Besides the usual gas, oil, repair, and insurance expenses, there are two other annual charges a vehicle owner will be required to pay; the Marchamo and the Riteve inspection.
What is Marchamo? – The Marchamo is the annual tax for renewal of the vehicle’s license and registration. Sales of Marchamos take place for EVERY vehicle in Costa Rica in December each year. At that time the taxes on the vehicle for the coming year, as determined by the Hacienda (the Costa Rica taxing authority) must be paid. Late payment will be subject to interest.
The value given a vehicle by the Hacienda is used to determine the amount due for the Marchamo. This valuation is specific to each vehicle and not necessarily uniform (this means that two 100% identical vehicles, with no differences of any sort, may be assigned completely different valuations for tax purposes).
When the Marchamo is paid, a document is issued which also includes a portion that is used with a window sticker (this is the equivalent of a decal put on a license plate in some countries). This sticker is displayed inside the upper, right hand area of the windshield.
How do I get a Marchamo? – The Marchamo can be purchased at multiple locations; banks are the most common, but some private businesses will also collect the tax and issue a new Marchamo.
What is a Riteve inspection? – RTV (Riteve) is the name of the Spanish company that holds the contract with Costa Rica to construct inspection stations and conduct vehicle inspections.
Once every year, each vehicle in Costa Rica must undergo a rigorous safety inspection. The due date for an inspection is the month corresponding to the last number of the vehicle’s license plate number, ie; 1=January, 8=August, and so on. A successfully passed inspection will result in the issuing of a decal which is placed on the inside, upper right hand area of the vehicle’s windshield. The decals are color coded for the year of expiration and contain, in the center area, the month and year the inspection expires.
How do I get a Riteve inspection for my vehicle? – An inspection can be conducted at any one of the thirteen inspection stations around the country. The vehicle must have an appointment. The operating hours of the inspection stations are from 6 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Saturday (except national holidays). The locations of the various inspection stations, and the form to reserve an appointment time, can be found online at: https://www.rtv.co.cr/obtener-cita/#top (The website and instructions are in Spanish.)
When do I make an appointment for my vehicle? – Appointments can be made anytime up to 30 days in advance of the month of expiration (an inspection expiring in May can be conducted at any time in April). Expired inspections can be scheduled at any time. Appointment times are not strictly adhered to – being up to one hour early or one hour late does not usually affect the success of keeping the appointment. Anyone can make the appointment and deliver the vehicle for inspection, but to complete the online inspection reservation, the person making the appointment must know the vehicle’s license plate number, and include their cédula or passport number, telephone number, and email address. If a scheduled appointment is missed, a new reservation can be made the second day after the original appointment date.
At the online reservation site, select the inspection station closest to you. It is advised that the exact physical location of the chosen inspection station be determined BEFORE actually going to the appointment.
What does Riteve inspect? – The first step for having vehicle inspected is to park in one of the spaces outside the station office. The person presenting the vehicle for inspection must take the vehicle ownership papers inside and present them to one of the clerks. That person must also show the clerk either a valid passport or current Costa Rica cédula.
The clerk will examine the papers and check the information on their computer. After the clerk has verified the data they will generate an inspection slip and the driver will be instructed to go to a second window where they will pay the inspection fee. Payment can be either in colones or via credit card. After payment the driver will be given a payment receipt and the inspection slip. They can then return to the vehicle and drive it to the rear of the building where they select and enter one of the lines for the six inspection bays. (Diesel engine and 4WD vehicles may have a special line.)
As you approach the inspection area, wait for an inspector to call you forward before you enter the building. He / she will take the inspection slip, ask to see a valid driver license, and begin the inspection. Follow the inspector’s instructions. (There may be a difference in the order of the items inspected, but all items listed below will be inspected.)
Station #1: The engine is shut off and the hood is opened. The vehicle VIN is checked against the inspection slip to verify the correct vehicle is being inspected. The engine compartment will be checked for signs of non-standard modifications and that the car battery is properly secured (an unsecured battery is an automatic FAIL). They will also assure that all front exterior lights, including the turn signals, emergency flashers, driving / fog lights (if equipped) work properly, and that the headlights are securely mounted and function. In the rear, the license plate and back-up lights, brake lights, turn signals, and emergency flasher lights must operate. The windshield washer / wiper system is checked for operation; wiper blades are inspected to assure they are in good condition and that the washer system operates. An excessively cracked windshield is cause for a FAIL.
