Riteve: Costa Rica’s Annual Vehicle Inspection

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.

 

Riteve: Costa Rica's Annual Vehicle Inspection | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

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. 

 

One of Costa Rica's Many Late Model Cars | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
How this Mazda from the early ’80s passed Riteve is anyone’s guess. Pineapple anyone?

 

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.

 

Costa Rica's high-tech Vehicle Inspection | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Inside the Riteve building

 

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.

Brake Test

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.   

Side-to-Side Test

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.

Underbody Inspection

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.

Emissions Test

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.

 

Have you experienced Costa Rica’s vehicle inspection for yourself? How does it compare to what you had to do back home?

 

 

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27 Comments

  1. Thanks for the walk through. It is a little more intense than what I have experienced back in the states. Your comments remind me why I have decided to live without a car! If I ever do get one I’ll rely on the help of others to take care of the Riteve part of ownership.

    1. Hi Bill, as long as you live somewhere that is easy to get around, not having a car can cut down on a lot of stress when it comes to this type of stuff! Unfortunately where we live, it’s a one hour mountainous hike to get to the bus stop (more coming back up) so we’ll have to keep dealing with Riteve for now. Thanks a lot for your comment!

      1. Thank you for such a wonderful blog of your experiences! We just returned from CR staying near Tinamaste at friends so i really connected with all you write.

        I was just chatting there with my friend who has the property done and now is seeking to no longer have rent autos at each visit.

        I am in awe of their Inspection process. Here in DC we have some of those “stations of the diagnostics’ cross” you suffered through hoping it passes, but not that side-to-side (transverse base excitation) that would check how much ‘looseness’ is in the suspension and body tie links as these are degrees of freedom that can cause pogo’ing of the vehicle and/or an intense steering wheel wobble that grows from resonance on washboard turns or curves on mountains.

        Did i also read about Rainmaker on your blog? If so, that convinced us to visit it versus Manuel Antonio as we had to choose and your write up convinced us so thank you so!

        1. Hi John, Glad you had a good visit to Tinamaste. Right now we’re living not far from there actually. Tinamaste has an amazing farmer’s market.

          Yes, the Riteve process is quite rigorous. Makes you wonder how some of those very old cars on the road can pass.

          We do have an article about Rainmaker on our site so you may very well have discovered it here. Rainmaker is a great spot, glad you enjoyed it too. Thanks for commenting!

          1. Thank you so for taking time to reply. It was your article that convinced us to visit Rainmaker; now your site here is my ‘go to’ reference (luv the ‘map’ to all posts). We stayed with friends that just built on land near Tinamaste (a Boston native, small world..) so we saw the market as we headed out on an adventure. We hope to visit annually at our friend’s place. When we do, maybe we all can meet up!

  2. When I went last time, they also checked all the windows to make sure they opened and closed properly.
    And they checked the windshield wipers, and the cleaner too.

    1. Interesting about the windows Dana. I don’t remember them doing that but they might have for all I know. They did check the wipers on our car too though. Guess it pays to have everything in working order.

  3. Enjoyed the article. Been there, done that…………about 10 times now. Usually let tico relatives handle the drive thru, since i believe being a gringo is of now use here.
    In my case, they shove the emissions tube in, at the beginning of the line. I have put alcohol in my gas, adjusted timing screws, etc etc to get past this test.
    Have failed at least twice. But the one that really got me, was the insistence that i replace a rear bumper because of chips and dings ( gotten by bad driveways etc ). I questioned what that has to do with safety and the environment. Oh well, I am due again in July and i think i will be buying a new front bumper. $165.00. It really is beat up………..probably by the same driveways.

    1. Yeah not sure how they can argue that the cosmetics of the bumper make any difference Bill? We’ve seen some pretty rough looking cars out on the road so maybe they just rented some door panels and bumpers to pass 😉

      Good luck getting it done this July, let us know how it turns out!

