This can be an overwhelming endeavor looking for a quality used car in Costa Rica. Many of the cars have been driven on bad roads and are super expensive compared to their comparable U.S. make and model. There is a heavy import tax on cars here, which is reflected in the prices. It can be discouraging when looking for a car and may take several trips to various dealerships and looking at for sale by owner vehicles.
The best website by far for searching used cars in Costa Rica is: www.crautos.com; which I used to sell my old SUV and find another one. It has new cars too, but those were way too expensive for us. The used section has cars from all over the country posted by individual sellers, used car dealers, and certified used cars from the larger dealerships. The best selection is in the capital city of San Jose, but many sellers bring their car there from other areas to sell it; so this is no guarantee it was driven on good city roads.
The best types of cars to have in Costa Rica are Toyota, Nissan, and Mitsubishi due to their common and available parts. Also Hyundai, Kia, and Suzuki are good for less expensive options. American car makers are slowly gaining ground here and you see some more Fords, Chevys, and Dodges driving around; but still not too many. When I moved here in 2005, I brought my 98’ Dodge Durango with V8 gasoline engine and automatic transmission, big BIG mistake. At that time there were no Dodge parts outside of the dealership in San Jose and they were extremely expensive. Eventually the transmission went out and it cost a bunch to fix it in order to just sell it.
Where we live near Dominical in the Southern Zone of Costa Rica a 4×4 is recommended (needed) and diesel engines are more economical at the pump. In the city areas you can have a normal sedan car, but out on the coasts an SUV or truck is best for the mountains and some of the beach accesses. Also manual transmissions are much better for the mountain roads and 4×4 terrains; which I learned the hard way after my next car (2001 Mitsubishi Montero diesel) automatic transmission went out as well. Needless to say now we got a manual transmission diesel!
No matter what type of car you are in the market for, have patience and take your time looking for the best option available. And good luck, because you will need it!!