The driver’s door will be opened and the driver asked to exit the vehicle temporarily. Inside, the inspector will check to see if the steering wheel and column are securely attached to the vehicle and if the brake pedal has looseness and proper stroke. He will record the mileage on the odometer on the inspection slip. It may be determined if the turn signals cancel by turning the steering wheel, and the horn must work. The inspector will check that all seat belts (one for each position shown on the registration), which must be accessible to the inspector and are not tucked under a seat, lock and unlock properly, and are secured to the vehicle floor. Side window mechanisms (power or manual) should operate.
Outside, all tires must have serviceable tread life and be in good condition. The complete tire and wheel assembly must be inside the fender line, the wheels must have a minimum number of lug nuts, and wheel alignment is checked. Door mounted mirrors should be securely attached to the vehicle. The presence of a gas cap will be checked and the back hatch on SUVs may be checked for proper latching.
Station #2: The vehicle’s wheels (separately, front first, then rear) are placed on vibrating platforms and a computer checks the function and condition of the shock absorbers / struts.
Station #3: Headlights (both high and low beam) are checked for operation and proper aim.
Station #4: All brakes (front / rear / parking) are checked for proper operation. First the front wheels of the vehicle are driven onto a set of rollers and the inspector has the driver depress the brake pedal firmly. A similar procedure is accomplished for the rear and parking brake systems. Any significant differences between the left and right side brake operation, front or rear or hand brake, is cause for a FAIL.
Station #5: The car is driven over a pit where the underside is examined. The left front wheel is driven onto a plate and, upon instruction from an inspector underneath the vehicle, the brakes should be applied / held / released while the inspector shakes the vehicle and looks for any excessive wear in the steering mechanism and / or suspension joints and bushings. With the brakes released, as part of the inspection, the driver will be asked to rotate the steering wheel from side to side several times. The complete underside of the vehicle is checked for corrosion and signs of excessive leaks (engine oil, transmission, brake system, etc.) and/or loose parts. Once the front suspension inspection has been completed, the driver will be asked to roll the vehicle forward until the left rear wheel is on the metal plate. A procedure similar to that conducted on the front suspension will be accomplished on the rear suspension. The exhaust system is checked for attachment, integrity, and lack of leaks.
Station #6: This is where exhaust emissions are tested (at some inspection sites this is done at Station #1). Standards are inflexible. The minimum allowable emissions are based on the date of import of the vehicle (as shown on the registration) NOT the date of vehicle manufacture. Example: A 1966 Mustang imported into Costa Rica in 2012 must meet the emission level requirements for 2012. The test also assesses the efficiency of the catalytic converter.
Before beginning the emissions test the inspector will require that the engine be shut off and the hood opened. The engine oil level will be checked (low oil level is cause for the inspection to be halted and a FAIL will be given). After restarting the engine a probe is inserted in the tailpipe and the driver is asked to accelerate the engine to 2,500 RPM and hold it there. If the vehicle is not equipped with a tachometer, one will be provided. After a period of time at 2,500 RPM the inspector will instruct the driver to allow the engine to return to idle, after which the probe will be removed.
Separate procedures are conducted for diesel powered vehicles but follow the same general scheme.
After completion of the final step, the inspector will issue the driver a form which shows any defects found. There are two categories of efects; LEVE, which is given for an item which needs attention but isn’t serious enough to prohibit issuing a “pass.” A GRAVE (which is a FAIL) denotes item(s) which MUST be repaired / corrected before a new inspection sticker will be issued.
If no GRAVE items were found, the inspector will issue a new inspection decal for the vehicle’s windshield. If any GRAVE items were discovered, the owner has 30 days to have the correction / repair made. After repairs are completed the vehicle must be re-inspected. Re-inspection can ONLY be conducted at the same station which issued the initial GRAVE. Making an appointment is advised. If the re-inspection is accomplished within 30 days following the first inspection, only the failed item(s) will be re-inspected. If over 30 days have elapsed since the first inspection, a complete new inspection will be required. The fee for all re-inspections is one-half the original inspection fee.
CAUTION: Under the law, ONLY a mechanic is authorized to operate a vehicle which has received a GRAVE until a new inspection has been passed.