This is a fairly common scenario in Mexico: A person buys a used car from a private seller and upon trying to register it, discovers that there are thousands of pesos of unpaid taxes and/or fines. The buyer then has to fork out the extra money in order to get their tags and tarjeta de circulación (registration).
Tips to Avoid This Happening to You
Make sure that the seller provides you with receipts to show that the taxes were paid for the previous years but don’t accept this as concrete proof. It is not uncommon for people to use fraudulent receipts when selling a vehicle.
In most jurisdictions, the only way to check to see if there are any unpaid taxes or fines is to a government office and inquire in person. This may take awhile, so you might want to bring a book or something to keep you occupied.
A small number of jurisdictions now have online search tools that make this a bit easier (see Online Resources below).
The best scenario is to have the seller meet you where you intend to register the vehicle. That way they can provide any missing paperwork, pay any outstanding fines, and even turn in their old tags at the same time.
Here are some links to government sites that allow you to look up unpaid taxes (tenencia) and/or fines (infracciones o multas). Unfortunately, there are very few sites that will give you both, so you may want to consider a personal trip down to verify the information prior to buying the vehicle.
Let’s Wrap This Up
When buying a used car in Mexico, it pays to be diligent and do your homework. Don’t take the seller’s word as proof of anything and always be on the lookout for scams.