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How to Buy a Vehicle in Ecuador (Plus Ownership Costs) What I Learned

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Buying a car is something we swore we would never do when we moved here a year and a half ago. We were terrified of the style of driving and the apparent lack of road rules. Well, we’ve loosened up a lot since then, and we are ready to be independently mobile once again.

Our Experience Buying a Vehicle in Ecuador

Obviously, a driver’s license is required. There is a bit of a mistaken view here among foreigners about driver’s licenses. An international driver’s license is valid only for one year. After that, you must get an Ecuadorian license.

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Buying a vehicle is an unusual experience here.

First of all, a vehicle that would be completely worthless back home, is worth a verifiable fortune here. For example, an 11-year-old Dodge Caravan might be worth a few hundred dollars in Canada (if it’s in good shape) and here, it is listed at $8000.

We bought a 16-year-old Isuzu Trooper (sold here with the Chevrolet branding on the body) and paid about 6 times the value it would have had in the United States. But then again, gas is just $1.48/gallon for standard or $2.08 for extra.

But there is something interesting about the vehicles here in Ecuador:

  1. First of all, there is absolutely no rust. Anywhere. Our 16-year-old beast looks almost perfect. What you would expect out of a 5-year-old car back home. The cars from the coast, especially Guayas province are sort of shunned here in the Sierra. They are available but are much cheaper. There is a view that the vehicles with Guayas plates are of poorer quality – partly because of the salt air on the Coast, and partly because of the idea that people from the coast don’t maintain their vehicles well (local biases). I don’t know, but this is probably also said in reverse. You can always tell where the vehicles are from, by the first letter of the plate. Guayas cars have license plates that start with “G”. Azuay cars (plates starting in “A”) are more expensive. For the best prices, head north to Quito and get a car from the northern Sierra provinces.
  2. And secondly, it is the culture to take awesome care of the vehicles here. I think partly because of the high prices and partly because Ecuadorians appreciate their things, the cars are immaculate. I’m confident that you’ve never seen such a clean motor anywhere. It’s going to be a challenge to keep our car as clean as our neighbors.

The prices stay high, thanks to high import taxes on new vehicles. And as I understand, only new cars may be imported. So that leaves a limited pool of vehicles to choose from.

There isn’t a central CraigsList or eBay here, but there are a few great classified sites. For used car listings check out:

We ended up buying from a dealer. A friend took me and the truck to his mechanic to check it out, and perform a cylinder compression test. The test and a road test cost $5.

This was a friend of a friend, so it might have been a little low – but gives a point of reference.

The documents need to be notarized (costs $45). Payment is via a certified check, which costs $2.50. And if the vehicle is already registered, you won’t need to pay until it comes due. Ours is good until next fall.

Hopefully, we won’t be posting much about dealing with mechanics, but time will tell.

What’s been your experience in buying a car as an expat?

Cost of Owning a Vehicle in Ecuador

We are frequently asked about the costs to run a vehicle here in Ecuador. Of course, the specifics will depend on the type of vehicle you purchase and where you have it serviced – just like in any other country. To give you an idea, here are our vehicle costs:

Costs to Own and Run a Vehicle in Ecuador: These are actual costs, but it’s important to note that your costs will vary. Repair costs can never be accurately estimated – so we haven’t included them.

If you take your car to a local mechanic instead of the dealer, you’ll not only pay much less for the labor – they also know great ways to save on parts.

cost-of-car-ownership-ecuador-living

Fuel Costs in Ecuador

Our truck is old, it’s a 1994 Isuzu (Chevrolet) Trooper. The 3.2L V6 engine is anything but good on gas. But because of the cost of fuel in Ecuador, it doesn’t really matter.

At just USD$1.48 per gallon, it’s hard to worry too much about the cost. We spend roughly $80 per month driving approximately 1200 km.

Fuels Costs: $80 per month

SOAT: Ecuador’s Mandatory Car Insurance

There is a mandatory insurance in Ecuador, called SOAT. It is obligatory insurance that covers medical expenses in case of an emergency. It really is an exceptional system, providing free medicare in case of automobile accidents. For our truck, it costs $63.45 per year.

Smaller vehicles are less. As I understand it, those injured in a car accident are taken to the nearest medicare center and the program pays for the costs – regardless of if it is a public hospital or a high end private one.

SOAT Costs: $63.45 per year

Car Matriculation (Registration) in Ecuador

The annual matriculation costs $66.79 for a large vehicle. The government has implemented a new green tax for all vehicles with engine sizes over 1.5L. It increases incrementally, this year costing just $46.92 and increasing to more than $100 in five years.

The green tax depends on the year of the vehicle and the size of the engine. All engines over 1.5L are included in this green tax.

There is a provincial tax (Taso solidario) that costs $12 for the year. I believe that this is per passenger vehicle, regardless of size. This can be paid at the Transit Commission. Cuencaire, is the entity that does vehicle inspections (including emission controls).

There is a fee for the inspection, but no charge to return once the problems are fixed. I had to purchase new fuel injectors to make our truck pass. Passenger vehicles are ranked differently than commercial vehicles.

Matriculation Total: $114.31 ($113.71 plus $0.60 bank fee).

Cost of an Ecuador Oil Change

Oil is not subsidized like gasoline. Our truck takes about 1.5 gallons of oil in an oil change. This costs about $35 plus $3.50 for the filter. Our mechanic charges $3 labor to change the oil.

