Buying a Car in México

Last Update 20 November 2014

In this article, we'll look at 3 car buying situations:

Buying a car from a dealer

Buying a used car from a private party

Buying a foreign-plated car from another expat

First there are a few terms that you need to understand:

Factura  is actually a receipt for the sale, but it also acts as a title which you should carefully save because you will need it if you ever sell the car.

Pedimento de ImportaciónIf a car has been imported, this paper is needed in addition to the factura for both original registrations and renewals. It's issued by Aduana to show that the car has been legally imported and the duty paid.

Tarjeta de circulación   is the vehicle registration paper which you should always have with you in the car.

Placas  are license plates which may be metal or a decal for the rear window.  Many states issue paper or decal license plates annually and issue new metal plates only every few years.

Revista  is the annual renewal of the license plates

Refrendo  is the license plate fee.

Tenencia  is a tax that was begun in l968 to raise money for the Olympic Games.  It is a tax on the value of a new car that will continue for ten years, decreasing in amount each year. This tax on new cars costing less than $250,000 pesos is suspended for 2011.  This is a federal tax that is in addition to state taxes and licensing fees.  When you buy a used car less than ten years old, you acquire this tax obligation and will continuing paying until the car is 10 years old, or until the government makes good on its sort of promise to end it in 2012.

Comprobante de domicilio is proof of residency which is required for any automobile title transfer in México.  This requirement may present a problem for a tourist with a Visitante..

Licencia de Conducir is a driver's license.  If you don't have a Mexican driver's license, be sure your state doesn't require it for ownership.  You really should have a Mexican license whether it is required or not.

Putting two names on the factura (joint ownership) is not common, but it is allowed.  When doing so the names should be listed as "Name 1 or Name 2."  Of course it should be written in Spanish, so "or" become "o." The use of "or" is preferable to "and" to avoid problems when one party dies or is otherwise unavailable at the time of a future transfer.. 

Visa Requirement is a state matter.  Some states will not title or register a vehicle to an Visitante holder.  Inquire before you buy..

Buying a Car from a Dealer

Whether you are buying a new car or a used car, the process is the same.  You negotiate the best deal you can on price and paperwork services.  It should be possible to get the dealer to do all the paperwork for your title and registration and deliver to you the registered title, license plates, receipt for payment of the tenencia if there is one, and any other required taxes and fees.  Some dealers do all this automatically; others may require some arm twisting.  Here is a story from my friend Robert chronicling his used car buying adventure.

I bought my car from a used car dealer and only had to provide a copy of my FM2, passport, driver's license, address and telephone number. The dealer did all the other paperwork.

I made it part of the deal that it was his responsibility to get all the paperwork completed and fees paid. When it was all done, he handed me title (factura), the Tarjeta de Circulation and the new small decal license plate for the current year. He paid all the fees and included the costs in my final bill for the car.

Before paying for the car, I made sure that I had some kind of warranty (90 days in our case), and he was to have a few scratches repainted and take care of a few other fit-it items. All was taken care of in good time.

I asked him to do a computer search of the Queretaro State government website that shows the actual mileage from all the previous owners and also shows any accident reports from insurance companies. I read on the inside of the driver’s door that it was built in Japan for export.  I did a computer search of the VIN in both Japan and USA for any information.  I found no problems, so I was comfortable in knowing I did all I could to make sure the car was not a salvage job from NOB or Japan.

When all the paperwork was settled, the dealer and I went to my bank where I made a direct money transfer to his bank. He had to show to my bank his driver’s license, CURP, state license to sell cars, address and telephone number as well as all his bank information for the transfer of funds. I made sure I got a copy of all that as well. In one hour, his money was in his bank.  And the car was mine.

As part of the paperwork I received was a complete history of ownerships - pedimento de importación, copies of facturas and driver's licenses of each of the three previous owners.  I was told to save these papers as I would need to pass them on to anyone to whom I sold the car.

