66. A Car Guy in Costa Rica: Yearly Inspection

Thursday 2/17 – Today started off the same way Monday-Wednesday did, but today Ramie only worked down at the house for about half of the day. He made it through a lot of what he could do and now was waiting for other people to get work done before he could keep going with his projects. He also had an appointment with Randall this evening to go get our car inspected.

What? Car inspected? What do you mean? Well, here in Costa Rica, every year or 2 (depending on the age and type of vehicle you have) you have to get your car inspected for what they call Riteve. The month you have to do it in is based on the last number of your license plate and ours is due by the end of March. You have to have an appointment to get this done, so sometimes planning ahead by a few weeks isn’t a bad idea. Randall, the car guy that has been helping us out with car things (and also the same guy who helped us pick up our appliances and handles the warehouse where our things were shipped to and are currently stored at) in addition to all of the other things that he does, also does Riteve appointments. He will take your car, drive it to San Isidro where the Riteve center is, bring it through the inspection, and drive it back. Loren has him do this every year for his car and his ATV (yes, ATVs have to go through this too. Basically, any vehicle that drives on the road has to do this inspection including heavy equipment). Anyway, Ramie had asked Randall to make an appointment for us that worked for his schedule, and Ramie was going to go with him. He would still have Randall drive and take care of everything since he knew exactly what had to be done, but Ramie wanted to go along to learn what all of this was about. The appointment was for 4:30 this evening.

Ramie drove to Randall’s place around 3:30pm in order to make it to the appointment on time. Randall says he only schedules appointments this late in the evening for vehicles that he knows will pass.  The terrible truth is that I guess we’re good at proving people wrong! Wait, what do you mean? Well I’ll let Ramie tell you the story now..

(RAMIE) Hey everyone, guess it's my turn to type for a bit. So here is the process for vehicle inspection here in Costa Rica. They have these inspection centers in most major areas of Costa Rica and a few “traveling centers” that they set up for a day or two in other locations. The process was interesting to say the least. You pull up to the inspection center and park. You have to have an appointment as mentioned and you also have to have your vehicle title and the prior year inspection receipt. You start by going in and paying for your appointment. The price varies on the type of vehicle you have inspected. I want to say it cost us around $26. Once you pay you get a receipt, and you get in your vehicle and drive it around to the end of the building and enter it. They have about 6-7 different inspection stations inside the building each doing a different inspection of your vehicle. 

Parked and going in to pay

-The first station they will ask you to pop your hood and check your oil. Why? I really don't know, but they also have you test the horn, turn signals, brake lights, check that all your seat belts actually buckle and probably some other things I couldn't see or understand as they were talking to Randall of course in Spanish.



-The next station you pull onto checks your alignment. The factory specs of your vehicle appear on the screen and somehow read it and put up your current alignment. I didnt see any lasers and not sure how it knows, but it was interesting.

-The station after this, I’ll call a bounce pad. You drive onto it and it will start a random bounce of your suspension. It's checking to make sure that your shocks are in good order. Quite interesting as you are bouncing in your car without really moving. 

Front Suspension test was in red. The blue that overlaps the red is the rear and has to be close to the front to pass

-The next station they test your brakes. We pulled onto a large rolling drum (similar to a chassis dyno for you car nuts). As the drum tries to speed up, you slowly apply your brakes to stop the drop from spinning. You then drive forward and do the rear brakes the same way. When we did the front brakes we actually rolled off the drum and had to drive back onto it and do it again. Randall said that is pretty common. There is also a screen you can watch to see how your front and rear brakes compare to each other. Randall said that they have to be close to the or you don't pass. 

-The station after that you drive over a pit where there is a person with a camera. They inspect your brake lines and entire underside of the vehicle. There was also a test they performed where you had to load your drive train. Basically put it in gear and press on the gas. It engages the driveshaft and axles and they check the u-joints and such. They also asked us to rev up the vehicle in park to a certain RPM, I assume to check the emissions.

-The final station is where I thought they tested your emissions but as it turned out, I don’t think that was the case. As we pulled up to it, Randall made a comment “that paper better not be ours”. Then looked around and didn't see any other vehicles waiting for paperwork and he was stumped saying to himself, why didn't we pass?? The person came to the window and handed a failed paper to Randall. They spoke in Spanish to each other and Randall looked confused.