  4. Thanks for sharing this information, I have been scouring the internet trying to figure out insurance and registration information for our van that we drove down from California. How long do you have to live in Costa Rica before needing to do this?

    1. Hi Shannon,
      Welcome to Costa Rica! After 90 days, you have to register the car and pay import taxes on it (otherwise the car has to leave the country). The registration (Marchamo) includes a small amount of basic liability insurance. Some people get additional insurance through INS or a private company on top of that. At the end of our post about Buying a Car, there’s links for more info on importing a car and insurance: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/buying-a-car-in-costa-rica/.

  5. I have an appointment for May 11th for my first inspection. The vehicle is new (I bought a 2014 in late 2015, so it is due this month). I don’t speak much Spanish. Is that going to be an issue?

    1. Hi Carman, It really depends on who you get at Riteve if they speak English or are easy to communicate with in Spanish. We’ve gone before and there are usually a bunch of different guys working. They tell you to do different things when you drive through for the inspection like beep the horn, turn the wheel, etc. so if you don’t want to pay a mechanic to go for you (most stress free route), maybe brush up on those types of words 🙂 If you fail, they do give you a piece of paper that says why you failed that you could give to a mechanic, but hopefully you won’t since your car is fairly new. Good luck!

  6. Thanks so much for this post!!! We just moved to Costa Rica a month ago, and we just did our Riteve inspection today down in San Isidro. I found this when we were trying to figure out what the heck we needed to do. All of these details were super-helpful. Thanks again!

  7. Great help, thanks

    Is it posible to get an early Riteve? I am looking at a vehicle that needs testing in March. I will pay for the Riteve, but if it fails, I would not purchase the vehicle, or offer a reduction in price. Would taking it to a mechanic before hand help?

    1. Hi Mike, I think you can bring the car to Riteve to test it, but I don’t know if they would give you a new sticker because your Riteve date is connected to your license plate number. But if you are doing it only to make sure that it will pass in the future, that should work. It’s always a good idea to bring it to a mechanic beforehand. He might catch things before you even get to Riteve.

  8. Great information, I hope to move to Costa Rica to retire in a few years and found your information most helpful.

    On another note:

    Having been a state safety inspector in Maryland I can tell you that bumpers and fenders can not have tears in them because of the danger to a pedestrian in a minor impact, I would assume this is also the reasoning in CR.

  9. Jenn & Matt,
    I to own a 2000 Chevy Tracker, same color, same body style as yours. I am considering bringing it to CR when we move there in about a year or so. Do you think it is better to purchase there or bring mine? I really like my Tracker, but I have over 200K on it, but it does not smoke or use oil at all. I will get the brakes done and get a tune up before I bring it down. It is in pretty good shape for the year and mileage. Would you happen to have an idea what it will cost to bring it down or where I could go to find out?
    Thanks,
    Dan & Val Tintinger

    1. Hi Dan and Val, Costa Rica charges very high import taxes on cars, and older cars get taxed the most so it is probably better to buy one here. It can also be a hassle to import one because you have to deal with shipping it and then getting it released from customs. There are services that will do this for you. We don’t have any experience with it ourselves, though. Our Buying a Car post has some links with info on import tax costs so you could start there (see Additional Resources section at the bottom). Best of luck with your move!

  10. ‘After ninety days, you have to register the car, and pay import taxes on it’
    Only if you and the car arrive together. If your car arrives a month after you do, you then only have 60 days before you have to import it, or remove it from Costa Rica. As, goes for yourself also.
    If you have residency in Costa Rica, you will pay import duties at the point of entry, and get a temporary permission to drive it to your destination, where you must then legalize it with marchamo, plates, and inspection certificates. You cannot drive it until that is done.
    There may also be an extension for this period (90 day), and it is advisable to always check current regulations, as they change frequently in this country.

    1. Yes, you will just have to be careful getting to the Riteve station. They’ll give you same sticker you should have gotten if you hadn’t been late to renew (e.g. if your Riteve was due in July and you renewed today, they would give you a July sticker).

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