New Or Used In Brazil: Car Shopping Tips For Gringos

Marcelo de Vasconcellos
by Marcelo de Vasconcellos
We’re committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using links in our articles. Learn more here
new or used in brazil car shopping tips for gringos

Welcome to New Or Used Without Borders, where the international team of TTAC answers your intercontinental car shopping questions.

Robstar asks:

My wife & I are about to have our first child in December. We visit Brazil (SJC, SP) typically twice per year to see my wife’s relatives. Usually each trip lasts about a month (I’m only there the last week or two). My wife has talked to me about possibly buying a car in Brazil because of our frequent travel there and our need to get around with an infant/toddler. During past visits, I drove or we took the bus together. Now that she’ll be taking an infant with her, she wants to be able to drive herself when I’m not there. We are also worried about safety using public transportation — A single mother & a baby/infant who may speak English at an inopportune time may appear to be an easy target for criminals. In any case, our current transportation options won’t work because they are not automatic & not as safe in an accident as we’d like.

Our current options are:

1974 (IIRC) VW Beetle with a 4 speed, 1.5L, 40’ish hp. — Not in any way safe enough for the baby.

2004? 2005? VW Polo, 5-speed, 1.8L. Not sure on HP but I’d guess it’s 90’ish ? 100? — 5 speed.

We are trying to decide if we want to buy new, or have my father-in-law help us look for something used. I’ve asked my wife about renting, but it’s not safe to leave an unsecured car outside overnight (and my in laws don’t have a gate secured spot in their house for a third car). I don’t think my brother-in-law would be opposed to an upgrade of his Beetle, so that is what we’ll most likely do.

Here are our requirements in order of need … (Listed in the response.)

Marcelo answers from Brazil:

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, I went for a walk..” California dreaming. I caught myself humming this song as I read your query. It made me dream of California and the USA. Ah! What a country! One in which we can get a gargantuan car, laden with safety features for a paltry fee. Unfortunately, you ask too much from our still infant market. Let me try to help you as best I can.

1) It must be automatic/reliable — If it isn’t automatic my wife can’t drive it. Dealerships/service should be common in the SJC area.

Let’s lump that together with:

9) Cost should be under $30.000,00 reais. That is $17,500 US according to Google. If it was that price we’d have to finance, but if it was 1/2 of that we could pay cash.

Sorry, you’re out of luck. No brand-new car meets those two requirements in Brazil. The closest you’ll get is a Renault Logan. With 1.6 16v engine (110hp), it can be had with a full 4-speed automatic. But it’ll set you back R$41,320. There are some other possibilities like a Fiat Grand Siena Essence (1.6L 16V, 116hp) for R$45,590 and VW Voyage (1.6L, 102hp) for R$46,600. Sadly, in terms of automatic cars, that’s the closest you’ll get. Bear in mind that only the Logan is fully automatic. Both the Fiat and the VW have so-called automatized transmissions. What this means is that the car shifts the gears itself, but all the mechanical bits are still there. Though cheaper and easier to maintain than a true automatic, there are real drawbacks. The main one is that you should drive it like a manual. In other words, every time you sense a gear change coming, you should lay off the accelerator or you’ll be rewarded with a very noticeable bump.

The Logan is bigger than its rivals. It has a wheelbase longer than a Corolla, for example, which makes for more internal space than you get in a Civic or Cruze. The trunk is good for 510L. The Voyage is the smallest, think New Ford Fiesta size, while the new Grand Siena falls somewhere in between, though its trunk is larger than even the Logan’s.

As to the price, I’d fully expect to knock off at least 2 or 3 grand if I were paying cash.

In terms of support and maintenance, all 3 brands have an extensive presence in Brazil, though Renault’s network is smaller. As you’ll mainly be in São Paulo, no biggie. In terms of reliability all these cars are considered good. The Renault might be a little more expensive parts-wise, but the insurance is usually lower than for the other cars, which should off-set that pretty much. Now, you probably will not be able to serve these cars at your friendly neighborhood mechanic. Chances are he won’t know how to deal with automatic or even automatized cars. There are good indie shops though who could probably do a good job. There is a Bosch Service network of shops for example. If you need the dealership…

Your best bet would be the Renault as it offers a 3-year warranty. Both Fiat’s and VW’s is just for a year.

2) It must be something that has very high safety features, especially if the vehicle is involved in a crash — This is one of the main points of the purchase.

