This pandemic has taught me many things. One is that you should always have a back supply of toilet paper. The other is that it’s pretty much a requirement to have a car in Tbilisi if you’ve got a kid or don’t live in the town center. With the mass transit shut down, there was really no option to move. There’s no park around where I live for miles – though there is a large greenspace that’s walled off and full of random car parts and shards of glass is right next door.
We were basically stuck in our apartment and this concrete jungle for three months, with no escape. The weather wasn’t so bad yet, but having to walk your baby in a circle around a beton behemoth is no pie in the sky, believe you me.
Buying a car became a necessity, if just to transport the little monster to somewhere a little more interesting.
Buying a car in Tbilisi seemed like a big task at first, but it was really much simpler than one might think.
Keep in mind
Georgia does not produce cars or car parts. That means EVERYTHING is imported. If you’re expecting a good deal on cars, stop looking now. And if you already know your way around international shipping, your best deal then is to just buy a car from Germany or the US yourself or online and ship it over.
It also means that you should try to stick to what’s common on the roads. The rarer the vehicle, the harder it will be to get parts, especially as most parts are generally just stripped from other cars.
So yes, whereas a LOT of things are cheaper in Georgia, especially when it comes to the cost of living in general, cars are not, especially after shipping and import taxes are considered, and then whatever repair and middle man fees that people here tack on.
1. How to find a car
Though there are a lot of cars just sitting in lots with signs on them, investigating those will likely lead to excruciating prices and weird histories. You have basically three serious options:
Ask around: Could be helpful, but this of course how much you trust who you’re talking to and how much you trust who they’re talking to. The reason for that in my next point.
Use a dealership: Very expensive. Remember that a dealership is already selling cars at a premium cost, and when you have to add import fees and taxes, this often becomes double that premium.
Look online: There are a lot of online markets. This is how we went about finding our car. You can of course look at Facebook, but it’s better if you go to where Georgians are looking and use a bit of Google translate (though the pages do have minimal English language versions, so don’t be too scared). Just like anywhere else, beware of scams and people trying to cheat. Follow the adage: Trust but verify. Three commonly used sites (we found my car on the first):
2. Buyer beware
Georgians make a big business of car import and re-export. They find cars that have been totaled in the States or Europe and ship them here. They then make repairs, double the price, and either sell it here or sell it to people in Central Asia.
This means the car could have been in a huge, horrific wreck and been completely rebuilt, or a small fender bender, or a flood, or who knows.
That means you ALWAYS want to ask for a VIN if it’s not listed in the advert. If the car was imported from the States or Europe, then this can be a helpful number. First look it up via Google. You’ll see lots of nasty pictures, but they’re not always the pictures of the same car, so you’ll have to click on the images and make sure the VIN matches. A lot of VIN websites will make thumbnails of OTHER nasty looking cars, and then want you to subscribe before you can see if it’s the car you’re looking at. Keep that in mind too.
The best free VIN site I could find was Vehicle History. They only do a limited amount of history checks per day though. And of course there’s also Carvin, which is Georgia’s version of Carfax.
Things you want to look for are damage reports and to make sure the odometer matches or is close enough. The data from either page should also show you how well-maintained the car was by previous owners.
3. Drive trains
If the car looks suspiciously cheap, it could be imported from England, India, Japan, Australia, or another country that has right wheel drive trains (because they drive on the left side of the road in those countries and they have very limited options for resale and export). These cars are still legal to buy and sell and drive in Georgia, but there’s a new slate of laws lined up that will soon make them illegal step-by-step.
So now what a lot of Georgians are doing is buying those cars and switching the drive train themselves. This is fine if it’s done by an expert mechanic, but you have to have trust in that mechanic…
4. Catalytic converters
I’ve learned that you should always ask about these. There’s apparently a bizarre market for used catalytic converters, and it’s very common for cars to be stripped of these for some extra cash. I can only imagine there’s a collector with a fetish for them, and his house’s interior walls are lined from corner to corner.
Recently they’ve passed a law that in the next few years, cars will be required to have one. A new one can be up to a grand, but you can always buy a used one off another person’s car…
But yeah, check this from the phone. Don’t waste your time going to look at a car only later to find out this is missing.
5. Trust but verify
You’ve found a car you love from the looks of it. It’s got a clean history. It has a catalytic converter. Now what?
Don’t just buy it believing that the guy is telling the truth. It’s best to meet the seller at either the main Tegeta Motors or a dealership, and then pay about 60 lari for an inspection. You should also take a Georgian translator along with you if you don’t know Georgian or Russian. They’ll run down a list of all the things wrong or weird about the car. Now with this info, you’re ready to make an informed decision on buying.
6. Import taxes
If you look at MyAuto, you’ll see an option that says “Customs”. You then have the choice of “customs cleared” and “Before customs” (განბაჟებული/ganbajhebuli and განუბაჟებელი/ganubajhebeli, respectively). If it’s been customs cleared, then you have no real idea how long it’s been in Georgia and subject to the harsh Georgian reality. If it hasn’t, that means it’s arrived here at least within three months.
The fee for customs is determined by a whole array of arcane factors, and you’ll see this price being all over the place. You can figure it out for yourself here, though people in general accurately report it.
Upon import, an owner who plans on keeping the car here receives a red license plate and has three months to register the car. When the three months is up, you start collecting a bunch of fees. You also have to pay a rental on this red license plate, so it’s best to go through this process as quickly as possible (though the “rental” is just like one lari a day).
7. Transferring the title and paying the taxes
It’s an easy process. The registration office is in Rustavi (there is no office for this in Tbilisi, Rustavi is the de facto Georgian Capital of Cars) at this place.
You’ll walk in with the seller, and you’ll first stop to pay the license transfer fees and customs. Then you’ll go to another desk to transfer the registration and pick out a license plate (if importing).
If you’re swapping plates, be sure to have brought your red plates from the car with you to turn in. They’ll give you the new plates here.
After this, you will exit the building, go across the parking lot on the left, up some stairs, and stand outside some windows. Then they’ll give you the registration card and you’re done!
If buying a car is too much for you, considering also rentals. I know this guy, Temo, who rents out some great 4X4s that are great for the mountains through his Family Cars Georgia company. Check him out! #tbilisi #car