Buying a used car in Managua

Darkness had taken over the streets of Managua and we were parked at a gas station pump, the keys locked inside, the car alarm blaring its annoyingly loud series of beeps and honks. We looked at each other in disbelief as a gas station attendant suggested we break a window to get at the keys. “But we just bought it five minutes ago!”
Think shopping for a used car in the States is a nightmare? You should try it in Managua!

We had been meaning to buy a car for a while. After too many three-week trips spending $1,500 on rental cars, “buy a car” had been added to the to-do list. The previous trip, it hovered near the bottom of the list, but this time it was pushed all the way to the top. This trip after a final week of rental car indulgence, the swell dropped and we decided it was time to embark on that mission to Managua.

Brian Hopper and his sweet local-style ride, making a call to help us find one of our own.

A friend of ours named Brian had bought an old red Toyota 4Runner for under $5k in Managua a couple of years ago. It was beat up and adorned with stickers, dark tint, and running board lights. The windshield washer sprayers had even been turned around and filled with flashing LEDs. It was super sweet and we were envious. We wanted something like that so that the cops and everyone else on the road would think we were locals. Brian tried to hook us up with a 4Runner through a local friend of his that was only an hour away, but it was a 1990 and they were asking $7k. Ryan decided it would be better to pay a little more and get a much newer car that would last longer. No getting out of going to Managua.

We arranged to pick up Brian’s mechanic and bring him on our journey to give an expert opinion. On the way to town we came across our buddy Shay, broken down on the side of the road. The alternator on his Mitsubishi Montero had seized up and he needed a pull. We hooked up a 6ft long thick metal chain and pulled him for an hour and a half, going no faster than 40kms/hr, all the way to town. Of course we were happy to help out a friend, and our destination had been the mechanic anyway, but it definitely got us off to a slow start.

Rigging the pull chain…
The chain came un-done right in front of a big group of guys who are working to pave the road. Great timing! We had plenty of hecklers and even some help.

We made it to Managua a little before lunchtime and our mechanic Isaac took the wheel. He drove us to one used car dealership after another. We speak Spanish, but Isaac took the lead and did most of the talking. We were looking for a Toyota, either a 4Runner or a Prado, and wanted to spend about $10k. We wanted something enclosed rather than a truck so that we could keep the boards inside and not attract any extra attention from the cops. The cops love to pull surfers over to extort a few bucks so it’s best to keep the boards out of sight.

Our mechanic Isaac is awesome. Such great energy from this guy!We would have been lost without him.

We looked at a bunch of cars, and test-drove about a half dozen. Isaac did all the driving. He would comment that the engine felt a little “bronco”. At first I thought that was a good thing. Broncos are strong right? Apparently, “suave” is what you want.

The car shopping begins…
This one had sweet stickers, but the engine was too bronco!

Crossing the street to check out some options for sale.


Engines sold a la carte!

We were rolling with $11k in cash on us, mostly in $100 bills. Ryan had put 90% of the cash in an envelope and used first aid tape to strap it to his thigh under his pants. It was hot in Managua and we were all sweating. Around 3pm Isaac and I were listening to the spiel from another dealer while Ryan had started to walk around the back of the car. He yelled at me, “Beck!” I walked over to see what he wanted and there were three hundred dollar bills fluttering in the wind. I scrambled to grab them and he was stressing, trying to hold his pant leg closed to keep more bills from flying out. Apparently his sweat had softened the envelope so that it ruptured and the bills were trying to escape. He tried to slyly hand me a wad of hundreds and shoved the rest in his pocket. 100 hundred-dollar bills is a fat wad!

No one but Isaac noticed, but we were laughing later at what anyone else might have said, “The gringo is melting and it turns out he’s made of money!”
Pocket full of hundos…

By dinner time we had narrowed it down to a white Prado with 160,000kms on it and a green 2000 4Runner with only 90,000kms. After some negotiation we got both prices down to $11,300. We took a break and got some greasy food at On The Run to think.

The Prado looked nicer and was a little bigger inside, but the 4Runner was lighter with better gas mileage and lower odometer count. All three of us decided independently to pick the 4Runner. A final negotiation got the price down to an even $11k. There’s no taxes or licensing fees or stacks of paperwork to deal with like in the States. You just go to a lawyer’s office and wait while they draw up a bill of sale, listing the price as much lower so that you have to pay less for insurance, then head back to the dealership to trade stacks of cash for a set of keys.

Signing the bill of sale…Sweating in the lawyer’s office waiting for paperwork. Happy to be almost done.

Handing over the cash.

Our new ride! 2000 Toyota 4runner!

The gas tank was empty so before heading back home in our new ride we had to stop and fill up. The streets of Managua are difficult enough in daylight and the sun had set so Isaac offered to drive at least until we reached the highway. He pulled in to the gas station and we all got out, leaving the keys inside. I went in the shop to grab some drinks for the ride home and when I came back to the car Ryan and Isaac were frantically trying to figure out a way to break in while the alarm was screaming.

“What happened?”

“I was standing there and all of a sudden heard a beep and a click. The damn thing locked itself with the keys inside!”

As I said in the beginning, one gas station attendant suggested we just break a window. We weren’t about to do that. At the same time, the manager ran out and started hassling the attendant who had been pumping our gas. He asked Ryan, “how much did you pay him?” Ryan said 900 Cordobas. Apparently, the attendant had figured out a way to change the display that said how much was owed. He showed Ryan the display that said 900, and Ryan gave him the money. The manager somehow knew and pushed a button that showed the true price of only 720 Cords. He’d ripped us off and we would have never known had the manager not showed up to call him out. All that was going on while the alarm was still blaring.

Another heckler showed up just to watch the three of us frantic trying to figure something out. Finally he held up his keys and said, “I’ve got a Toyota, maybe my key will work.” It was worth a try. Sure, enough, his key opened the door and Ryan quickly hit the button to silence the alarm. What are the chances?

Upgrading the tires.
First surf trip in the new ride.
We went for a cruise with our buddy, Shay.
We had driven several hours to a funky little beach to try to wrangle a boat. Ryan and Shay went off to speak to some fishermen. None of them were too eager to drop what they were doing surprisingly. You’d think they’d be eager to earn some extra cash!

We finally scored a boat and took a really long ride to a funky little left. It was small and mushy but at least we had it all to ourselves.
Post-surf Cokes, before the long drive home.

The upgraded homestead.
: )

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4 Responses to Buying a used car in Managua

  1. Anonymous says:

    Where are you going to keep the car? Do you trust the caretakers enough to leave it with them?

  2. Heidi says:

    I love your story!!! Setbacks like that always make for a good story and something to laugh about in the future!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! What a life you lead…..wow you are going tohave great stories to tell your grandkids one day 🙂

    Cathy Young, Wahine Kai

  4. JRoss says:

    I am looking for truck , did you sell yours, would be nice to talk, sounds like you had a good trip

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