Virtually every make and model of automobile is available for purchase in the Houston area with many car dealerships that sell used and new vehicles.
Expats prefer used cars as they are cheaper to buy when needing the car for only a few years or even less. A used car is also preferred as costs can pile up when starting out in a new city and expats try to save money on the vehicle. Used cars should be purchased from certified dealerships as they have done extensive tests on the vehicle and often provide some warranty or even a replacement guarantee. Otherwise, used cars are sold ‘as is’ and once they are driven off the lot or out of the driveway, the buyer has no legal rights if the car falls apart.
Houston is a car city and the market is competitive, but cars are not cheap. Prices range between $5,000 – $10,000 for vehicles with mileage around 80,000 miles and between 5 – 10 years old. Older cars may be cheaper but also have more maintenance issues. An advantage in Houston is that cars rust slower than in other parts of the region or not at all and there is no damage from salt on winter streets.
To check on used-car values, check:
- NADA guides – http://www.nadaguides.com
- Kelley Blue Book – http://www.kbb.com
New cars lose the most value within the first year of ownership and, therefore, are less appealing to expatriates because the resale value takes such a big hit. New cars are only appealing if you have decided to stay here for a longer period of time or for good.
Financing is difficult for expats and most will not be able to finance at all unless they have lived in the U.S. for some time and have established a credit history. In general, expats will pay cash for a car.
To purchase cars, there are several distinct areas for main dealerships, most outside the loop. There is I-10 west (Katy Freeway) starting after Loop 610, Hwy 290 west (Northwest Freeway) starting after BW 8, I-45 North (North Freeway) after Loop 610 , as well as some dealerships off Hwy 59 (Southwest Freeway) just outside the Loop 610. Car dealerships are open Monday through Saturday but are closed on Sundays. Here are some examples of main dealerships in Houston:
- Momentum Audi – http://www.momentumaudi.net
Location: 2315 Richmond Ave, Houston, TX 77098, 800-215-9660
- Momentum Volkswagen of Jersey Village – http://jerseyvillagevw.com
Location: 19550 Northwest Freeway, Houston, TX 77065, 281-925-5000
- Jeff Haas Mazda – http://www.jeffhaasmazda.com
Location: 11222 Katy Freeway, Houston, TX 77043, 713-574-1529
- Lone Star Chevrolet – http://www.lonestarchevrolet.com
Location: 18900 Northwest Freeway, Houston, TX 77065, 1-866-665-9782
- Fred Haas Toyota Country – http://fredhaastoyotacountry.com
Location: 22435 SH-249, Houston, TX 77070, 1-888-306-1691 (New) and 1-888-886-5249 (Used)
For used cars in Houston, check with:
- Carmax – http://www.carmax.com/ (has many lots in Houston where cars can be test driven)
Online from private or dealer, new or used, these sites are recommendable; they include buying tools such as trade-in pricing and used-car values:
- Cars.com – http://www.cars.com
- Autotrader.com – http://www.autotrader.com
When buying a car from a dealer, you must show proof of insurance and own a Texas driver license to receive the title of the car and keys. Most dealers will take care of changing the title for you as well as the vehicle registration and inspection, if it has expired on a used car, or if it is a new car. You will have to sign a waiver to give them permission to get the documentation for you. Otherwise, when paying cash, particularly private sellers may be satisfied with only seeing your picture identification when verifying name and signature on the sales contract.
If the dealer has not completed the tax, title and registration for you, for example because it is a used car and the registration sticker is still valid, then you will need to get the title signed over to your name within 20 days and pay the sales tax directly to TXDOT (Texas Department of Transportation). You will pay a sales tax of 6.75% on the value of your used vehicle in addition to the standard process fee. To transfer the title into your name or to renew the registration after a purchase, you will have to visit a TXDOT office (http://www.txdot.gov). You will need to bring:
- Title or certified copy of the title
- Vehicle Identification Number
- Proof of Insurance
- TX Driver License
- Sales contract
Vehicle registration is due annually from last date of paid registration and calculated by the value. Registration renewals can be paid online, in person at a local tax office or at the customer service desk of many major supermarkets.
To renew the inspection of your vehicle, you will have to take your vehicle to a certified repair shop or so-called ‘sticker stops’ which are small garages that only handle inspections. Many oil-change service shops and some brake service shops also handle inspections.