico. They have no driver training or test in this area so pretty much everyone learns on the road. The Mexican people are very nonconfrontational and will go out of their way to help you. However, behind the wheel they are very aggressive. They pass you on the highway with about an inch between your front bumper and their rear bumper. A lot of times I feel like driving here is a game of chicken or everyone played the video game Mario Kart to learn to drive. It’s been 10 months and both of us have learned to drive and feel comfortable doing it.
We said our goodbyes and drove away planning to go get the license plates the next day in a town called Tulum. It’s about a 20 minute drive south from our house. The next day we arrived at the appointed office and presented all our paperwork, smiled at the clerk, wished her Buenos dias (good day) and she looked through the paperwork many times. Then she proceeded to answer texts on her phone, filed her nails, and talked on the phone. I stood at the counter not sure what to do and my darling husband sat in the lobby grinning like a possum. No help at all. Finally after about 2 hours she sent me to another counter to pay the fees. Then I was to walk back to her counter about 10 feet away in full view of the second counter and prove I had paid the fees. Then I was sent back to the second counter to pick up the plates. Quite relieved we went outside so my husband could put the plates on the car. We were excited thinking what a great deal we had gotten on the car and how nice the car was. My husband, who is very handy, began to scratch his head and use words I’ve never heard him use before. Words that I can’t put in this post. The holes on the license plates did not line up with the holes on the car. He swears the ladies in the office were looking out the window laughing and pointing, but I never saw it. Luckily the new car had an emergency tool kit in the back. My husband got out a screwdriver and began widening the holes to fit the car. Sometimes I think he’s McGyver’s long lost brother. Anyway we got it all worked out and with the plates attached we drove home.