In Mexico, the bus, sooner or later, goes almost everywhere. And the cost is low. And there might be free entertainment, maybe an ancient dropout from a mariachi band or a youngster trying to transport a small pig in a big box.
We sometimes ride the bus from Jocotepec to Chapala to stay in touch with area culture. We prefer the unbridled joy of being able to go and stop where and when we please. That freedom (plus airport pickup and delivery service and sudden trips to WalMart) is our primary justification for owning a car. Be advised this freedom is not free.
The cost of owning and operating a car, even in paradise where there is little need for antifreeze, is almost enough to negate all that independent happiness. Car costs can rip Social Security checks in half and completely destroy those delightful, old fairy tales about retiring in Mexico on $500 a month.
Unless you can win one in a poker game, a car costs whatever the seller can persuade the buyer to pay. Back in 1999, our neat, new VW bug was a little less than $6000 U.S. in downtown Guadalajara. It was also a little less than luxuriously equipped. No chrome. No radio. No passenger-side mirror. We did negotiate floor mats.
The most important expenditure (after paying for a car) is insurance. Do not insert the key into the ignition switch without proper liability coverage. Don’t even consider leaving home without it. Mexican law takes a damn dim view of excuses, alibis and explanations, even if you flutter your enhanced eyelashes and plead “Nobody told me.”
In an accident, all are guilty until proven innocent or able to pay. Here’s something else to think about: In purchasing insurance, the best price may not be the best buy.
If you own a Mexican car, you must put down a few pesos for Mexican license plates. They tell me the little matching sticker that goes inside your back window is free.
If you’re going to do any uphill driving, you’ll probably need some gas. The cost goes up each month. This is supposedly another Al Gore idea of how to drive down consumption and better protect the environment. At $2.40 per gallon, it’s working. Without going anywhere, you can almost see the clean air — unless your neighbor is burning weeds or waves of dust and sand are blowing in the wind.
Once annually you get to pay a stiff penalty for owning a Mexican car that is younger than 10 years old. Consider it a luxury tax, much like the way baseball shakes down George Steinbrenner for spending too much on his New York Yankees. In baseball, if you have a cheap team, there is no tax. In Mexico, if you buy an old car that won’t run, the tax goes away and your gas costs will probably come down.
The cost of owning a car that runs is pushed up by periodic physicals and minor repairs. Twice we waited in line to pay that VW dealer in Guadalajara far too much for inspections and adjustments and twice the brakes failed within minutes. We have since identified less deadly mechanics.
There are hidden costs to owning and operating a car at lakeside. If you stop for lunch or shopping, there’s a good chance somebody will want to wash your car. Ours always needs a bath so we trim our desert budget and invest 20 pesos in a youngster with a five-gallon bucket partially filled with already dirty water. A wash is a stimulant for the local economy. Please participate. And expect to pay 30 pesos if you have a BMW, Jaguar or full-grown SUV.
Considering the cost, do drive carefully. If you get caught in a traffic jam at the favorite gringo grocery, you risk grill, taillights, fenders, doors and radio antenna. If you feel compelled to blow your horn, do so as politely as possible.
Operational costs can go up considerably if you race through red lights or drive the wrong way on one-way streets. Traffic violations may get very expensive if the government really cracks down on the dreaded mordida. For what it is worth, most of our Mexican friends say we should settle tickets with the proper authorities and stop paying ugly, little bribes. Also, for what it is worth, those same Mexican friends say they almost never attract the attention of the policia. It could be my hairstyle.
Car costs will soar out of sight if you try to hurdle the abominable topes (speed bumps). Those mean little mountains, in unexpected places, right out in the middle of the street, are marvelously effective at slowing vehicles — or sending them limping to nearby muffler and alignment shops.
And if all this talk about expenses is too, too much, the next bus leaves in 20 minutes.