Before buying the car I did an online search of used cars in the USA.  I found that the price I was paying was comparable to what I would have paid in the USA.  This surprised me because I had always heard that cars in México were more expensive.  I guess that is not always true of used cars.

Another friend bought a new car.

My wife and I bought a new car at a dealership.  Although the negotiations (particularly about just who was going to pay the tenencia and other fees—them) were a little brutal, the dealership finally agreed to do the whole thing for us. We gave them our proof of address and our Mexican voter cards (we're citizens), driver's licenses, etc. Had I still been on an FM3 or FM2, copies of the visa and of my U.S. passport would have been necessary.

Buying a Used Car from a Private Party

Buying from a private party has the same paperwork as from a dealer, only this time you will be doing all the work.  Remember, you are buying the car as is.  It's up to you to discover any hidden faults.  The seller has no obligation to tell you its faults.  Be sure the owner does not owe money on the car because you will acquire his debt along with the car.  This also applies to outstanding tickets or back taxes or licensing fees.  These delinquent items go with the car and become your responsibility when you buy the car.

While the exact rules may vary among the states, generally you will need the original and one copy of each of the following:

Original Factura and all other facturas if the car has had multiple owners and the Pedimento de Importación if the car was imported.

Ultimo recibo de pago this means receipt for most recent/last payment of refrendo and tenencia if required.

Comprobante de domicilio = proof of residency. 

Identificación Oficial del Propietario.   For foreigners this would be originals plus a copy of passport and visa. For citizens, this would be your voter card.

Driver's license.  If you don't have a Mexican driver's license. be sure your state doesn't require it for ownership.  You really should have a Mexican license whether it is required or not.

Some states and cities now require emissions testing before the transfer can be approved.

You and the seller should go together with these papers to the proper government office to complete the registration and get your factura, the tarieta de circulation, and the new license plates or decal if a new one is required by your state.  There may be a sales tax.  The owner has certain paperwork to do at the office, so it works best if you go together.  The government office where this takes place is often the city's Tránsito headquarters.  No money should change hands until the paperwork is approved.

Buying a Foreign-Plated Car from Another Expat.

The paperwork for such a transfer is simpler, but the logistics are not as easy.

It will be necessary for you and the owner to travel to a land border crossing in the car to be transferred.  At the border, the owner will turn in his vehicle permit, and the aduana agent will scrape the decal off the windshield.

Then the owner signs the title to you.  With that signed title, you can get a permit in your name.  That's it.  Then you two can go back home in your car.

Technically, the title transfer is suppose to take place outside México, but who's watching?  Go have lunch or something and come back for the new permit.

Here is a horror story from my friend Carol who sold her USA-plated car to another expat who wanted to register the car in Texas rather than just using the signed title.

When I sold my US plated car to an SMA expat a few years ago, it was a horribly frustrating, all-day ordeal. We met in McAllen, TX to do the transfer.

The buyer wanted to register and license it in Texas, where we did the exchange, and that required getting Texas insurance for both the buyer and seller good for six months, even though I were only going to own the car for a few more hours.

Then we had to get a car inspection at a dealer there--not anything mechanical or relating to emissions, only a visual inspection and proof that it had tires, horn, windshield, mirrors, lights, the essentials.

We waited an hour at the Suzuki dealer for the next person to be free to do that inspection and sign the papers--and it started to rain. He said he couldn't do the inspection in the rain, that's the rule. The car had been sitting inside one of their interior stalls all that time. We convinced him it was the height of stupidity to say rain could hinder the inspection since the car hadn't been in the rain. He did it and signed off.

She had to get a Texas drivers license to be able to register the car in TX and so she had to turn in her beautiful CA drivers license photo to get a new license that of course had an ugly photo.

It took hours of waiting at each place--registration, inspection, insurance, license, and registration again. At one point I muttered, "I feel like vandalizing something."

And then we all drove back to San Miguel in the car. Nowhere near as easy as we'd expected.

Now you are forewarned about registering in the USA before the transfer.

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