We pulled out of the center and Randall immediately got on his phone. He just told me we didn't pass and there was a hole in the exhaust. HUH? The truck is as quiet as a new one, what are they talking about? I'm confused and don't understand. I know cars and I know what I would be hearing if there was an exhaust problem. There was no exhaust tick, no loud noise, nothing like that! Randall continued to talk in Spanish to whoever he was on the phone with. I just sat there thinking to myself that I guess I’ll find a mechanic, have them find the leak, have it fixed and then find out the process to bring it back myself to finish the inspection, no point to make Randall drive back here tomorrow just to have that looked at. We made it to the main highway and he was visibly upset. He turned onto the highway and gunned it. I just thought to myself, sorry man, I didn't know! I really didn't know what to say at this point. I would've never guessed there was a problem. About that time, he flipped the blinker on and we turned into a local muffler shop. They were literally putting the last lock on the gate as we pulled up. A guy came to the door and Randall talked to him in fast Spanish. The guy yelled to the others to open up the gate. Once open we pulled in over a pit. The guy that I assumed was the owner came and talked to Randall, he tried talking to me and I spoke to him in my very limited Spanish, thanking him for opening up. About then 2 other guys ducked down into the pit under the truck. They had flashlights and were inspecting the entire exhaust system. They asked Randall to start the truck. One guy went to the back and said you have no exhaust coming out of the tailpipe. They looked harder and finally one of the guys felt it. On the top of the muffler was a hole. They got mirrors out and there was a large spot that looked rusty but was only about the size of a quarter.

One guy came out of the pit and grabbed a Sawzall. I looked at Randall and he said your muffler has a hole in it. He immediately asked the guy how much to fix it. The guy said $80. I just laughed and told Randall “sorry man, I’ll pay you tomorrow” since I only had enough cash on me to pay him for bringing me to do this tonight. He laughed and said “that's ok, I have your stuff in storage!” TouchΓ© my friend! 

Cutting out the factory muffler

The guys got the muffler cut out and threw it up on the floor and grabbed a new one off the shelf. They went under there and started the process of welding in the new one. I laughed again and said to Randall I'm not giving that one back. Wait, why would I say that?? Well, this is Costa Rica remember. There are mechanic shops set up outside of Riteve that will install a new muffler, you get reinspected and then go back to the shop, they cut the muffler back out and reinstall your old one. They do the same with tires, mirrors, lights, and all sorts of other parts. They will literally rent you the repair part so that you can pass inspection.

Randall, the owner & I looked over my factory muffler (only 69,000 miles) and at the rust spot. Still hot, the owner grabbed a screwdriver and pressed on the small rust spot. It immediately fell into the muffler and I could have easily fit 2 or 3 fingers into that hole. He poked around a little more and towards the back of the muffler and found that there were many other similar spots. None of us have ever seen anything like that, especially with the car still being so quiet. And rust on the top of the muffler? Normally they all rust out at the seam and on the bottom. 

The original hole in the muffler. We proceeded to make many more easily..

Once they finished I thanked them profusely for everything. I mean they were technically closed but opened up for Randall to fix my truck. I was very thankful. It took around 20 minutes total from the time we pulled in to when we pulled back out. Randall and I got in the truck and pulled back out to get onto the highway. I looked at Randall and asked if we were going to try re-inspection and he said damn right. So away we went. We pulled back into the inspection center a few minutes later and, sadly had to go in to pay a re-inspection fee. This time only half the amount I paid the first time. We then drove the truck back around, this time into a different line. I asked the difference and he stated that the line we were in was for large trucks, heavy equipment and re-inspections. Well that makes sense. The person came to the window and Randall gave him the failed paperwork and they spoke briefly about what we had fixed. They pulled out the sniffer, stuck it in the tailpipe and sniffed away. They came back and said all is good, we passed. Now we just have to wait for the truck in front of us that doesn't look like it's going to pass inspection because of the way it's smoking and the fact that it won't even stay running.

About 5 minutes we made it to the far end of the building. Yep, I knew it. The truck in front of us failed. We pulled up and handed the paperwork to the final person. They gave us a new window sticker and the passing paperwork. Away we go, back home! This was quite an experience, but I’ll be hiring Randall every year to do this. Seriously without his help, his knowledge, and the friends and connections that he has nearby, this could have been much more stressful!

Pura Vida- even a car guy learned something about cars today.


  1. I love reading the adventures of Ramie and Dana. You sure are meeting some wonderful and interesting people.

    1. Thank you Mary! The ticos are some of the nicest people I have ever met in my life.


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