Anyone who lives in Costa Rica knows that ease and efficiency are words rarely used. Indeed, many procedures here are archaic. This is the same with bureaucracy and systems all over Central America.
One thing Costa Rica is on top of, though, is the vehicle inspection cars need to pass to stay legal on the road, called the “Riteve”.
Riteve is an acronym in Spanish for RTV, or Revisión Técnica Vehicular (vehicle technical test), so don’t go looking it up in your Spanish dictionary.
Anyway, if your car is under five years old, the Riteve is every two years and if over five years, annually. If you buy a car new in Costa Rica, it won’t need the Riteve until it’s two years old.
¿Con qué frecuencia debe pasar su vehículo la #RTV? Dependiendo del año de fabricación del modelo (antigüedad). Menor de 5 años deberá pasarla cada dos años, si es mayor a 5 años será anualmente y si es de transporte público. pic.twitter.com/w0X9GMlZEW
— Riteve Costa Rica (@riteve_cr) March 14, 2018
Our car hit the two-year mark recently, meaning I’d have to take it into one of the thirteen fixed Riteve stations in Costa Rica.
Bracing ourselves for the worst, my husband forewarned me he couldn’t go with me for the inspection and I would have to go alone. This wouldn’t be a big deal in the United States where you’re not in the car during the emissions test.
But here in Costa Rica, the Riteve is hands-on.
I was up for an adventure though, and besides, how hard could it be to learn all the car parts in español?
As soon as I made my appointment online with my email address and phone number, I received a text reminding me of my upcoming appointment.
It felt like a trap. Nothing is automatic here. Nothing is so easy.
With my date approaching, I prepared as best I could. I asked two friends how to say “windshield wipers” and got three different answers (limpiador protector de viento, escoba de viento, and limpiaparabrisas). How could there be slang-words for windshield wipers?
The big day arrived, and I brought every document I could think of with me – cedula passport, driver’s license, car title, a lock of my first-born’s hair…
I got to the window and handed over my pile of treasures only for them to tell me I was one day too early. My Riteve expired in April and it was February 28th. You can get the car inspected one month before the Riteve expires. This meant I had another few weeks to prepare!
I made another appointment and returned with my backpack of documents on the new date.
This time, I made it past that first hurdle and up to the payment window.
After paying my $24 fee I was on my way. I pulled up to the open lines around the back of the building hoping for the best.
— Riteve Costa Rica (@riteve_cr) May 10, 2018
I was nervous. My off-road driving, and, to be fair, my normal driving had put wear-and-tear on our two-year-old car. I was hoping the chassis wouldn’t let me down.
The Riteve in Costa Rica tests five components of your vehicle:
1) The visual inspection and alignment
2) Suspension test
3) Brake test
4) Slack detector and pit inspection test
5) The actual emissions test
Visual Inspection and alignment test
The first action item for my visual inspector was for me to open the hood. She communicated that by speaking and tapping on the hood.
I couldn’t hear anything over all the machinery and other cars and I appreciated the charades.
After tapping on the breaks so she could check the lights, using the turning signals, turning the headlights and fog-lights on and off, our only issue was with the high beams.
Not only could I not hear her say anything besides “luz” over the engine, but I didn’t know how to say “high beams”. It took a couple of tries of acting out “high beams” before I understood!
I made it to the next station where we would check the suspension, and this is where I held my breath. Here they test if your suspension can hold the weight of your vehicle in various situations.
As I looked out the window I was in awe. There on a computer screen, I watched them look up the make and model of our car and how heavy the car was and what the system could hold.
Every car was in their computer system with all they would need.
They started on the left side checking the tire pressure and the treads compared to what the make and model required and then started the simulator which shook the car all over the place. Like driving on a Costa Rican road, in fact.
I had to turn the steering wheel and hit the brakes to make sure the car stayed level throughout. We then repeated the test on the other side.
For anyone having driven in Central America, there’s no telling what can happen to your shocks and tires between inspections.
With potholes capable of swallowing a car, the narrow roads causing drainage ditch driving, and rainy-season mountain trails, even the best-maintained car might not fare well here.
From here, we went to test the brakes. They put the front and back tires on a small moving device that, when the car is in neutral, turns them.
They have you hit the brakes and then in another test, use the brakes and the emergency brake together.
All I could hear over the noise was “mano“. I knew mano was hand but for some reason, in my head, this did not translate to handbrake.
I was at this station longer than the other customers.
Another inspector came by to the check the trunk (I had purchased a first-aid and road-safety kit the week before at EPA), the interior lights, the floor of the car and the seat-belts. This surprised me as I rarely see Costa Ricans using seat belts. Kids sitting on laps in the front seat or wandering around the car is the norm here.
Slack detector and pit inspection test
We got the green light to proceed to the next station which was the slack detector and pit inspection. Here they checked the ground clearance and the underside of the car. The most difficult part was lining the car up, so it didn’t fall into the pit onto the inspector working down there. Oh, and trying to hear through the speaker which way they were asking to turn the wheel.
Again, they’ve computerized everything and I could watch on the screen what was occurring below. I snagged a photo of my muffler!
Our last and most important stop was the emissions.
A man with a mask on had me put the car in neutral and bring the RPMs up to a steady 2.5 while the car remained still. It was so hard to hear him with the mask and noise he put his head and arm into the car to show he was saying RPMs.
While I was thinking how dangerous the air must be for this man to breathe all day, he let me know the test was over and to pull out into a parking spot.
Less than five minutes later I had my new sticker valid for two more years.
The whole Riteve experience is still, to date, the most efficient and modern process I’ve seen during my time in Costa Rica.
I have offered to go with friends and show them the Riteve is the future of the country’s modernization movement.
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