Buying a Used Car in Rome

8 Apr
Hmm, do you think that l should be concerned about that liquid seeping out onto the ground?

Hmm, do you think that l should be concerned about that liquid seeping out onto the ground?

Subtitled: The Worst Investment I Ever Made, Quite Possibly in My Entire Life

And not just because it was a used car, although in retrospect I suppose in the short-run I would have paid less if I had bought a new car on an installment plan. But that would have been nearly impossible for me, seeing as how I’m a divorced single mom and my busta paga (pay stub) most likely wouldn’t have ever shown the requisite amount for getting a car loan. Nor would I want a car loan in Italy. I’d be afraid to take on a car loan in the States, why would I risk something like that in the bureaucratic black hole known as Italy?

I’m writing this not to complain, but as a helpful cheat sheet for anyone who might in the future happen to Google “buying a used car in Rome.” Maybe I can help you get a clearer picture of the expenses you’re going to come up against. I wish I had known then what I know now, and thought more about the overall costs of keeping and maintaining a car here in Rome. Had I done a bit more research, I’d like to think I would have decided against buying a car in favor of opting for a taxi when a car ride was essential.

Because, in the end, the only time a car for me in Rome is really essential is when I have to take my kiddos to the doctor (unfortunately, although not far from home, still not within walking distance, especially with a sick kid) or when I go out late at night, not for safety’s sake but more for convenience’s sake, because public transport in Rome is really slow after midnight. Had I calculated potential taxi spending for these occasions, on an annual basis, I’m 99.9% sure I never could have racked up the total amount I spent on keeping a used car in this city.

You may say, “Why not consider Carsharing?” Well, I did, and being that I don’t live conveniently near any of the parking lots (they’re mainly for people who live close to or in the center), it wouldn’t have been worth it over a taxi. I signed up for it but never ended up paying the annual fee.

So, when I got the opportunity to buy a used Opel Corsa from a fellow American expat who was only the second owner, and who wanted to get rid of it quick due to moving back to the States, I jumped at the chance. It cost €1700 and checked out mechanically. It had been garaged for most of its life due to being property left to an ex-wife in a divorce, and the expat lawyer I ended up buying it from had only purchased it to have a car for her husband to drive her to the hospital in for giving birth. (!) So, it was in really good shape despite being 12 years old, and it was a Euro 4 which meant that I could drive it on all except the “eco Sundays” which require Euro 5 or 6. (These ratings refer to European emission standards.)

Before you buy a used car in Rome, consider the following:

1) Transfer costs (Passaggio di proprietà) (Mine = €480 one-time fee)
When I bought this car, the owner and I went through an agency to process the title and registration transfer. This is because, if you attempted to do it on your own at the DMV, I’m quite sure you’d never make it out alive. My transfer cost €424 in taxes and state costs, and €56 in agency fees. Costs vary by car.

2) Insurance (Assicurazione RC Auto) (Mine = €956/year paid in one lump sum)
If you’ve never been an insured driver in Italy, you’re basically totally screwed. They use a rating system and even if you’ve been driving since age 16 everywhere else in the world and an insured driver the whole time, it doesn’t matter, because in Italy they have no record of your good driving history. Therefore you start from scratch, in “Class 14” (they’re called classe di merito) which is the highest insurance risk and therefore the most expensive. The average quote for annual insurance for my crappy ass car in Classe Quattordici was around €1750 (that’s nearly $2,300 or about $190 per month).
If you’re an expat, you might qualify for Clements Worldwide, which is luckily where I ended up getting my car insurance. It averaged out to about €80 a month but they required the annual payment all at once.

3) Annual vehicle tax (Bollo auto) (Mine = €156.20/year)
This tax is paid annually and calculated based on your car’s emissions rating (Euro I, II, III, etc.). I need to get my car junked now because it’s broken down beyond repair and would cost more than €1,000 to get repaired, only probably to end up breaking down again. Apparently it WAS in great shape when I bought it, but then driving it created a problem. (!!) So in order to junk my car, not only did my mechanic say it would cost roughly €100 for the junkyard service, but, he said, “You’re missing the proof of your vehicle tax being paid.” I’m thinking, great. I had no idea I had to pay this and nothing ever came to my address to tell me. So I go to the ACI (Automobile Club of Italy) and ask for a “visura dei bolli” which basically is them looking up in their computer if vehicle taxes have been paid for my car.


In fact, when the car was sold to me, a whole year was already past due. So that fee from three years ago, I now owe, and it’s up to €191,57 due to the penalties assigned each year that went by, and possibly even 30% more coming up because after three years they send it to a collection agency.

