Buying a New Car: Comparing Our Experiences in the U.S. and Mexico

Source: Q-Roo Paul

Having bought new cars in both the U.S. and Mexico, I can attest to the fact that there are some very significant differences. I thought it would be useful to point out a few of the differences in a post.



There are very few purchases that require any type of price negotiation in the U.S. but buying a new car is definitely one of them.


Although we negotiate the price of many things in Mexico, there is little or no negotiation when it comes to the price of a new car — the price is generally the price. Of course this does not apply to used cars.

Some car manufacturers will list two separate prices: one for credit and one for just paying it off. The second option is called al contado in Spanish.

Here is a tip: you can negotiate for some add-ons like floor mats or a certain number of free services (oil change etc)

Test Drive


The dealerships always allow the customer the opportunity to drive the specific vehicle that he or she is interested in purchasing.

We have even had dealers allow us to take a vehicle home for the weekend to see if we liked it before buying.


Due to liability issues, most dealerships will not allow you to test drive exact vehicle you are interested in buying; however, they will allow you to drive a designated “test” vehicle that is identical.

If the dealership is smaller, they may have to wait a day or so for the test drive vehicle to be delivered.



New car dealerships in the U.S. will take almost any type of trade-in. Some of them even allow you to tow one onto the lot.


Many new car dealerships in Mexico are reluctant to take a trade-in and may even limit trade-ins to cars that are less than two years old. It seems that most people just sell their used car outright.

Length of Process


Unless you are working through a tough negotiation, it only takes a few hours to buy a car and drive away with it. This includes negotiating the trade-in, the new car price, completing paperwork and getting either a temporary or permanent tag.


Don’t expect to get everything done in one day.

We went through the process of buying a new car twice — because we absolutely hated the first car that we bought — and both times it took about a week.  The reasons for the delay were different each time but the end result was the same.

After a few frustrating days of trying to complete one of the purchases and get our car, I commented to the dealer that the entire process only takes a few hours in the U.S. — and that includes getting the tags.

I usually try to avoid being the guy who says, “That’s not how we did it back home.” But in this case, I just couldn’t resist.

He looked absolutely astonished and told me that would never happen in Mexico.



The dealer always took care of the paperwork to either issue a new tag for the vehicle or transfer the tag from the trade-in to the new car. It was never necessary to head down to the DMV to complete the process.


It is often necessary to head to the local “tag office” yourself to register your vehicle and get plates. Some dealerships may offer a service — many times at an additional cost — where a person will go down and register the car for you. This option requires you to sign a document authorizing the person to act in your behalf for that purpose only.

Let’s Wrap This Up

The information in the article is based on our own experiences and those of expats that we know. It is quite possible that the new car buying experience is different throughout the country.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. In 2016, they started a blog called Two Expats Mexico ( sharing their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border. The blog has been viewed over two million times and the articles have been republished in numerous periodicals across Mexico.

47 Comments on "Buying a New Car: Comparing Our Experiences in the U.S. and Mexico"

  1. Deanne Barber | November 16, 2016 at 9:17 am |

    I watched your vlog and shared it on facebook. Great idea. I have lived at Lake Chapala since 2009 and wish you had been doing a blog then.

  2. Jerry Barlar | November 16, 2016 at 9:25 am |

    Love this blog! Always something relevant informative and we’ll written.

  3. Absolutely love your posts. By far the most informative information out there.

  4. So you hated the first car and got a second. Did the first go back to the dealer or did you have to sell it yourself? What did that regret cost? How much time transpired between the 1st & 2nd car?

    • I think we just went TOO cheap the first time and we just hated the car. We had it for just over a year and we traded it in when we bought the next one. It was paid off, so that helped, but it depreciated a few thousand over the year. Así es la vida (such is life).

  5. Just bought a car this week. Your description is perfect. I had to call the dealer daily to move the process along.

  6. Marilyn Atkinson | November 16, 2016 at 10:48 am |

    Great article, Paul. We are wondering how safety features on cars compare between the 2 countries (air bags, ABS brakes, etc.). Also, are cruise control, USB connections readily available? Price comparisons between the 2 countries?

    • The dollar is strong so the prices are working out very well if you are converting your U.S. dollars to pesos. As far as safety features, my car has all the air bags, ABS etc that most cars have. It also has bluetooth, USB ports, cameras, and GPS.

  7. A suggested topic for a future article:
    Insurance: car insurance, homeowners insurance, liability insurance. car-rental insurance.

    Thanks for all the info you are sharing

  8. Juan Guajardo | November 16, 2016 at 11:21 am |


    About the car features and options, they are pretty much the same in both countries, the only thing that might change is the actual name of the model (Ex. Cheyenne vs Sierra or Passat vs Jetta).
    You can find the same brands and models in Mexico.

    As a matter of fact, a great part of the cars sold in the US are manufactured in Mexico.

    By the way, very accurate post, buying a vehicle in Mexico may be a painful process for newbies.
    In the US, they make it easy and want you to buy right away. For me, this is a downside, US salespeople are very pushy. In Mexico they won’t pressure you.

    Saludos amigos

  9. Lois Dykstra | November 16, 2016 at 1:05 pm |

    Is there taxes on new cars?

    • If you are talking about the additional annual tax called a “tenencia” then yes; however, they have been waiving it for the last several years in this state.

      There is regular sales tax but it is included in the price.

  10. Charles Wilson | November 16, 2016 at 2:45 pm |

    I purchased a Japanese car made in the United States for export to Mexico.

    A Honda oddesy.

