7 Tips to Protect Yourself From Scams When Buying a Used Car in Mexico

One of the things that surprised me most when I first moved to Mexico was the obvious lack of used car dealerships.

When I lived in Florida, I used to drive past a dozen “buy here, pay here” places everyday on my way to work but I’ve never driven by a single used car lot where I live in Mexico. When I asked a local where the closest one was, he directed me to Cancun about an hour and a half away.

In Mexico, the majority of people buy their used cars directly from the owners in a private sale. Since these sales often involve large one-time cash payments, potential car buyers are a popular target for criminals looking to make a quick peso.

Here are some tips to reduce your chance of becoming a victim:

1. Never send money beforehand

Criminals will often request a deposit to hold the car, especially when communicating online. Never pay it.

A common trick they use is to recommend paying through a third party business that will hold the money until the transaction is complete. The business will often have a professional looking website and appear legitimate, but it is actually controlled by the crook.

2. Only meet in public places

Don’t agree to meet anywhere other than a public place with lots of people around. This is particularly important when the time comes to pay for the vehicle. Many criminals use online advertisements to lure victims to an isolated place and then rob them.

3. Carefully inspect the documents

Take your time with the documents and ask to see the original of the vehicle’s factura (similar to a car title in the States) and the tarjeta de circulación (vehicle registration).

If the seller does not have an original factura, you can accept a certified copy; however, the absence of an original should be viewed as a possible red flag.

Be sure and verify that the VIN (vehicle identification number) for the vehicle is the same one that appears on all of the documentation.

4. Ask to see the seller’s identification

Ask to see the seller’s identification and confirm that they are owner of the vehicle. If you buy the vehicle, a copy of their identification should be included in the paperwork.

5. Check to see if the factura is authentic

In the United States, each state issues vehicle titles to indicate the owner of a vehicle. It works very differently in Mexico where the proof of ownership is actually a special sales receipt (called a factura) issued by the dealership.

The vehicle facturas are printed on security paper that is very similar to the type used for vehicle titles in the U.S. Ownership of the vehicle is transferred by signing the back of the document.

If the document is lost or stolen, a certified copy can be obtained from the original dealership.

Criminals will often use fake facturas to sell stolen vehicles to unsuspecting consumers. You can verify the authenticity of a factura by running it through the following government website:


6. Check to see if the vehicle is stolen

You can run the vehicle’s information through a free government database to see if it’s reported stolen. Click HERE for more information and the link.

7. If possible, pay through a bank transfer instead of using cash

It’s never advisable to carry large quantities of cash around with you, so if possible, try to handle the payment via a bank transfer to the seller. If you have a Mexican bank account, you can do this quickly and easily from your cellphone.

Let’s Wrap This Up

I worked as a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years prior to moving to Mexico and I can tell you from experience that these types of crimes are not unique to Mexico. Criminals are using the same techniques to rob and defraud potential car buyers north of the border too. The good news is that here in Mexico, consumers have a few more online resources to help them avoid becoming a victim.

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About the Author

Qroo 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. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

16 Comments on "7 Tips to Protect Yourself From Scams When Buying a Used Car in Mexico"

  1. We have a ton of used cars here in northern Baja – you can find them from owners as well as on used car lots. Just check the USA databases to see if they are “salvage”, which means they were in an accident and not suitable for driving in the USA anymore (often because airbags have deployed and USA insurance companies will not insure them). People usually buy them in the USA, fix them up to be driveable, import them into Mexico, and then sell them. Also, make sure the tags are up to date. Otherwise, here in northern Baja, you have to pay all the previous unpaid registrations plus the new registration. Last month I bought a salvaged 2007 Dodge Nitro 4 x 4, which works great out here in the dessert and on the massive potholes we have in San Felipe.

  2. Bill McDonald | October 22, 2017 at 12:38 pm |

    Often if the factura is a copy there may be money still owed to a bank. The owner only receives the original when the car is paid in full

    • Excellent point, Bill. A certified copy may still indicate ownership but I would personally not accept one. They only issue one original on security paper to avoid duplicates running around so if it’s lost or stolen, a certified copy is the best you can do.

  3. Hi again Paul,

    Just an additional note, from personal experience.
    If the previous owners have unpaid fines, you will be responsible for them when it comes time to register it in your name. This added another $1400 to the cost of our truck.


    • I actually had that in the draft but the article was getting too lengthy so I decided to focus this one more on the criminal aspect. I’m going to do another one explaining that and including links to check the status online. So many articles, so little time…lol.

  4. There is only one used car dealer in Playa Del Carmen that I found on the south end of town and from what I hear they are fairly good. They wouldn’t sell me a car without a CURP which I did get but didn’t buy from them. I did buy privately but only after checking out everything you said and did my homework. It worked out great! I guess I should note that it wasn’t from a Mexican but another expat heading home :). It is quiet easy but you have to make sure every piece of paper from new is there as well as all taxes paid and in good shape as well as the original. Wouldn’t touch anything that doesn’t have all proper paper work.

  5. Michael Cadue | October 22, 2017 at 1:22 pm |

    You may also wish to refer back to one of your previous articles about illegal tags.

  6. Man in the Middle | October 22, 2017 at 3:34 pm |

    One other problem we heard of this year – make sure the seller of the car is not in a gang. A pastor in our town in northern Baja was murdered this year, shortly after buying a used car. One theory is that the seller was in a gang, and the car was recognized by a member of an opposing gang.

  7. Total Mexico or filter for your area. Cars posted here sometimes last only a few hours: https://vehiculos.mercadolibre.com.mx/ .

    Get a knowledgeable person to check for fines, fees, tax on a car. I purchased a Nissan pickup knowing it needed an engine for 10,000 MXN had a rebuilt engine installed for about 16,000 (must always carry the engine papers with the car papers in case of traffic stops). Now, for the big expense. There were 19,000 MXN in taxes, fines, fees, and interest. I got that knocked down to about 10,000 MXN. Now, 36,000 MXN may sound like a lot, but a friend did the checking and registration. Value at the end of the day: 59,000 MXN.

    A hassle, yes, unless you are knowledgeable or have someone that is extremely knowledgeable.

    • Great tips, thanks for sharing.

      The taxes, fines and fees have surprised many people. I’m dedicating an entire article to just that aspect of buying a used car.

  8. Great post. Thank you! Now… if you’re not a resident, how do you register it? Could I purchase a vehicle and store it in Baja, fly down and tour around with it a couple of times a year instead of driving my own vehicle down? Thanks!

    • Baja operates a little differently than the majority of the country so you might want to check with someone who lives there. Generally speaking, you need either a temporary or permanent resident visa to register a car but there are offices here and there that don’t ask — or forget to ask — for that document.

  9. Staying Safe in Mexico (nothing to do with cars)
    I wanted to tell you that I have never felt unsafe in Mexico and share with you some of my tricks for feeling secure.

    1. Take a few self-defense classes before you come. They’ll teach you a few techniques that will boost your confidence 100%. Don’t worry if you know nothing, just follow the five-year-olds.
    2. I never stay out let. Nothing good ever happens after midnight.
    3. If you do feel uneasy, walk in the middle of the residential streets. It’s hard for a mugger to surprise you in the middle of the street.
    4. Never carry your purse (it’s just an advertisement). I put my credit cards and pesos in my bra. Men, you can find belts with hidden money pockets at many online Travel Sites.
    5. Don’t dress too fine, another advertisement.

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