Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Buying a Car

Yes, I bought this car. Ain't she a beaut!

I mentioned in a previous blog, there are three types of places to buy cars in El Salvador. First, new from a dealer. Second, used from a dealer. And third, from a private seller. You can find the last category in the newspaper ( has a good on-line site and has a crappy one), on certain streets where sellers gather, or garages/private lots.

We decided to buy a salvaged vehicle from the States because it was the cheapest option, it creates some wealth and employment here, and keeps money away from the rich and greedy owners of the big car dealerships. We met with several sellers and discovered that these guys often charge whatever they think they can get. Now that may make me sound naive but I think it is better to make a fair profit and to charge a fair amount. The one place I went to where the guy asked for a ridiculous amount ($6,000 more than another place for the same car and it even had more miles on it) was full of cars and I wouldn’t trust anything he said to me.

Just about to lose the sunroof. And nice of them to protect the stereo and XM Radio (which doesn't work in El Salvador)

Since I have so many people visiting this winter, I needed a vehicle that could hold 7 people (that would be the three of us with a family of 4 visiting). We looked in the papers and visited some lots and asked around. My friend Chele told me that his friend Vinicio was selling a 2006 Honda Pilot in perfect condition. This SUV seats 8 and has a relatively efficient V-Tec 6 with 40,000 miles on it. The car has leather, XM Radio (which I don’t think works as far south as El Salvador), rear a/c, no ashtray, lots of cupholders and I am hoping inputs for an iPod. We went to see it a week later and it was far from being in perfect condition - it was still completely disassembled. Vinicio was quite frank about the original condition of the car and even gave me photos he took when the car was delivered to him here.

So the vehicle was originally sold by Ralph Shomp Automotive in Littleton, Colorado and was a rollover. No structural damage so I am guessing it slid on some ice and rolled into a ditch with some gravel (there are gravel dimples on one panel). The car was obviously a write-off and instead of being cut up and sold for parts, it was bought at auction and brought down here. Then it was repaired in a shop not owned by Vinicio (which probably increased the cost of repairs somewhat) and was about a month late in completion (which is normal here) from the estimated time. He seemed reasonable although, at one point, he asked for a deposit and I laughed and said no way. That may have bought me a notarized document obligating him to sell the car to me ... but this document would only be enforceable after a few years in court so there was no point.

Nice gravel pebbling.

After the initial repair, he car looked great but the interior finishing wasn’t very good. When the windshield broke, the dashboard and various surfaces got scratched up. This can be sanded and painted to look like new. Also, the centre armrest was scuffed so I asked them to reupholster (they do a great job with leather in this country). The one unfortunate part was they had to replace the roof and they couldn’t get one with a sunroof so the interior fit isn’t as good as it could be.

I had the chasis laser checked and an alignment done. Another mechanic checked the engine and compression and all that is good. The tires are good - not the same but the front two and the back two match. The one point of contention was the fact that it came with only one keyless remote. I asked them to provide two keys and two remotes but they said it would be too expensive. They said it normally costs $250 but they could get me one for $150. I checked online and they are $75 shipped to Canada. I also spoke with my mechanic and he said that the dealer here (again with the Grupo Q) charges a lot but he said that he knows businesses that do keys and program transponders and keyless entry so it should be a lot more reasonable. BTW, the guy is a good and honest mechanic if you need someone. He’ll drive to your place, drive off with your car, and bring it back fixed. He just fixed the bumper on the Sentra and changed a belt and belt tensor for $50 all-in ($20 for 2-3 hours of labour).

All the windows and tailouts gone, rust starting to form.

They fixed the dash and most of the interior but they said that they couldn’t do anything more with the interior ceiling. It still had the lower front section where the sunroof and hardware went - they just inserted some foam and recovered the whole thing with new cloth. I really didn’t like having the lower ceiling (and less headroom) for no reason so negotiated with them to re-do it. Vinicio’s partner Luis said that their budget was so tight they couldn’t do it and was acting pissed off at how picky I was being. The thing is, we saw two other cars that were rebuilt and they were perfect - you couldn’t tell that they had ever been in an accident. So I told Luis that if he had another buyer, to sell it to them. He said he didn’t but called his interior guy and found out that the new ceiling was only $80 so I told him I would pay it.

Bondo, expertly applied.

That was Thursday and they said the car would be ready by Saturday. I spoke to them on Saturday and asked to see the car but they said it was put away and they couldn’t get it until Monday. Then they did something strange - they said that they wanted me to be ready to pay for the car on Monday morning and they didn’t want any more complications from me and said that I could do all the insurance stuff after the transfer. I got pissed off since I have been patiently waiting and they were a month late from their original date. I told him that I wouldn’t close until everything was to my satisfaction and the insurance was in place. Frankly, I was ready to walk away.

