An Expensive Lesson about Car Documents

There are random police checkpoints all over Panama. There is a permanent one on the road up to Boquete in response to an increased amount of crime, and word is that this has helped a lot. Usually the police just wave us through but, once in a while, they get more thorough. I don’t know if it was because of a home robbery in the area a few days ago, or if it just wasn’t Joel’s lucky day.

He headed up for band practice and a short while later I got a phone call. “Do you know anything about my car documents, my insurance documents?! All I have here is a paper that isn’t good past Dec 2016!” HELP! Unfortunately I don’t know anything about his car documents, and any papers we have are in the car. By now he is off to the side of the road, papers spread all over the car, and the cops are calling a tow truck. No proof of insurance, no driving!

I call our insurance people who respond immediately. They call Joel, talk to the police, and send him an updated document with his current insurance status to his email and WhatsApp. Unfortunately once a tow truck has been called, it’s too late to reverse the situation. But, I am very thankful that they got busy immediately and did everything they could to help.

(our insurance people – Melva Vega
Asistente de Cobro, F&C Corredores de Seguros, Ubicación en David
Edificio Galherna, Oficina #2
Tel: 775-9237 / 775-1615 / Fax: 775-8478)

I also gave Joel the number of Eduardo Horna, our friend and real estate agent. He hopped on his motorcycle and was there within minutes. He talked to the police, helped with communication, and vouched for Joel that he was a good guy, just lacking a document. Joel said he felt much better with Eduardo there, and the police relaxed and were more friendly after talking with him.

(Eduardo, a good guy to know for houses, transportation, tours, translation, and getting a multitude of things done around Chiriqui – https://findingmyselfinpanama.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/video-of-ed-horna-rental-property-available-in-davidboquete/ )

I keep thinking of selling our old Mazda because it just sits here most of the time, but in times like this it is good to have. I head up the mountain, and there is Joel sitting by the side of the road with all his musical equipment. He wasn’t about to leave it in the car, and the tow truck driver didn’t want to take him back down to David.

Joel took a selfie while he was waiting. He was at the checkpoint on Via Boquete at the Caldera road intersection.

Joel took a selfie while he was waiting. He was at the checkpoint on Via Boquete at the Caldera road intersection.

Eduardo gave us instructions to go to Sertracen the next day, the office in Chiriqui Mall where you get your drivers license, and apparently pay fines like this. After some conversation that I had trouble understanding from a women behind a window, and another nice gal who spoke some English – no, we don’t have the car, and all the documents are with the car. No, we don’t have the title. All we have is this insurance document and the ticket from the police – yes, we want to pay the fine today – after some back and forth and $50.25, Joel is given two receipts and is told we can go get the car.

The Sertracen office

The Sertracen office

We head out to Taller El Cid in Las Lomas. We go around the curve as instructed, and another curve, and another, stop at a gas station where the attendant asks a taxi driver who had just pulled in. She came back with directions. We just hadn’t gone far enough. The taxi driver offers to lead us there for $1.50 but I say thanks, I think with all our info we will be able to find it. Sure enough, a while later we spot the shop on the left, so we double back in the next “returno”.

This is only a very small bit of what makes up this shop! But, that green building behind is the office.

This is only a very small bit of what makes up this shop! But, that green building behind is the office.

I should have taken more pictures. It’s a really big shop and it looks like they mostly fix big trucks and 18 wheelers. Down below is a parking lot with cars. The young man makes color copies of Joel’s receipts, the insurance document, and his cedula (Panamanian ID card), collects $150 (ouch!) and asks us the make and model of the car. We go to look in the parking lot below and I don’t see the car. “Are you sure it is at this shop? Who told you that?” We walk across the shop and look in the other side of the area below, and there it is. Whew! OK, all in order, just need the key. He looks in the desk drawer, in a box of random keys, on the wall, no key. He calls the boss who says he will come shortly to find the key.

Joel brings the car up above, and we wait for the key to be found.