  11. Charles Wilson | November 16, 2016 at 2:47 pm |

    Honda Odyssey

  12. QRoo, Just wondering….Have you had any experiences with online ordering or ordering things on Amazon?

    • Yes, we have ordered through Amazon while living in Mexico and everything arrived safe and sound.

  13. Our experience in buying a new car was great. We looked at several dealerships and some were more helpful than others. One actually wanted us to deposit funds while they looked for the exact model we wanted … no way! One interesting side light was that when we wanted to test drive a car we had to complete forms and get approval from the sales manager. Not a big deal but a little time consuming. We settled on a Renault Stepway and got great service, negotiated some additional features and they began the process of getting the car ready. Since we added additional paint protection and undercoating they needed three days to complete the work. We did not want the car registered in Cancun since we live in Isla Mujeres and did not want to pay twice (once in Cancun and again in Isla) for that process so the sales woman got us temporary transport papers to save us the registration and re-registration. One of the things I liked best was the difference in sales people between the USA and Mexico. We were able to look around as long as we wanted and no sales person pounced on us or followed us around like the sales forces do at dealerships in the USA. Until we had questions and requested assistance did a sales person become available. This part was fantastic. We could consider a make and model and walk away if we did not see anything we liked and had no hassles with sales people.

  14. Okay so I think I have read every single article you have posted and some a few times. Just wanted to thank you for all the information, it has been so helpful!

  15. I really like your BLOG. Very informative and well written. We are looking to move to Queretaro next summer and given the choices we will probably buy a new car once we arrive. I’ve been going through the websites of various car makers and I’ve been pretty impressed with the prices. There aren’t as many options available for cars and you’ve got to look pretty hard to find the advanced safety features such as (BLIS, Automatic Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control). But buying a new car in Mexico can be a really money saver based on what I’ve seen.

    • Thanks! We have more articles in the works — we are just waiting for a few rainy days in a row to get them done.

      The equipment and options on the new cars here does vary from those sold in the U.S. but the prices are pretty good. Also, all the prices include all taxes! I love that about Mexico.

  16. Mark Stevens | December 1, 2016 at 12:48 am |

    Don’t forget that sometimes the Roo (or at least Cozumel) runs out of plates, so sometimes all the waiting in line still won’t get you plates.

    The same was true when we got driving licenses. When we finally got through the process, they had “no materia” for about a week and couldn’t even make licenses.

    • Yes, we have noticed the same thing. They gave us a temporary permit because they ran out of plates in Tulum.

  17. How do we find out which states are waiving the annual “tenencia”?

  18. Hi Paul,thank you very much for the blog,I’m trying to buy a car next week around 350,000 to 400,000 pesos.i been to 4 different dealers with 4 different story about the tenancia..I have my “permanent resident”do I have to paid tenancia seen the vehicules is over 250,000 pesos?,if yes what is the %?for how many years?i got told from 0 dollars(except the placa)to 11,000 pesos per year..Thank you in advance

    • Marc, there are some additional factors to consider: 1) the state where you are buying the vehicle, 2) if the vehicle is new or used and 3) the age of the vehicle.

      I think this would be a good blog article for the near future.

  19. Thank you for your quick respond,i will buy the vehicules in Tulum,I leave in tulum,a new Nissan X-trail,also do you know how hard it is to get your”EFI”?i heard if you have your EFI it is a lot lower cost when the tennencia is due.did you paid tennencia on your new car?

    • Quintana Roo is one of the states that has been waiving the tenencia each year when the time comes to renew your “tarjeta de circulacion”. When we buy a car (and we have bought two) there was a tenencia charge the first time. On our new car it came to $2,255 pesos or $112.75 USD.

      When we renew our registration each year, the bill shows a tenencia tax and then it’s followed by “- the same amount”. There is still a small charge for the tarjeta de circulación.

      The IFE is a voter ID card and you have to be a citizen for that one.

  20. Paul I would like to buy a car and have been told that I can’t till I get my temporary residence. Do you know if a canadian with just a tourist card can purchase a car. I live in QuIntana roo. Thanks for all your help I really enjoy your blog. Carolyn

    • Hi Carolyn. You can buy a car; however, the problem comes when it is time to register the car — you will need a temporary or permanent visa for that.

  21. Hola, to anyone interested , buying a car in central México (no beach territory lol) is that same páin in the ass, reason? Hate to say it but crime rates and types ,example for new Cars you are imvestigates either you ser buying un cash or crédit , and you cant pay ok cash avobe 189k or something if they car cost more youll need to make an electronic transfer this is because some people use this method to launder money , used cars could be even worse because you need to check the car is not stolen or involved un a crime , this is just a couple of reason why buying a car takes so much tome here even if you have the money at hand

  22. Deborah Antista | March 23, 2017 at 4:02 pm |

    Paul can you get a decent new car with good safety features for under 10K USD in Mexico?

    • Q-Roo Paul | March 23, 2017 at 6:31 pm |

      For a new car, it’s going to be small. Unlike the U.S., new car prices are generally not negotiable so you can check the Mexico sites for Chevrolet, Nissan etc. You can get a Chevy Spark or Spark Classic for less than $10,000 but the equipment is very basic.

  23. What was the car you hated so much at first?

  24. Paul, how do you like your Nissan? and what is the price for a car like that? I keep seeing the ads for BAIC in Puerto Morelos fb group page, are you familiar with this brand?

  25. Linda Snider | December 12, 2017 at 7:45 pm |

    Paul, how about driver’s license? Did you keep your license from the states? If you went through a process to get a mexican driver’s license, please advise. Thank you.

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