The April 2011-April 2012 payment which I should have only technically owed €40 on since I only owned the car in Feb, Mar and April of 2012, but, hey thanks former owner for slapping me with those charges unbeknownst to me, is now up to €188,73.

And, the April 2012-April 2013 which I have to pay even though I haven’t even driven the car since last October when it broke down, is now €165,40.

If I manage to pay all of these charges by the end of this month in order to get the car junked, thank God I’ll avoid paying an additional €156,20 for this year through April 2014!

Yep, I about had a heart attack. €545,70 out of nowhere. That shit totally sucks. I was saving for my tattoo and a trip to Amsterdam to get it and now, effing back car taxes. Moral of the story: get a visura dei bolli before you buy a used car. All you have to do is go into an ACI and give the license plate number.

4) “Revision” exam (Revisione) (€45 at the DMV or €64,80 at an authorized mechanic/once after first 4 years for a new car, then once every 2 years)

If you’ve ever heard anyone talk about the “bollino blu,” it’s now part of the overall revision process. Basically every two years you have to take your car in for the revisione to have it checked for road safety and pollution output.

And, if you lose your documents, like I did, God forbid. Cost of replacement for the libretto di circolazione and certificato di proprietà (registration and title, respectively) is roughly €100. That’s because my used car had the “old” libretto which isn’t “duplicable” … forget about it.

And, if you accidentally drive on a “green Sunday” like I did (I know, my bad, but it can happen), you stand to get a ticket for about €45 if they stop you.

And, if you accidentally hit a parked car or any other kind of automobilistic mishap, which frankly is most likely going to happen sooner or later if you drive in Rome, whether you’re the best driver in the world or not, consider your insurance costs going up, or, paying out of pocket to the other car’s owner for body work, etc. I had to do that because I am a shitty parker, and it cost me €400 and that was even off the books at my friend’s friend’s body shop. CHE PALLE, BALLS BALLS BALLS.

Now, if that isn’t enough for annual expenses, and even if you never encounter any of the extra annoying expenses I did due to my own negligence, please consider the cost of fuel. I hardly ever drove anywhere, and ended up spending about €50 per month. That got me one full tank per month in an 8-gallon tank. Gas here is around $9 on average per gallon.

Maintenance. In one year I spent €50 for an oil change, €300 for service from a rip-off mechanic who did a bogus repair, and I also spent €100 when I finally took it to the dealership for a “diagnosis” in which they told me the repair costs would be in the thousands and frankly wasn’t even worth it (and I got a second opinion as well from a trusted mechanic friend of my ex-husband’s). So in maintenance I easily spent nearly €500, fuel costs probably ran about another €500 in the approximately 10 months of actual usage I got out of the car itself, add in a €10 car wash every couple of months, because frankly in Rome your car is going to get super dirty after like one day and shamefully dirty after only a month, and you’re easily at nearly €100 a month in fuel, yearly maintenance and repairs, and if you add in all those other expenses? Excuse me while I go retch.

Folks, in one year I spent an ungodly amount for a car that I barely used and that is going to cost me over €600 to junk. Perhaps my experience is unique. However my guess is that it is not.

This is one of those moments when I really wish that I could be happy about Rome’s public transport or live in a city like Amsterdam where everyone rides bikes. But just yesterday in this week’s copy of Internazionale (best magazine ever in Italy, I highly recommend it) the editor commented that in Rome there are 978 vehicles for every 1,000 inhabitants, and this includes newborns and over-85 year olds, and that Rome has 41.5 km of underground rail, compared to London’s 460 km, Paris’s 200 km, and even Milan’s 84 km in a city that’s 7 times smaller than Rome with half the population. I know what you’re thinking, oh but it’s impossible in Rome, too much archaeological stuff underground. St. Petersburg got around their problem by digging deeper. (Ok, so I’m not an archeologist, but come on.) Even Naples has 30 km of underground rail with a city 11 times smaller than Rome and 1 1/2 times fewer inhabitants.

I dunno, folks. If I could go back in time, I would never buy the car. I would spend for a taxi, which in Rome is still relatively inexpensive as compared to other big cities. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.