Joel brings the car up above on the bad bumpy road, and we wait for the key to be found. An aside – yes that is a July 2016 plate. If you don’t get your plate on time, they don’t order you one for next year. Joel has been to the office twice and gotten a piece of paper that says he is legal, and maybe some day the plate will come in. No, they don’t have stickers. You get a whole new plate every year.

We wait. We talk about his English studies at university. We talk about things in the US, of course including our current president. We talk about a lot of things, and wait, and after 45 minutes or so he calls the boss again who apparently sent him back into the office. He immediately returns with the key wrapped in a bit of paper. Yeah! Ready to go. (I know, I know, you would think they would have all this much more organized! But, TIP.)

Now that you have read all this, go check your car. Do you have your title? Revisado (inspection)? Current insurance document (check the expiration date)? Do you have the correct phone number for your insurance agent? It doesn’t hurt to have a couple copies of each document also, just because TIP. If you don’t have your plates, be sure you have that document also.

I’ll leave you with this picture just because I thought it was very funny. These two guys had put a piece of cardboard under the big truck and were taking a nap.

217car5

TIP = this is Panama

 

Advertisements

About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
This entry was posted in Panama. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to An Expensive Lesson about Car Documents

  1. Robert&Helen says:

    One needs to have all papers in order with you in the car. No problem.

    Like

  2. An increase in crime? What sort of crime, exactly? Burglaries of unoccupied dwellings? (I read on another forum that burglary is tantamount to being Panama’s national sport, it has become so common.) Home invasions while the victims are lumbering inside? Narcotics sales? Strong arm robberies? Armed robberies? Rapes? How much of an increase? How frequent are they? One a week? One a day? Worse? Are expats being particularly targeted? Hate to panic but random roadblocks like that conjure images of El Salvador in the 80s and certain areas of Mexico today.

    Like

    • Most crimes are crimes of opportunity, taking something you leave out, or people breaking in when you aren’t home and taking what they can put in a backpack. There were a couple assaults though, and someone was even killed (rumors of drug involvement but nothing confirmed). This was maybe a year or more ago though, and since the police checkpoint things have been quiet as far as I know. Recently though a home in a remote location without security (gate, locks, dogs, lights etc) was robbed and people tied up, not hurt but I’m sure scared. I don’t know if expats are being targeted because they look more affluent, or we just hear about it more because of the expat forums and discussions on line.
      I was a bit freaked out when I first arrived because there is security everywhere – police checkpoints, armed guards at any business with money on site, police cruising around town, pairs of guys on motorcycles looking like they are decked out for war, even guards in supermarket parking lots. But then I realized that things are generally very quiet because of this. The guard at the supermarket even got very worried about us once when we left our car there all weekend.
      We actually feel quite a bit safer than we did in Florida. The police really do want to protect people, and all of them who we have talked with have been really kind and embody the “protect and serve” that is written on their cars.

      Like

    • Ed Berg says:

      We are looking at Panama for retirement and this is of great concern to us. What is the crime situation?

      Like

      • Check the comments for a somewhat lengthy response to another reader with the same questions. I think if you take normal precautions, lock the house when you are out, put tools, bikes, or other tempting things away, have outside lights, make friends with your neighbors, don’t live in some remote location away from people, etc. you should be as safe as anywhere.

        Like

  3. Yikes! Too bad that truck had to follow through with the orders..

    Sometimes we assume we have all the papers, but unfortunately there are ‘gotcha!’ moments… here in Ecuador the requirements are different and only one plate, even when the vehicle changes owners! Sometimes there’s a glitch in getting a vehicle registered thru the system, whic happened to my friends… it was time to pay the yearly placa fees, and it wasn’t in the system.. There was the truck with plates and paperwork, yet the computers said, ‘There is no such truck and placa in the system!’

    For me, all I have to do is see the people who are still living in tents on the coast, and I realize that they’d gladly trade their challenges for mine!

    Thanks so much for sharing this, as it might help others avoid the same problem.

