7 things you wish you’d known about having a car in Uruguay

Everything you need to know about buying and running a car in Uruguay. Sound advice from a car service expert in the market for 30 years.
By Clara for Guru’Guay
Last updated on June 3, 2024
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Almost everyone in Uruguay will tell you that if you plan to move here, unless you live in the capital, you will probably want to get your own car. Federico, owner of Galicia Car Service, a repair shop in Montevideo with nearly 30 years of experience, spills the tea and tells us his insider tips for buying and running a car.

Buying and running a car is more expensive than you expected

The price of a new car in Uruguay can easily be twice what it is in the US or the UK, for the same make and model. This is due to taxes and import tariffs. So the price of a new car is the price plus:

  • 23-46% levied by the government on gas-fuelled vehicles (diesel vehicles are charged 115%)
  • 22% VAT
  • 23% import tax and a
  • 5% consular fee.

Tip Cars from Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay) and Mexico (with whom Uruguay has a TLC) are exempt from paying import tax. So buying a car from any of these countries can significantly cheaper and more convenient in the long run because of the availability of spare parts.

The additional bad news is that used cars are not that much cheaper than new cars.

You need a notary when you buy a car – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing

A notary or escribano is mandatory by Uruguayan law for any vehicle or real estate purchase. Having your own notary is like having your own lawyer: hire someone you can trust. Your notary will ensure the car is free of debt and check if legal records show it was involved in an accident or is owing any taxes.

uruguay insurance

Also you need car insurance (more on insurance in Uruguay). It is illegal to drive in Uruguay without car insurance. The SOA (Seguro Obligatorio de Automotores or mandatory car insurance) is the one with the lowest premium and minimum coverage. It only covers damage to third parties in case of physical injury or death.

Last but not least, when buying a car registered in Montevideo, the notary will ask for proof of the Autotest. This test is done to check the car’s roadworthiness and must be done every three years. There is no autotest outside of Montevideo.

Be wary about buying online

You may be used to buying a used car on an online platform. Be aware that the first choice for most Uruguayan sellers is through a car dealership. So cars for sale online may have been turned away by more reliable car dealerships for any number of reasons including outstanding debt, needing extensive repairs or in the worst case being stolen.

Federico recommends to prioritise experience when choosing a car dealership. There are car dealers that have been in the market for almost 100 years.

Don’t violate your warranty: Read the fine print

When you buy a brand new car from a dealership, or as we say in Uruguay, a “0 km”, pay attention to the customer and after-sale services this company provides. Follow the maintenance plan recommended by the manufacturer to the letter. This maintenance plan is found in the car owner’s manual and specifies the necessary services and the recommended intervals for carrying them out.

The workshop carrying the maintenance out has to be a service oficial which will be indicated to you at the moment of the purchase by the dealership. The service oficial is the authorised workshop for warranty-related services. Generally, these maintenance services include oil changes, air filters, fuel filters, spark plugs, among others.

Regarding oil changes, the rule of thumb is to change the oil every 7,500 kilometres or every six months, whichever comes first. As for the filters, it is recommended to change the air filter every 15,000 kilometres or every twelve months, and the fuel filter every 30,000 kilometres or every 24 months.

In addition to these basic services, it is also important to carry out periodic inspections to detect potential problems. For example, checking the brakes, suspension, lights and tyres every 10,000 kilometres or every six months.

Federico stresses that when your vehicle is still under warranty: don’t use an independent repair shop. In case of malfunction or doubt, take your car to an official service (it doesn’t have to be the same one where you purchased it, but it should be from the same chain) as they will cover the malfunction under the warranty. If you don’t, the company may later refuse to accept such a malfunction as originating from the factory and your warranty become void.

Tyres are not included in your new car warranty

Your new car’s tyres are not covered by the warranty. Spare parts for cars are usually imported by the same company that imports that brand whereas tyres are imported by the manufacturer (think Bridgestone, Pirelli, Michelin, etc).

New tyres in Uruguay go from 50 to 200 US dollars per unit, depending on the brand and the specs. Federico told us that he’s seen real improvements in the past 10 years—particularly from Chinese manufacturers. Despite the bad rep they might have had in the past, he says he is now actively recommending them for anyone wanting to buy a reliable new set of tyres without breaking the bank.

Spare parts might be expensive or non-existent

Federico says: “The best way to choose a car here in Uruguay is by looking at the cars on the road. The more you see a certain make and model, less problems regarding upkeep”. Spare parts will be cheaper and easier to find given that they will be stocked by most suppliers. If you choose—or bring from home—a make not on the market you may have trouble finding the right parts for repairs and prices may be exorbitant.

He told us about his sister who needed a new side-view mirror for her Hyundai. The repair was no longer covered by her warranty so she had to pay for the repairs out of pocket. The repair shop said they would take 30 days to import the mirror—but it would cost 800 USD! Due to high demand in Brazil—where the part was made—it was out of stock in Brazil too.

Enraged, she tried to find the mirror elsewhere. She ended up finding the part online for 200 USD! Yay! There was only one caveat… it was in Chile.

[Editor’s note: The Guru herself resorted to bringing spare parts for her VW New Beetle (a rare car in Uruguay) in her suitcase coming from the UK … and she was stopped and charged for it by customs. Most of us take the risk —shhh!— but if detected, you will be slapped with import fees and duties plus the obligatory hiring of an official importer.] So choosing common car models for easier access to spare parts is fundamental and may spare you a headache.

It might not be time for 100% electric yet

Despite the existence of new electric car charging ports in Montevideo and the Ruta Atlántica alongside the coast, you may want to hold out on buying an electric car.

Electric cars are a recent arrival to Uruguay and charging stations are infrequent still in the interior. Here’s a map of the charging stations throughout Uruguay. Most are located close to tourist attractions and highways.

Currently, to ensure that you are never left in the middle of nowhere with a dead car, Federico recommends a hybrid as the best of both worlds. The average performance for a car is ten kilometres per litre of fuel (that’s 23.5 miles per gallon), whereas for a hybrid car it is 16 kilometres per litre of fuel (that’s 37.6 miles per gallon). As a litre of gas goes for two dollars in Uruguay—the most expensive in South America—this means great savings in the long run. Also, when compared with their combustion-only counterparts, hybrids have more fuel efficiency and reduced emissions.

This article is possible thanks to Galicia Car Service — a high tech car repair shop in the centre of Montevideo close to Tres Cruces for almost 30 years.

Services include service, oil and filter change, balancing and alignment, brakes, suspension, battery replacement and injector cleaning. Plus general electrical services such as starter and alternator maintenance, inspection and light bulb replacement, radio, alarm and central locking system checks, window repairs and more.

Federico Casal, the owner, speaks English. Ask for him when you call or message +598 99 029 718, email info@galicianeumaticos.com.uy or visit the Galicia Car Service website

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