30 Responses to “Buying a Used Car in Rome”

  1. April 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    Great advice–perhaps the single best piece of advice for an expat or potential expat. I’m going to share this, Tweet this, etc. People thought we were crazy when we gave up our car a year and a half ago, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made related to my life in Rome. Yes, the public transportation is aggravating and often unreliable. But for the most part, it more or less works in its own quirky way. And in any case, it’s 10x less aggravating than trying to park. Not to mention a fraction of the cost. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. wondrousnora April 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    I’m so sorry for all you’re going through.
    I am so happy we could sell our car when moving here.

    And you have been wiser than us, not getting a loan for a new car. We got not one but THREE and it is a black hole, and you would end spending a huge amount of money out of interest rates, that in Italy are terribly close to be almost illegal.

    It is really sick how many “hidden” costs you have when you live in italy, and Rome is terrible…

    I can’t stand the “archeological sites” stuff! There is a way to work out something about that. But they just don’t want to.

    Amsterdam has a population of 800.000 (1.200.000 considering the urban area too), it is literally build on mud and it has 4 metro lines, with a fifth being under construction UNDER WATER.
    Oh, please…

  3. Dani April 8, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    I can’t wait to get settled over there permanently ish. I so wish I knew you before all of this. I was a mechanic for many years and I have a ton of mini dresses that mighta helped you out and given you tons of material for more blogs. Let me know if I can do anything for you. X

  4. Too Tall To Be Tuscan April 8, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Che palle! I do NOT envy you and I’ll certainly think twice about my car needs if I ever get to living in Italy on a permanent basis…

  5. Catherine April 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    Che palle Madonna!! I live in my car which is like a big trashy handbag and can’t survive without it as we are country hicks. But my dream is a metro city and no damned bollo. It would be so fine… But we are skiers too and I clock up 400-500kms a week in winter and usually drive my wheels into the ground. My tips: have an affair with a sexy mechanic, be flirty with a guy who owns a city parking lot. It helps!

  6. Un'americana a Roma April 8, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    Hey thanks Rick! No, seriously, I would be one of the best candidates in this city for a car, given that I have three kids ages 5 and under. But even I would rather put them on a bus then have to shell out the money and wave goodbye to it as it literally washes down the drain. No, this is a bottomless pit. Unless you have money to burn, which I absolutely do not. Luckily my ex-husband has a spacious car and so in a pinch I can use his car.

  7. Un'americana a Roma April 8, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    When I was in St. Petersburg the metro goes as far as 84 meters (275 feet) deep in one of the stations, because there are geological problems such as swamps to build around, through, under. Engineering has come a long way and… Metro C has been under construction for HOW long? No, we won’t get into a debate about public transport in Rome, that would make me sound like a really bitter expat and actually I’m not at all. I understand how things operate around here, we aren’t lacking engineers that could design stations like in St. Petersburg or A’dam, the problem in Rome is another…

  8. Un'americana a Roma April 8, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Come fix my car! My poor car, going to the car graveyard…for the low, low, price of nearly SEVEN HUNDRED EUROS. I’m literally sick when I think of how much I need that money for other things. Must stop thinking about it.

  9. Un'americana a Roma April 8, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    No, seriously. Trust me, I never would have even CONTEMPLATED buying a car had it not been for the fact that I’m a single mamma with three preschool-aged children. I lived here for eight years perfectly content with no car. I actually prefer not driving, but I thought with three kids it would be irresponsible not to have a car at my disposal. Ok, responsibility only takes you so far. Plus, it’s just a difficult city to own a car in. Besides the risks of getting into fenderbenders all the time, I can’t tell you how many people hit and run into my car when it was parked! Lest anyone think I’m some dumb expat who doesn’t know how to drive. I’ve had my Italian driver’s license since 2006 and I tell you what, I think at least 5 times my car got smashed by some bad parker/driver over the less than 12 months I drove it. CHEPALLECHEPALLECHEPALLECHEPALLE!

  10. Un'americana a Roma April 8, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Ha! That’s fabulous advice, my dear! In fact, LOL, my mechanic who is my same age, actually texted me something to the effect of “I make women’s dreams come true” because I was teasing him about having a Whatsapp profile pic of him showing off his muscular tattooed back. Wow, that could be a WHOLE OTHER blog post… ha! Dontcha know I do have an “online dating in Rome” post in my drafts box… waiting for the right moment to spring it loose…

  11. April 8, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    Surprised to see that you had to pay to junk a car. The price of scrap metal is up, not as high as in the recent past, but still up. I remember a lot of the other charges from talking with friends and relatives, but paying to get rid of metal is a new one… So sorry that you had to go through this.