    Like

    • I know! This cost us some time and money, but if this is the worst that happens all month we are pretty darn fortunate. Part of the problem is his plates expire in July and the insurance document in December, but when he went in Dec to get another “I’m legal but don’t have a current plate” document, his insurance was still good so he didn’t give it another thought. My car is better – everything expires in August so I just run around and do it all at the same time.
      There are glitches in the system here sometimes too. Once I made the mistake of asking if we could deal with Joel’s car here in David instead of Dolega, the next town up the road. But no, it’s registered in Panama City, so you have to jump through all these hoops to change it to here…. blah blah etc etc until they finally noticed one of my papers that said “Dolega”. Thankfully they believe the paper instead of the system. We go to Dolega every year and it’s fine, thank goodness.

      Like

  4. The law also REQUIRES you to have a copy of Panama’s traffic regulations in the car. I’m surprised they didn’t hassle you with that one.

    Like

    • I know, we should get that. You also have to have an accident report form, right? Our insurance guys included that with their paperwork. The police probably had enough fun with him and papers all over the car. He has everything in one folder for the life of the car!
      I told a friend that if something happens to Joel, I’m selling the cars and getting a list of taxi drivers! Much less hassle.

      Like

  5. mcmoller says:

    Sorry you had to go through all that. Yes, I make sure we have copies of everything in our car. It is always a good reminder to check. Almost got caught when we presented the incorrect insurance document to the police at a stop in Panama City, but luckily I had the correct one in a different folder because we had just picked up a Panapass earlier. Threw the old one away so it won’t happen again. TIP.

    Like

  6. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    I read the cops have those handheld police computers that can search for prior traffic violations. Why, oh why, don’t they have the car data, insurance, etc tied to the same … Oh wait, TIP.

    Up here they recently revamped the registration sticker, safety sticker, proof of insurance into one sticker. Safety inspection done in the same month as registration is due, and the current proof of insurance is stored with the registration at the state capitol. The cops know your entire history before even getting out of the squad car. Oh wait … NO squad car, TIP.
    Having a Emily Litella moment: Never mind.

    Like

    • LOLOLOL! Yes indeed, TIP. But, when you know what is needed and be sure to have it on hand, somehow things get done.
      Well sometimes…. our electric meter has been broken for months. One would think they would want their money…. TIP. hopefully they don’t fix it until the rains come back.

      Like

    • jim and nena says:

      TIP maybe, but (don’t tell anybody) our HUD home had a SLOW meter for the first year and a half. $5.32 each month. I expected to get nailed for thousands; I finally got so nervous I called to have it replaced. They asked was the glass broken or the seal missing? I said no, they said not to worry! Ran like that another 6 months.
      Eventually we got “smart” meters, no extra charge! TIUSA!

      Like

  7. What a day! Thank goodness you are patient. 🙂

    Like

  8. heidi lilla says:

    good you got it back so easily! in dominican republic, you would have had to give the 150 $ to the police controlling you, on top of the fine. they would have told you that the tow truck has to be payed in advance by them, and when you go to pick up the car at the compound, you would have payed again! 🙂
    but the funniest thing is your last photo with the two guys sleeping. above them the inscription in German “leading with security”! 🙂

    Like

    • Oh dear, that does sound quite a bit worse. What if you just don’t have the money? Then, no car? I was thinking this would have been really really expensive for many Panamanians.
      Leading with security? LOL I don’t know German so I didn’t catch that. But, maybe that is security. When we came close to get into our cars they woke up and watched us.

      Like

  9. Cathy Virgenock says:

    More really good and important info .. and thank you so much for the insurance and real estate contacts. I am loving your posts. I am retiring this year. I’m planning a trip to Panama to see if it might be a good fit for me.

    Like

  10. According to our lawyer and Insurance agent you must have all the paperwork you described as well as a fire extinguisher, reflective warning triangle, and wheel blocks.
    Yep TIP!

    Like

    • Seriously? I didn’t know that, but there is this book you are supposed to have. I wonder who actually drives around with all that stuff? My neighbors with the big family has a fleet of cars. I’ll have to ask them.

      Like

Comments are closed.