Monday morning comes by and no car and no call. I call them at 11:00 and Vinicio says they are having problems with the upholsterer and they’ll get back to me. He actually apologized for putting pressure on me to close when he turned out to not be able to do so. I called again on Tuesday morning and he said he was on his way to the shop and they were hoping to bring the car around noon. No car, no call.

MJ demonstrating the vehicle in the bodyshop.
At this point, I didn’t feel any obligation to buy the car. Unless it is perfect (or close to), I was going elsewhere. I guess this is the tradeoff that I picked - I have guys who are relatively new to this business (this is only their 5th car) so they are charging me less but the work isn’t as good and it certainly isn’t being done efficiently.
Well, after two days of no calls, I was guessing that they had problems with the last repairs or were trying to sell to another buyer. But I got a call early Wednesday saying the car was ready. Surprisingly, it was! The interior ceiling was redone and looked much better. There were still a few things that were off - like the vanity mirror lights which had not been working and then were working were, again, not working. Turns out that the upholsterer did a bad job the first time around so they made him do it again and it took a couple of days.

In the paint and finishing shop ... starting to look better.

We brought it to the insurance company inspection centre and there was no line-up and it was done in 20 minutes. I got a nice mug of coffee (and got to keep the mug) and was told the car was fine but that the front airbags were turned off after the side curtain bags deployed during the rollover and I would have to get this reset by Honda. Then off to the insurance agent Edgardo Cordova at Tecni Seguros who completed the paperwork in about 15 minutes and I was insured. Edgardo speaks perfect English and I highly recommend that you go to him for your insurance needs (health, auto and home). He gave me quotes and policy comparisons from 5 different companies and I was able to insure the Pilot for $518 per year with no deductible if I use the company’s repair shop. Edgardo can be reached at Incidentally, by using an agent, we saved a lot of money. We are paying a lot less for the Honda than we did when we got our then two year old Sentra insured.

Still some scratches and damage from the broken windshield and roll-over.

Then back to the apartment to pick up Fatima who had gone to the bank to get a certified cheque and then to Metro Sur Mall to meet at a notary to do the bill of sale. That cost $12 and they will register it with the government and give us the ownership card for $15 with a governmental fee of $29.

So after some minor hassles, we have a nice newish car that seats 8. The experience wasn’t bad although it did require some patience and I had to be able to walk away from the deal if they couldn’t deliver what was promised. There is a 3 month warranty but I don’t know if they will want to do any more work for the price. They are now working on a 2007 Honda CR-V if anyone is in the market for a vehicle.

The finished product.

The last owner left a CD of The Blackthorn Project "The Bluing of the Sky" so if you know anyone in Littleton Colorado who rolled over a Pilot, ask them if they want their CD back.


  1. Interesting. Used car price here in the US has spiked up somewhat, apparently due to a lot of used car inventory being traded in (and destroyed) for Cash For Clunkers. It may have been a viable option to redirect those cars to Central and South America, but that may run counter to one of the objective of the program (to get the inefficient clunkers off the road).

    I doubt the salvage market was much affected since the cars had to be a running condition. Salvage lots in GA are completely full from what I can see.

  2. What constitutes a Clunker up there? Most of the salvage vehicles brought down here are relatively new with low mileage on the engines. I think they like to get vehicles with mostly just body damage. Juicy, are you in the car business?

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  6. Hi JayKay, I read your blog re: buying a car in el salvador and I would like to buy a car similar to your story. you mention that there is a car for sale but no info available, other than the insurance agent. Can you provide me with additional information at Thanks.

  7. When you look at the last photo, you wouldn't imagine that the car went through a lot. I admire you for considering its condition a minor hassle. Truth be told, it badly needed a repair that time. Well, all the patience you devoted to this car has paid off. It came out beautifully!

    Ivo Beutler

  8. Interesting that you commented on the car recently. Fatima had it out and parked at a restaurant. When she came out, the windshield had broken. I don't think that the glass was ever set properly and it would squea when I drove over big road undulations. The insurance company covered the replacement but the shop found some leaks and rust and charged me an extra $50. Then a week later, huge amounts of water were sluicing over the front seats from the roof. Took it back an the shop said there were three leaks and a lot of rust and they would want $280 to just fix the leaks. Then they would have to order a new interior from Honda US. Hmm, sounds like a rip off garage so I sent my mechanic there who paid $65 to get the car out (to pay for the diagnostic work!), then $45 for a body guy to fix the leaks, sand and seal the rust spots, then $120 to fabricate a new ceiling, $10 for gas, and $35 for him and $5 for a cab home = $280! So, bottom line, buying a salvage vehicle can be good but the car will never be perfect. Air bags still don't work!