  12. Dani April 9, 2013 at 4:37 am #

    I’ll check it out when I’m there in May if you’re still stuck with it sug. This is Danielle from nyc btw. Trade ya the auto work for your life advice on how to get a job in Italy 🙂

  13. boocatbutterbee April 9, 2013 at 5:39 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing your life in Italy experience with us. I find it invaluable. Sorry you had to find all this out the hard way.

  14. simcek April 9, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    Uhmmm… Insurance seems a bit high to me for the old Corsa. Apart from that, next time you buy a used car, take your muscular tattoed mechanic to have a look at it BEFORE you sign the papers.

  15. boocatbutterbee April 9, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    She did. The underground mechanic requires discretion.

  16. Un'americana a Roma April 10, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    Oh geez, don’t ask any expats about jobs lately. Tough times around these parts, still. Although I think English teaching and cocktail waitress are probably always in demand. Not exactly the high level career positions you might be looking for though.

  17. Un'americana a Roma April 10, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    Aw, no worries! I’m taking one for the team over here! 🙂

  18. Un'americana a Roma April 10, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Yeah well, no excuses on that one, you’re right, I took the owner’s mechanics word on that one out of sheer laziness. (shaming myself) You think the insurance is high even at less than 1000 a year? Mah. Oh well, I’m over it. Cars be damned in this damned city of cars. Anyhoo, I can’t afford to junk it now, so it’s just going to sit in my parking lot until I figure out how to do something very subversive to get rid of it.

  19. Un'americana a Roma April 10, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Ha! That’s good. Yeah I took another mechanic’s word for it and actually did get a second opinion as well, they all said it checked out. But see, that’s the problem, because once you start driving a car that’s in great shape but hasn’t really been driven regularly for like 10 years, I’m imagining that is where the problems came in. The engine is good. It’s a lot of peripheral replacement stuff that needs work, which all adds up to too much. Anyways my friend Simcek said he’d lend me his car. He has a more trustworthy and more muscular mechanic who needs a date. Hook me up!

  20. simcek April 10, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    For my old Corsa, which was the model that came after yours, I was paying something like 650 a year. 1000 a year is what I’m paying now for my brand new family size Opel, whose installments will keep on draining our bank account for the next 15 months.
    Anyway, have you thought of putting a classified somewhere giving the car away for free to anyone interested, as long as they pay for the passaggio di proprietà?

  21. marcodalprato April 10, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    This is very ridiculus.
    Unfortunately, here in italy the bureaucracy it’s too weird.
    Just a clarification:
    The Annual vehicle tax (Bollo auto) is calculatd on the emissions rating of your car and (the most important thing) on the power of it (my car has 95 HP and i pay 190€).
    Recently (as you know, i think) the Annual vehicle Tax was increased for the “sport car” (car that have a lots of power).
    After all, i understand how could be depressing fight against Italian bureaucracy .

  22. Un'americana a Roma April 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    I had an offer from someone to do so, but with the bolli arretrati it can’t be done, no one wants to be stuck with those and you can’t (theoretically) do a passaggio di proprietà unless they’re paid, although, irony of ironies, mine was completed without any problems. –?–
    Your insurance, ok, but what class are you in? Is that for classe 14????

  23. Un'americana a Roma April 11, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    Thanks for the solidarity, Marco! I just got this chart from my friend, apparently Rome is the most expensive city in Europe in which to own a car.

  24. marcodalprato April 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    It’s the same old story.
    By now, here in Italy owning a car it’s a rich things.
    Thank’s for the chart, it’s very interesting !

  25. simcek April 11, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    Yeah, it’s for the bloody 14. My previous car was bought under my dad’s name, and so was the insurance.
    When I decided it was time to become an adult and own a car myself I had to pay the price for it.

    ps. You know that sooner or later you’ll have to pay for all the bolli anyway, don’t you? Plus you still have to pay for the insurance, even if the car’s not moving…

  26. Un'americana a Roma April 12, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    Yes my dear, thank you for continuing to ruin my blissful denial with your harsh reality. I love you for it, as always.

  27. livinginthelanghe May 1, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    There’s some great advice here! We just recently bought a used car in Turin and I could really have done with finding this blog before we bought it, rather than now… oh well. One note on the insurance, after weeks of wrangling, we went to a broker and they found us an insurer who would knock 5 classes off of our rating if we had a letter from our UK insurers to prove our no claims. Five is the maximum though, and it’s still ridiculously expensive!

  28. Valeria May 4, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Be thankful that it saved you from getting tattooed. Just look at 65 year olds with tattoos any time you think about letting someone color on you.

  29. hosting May 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

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