Buying a Car in the Philippines

We just bought a car and we’re pretty excited. But I thought I would tell the story of the process and my experience with it. There’s a great possibility of my doing a video on this as well but in the meantime I still think better by writing.

Our decision to buy new rather than used is possibly a story for another day. I had a budget I set and decided that budget would allow me to either buy a cheaper new car or a bit larger 3-4 year old used car. But after moving to Dumaguete I became less inclined to get some SUV or larger “people mover,” like the Toyota Innova. I wanted something nimble and peppy to get around some of the traffic and didn’t want someone else’s used problem. After a few weeks watching the traffic here a warranty and something without miles on it sounded like a good idea.

So on a Monday morning Janet and I went to three dealerships and test drove 4 cars. Like in many American cities, in Dumaguete the major dealerships are on one road. It’s the national highway in Sibulan, a port town about 15 minutes north of Dumaguete. We went to the local Suzuki, Ford and Toyota dealerships.

Now, I know some of you would love it if I said that I had another in a series of terrible customer service experiences or that all the salesman tried to rip off the poor rich kano. But nothing could be further from the truth. In each dealership we had no problem finding a salesman to help us. Each salesman was respectful, professional, knew their product, and treated us like viable customers. Maybe it was the luck of the draw, but i did have the same positive experience in three different dealerships.

Our first stop was Suzuki, where we drove the Ciaz. It’s a subcompact sedan and a very nice one. I could have easily seen us purchasing this car. Nice looking, conservative, lots of rear leg room, good mileage, and plenty of zip, at an excellent price. The salesman patiently had me drive all the way around the tip of Sibulan and beyond.

Now one thing to know if you ever want to purchase new in the Philippines is that the discounts are small. There is none of this thousands off MSRP like you routinely see in the US. All 4 cars we tested ranged from 30,000 – 40,000 pesos off the listed price; well under $1000. There is no genuine negotiation here. I actually found this kind of refreshing. Having bought maybe 10 new cars in my life I viewed myself as a pretty decent negotiator, but every time I bought a car I wondered whether I had gotten beaten out of some cash somehow. In the modern world you can look online for the average sales price, but back in the day it was hard and frustrating work. There’s none of that in the Philippines. Nor in my experience is there anyone trying to sell you unneeded extras, like Jerry in Fargo forcing you to take the TrueCoat!

The Ford Dumaguete dealership is right next door to Suzuki. I wanted to see the Ecosport, a mini SUV that’s becoming popular here. It’s sold in Europe in some different configurations and will come to the US next year. More on the Ecosport later.

We next went to Toyota and drove the Avanza. The car is popular in the Philippines in a category called “a people mover,” meaning you can in theory fit 7 people; as long as they are 7 small Filipinos. Frankly neither Janet or I liked the car. It didn’t have the quality feeling that I associate with Toyota. And as I drove it I thought the test car was backfiring and told the saleswoman so. At first she thought the rear hatch was rattling but finally admitted that the car was backfiring.

We then drove the Vios, Toyota’s category leader (sub compact sedans) in the Philippines. Now this was a Toyota and it was obvious why they sell so many. It felt solid and Toyota-like. Enough power and decently appointed. Not as much rear leg room as the Ciaz but not bad.

The Ford salesman was smart. While in all the other cars, I mostly drove the national highway, the Ford guy had me drive an off road full of holes, gravel, and some unpaved parts; in short a typical Philippines road. One of the strong points of the Ecosport is high clearance and 16″ wheels. It handled the lousy road a lot better than I suspect most of the sub-compacts would have. That and the fact that our last car in the US, was a Ford Cmax which also rode a bit high off the ground, a feature that Janet and I like. As Janet said, “we will be able to see over the trikes!”

Now unlike in the US, the dealerships here in Dumaguete had little or no inventory. The cars I was interested in had to be ordered. Most cars that come into port are already sold but some are unassigned. Janet picked out a few colors of the Ecosport she liked. Blue wasn’t one of them. Two days later I got a text from the salesman; a blue Ecosport automatic had arrived in the port of Bacolod. Did I want it? Oh, did I mentioned that in none of the dealerships I went to was there any of the typical high pressure salesmanship that is routinely experienced in the US: “If I give you a test ride, are you planning to buy the car today?”

Our salesman did encourage me to talk to my wife, since he knew that wives are often the color deciders. The next day Janet decided she could live with the blue. I texted the salesman and said I wanted to test drive the car again and if I liked it would order the blue.

Two days later we drove the Ecosport again. I liked it better than the first time and we confirmed that the blue one was still available. We put down a 10,000 peso deposit (about $200) as is typical in the Philippines and asked our guy when it would arrive. “About a week, Sir,” I was told. I knew from what other guys had said that a week was unlikely. I got updates from my guy every couple of days: “It’s out of the port, Sir;” “They’re inspecting it now, Sir.” But the end of the following week I asked for a status update. “Sometime between next Monday and Wednesday.” To my surprise I got a text Tuesday saying it would arrive Wednesday night and I could get it Thursday.