The Fiat Grand Siena comes with airbags and ABS in this version. It also offers side bags and window bags for extra dough. The Voyage comes with airbags and ABS, but only offers side bags for more. The Logan comes with 2 airbags, but doesn’t offer ABS, side or window bags even as an optional. However, the Logan is made to sell worldwide so maybe you’d like to take that into consideration. It is sold in Western Europe. Now, both the Grand Siena and Voyage are strictly emerging market cars. Take that as you may.

3) It must not scream “money!” or “foreigner!”. It has to “blend in.” I think this rules out anything Japanese, Korean, German, ALL SUV’s, ALL minivans, etc — We are trying not to be car-jacked or kidnapped.

The Fiat Grand Siena is at launch. So it will call people’s attention. The Voyage and Logan have been around for a while, but thieves seem to have a thing for VWs in Brazil. The Logan is very low key. This is reflected in the insurance for these cars. As for used minivans see below.

4) It should be easy to insure — We’ll buy full coverage, so we want it to be somewhat affordable.

The Logan can be insured for the lowest rates in the market. You’ll probably be quoted a little less than R$1,000. The Voyage will cost a bit more than R$1,200 and the Grand Siena is so new it doesn’t have any on-line quotations yet. Expect something similar to the Voyage.

5) It should be easy to get an infant/toddler in and out of. My wife is about 5’2″ or so…. keep that in mind.

Again, the same order of ease due to the cars’ size. The Logan is tall and wide. The Voyage is the lowest and narrowest. The Grand Siena falls in between. Since I am in a similar situation to yours and own a Logan, I can recommend this car to you. We fit our baby seat very easily into the car and (almost) never bang the baby’s head when getting him into and out of the car. Head, shoulder and leg room in the Logan is the best, followed By Grand Siena and Voyage.

6) It should have at least 4+ doors (hatch ok, wife prefers sedans)

All cars I recommended have four doors. I recommend them over their hatch brethren not for the doors, but for the trunk. Again, I own a Logan. In it, I can put our baby’s stroller and we still have room to spare for some luggage. The Logan’s trunk is quite square (the wheel wells interfere very little) and that helps a lot. The Siena’s trunk is bigger by a hair, but as the car is narrower the shape is not quite so baggage-friendly. The Voyage is smaller by a good margin. All of the cars have goose-hinge arms. The Logan’s disadvantage here is that it’s the only one whose back seat does not recline.

7) It should get decent gas mileage.

Though I have no experience with these automatic or automatized cars, I would expect anything from 6.5 to 7.5 km/l in heavy city driving. If you choose to fill up with ethanol, expect around 30% less mileage. Highway driving should return in the range of 11 to 14 km/l. The Renault is famous for being economic in the city, though its shape doesn’t do it any favors on the highway. Overall, I’d expect the Voyage to be the most miserly, the Logan in second and the Grand Siena would trail.

BTW, factory numbers are based on such an unrealistic test standards to render them (almost) completely worthless.

8) It should have a free/cheap yearly registration. If not we can live with it, but something way less than the Polo (800?900 reais/year) and greater than the fusca (free) would be what we are expecting.

Yearly registration is of 4% of a car’s price. Should you buy in December, you’d have to pay 1/12 of 4% of the price you effectively pay for the car. Buying in January you’ll pay 4% of the price you effectively pay.

Should you buy used it could be the yearly tax has already been paid, so you wouldn’t have to. The tax is 4% of the price of the car on the list as compiled by Fipe (though I don’t know how they arrive at the numbers they do because nobody ever pays full Fipe price).

If we go used, we’ll need resources we should be looking for. Is there a equivalent in Brazil? Should we just look in the newspaper? Is there such thing as “CPO” in Brazil? How is title transfer done? What is the most secure way to do a used transaction? Is it common to get to test drive the car? Do banks finance used/new cars to non-residents? Would we better off selling a vehicle here to pay in cash or the equivalent?

If you go used you can start hunting at such sites such as You could also look at the on-line versions of local newspapers. Of course, there will be some sites specialized in São Paulo, you should check that.

CPO programs are not offered by all makers in Brazil. However, even some run-of-the-mill makers have them. Such as Chevrolet with its ‘Siga’ program. If you buy from a dealership, normally they provide full-guarantee for 90 days. You could buy from an indie shop. Though the law states that they have the same legal responsibility as the dealers, getting them to honor it can be close to impossible. There are some serious ones out there, but if I were you, a foreigner, I’d have second, third and fourth thoughts. Should you buy from a private seller, you’re buying ‘as is’. They have no legal responsibility.

