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Friday, February 23, 2024

Navigating Costa Rica’s Strict Car Inspection System

Last week I took my 2001 Jeep Cherokee Sport for the annual inspection. The company now in charge is called Dekra. They were previously known as Riteve, but to any car owner in Costa Rica, they are the vehicular equivalent of an annual visit to the dentist. I reserved a spot online and chose 7:36am for my appointment. The appointments were spaced several minutes apart, and every time slot for the morning was open.

I arrived promptly and what a surprise– I was greeted by a line of a dozen or so cars, buses, and semi truck cabs ahead of me. After several minutes, I got to the cashier’s kiosk where I paid a little over 7,000 colons. That was actually good news. The previous company charged more than double that amount.

The line split after paying, and I went into another line for cars only. I have heard it said that older Jeeps tend to run hot and mine confirms this claim. And it idles even hotter. While in line I watched as the temperature gauge crept toward the 100 mark, the celsius boiling point.

I turned the motor off, only starting it every few minutes to move up another few feet as the lead car entered the inspection area. Then it was my turn. Lights worked, my hazards only worked on the right side, so I put the left turn signal on at the same time I turned on the hazards, and they passed.

The horn only worked after I pounded it a couple times with the ball of my fist. Passed. The seat belts in back were buried under the seat. I pulled them out from hibernation and connected them. All good up to that point. At the brake test, you can watch the screen behind the inspector as you apply your brakes under various stresses.

The two numbers on the screen were nearly the same, which was good. Whatever it was measuring, both sides were virtually equal. The hand brake at maximum pull showed two numbers, a 28 and a 7. Fail. Moved on to the man in the hole. From an in-ground work space beneath the car, he gave the suspension, axle and ball joints a workout. A problem with a rotula. Ball-joint and bushings. Every inspection I have failed has included a problem with a rotula. Two fails.

The final stop was the man in the mask. Emissions. 2,500 rpm is hard on my old car with the hot engine; 2,500 rpm for extended periods was like forcing an old asthmatic to run a 100 meter dash. The engine rasped in pain. Then we were done. Failed the emissions test as well. Three strikes and you’re out.

On the drive back I kept an eye out for the Transitos– the traffic police– while the small pickup in front of me belched a stream of black smoke. Had this truck passed the emissions test? Or was this driver, like me, driving without the inspection sticker?

That is a 61,000 colon fine (about $120 USD), if you have the misfortune of being on the road when the Transitos make one of their irregular visits to our roads for the random traffic stop. Next week, a mechanic I know will work on it and take it to the return inspection, which costs an additional 2,000 colones (no complaint again– the previous company charged 8,000 colones for the return).

Until then, like many thousands of other drivers without the inspection sticker, I will drive primarily at night, or before 7am, or during the peak hours of hot sunshine, as these hours the roads are generally free of the cops where I live.

As I approached my house, I remembered my first car in Costa Rica. A ragtop jeep, assembled here in the 1970s. The years I owned it, there were no inspections. I doubt it ever would have passed the modern test, but it was always a roadworthy ride, dependable, on roads considerably worse than what we drive on today.

There are a lot of things about the old Costa Rica I do not miss, but I do miss the days I could drive my car on our battered roads without paying for a government mandated car inspection sticker.

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