Owning, Insuring Cars in Thailand

What Are the Advantages of Owning, Insuring Cars in Thailand?

If the cost of owning , insuring cars in Thailand seems steep, then consider a scooter. The cost of a good scooter ($1500) and operating it in Thailand is laughable: the 5,000K service at the dealer costs $7! My scooter days were generally great fun, but much less fun at night, in the rain, or on a freeway: those were white-knuckle times I won’t miss. Then, last year, after cheap thrills and 3 spills, I switched to a car.

Buying a Car in Thailand

Buying a Car in Thailand

I bought my Toyota Yaris, above, with 45,000 km on it, in excellent condition, with a 6-month warranty, from a farang who deals in cars, for 138,000 Baht cash. (Car loans for farangs are possible in Thailand, but require a Thai national co-signer). Since the switch I’ve had no regrets. Here are the pluses:

  • It’s made in Thailand so parts and labor are very cheap.
  • It’s small enough to fit through the local alleyways without scraping paint.
  • A full tank, 11 gal/42l., costs 1,344 baht
  • It gets 40 mpg on 91 Octane fuel so a tank lasts 400 miles.
  • It’s front seats are big and roomy and the back seats are fine around town.
  • It’s air-conditioned. Thailand is hot. Need we say more?
  • A killer Alpine stereo (included in the price) starts playing my iTunes collection as soon as I start the car.
  • I arrive at my destinations cool and relaxed, regardless of weather or time of day.
  • When I have an accident (Thai roads are among the most dangerous on earth) I do not come in contact with the ground!
  • It’s easier to get dates. The social cachet alone, in Thai eyes, is worth it.

What do Used Cars Cost in Thailand?

Here’s a 2014 Suzuki Swift, a surprisingly good car, often compared to the Mini (298,000 Thai Baht is about US$8,800:

Thai Used Car Prices

And below is a 2011 KIA, for US$5,200

What are the Operating Costs of Owning a Car in Thailand?

An oil change, using Mobil 1 synthetic oil, which is well worth the extra $, and an air filter costs 2,500 at a Toyota dealer. Because synthetic is so expensive many shops bill you for it but substitute a cheap oil. (A Los Angeles TV station took 20 cars to 20 different local mechanics. They specified and paid for synthetic oil. After paying the bills, they took oil samples from each car and analyzed them. 6 out of 20 had synthetic in them! The rest were regular oil). In Thailand you probably have less than a 50/50 chance of getting synthetic even if you pay for it. So, either

  • Buy sealed bottles from a reputable retailer and put it in yourself – this will cost you 2100 baht, or
  • Buy sealed bottles from a reputable retailer and ask your local repair shop (plentiful) to put it in while you watch – this will cost 2500 baht
  • Trust the dealer.

Fuel costs around 30 baht/litre, or US$5.74/ US gallon based on 91 regular.  A Yaris will travel 400 miles on a single tank, making long trips both convenient and affordable. To put that into Southeast Asian perspective: you can drive from lovely Chiang Mai, Thailand, to exotic Vientiane, capital of Laos, without stopping for gas. Makes you think, donnit?

Auto insurance is affordable. My ‘first class’ (i.e., all risks, no fault) insurance cost 16,000 baht for the first year. It’s included, by law, in the cost of all new cars which is very cool. Friends who’ve made claims on these policies, though they used different insurers, all report exemplary performance from their insurers. Local Rhys Bonney, who is familiar to our Concierge clients, collided with an oncoming u-turning car and spent 3 weeks in hospital repairing the fractures to his feet, ankles and lower legs. His insurer picked up 100% of the bill and paid it immediately. Rhys is fine, now, incidentally.

Four Michelin tires, mounted and balanced, cost 12,000 baht. When I went to my neighborhood Michelin tyre shop last week the lady manager (never ask the male staff anything; men are for decorative purposes only) told me to come back when the rainy season starts because there’s plenty of tread on my tires right now.

“How do you like your car’s handling?” she asked.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” I confessed.

She laughed. “When you come back I’ll put the correct size tires on. Your tires are the wrong size. That’s what’s causing your handling problem”.

So good service is definitely not a problem! If you need a certificate of residence so you can buy a car or get a license, US citizens can download this form and take it to the Consulate to be certified. Download.

Update March 2017: The Yaris headlights were starting to yellow from exposure to the tropical sun and there were scratches and dings on all sides so…off to my car guys to a refresh. I drove it there, they drove me home and dropped it off the next day and it’s looking quite spiffy. Here’s the itemized bill:
Front head light fixtures (L,R)
2×2,400.00 = 4,800 Baht
Labor / service charge 
= 675 Baht
Buffing and paint touch up the whole car
= 1,500  Baht
Vehicle delivery service 
= 300 Baht.
TOTAL:
7,275 baht, or US $206.

The Cost of Car Insurance in Thailand

My friend Rhys had a very bad car crash last year, on a freeway, when a car attempted a suicidal U-turn at high speed. The other driver ran off and was never found and the car turned out to be unregistered. He was in hospital for weeks and hobbling around for months with lots of metal holding him together. There’s an important element to the story: in order to get his one million baht medical costs covered, Rhys had to go to the police station and admit liability! If he didn’t, then the police would have to investigate the accident, which can take months–or forever. He discovered this because my insurance broker was on top of his situation, calling the hospital, the police, and the insurer (BUPA in this case). BUPA wouldn’t pay until they’d received the completed police report then, even though the police reported that Rhys was to blame, they paid the hospital promptly.

As they were loading Rhys into the ambulance the police administered a breathalyzer test. He was clean, but he learned something valuable: if he’d had passengers at the time the police would have given all of them breathalyzer tests and, if one had tested over the limit, most insurers would have denied his claim. So remember to ask your broker (or mine) for a policy that does not contain that ridiculous stipulation. The other thing he learned was the wisdom of having a perfectly bilingual insurance broker: the guy had to be able to win the cofidence of the police and the hospital and the reluctant insurer… over the phone!

I asked my broker, who has lots of clients, whether he does that for every such accident and he said he does. In the worst year he remembers, he had 48 client accidents (out of thousands of clients) and said he really only spends 2-3 hours on the phone for each accident, so it’s not as big a deal as it sounds. But it was a big deal for Rhys. Remember this about  good brokers: they cost no more than bad brokers or no broker at all. Get a good broker!

Here’s a reminder that driving in Thailand is a unique experience:

 

Comments

  1. Great blog, Thankyou. I found a website for expat car dealers in Chiang Mai. I am not sure if I could put the name on here, but are you familiar with any dealers in Chiang Mai. Are all dealers good to deal with , after the fact. Cheers, Nick

  2. looking to live in chiang mai for 2/3 years. would like to hire a car and driver for say 4/5 days a week. is it possible and approximately how much?
    thanks neil

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