Costa Rica’s annual vehicle inspection, known as 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? In the past, we have left the fate of our Riteve in the hands of a local mechanic, but this year we tried something new. Feeling fairly confident that our Green Buggy, a 2000 Chevy Tracker, was in good shape, we hired a Tico friend to take it and went along for the ride. In this post, we’ll share our Riteve experience and explain how the process works.
Overview of Riteve
For those new to Costa Rica or hoping to move here soon, Riteve is the annual inspection that all vehicles must pass in order to be driven legally on the road. The month that your Riteve is due corresponds with the last number of your license plate (ours ends in 4, so April). This inspection applies to cars, trucks, motorcycles, and even ATVs (if you drive them on public roads).
Basically, the inspection tests the safety of your vehicle and the pollution levels coming from the tailpipe. Many of you might have experienced similar tests in your home state or country. Where we lived, in Massachusetts, we had to bring our car to an approved mechanic. Here in Costa Rica, there are dedicated Riteve facilities scattered around the country. Here is a map with the major ones. There are also four mobile units, which travel around to smaller cities and towns.
Making an Appointment: You can’t just show up for a Riteve inspection; an appointment is required. To make an appointment, call Riteve directly at 905-788-0000. The operator will ask for your preferred location and the license plate number of the car. You give them the date you would like and the general timeframe, and they will confirm availability. The operators speak Spanish.
Cost: The cost for the initial Riteve appointment for a car is ₡10,000 (about $20). If you have to fix something and come back, the second appointment costs ₡5,000 (about $10).
How Strict is Riteve?
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 Riteve. After seeing the process for ourselves though, we have to say that this is not the case. Everything was 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 our friend knew almost everyone there, yet we still failed our initial test (more on that later).
This, of course, doesn’t stop the owners of questionable cars from making temporary adjustments right before their Riteve appointment to ensure that their car passes. This definitely happens. As an example, when buying new tires recently, we learned that we could also rent tires for just a day or two if we wanted.
Riteve Inspection: What’s Involved?
What surprised us most about the Riteve inspection was how advanced the technology was. Back in the US, a mechanic would look around our car for mechanical signs of a problem (bad tires, burnt out light bulbs, fluid leaks, etc.) and then use a computer to test the car’s engine and exhaust emissions. At Riteve, 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 Riteve building, a technician approached and asked us to go through all 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.
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.
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 and the computer measured our ability to stop. Our car failed the emergency brake portion of this 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 though we failed, we continued 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 his flashlight, inspected the undercarriage of the car. It seemed like a basic visual inspection from what we could see. We know we had some minor oil leaks but that didn’t seem to be a problem.
This was the last test in the line. A metal device was placed at the end of our tailpipe and the computer displayed the levels of all the different emissions coming out. In case you were wondering, the building was also fitted with an elaborate fresh air system to protect the workers.
After the Inspection
After the last test in the Riteve building, we went to a small room where they gave us a printout of the results. Normally if everything is fine, this is where you would also get your new Riteve sticker for your windshield.
Since we failed, we drove away from Riteve disappointed, looking for a mechanic. One guy just across the street was tied up with a long line of failed cars so we found another farther down the road. After inspecting the brakes and cleaning the accumulated brake dust out of them, we made our way back to Riteve to do it all over again. This time we passed.
Overall, the experience of going through Riteve was fascinating, but after an extremely long and stressful day, we just might put it back into the hands of our mechanic for next year.