Costa Rica’s annual vehicle inspection, known as Dekra (previously Riteve), can make even the most carefree person stressed out. Will the car pass easily or will you have to pay hundreds of dollars to get something fixed? With our older cars, we usually asked a local mechanic to handle the inspection appointment. Once, we brought the car ourselves along with a Tico friend. This year, we felt fairly confident that our three-year old Hyundai Tucson was in good enough shape to go it alone. In this post, we’ll share our Dekra experience and explain how the process works.
Overview of Dekra
For those new to Costa Rica or hoping to move here soon, Dekra is the company contracted to carry out all the country’s vehicle inspections. This mechanical check-up is what vehicles must pass in order to be driven legally. It applies to cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and even ATVs (if you drive them on public roads).
Basically, the inspection tests the safety of your vehicle and pollution levels coming from the tailpipe. Many of you may have experienced similar tests in your home country. Where we lived, in Massachusetts and Maine, we had to bring our car to an approved mechanic. Here in Costa Rica, there are more than a dozen dedicated Dekra-inspection facilities scattered around the country.
When is Dekra Inspection Due?
The date your Dekra inspection is due corresponds with the last number of your license plate. Ours ends in nine, so our Dekra is due in September. Plates ending in one are due in January, two in February, three in March, and so on. License plates ending with zero are due in October.
Newer vehicles (less than five-years old) need the inspection every two years. All older vehicles need to be inspected annually. Public transport vehicles (buses) are required to get inspected twice a year.
The car you own should already have a Dekra (or Riteve, if it is older) sticker on the windshield with a date on it. That is the date your next vehicle inspection is due. For example, a sticker that says JUN 24 means you need to get your car inspected before the end of June 2024.
Note: Before 2022, Dekra was called Riteve. Riteve was the previous company that had the government contract (for 20 years). The transition from Riteve to Dekra was severely delayed as they signed government contracts and set up their inspection stations. Our September 2022 inspection due date was repeatedly delayed. We finally got it done in March 2023. For the remainder of 2023, those who still need past due inspection from 2022 should schedule an appointment for the corresponding month they were due in 2022 (e.g., Oct. 2023 if you were due in Oct. 2022). This news article explains.
Making an Appointment
You can’t just show up for a Dekra inspection; an appointment is required. Appointments can be made by calling 4000-1100. However, we have heard that sometimes they never answer. Instead, we recommend making an appointment through the company’s website. This was very easy when we did it.
From the home page, you can select ESTACIONES DE INSPECCION (Inspection Stations) and choose the nearest facility to your home.
Next select CITA POR INTERNET (internet appointment). A screen will open where you select the type of vehicle you want to inspect (automobile, motorcycle, etc.).
Continue through the menu, selecting a date on the calendar (available dates are in green) and then the specific time. Appointments generally start in the early morning and continue into the evening.
Finally, you will enter your name, license plate number, and contact details. An appointment confirmation will be sent to your email.
Tip: Be prepared to wait. We showed up about 10 minutes early for our appointment and still waited about 45 minutes in line.
Dekra Inspection Cost
The cost for a Dekra vehicle inspection is ₡7,156 + IVA (about $15) for a regular car. You will pay this when you arrive at the facility. They take credit cards, SINPE movil, and cash.
If you have to fix something on your car and come back, the second appointment costs ₡1,917 + IVA (about $4).
Motorcycles and ATVs cost ₡4,715 + IVA (about $10) for the initial inspection and ₡1,263 + IVA (about $3) if you need to fix something and come back.
How Strict is Dekra?
Having seen some questionable automobiles on the roads in Costa Rica—picture an old ‘70s pickup billowing black smoke and dragging its bumper—we assumed that there were some questionable practices happening when it came to vehicle inspections.
After seeing the process for ourselves, though, we have to say that it is very thorough. Everything is much more high tech and sophisticated than we had imagined.
As for bribes or knowing someone who works there, we would also have to say that this is highly unlikely. Every test is recorded by computers, and when we went with a friend once who knew almost everyone there, we still failed our initial test (our older car).
This, of course, doesn’t stop the owners of questionable cars from making temporary adjustments right before their appointment to ensure that their car passes. This definitely happens. As an example, when buying new tires once, we learned that we could also rent tires for just a day or two if we wanted.
We highly recommend at least taking your car to the mechanic to do a basic check beforehand. We did this and the mechanic found a burned out license plate light that we hadn’t noticed. Just that alone was worth the small amount he charged and time savings of failing inspection.