Please bear in mind that this kind of buying can be tricky even for a local. Titles sometimes are not clean, sometimes you end up buying a cloned car or even one that’s been judicially alienated. Also, tickets stick to the car, so after a while you could find yourself responsible for something you didn’t do. Dealers usually offer clean, legal cars. Indie shops can be tricky. If you go private all bets are off. Always check the car at the DETRAN (the local DMV), but even so something could crop up.

Safety is also important to you. It is not unheard of for private sellers and indie shops to not replace the airbags of a car that’s been in a crash. But they turn off the warning light. Buying used in Brazil can be a hassle, if you get even a whiff of suspicion run.

As that other song says, “This is not America, lah, lah, lah, lah”.

Banks finance cars to residents. To get a line of credit, you’d have to show proof of residence, ID and proof of your income. I think it’d be hard for you to get credit as a foreign national, but that’s where your in-laws could come in handy. I wouldn’t bother though. I’d get credit in America and bring cash. Car loans can be had for anything between 1 and 2%. For a used car, you’d have to pay over 2%. Cheap, you say? That’s PER MONTH. I’m sure you could get much better rates in America.

Lastly, you discarded minivans. Keep in mind that minivans in Brazil are much smaller than those in America. Some of them like a Citroën Picasso, Renault Scènic or Chevy Zafira blend in nicely and don’t call attention. Some came with automatic transmissions, airbags and ABS (but not all, check!). Insurance for them is not so bad. They can handle your baby needs. They may not be as economic in terms of mileage as the cars mentioned above, but they usually offer more.

Happy motoring!

Marcelo de Vasconcellos
Marcelo de Vasconcellos

More by Marcelo de Vasconcellos

Join the conversation
2 of 37 comments
  • JennerJCruz JennerJCruz on Apr 15, 2012

    I live in SJC, I hope I can help you. SJC, as most of the countryside of Sao Paulo, is quite developed. The city boasts 650,000 people and 350,000 cars. Brazil is so diversified. So, what applies to one part of the country, does not apply to another. There are plenty of car dealers. Go to any big one, attached to the brand you want. 1,5% interest per month is the norm, maybe lower. I, personally, have a C4 Grand Picasso minivan, made in France, automatic, 7 seats, glass overhead, 4 zones air conditioning, 17" wheels, front and rear parking sensors etc. It costed me about R$97,000 (USD54,000). I had never my car stolen, I always park in garages, except when I sleep at my girlfriend's overnight. That's when the car is left on the street. Insurance is less than R$1,700 (USD1,000) a year. State tax (IPVA) is something like R$3,000 (USD1,700) a year: I really don't remember well. And gas is much more expensive in SJC (R$2.50/l or USD6.3/gal), when compared to the US. But it is still cheaper than Italy (EURO 1.7/l or R$4,25/l), where I am this week. I take the car to Citroen's garage every 10,000km (6,200mi) where they change oil, repair everything etc (covered or not by 3 years warranty) for R$800 (USD450) in general. The biggest problem in SJC and SP are the fines, since cops and speed checkers are everywhere. Funny thing, lots of cops don't seem to stop the thiefs... Use common sense, hear the locals, go to an authorized dealer and let him take care of the red tape (he is going to charge you about R$350 (USD200) for it).

  • JennerJCruz JennerJCruz on Apr 15, 2012

    I have nothing more to do here in Parma this morning, so... I checked a SJC's VW car dealer website. There are offers from R$19,900 (USD11,000), not automatic, though. Check it by yourself at Good luck.

  • MaintenanceCosts So there is no Sonata trim without some type of Theta engine.It seems like they've been doing a bit better when attached to a hybrid system, so that's probably the one to get, but they're going to have to go several years without further engine troubles before I'd trust a H/K ICE product again.
  • Lou_BC Full sized sort of autonomous RC's. Cute.
  • Art_Vandelay Autonomous capabilities are being deployed (or planned anyway) in multiple combat vehicles. Should be fun from my perspective
  • Drew8MR Interior is trivial now you can get repro everything in various levels of quality. Getting the top sorted will be a couple grand, but I'd drive it as it. I drove a $1500 67 GTO convertible for 20 years, not every old car needs to be like new.
  • John Not everyone pays that much for power. Mine is 10 cents per kw…..