Here they recommend oil changes every 3000 kilometers, especially with older vehicles. We get an oil change roughly every 2-3 months.

Annual Oil Change Totals:  $207.50 ($41.50 x 5 times per year)

Auto Accident Insurance

Although not common for older vehicles, we found and purchased auto insurance for our truck. Despite its age, it is worth about $10,000 here. In the US, I found an equivalent vehicle online for $1800.

Something notable about vehicles in Ecuador is the care that the owners take of them. The truck has been especially well cared for.

We had to look hard to find a company that would insure our truck – but eventually, we did. It includes zero deductible 3rd party insurance, full replacement value (with zero deductible) in case of theft, and full replacement value in case of an accident.

There is a $10.40 addon that gives unlimited (country-wide) roadside assistance. That is an annual cost and has no additional cost. Last year I added it on a whim – not sure if it would even work.

Just a few months after, the seal on the clutch went – leaving us stranded on the side of the road. I called the number, gave them my plate number and they dispatched a grúa (tow truck). The driver didn’t request any papers – and towed us to our mechanic. No cost – I only needed to sign that the service was performed. Did I mention the cost is just $10.40 per year? Insurance is paid annually (not monthly).

Insurance Annual Costs: $575.40 ($565 plus $10.40 roadside assistance)

Parking Costs in Ecuador

There are numerous pay parking lots in the center. Costs range from $0.60 to $1.00 per hour. There are parking attendants to help you park safely and to watch your car. We use these lots every week and have never had any trouble. We spend on average about $10 per month. In Cuenca, the shopping centers still offer free parking – while in Quito you have to pay.

Outside of the City Center, there are tons of places to park for free. Just be sure that the signs allow it. If you ignore the signs, you can expect a $10 fine.

By the way, if you don’t pay the fine, you won’t be able to matriculate your car – which means you won’t be able to leave the city. Car papers are seldom (if ever) checked for matriculation inside the city – but once you get on an inter-provincial highway police checks are frequent.

A friend of ours drives a very old, very well-used Fiat and he just hasn’t gotten around to matriculating it for the past few years. So he drives within Cuenca frequently – but takes the bus when he wants to visit a town outside of city limits.

Parking costs: $10 per month

Annual Costs of Running a Vehicle in Ecuador 

  • Fuel: $960 ($80/month x 12 months) (driving approx 1200 km)
  • SOAT: $63.45
  • Matriculation: $114.31
  • Oil Changes: $207.50
  • Auto Insurance: $575.40
  • Parking costs: $120 (approx $10 per month)

Annual Vehicle Expenses: $2040.66 ($170.06/mo)

Don’t forget: these cost don’t include repairs or maintenance. We haven’t had to do much to our truck. A new Bosch battery cost $115. Fuel injectors cost $120 each plus installation. The clutch seal (including labor) cost $30.
What do you think? Reasonable? High or low?

What’s the Price of Gas in Ecuador?

Update (August 24, 2018): The federal government announced on August 21, 2018 that the price of gas will be increasing. Super (premium) will increase to $2.98/gallon, but it hasn’t changed yet. Currently, super gasoline sells between $2.10 to $2.32/gallon. Along with the cost increase, the octane rating will increase from 90 to 92. There is no mention of price increases on extra (regular) gasoline which still sells for $1.48/gallon. Read more here (Spanish newspaper).

A reader recently asked on Twitter: What does fuel cost in Ecuador?

A lot is said about cost of living in Ecuador. It is true that the cost of rent and food is less – but that can be harder to quantify. Gas is gas. What does it cost to fill your tank?

Recently the Federal Government removed the subsidy on jet fuel. This has increased national flight costs significantly – although they still aren’t very expensive.

As an oil-producing nation, Ecuador offers huge benefits to its citizens by subsidizing gasoline and propane. Propane is almost free.

What Does Gas Cost in Ecuador?

Fuel is sold by the gallon and there are three options.

  • Extra: $1.48
  • Super: $2.19
  • Diesel: $1.037

price of gas in ecuador
So we can fill our old truck for $20 and drive around 300 kilometers. We spend around $80 per month on fuel. In contrast, we used to spend around $250 per month in Canada, driving our new Honda Civic sedan. Of course, we used to drive more in Canada, but the contrast is still huge.

As I write this, I remember that my first car (’88 Honda Civic) could hardly hold $20 worth of gas. Of course, that was more than 15 years ago. Today, I can fill our V6 full-size truck for $20. It only goes about half the distance, but the price is hard to beat.

It’s funny, but after almost three years we have become very accustomed to life here. We don’t compare fuel costs to Canada anymore. We compare fuel costs here. For example, we almost never purchase Super, although it is still just a fraction of the price of the cheap gas in Canada.

Because of the low cost of fuel, the government has a hard time controlling gas stations on the border with Peru and Colombia from selling fuel in bulk to people crossing in from those countries.

Recently, the President announced that he was taking control of these stations as they weren’t complying with Federal rules.

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ecuador-gas-prices-mobil-station-cuenca
ecuador-gas-prices-primax

The Cheapest Fuel We’ve Ever Seen

While Ecuador has very inexpensive gasoline, it isn’t the cheapest that we’ve seen.

When we were in Venezuela a few years ago, we filled our rental car for USD$0.90 – after driving it for 4 days all over Margarita Island. The price is approx USD$0.09 / gallon (yes that nine cents per gallon).

What’s the cheapest gas you’ve seen?

How to Send and Receive Mail and Shipments in Ecuador
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