During the inspection, they also look for things that you may not realize. We live on a dirt road and the mechanic told us we should have our engine power washed because the inspectors were not going to like how dirty it was.
Dekra Inspection: What’s Involved?
What surprised us most about the Dekra inspection was the advanced technology.
Back in the US, a mechanic would look around our car for signs of a problem (bad tires or brakes, burned out light bulbs, fluid leaks, etc.) and then use a computer to test the car’s engine and exhaust emissions.
At Dekra, our car went through an assembly line of at least seven different stations, each testing something different and each with its own high-tech computer and monitor.
Below are the types of tests you can expect.
Basic Exterior Check
When we first drove into the Dekra building, a technician approached and asked us to go through the car’s turn signals, high beams/low beams, windshield wipers, and horn. They then tested the angle of the headlights with a device that rolls in front of the car and inspected the tread on the tires. At this point, a small sensor was also placed in the tailpipe, measuring the car’s emissions.
Basic Interior Check
As we pulled up to the next station, the technician checked inside the car, looking around with a flashlight, and made sure each seatbelt worked properly. He also found the VIN number on the frame under the front passenger seat and made sure it matched his paperwork.
Shocks and Struts Test
This is where we started to get impressed. At the next station, the technician had us drive onto a set of four pads. He turned something on and suddenly it felt like we were in an earthquake. Looking at the nearby monitor, there were graphs showing how responsive our shocks were with every bump and jolt.
The next station had sets of rollers under the wheels. This allowed the wheels to turn while the car stayed in one place. At the request of the technician, we applied the brakes, while the computer measured our ability to stop.
Many years ago, we had a car fail for the emergency brake portion of the test. Although the brake worked, the computer read that we had 70% stopping ability on one of the rear wheels and only 30% on the other. Even if you fail one test, you continue down the line.
Similar to the shock test, this time the four pads under the wheels were moved from side to side. We’re not exactly sure what this one measured but our wheels stayed on so that was good.
Almost at the exit now, we rolled up over a large pit. The technician walked down some steps into the pit, and with a flashlight, inspected the undercarriage. He asked us to turn the wheel from side to side and then zig-zag the wheel rapidly.
Although our Spanish is fairly good, it was difficult to hear and understand him from under the car. He was a little frustrated but another technician came to help and we worked through it.
This was the last test in the line. The car in front of us was older and needed this test. We did not, maybe because we passed the first emissions test or because our car was newer.
For the car in front of us, a large cone connected to a flexible tube (that exited the building) was placed at the tailpipe. The driver then had to rev the engine. Even with the cone and tube in place, black smoke was billowing out the sides. The technician put on an elaborate gas mask, and they tested it again.
There was some conversation and pointing to the computer monitor after this. The driver got out of his car and looked pretty disappointed so we don’t think he passed.
Getting a New Dekra sticker
After the last test in the Dekra building, we sat in the car at the end of the line and waited. One of the technicians worked on the nearby computer and was handing out the results. Since our car passed everything, we received a new sticker and document to keep in the glove box and were on our way.
Yay, no more stress until next time, pura vida!
What if You Fail a Dekra Inspection?
We have, unfortunately, had this happen too. If you fail, you will receive a paper with a description of the problems that caused the failure. You can then take that to a nearby mechanic to get things adjusted or repaired. All Dekra stations have plenty of private mechanic shops set up nearby, helping people with these headaches.
If it is a quick fix like a lightbulb or brake cleaning, you can usually come right back. We saw one car that was allowed to cut to the front of the line, spend a few minutes to get reinspected, and then drive back out. If it is something more major, you may have to schedule a reinspection appointment for a later date.
Overall, the experience of going through a Dekra inspection is tedious and stressful but also quite fascinating. The level of technology used in the facility is impressive. The technicians used computers and tablets throughout the process, and we could see firsthand how you can’t get away with too much. Overall, we feel that Costa Rica’s vehicle inspection does a good job ensuring the safety of all the cars on the road. Of course, if you are temporarily renting some brake pads or new tires just to pass inspection, that is another story!
Have you experienced Costa Rica’s vehicle inspection for yourself? How does it compare to what you had to do back home? Leave us a comment below.
Looking for more articles like this? Check out these posts:
Renewing Permanent Residency in Costa Rica – If your DIMEX card is expiring soon, read this post to see how the renewal process works.
International Driving Permit in Costa Rica – If you are visiting your home country after living in Costa Rica for a while, you may need an international driving permit if your license back home has expired. Read this post for instructions on how to get one.
Renovating a House in Costa Rica – Tips on remodeling a home in Costa Rica, from our own experience.