Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Spanish for 'Cars'. Cars are luxury items here in Costa Rica due to their high cost - and the high cost of gasoline, though diesel is much less expensive. Cars cost more here because every single one is imported and the import duties can run very high. A $50,000 car in the US can cost as much as $80,000 here. Needless to say, there are a lot of beaters around. You drive your car into the ground - sometimes literally - as happened with two of my brother-in-laws the other night.

They were on a reconnaissance mission to recover my father-in-law who was out on one of his multi-day "fiestas". He was intoxicated and was having car problems himself. He called my brother-in-law to come get him. My brother-in-law, in turn, called his brother and the two left on their mission together. My sister-in-law told the second to bring his cell phone just in case. He opted not to. Within 15 minutes of their departure, my father-in-law called my sister-in-law after trying my brother-in-law, sans cellular, to tell him that the car was OK and he didn't need a ride. With no way for my sister-in-law to contact my brothers-in-law, they were on their own.

About 3/4 of the way to their destination, the rear wheel of the 1994 Toyota 4-Runner came clean off the wheel hub. They narrowly missed colliding with oncoming traffic and finally came to rest a few inches from a large tree on the side of the road. No one was hurt, thankfully. They, and the other motorists, were very lucky. The big tree couldn't have cared less. Trees always win in challenges between themselves and cars.

My car stories have not been quite as dramatic, but close (see ¡Pura Mierda! posting in August). My pickup is still at the taller in S. Jose. The German here in Sardinal couldn't fix the smoking/oil leak problem after changing every filter and gasket the pickup possessed. He had to put it on a grua (flatbed) and send it to the Mahindra agency in S. Jose. Total cost for everything was about $320 and I still had the problem.

The agency worked on the pickup for another week before they called the German, thinking he was the pickup's owner, to give a synopsis. The German's wife called me to tell me to call the agency. Of course, I called at lunch time when no one was available. But after lunch I was able to talk to the manager. The good news was that the engine was fine. The bad news was that they had narrowed the problem down to the turbo. They would need more time to disassemble it to determine if they could fix it. 4 days later I received a call from the agency. The bearings were shot. I needed a new turbo.

Now, in Costa Rica, raiding cars for parts is common practice. Frequently, a taller (repair shop) will take your car's newer parts and replace them with older or refurbished parts. Car batteries are favorite targets. Alternators and compressors are also highly sought after. My paranoia was elevated and I began to question the agency's motives in my mind. I mulled over a few possible outcomes:

a. The turbo could be sent to an independent turbo lab, disassembled, and repaired. This might save considerable cost. But it also involved getting the turbo out of the pickup and from the agency to the lab, then back to the agency and into the pickup - a logistical nightmare here in CR. Then there were issues with warrantees (which are a joke here anyway insofar as trying to get anyone to adhere to them).

b. The agency could be lying to me. They could be telling me that they were putting in a new turbo, but might be putting in a refurbished one (maybe even my own refurbished turbo) and selling it back to me as new.

c. The agency could be telling me the truth and might actually replace my old turbo with a new one and honor some type of warranty.

I told the agency to wait until I called them back to begin any work. I had my secretary call labs to see what could be done to salvage the old turbo. In the end, taking into account logistics and unknowns, as well as the fact that my car was in S. Jose and I was here in Guancaste and could not look over anyone's shoulder, I opted to go with the new turbo. That'll run me another $1200, plus mano de obra (labor) at $100, and a trip for the pickup back to Liberia on a grua at $60 (which is less than 2/3 of what it would normally cost - the only number I was happy at hearing). So I'm looking at about $1700 total! AND I haven't had my pickup for nearly 3 weeks now!

But that's another story... My business partner graciously leant me his 1998 Hyudai Galloper in the mean time. It has no A/C, which isn't a big deal for me. I barely run it, preferring to drive with the windows down. But my partner had just put a brand new engine in it and I couldn't drive it over 2500 rpm's. Not too big a deal, but I was nervous and kept checking the oil, which would need to be changed after 1000 kms. on the new engine, which already had 400 kms. on it. Details! The bottom line was that it meant that I would not have to spend more money renting a car in the mean time. Cool!

After driving the Galloper for 2 days, the power steering began to go. It was almost time for the oil change anyway so I figured I'd bring it back to the German and he could fix everything in a day. I called the German. He had contracted dengue fever (a mosquito-borne disease that is epidemic here in Guanacaste right now) and was in the hospital. I would have to wait. You may ask, "Why not bring it to another taller?" Good question, but if I did, it would nullify the German's warranty. And my partner wanted him to fix the power steering at no charge because he felt the belt was loose because the German either didn't put the right one on or didn't tighten it enough when he put in the new engine.

I've been driving the car for another 5 days now. The German is in S. Jose having blood workup done. The power steering is now completely gone. My biceps are bulging. I decided to stop by his place this morning anyway to see if one of his mechanics could fix the problems without the German being there. I left my baby's Graco car seat strapped in the back seat as a clever ploy for sympathy. It worked!!! It was the first thing the mechanic noticed and the candle flickered and burned above his head. He had an infant of his own and would have the work done this afternoon (which translates to tomorrow afternoon). Pura vida! Good enough! I can ride my motorcycle for a day - if it doesn't rain (yeah, right).

So here I sit, waiting to hear from the Mahindra agency in S. Jose on the final damage (cost). They call it "la dolorosa" here, Spanish for "the painful" - quite accurate. What's also painful is that these taller's don't accept credit cards. So I have to make a special trip to the bank and transfer funds from my account to their account, then send confirmation of the transfer to the taller via fax. Once the funds hit their account, they put my sorry-ass pickup on a grua and send it back to me.

I really need to sell a large property right now for a fat commission. Please visit my website at and contact me directly as soon as you can!

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