Buying El Torito

Buying a car in Colombia was a little more time-consuming and difficult than either of us expected. We had been looking around online for a few months, mainly on websites like and, which are popular sites for people to announce vehicles for sale.

One thing to note about Colombian cars is that there are two main types of license plates: yellow and white. Yellow license plates tend to be for personal use, while white license plates are for commercial use (for example: for businesses, school transportation, and taxis). Most of the vans we were considering had a white license plate, but we thought there would be a way to change the plate to yellow or go ahead and use the van for personal use regardless of the plate’s color. After talking to several people and the Colombian equivalent of the DMV, we learned that there white license plates came with much stricter regulations (like having it’s “technomecanica” inspection every 3 months) and that it had to continue being used for it’s registered purpose. This threw a major wrench in our vehicle search and cut out basically all the vans we were looking at.

The only van with a yellow plate that we were interested in fell through after the seller gave us the run around and then wouldn’t accept a lower offer. We figured our best option was the 1982 Nissan Patrol that was in great condition, was 4-wheel drive, and honestly just looked cool. After we told the seller we wanted to purchase the car, we had a mechanic look the car over. It was a fairly quick evaluation, but we were told that it was a good car.

Next, one of us had to get registered to buy a car in Colombia with the RUNT. It seemed easier for Andrés to be the person on the paperwork because he has Colombian citizenship, but from what I have read, foreigners can also get registered. This is free and can be done at a SIM or Transporte office. After Andrés was registered, we could go ahead and buy the car.

Another thing to note about Colombia vehicles is that once they are registered in a particular city or town, it’s very difficult to transfer it to another location. The car we were buying is registered in Zipaquirá which is (thankfully only) 1 hour from Bogota. The day we were buying the car, we got up really early, met up with the owner of the car and drove to Zipaquirá. There, we went to a little shop where a women reviewed the ownership transfer paperwork to make sure everything was done correctly. She also checked the car through the RUNT system to make sure, as Andrés’ brother so eloquently put it, that the car wasn’t involved in any murders or kidnappings. It also checks to make sure the car doesn’t have an outstanding fines or taxes owed on it. After the paperwork and the car where cleared, Andrés went to the Transporte office next door and submitted the paperwork. It took all of 5 minutes for him to get temporary ownership papers. We would have to come back a couple days later to get the permanent card. After that, we went back to Bogota, dropped the former owner off and the car was ours!

We went back to Zipaquirá two business days later to collect the card for the car. Unfortunately, we arrived at lunchtime so the office was closed. We waited around, got lunch ourselves, then Andrés stood in line so he could be one of the first people in after they reopened. Since it was so quick the first time, I figured he’d be right in and out. One hour later he came out and said everything went through fine, but it would be another 40 minutes before they had the ownership card ready. We went to get a coffee, sat around until exactly 40 minutes had passed, then went back in to collect the card. About 25 minuted later, it was finally ready. We were officially the new owners of El Torito.

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