Let me talk for a moment about price. Are cars in the Philippines less or more expensive than in the US? Both or neither. It’s just not an apples to apples comparison. While most of the major players are in the Philippines many of the models are different from the US. And even if the model is the same it doesn’t mean it is set up the same way. The Ecosport for example is sold in Europe and will be in the US next year. Those countries get a 1.0 liter turbo charged engine or a 2.0 liter engine. My Ecosport is 1.5 liters. I mean, do I need a 2.0 liter engine for 80 mph highway speeds in the Philippines. Let’s get real. Also many appointments which are nearly standard in the US aren’t here. Want cruise control? My Ecosport doesn’t have it. In fact, in Dumaguete the concept of cruise control seems ludicrous. So the Ecosport is a bit less cash here but then you’re losing some features.

One of the other things to talk about is insurance. When you finance a car in the Philippines, the price includes insurance. I am not sure whether the dealership or manufacturer makes the insurance deal but, unless you decided to use a 3rd party insurance company, the dealership handles the insurance. In my case the car cost about 25,000 pesos for the year to insure; that’s about $500. Not bad!

Thursday morning I arrived at the dealership, filled out the remaining paperwork, plopped some cash down, and waited in the waiting room. The salesman said he would deliver the car to me at 1:00 “after lunch.” Since I was at least 30 minutes away from our apartment by trike and there was nowhere to go I spent hours watching TV in the customer waiting room. I got to watch them detail my car and get it ready, which was kind of cool; of course my notion of what’s cool is apparently sort of boring.

As car salesmen do the world over my guy took me through all the features of the car. At the end I thanked him and shook his hand. He sincerely thanked me for being patient. I didn’t feel that I’d needed patience but he explained how often customers reacted badly to any delays. I found the delay minor and besides I am a retiree with plenty of time – yeah right! But he is a good guy and I appreciated his feelings.

All I knew at that moment was that I had wildly conflicting feelings. I was excited to take the car out but was terrified I’d hit some crazed motorcycle rider or a trike would crash into me. I also wasn’t completely confident I knew the way to get back to our apartment. To make matters worse Janet and her sister and cousin were waiting for me at our new rental house and I was even less confident I could find that than our apartment.

Now, while I had a really positive experience there were some glitches. All dealerships include three things for free; mats, seat covers, and tinting. Everyone tints in the Philippines for good reason and Janet and I spent several exciting hours discussing what shade tinting we wanted. This is how thrilling we are in retirement. Anyway, the mats were in the car, the seat covers are back ordered 3 weeks, and the tinting shop can’t get me in until next week. But I am confident in my guy and it will all happen.

Also, in the Philippines the registration and licensing procedure is a bit bizarre. You get a temporary plate of course. I watched the detail guy use a stencil to draw my plate number. I kid you not. Also, while in the US we are used to it taking maybe a month to get our official plates, in the Philippines it takes – well, forever. I knew this and told my guy, “So I hear it takes at least a year to get my plates.” He smiled knowing they’d throw a party if I got the plates in a year.

But the bottom line is we have a car. We didn’t need to take a trike today, which means I didn’t break a trike today 🙂

This is all old hat for Janet; it’s the second new car she’s seen me drive home. But I’m quite confident the kids had never driven in a new car. I mentioned after I’d successfully found the new house and picked them all up that they should enjoy “the new car smell” and they looked at me like I was crazy (buang). They’re right of course!

8 thoughts on “Buying a Car in the Philippines”

  1. I also had a similar experience buying a car in the Philippines. If I was a good writer, I could have told almost exactly the same story as Dave. We looked a three dealerships along the main highway in Naga City. We ended up buying a new CVT automatic Suzuki Celerio for Php 500,000, getting Php 40,000 off list price. Not a bad car for $10,000, and a very pleasant shopping experience.

  2. The seating in most smaller cars kills my back so if I ever move there I’m going to find a way to bring my F150 Super Crew with the giant V8. But most importantly my truck has air conditioned seats which would be even more useful there in the Philippines than here in Texas.

    1. Bringing a vehicle here is from what I have heard a difficult and expensive proposition. There are certainly larger cars and trucks here, though maybe nothing like what you have now. The Ford dealership in Duma had a large, tricked out truck in the showroom.

    2. Not a good idea.. I am a big man, 130kg, and used to drive (new..) Dodge Durango’s,,for many years. In the Philippines, I first bought a Mitsubishi truck, and it was pretty comfortable.. I also bought a small car, for short distance driving (I10), and found it more comfortable than I imagined.. pushing the seat back far enough).. later I bought a Toyota SUV , Fortuner, turbo diesel, 4×4, (popular here, so there is less amortization loss than with other makers.. )I literally climbed a wild mountain with it! , now I bought a newer one, after selling the older, beaten up one. Never fear my friend, you will be comfortable, upon trying, and doing seat adjustment. It is a myth, not based on actual facts.. You can find few local models, which will fit you well. These can easily be sold, when you wish to upgrade. Another issue is, foreign vehicle is VERY hard to maintain, parts are unavailable,and gasoline is VERY expensive, most all bigger vehicles here are diesel, which is far more efficient, and economic.So re-sell, is easy, and it keeps it’s price better too. I hope this info helps! Good luck in the PH!

  3. Thanks for sharing Dave. You mentioned financing. I take it that you financed your new car? Can you enlighten us on that process? I hear many different stories about age limits to financing etc. Any information that you’d share will be greatly appreciated.
    Congratulations on your new car and the buying experience. Here is hoping you enjoy many years of happy motoring.

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