I was sitting in the back seat playing detective. “Was this vehicle safe to be riding in?” I asked myself while lifting the car mats trying to disguise examining the interior for damage and sniffing for gas leaks. It was no use. I could detect nothing amiss. This vehicle rode more smoothly than any brand-new car off the car lot in the States I ever test drove. It was as quiet as riding in a limo. Even the AC worked. It was flawless.
And it had been sent to El Salvador smashed!
This is the most bizarre business I ever heard of in El Salvador—or anywhere, for that matter — so we asked our friend who owned it to explain the whole process of procuring a “smashed” car. He has had the experience of purchasing two such vehicles with much satisfaction thus far.
As I understand anyway, when U.S. vehicles are declared totaled due to exterior body damage as a result of car accidents often the engines remain intact and in good running condition with low mileage. Nevertheless, U.S. insurance companies declare them “totaled,” and they are “smashed” or compacted which enables them to be sent to Central American countries to be “un-smashed” (?) and continue to run like new for years. We can’t quite figure out how the body repairmen manage to fix the imperfections and conceal the flaws so perfectly. However, we have ridden in both of these vehicles and would never suspect their dubious history.
Downtown San Salvador streets are lined with brokers whose business it is to sell those “smashed” vehicles. Now begins the tricky part – selecting a trustworthy broker to do the dealing for you.
In advance you must decide what kind of vehicle you want and approximately what year (ie.Toyota Camry between 2014-2016). When your choice becomes available, the broker contacts you and shows you photos in a book. It may be one choice or several. In the case of our friend’s latest car, the broker pointed out where the car had been hit, which was in the rear — not a crucial place in terms of engine. No warranty is included; therefore, it is risky in that if there is a problem, buyer beware. You are liable for the repairs.
The next step is trickier yet: a bidding process on that vehicle sounding similar to e-bay, and you must tell the broker what your final bid will be. You sit tight and hope your bid is selected.
If you are lucky enough to win the bid, the vehicle is shipped to you. If not, you wait and try again. Our friend spent $11,000 on a car which would have cost $60,000 at a dealership so he didn’t mind the process or the wait.
He had to pay cash and was required to show the government where that cash came from. In his case it was showing a combination of work receipts and a voucher of the sale for his current vehicle.
An alternative to this process is simply to wait until a load of “smashed” vehicles arrives in the country and are available in the car lots. The cost may be higher and demand also greater.
This all sounds a bit too chancy for my taste, but I suppose any time you purchase a used vehicle, the same is also true. The savings for the value is the deal the prospective buyer is looking for. The “smashed” vehicle business is becoming a flourishing business throughout Central America. Judging from the number of body shops and brokers we drive past it is apparently gaining popularity among potential purchasers while also providing jobs here in the capital city. An additional caution to the prospective buyer is that all the vehicles that went through the floods and hurricanes that may have extensive water damage to their engines.
Our friend takes us to the rear of his car to show us the location of the original collision. I am visually searching and feeling that area and still unable to locate it. These body shop guys do quite a job in pounding out the dents. I am still trying to wrap my head around this car being one of many on top of a truck, an accordion-compressed vehicle, traveling thousands of miles south, now absolutely perfect.
NOTE: All photos in this piece are courtesy of google photos