Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
Island Ride worker sprays the undercoating of a used car imported to the island.

Honduras and Roatan are Filling with US Cars Given a Second Chance at Life

While Honduras does not have a car factory, it is home to a vibrant automobile repair industry supporting thousands of importers, mechanics, body mechanics and dealers.

Honduras imports several thousand automotive vehicles a year from auctions across the US. These used, damaged or salvaged vehicles are given a chance at a second life in Honduras and some of them end up on Roatan. The Honduran motor vehicle reconstruction industry is a growing sector of the Honduran economy and it has plenty of rooms to grow.

Over a hundred US vehicles brought to Honduras and fixed up are finding their way to Roatan every year. While some of these vehicles are badly damaged in accidents or floods, others just suffered minor damage before being shipped to Central America for a chance at second life.

Occasionally vehicles damaged in floods and hurricanes are written off by insurance companies and make their way to Honduras. Major disasters in US like hurricanes and floods are a source of vehicles for junker car markets all over Central America. According to CARFAX around 358,000 vehicles were damaged during Hurricane Ian and many of these vehicles are making their way to a Honduran car market.

Practically all vehicles are imported to Honduras via Puerto Cortés on cargo ships. Importing cars and fixing them up has become a boom industry in Puerto Cortés and San Pedro Sula, but intrepid dealers have been opening showrooms across the country.

Honduran motor vehicle reconstruction industry is a growing sector.

While you can purchase a US restored car pretty much anywhere in Honduras, the best place with the biggest selection and lowest prices is still San Pedro Sula. The city is the hub for purchasing these revived to life cars. From there the cars are shipped to use car lots all over the country.

While for over a decade one couldn’t import US cars older than seven years, now that number has increased to 10 years. Since three hurricanes have battered Honduras in the fall of 2021 the is no limit on the age of cars that are imported to Honduras. One such importer is Anthony Hamilton Webster, owner of Hamilton Car Rentals in West End. Webster says that the sweet spot at getting, moving, importing and fixing a damaged vehicle from US to Honduras is right at $7,000.

The most popular brand in Honduras is Toyota Hilux fallowed by Nissan Frontier. Since 2002 Honduras restricts import of vehicles to those seven years old or less. Passenger busses can be as old as thirteen years old and classic cars can be imported as well.

The cars are in their vast majority purchased at online auctions selling damaged or totaled vehicles. Bidders deposit ten percent of the maximum bid they expect to offer and work with a broker to secure a vehicle.

Cito Rich looks over the app of a US auction house selling damaged vehicles.

Then the vehicle is shipped to a US port with cargo links to Honduras. The vehicles clear US customs by presenting the original certificate of title. The imported passenger vehicles are charged a 3.4% tariff based upon the CIF calculation based on total cost of cost, insurance and freight, insurance. With trucks that number goes up to 10.2%.

Cito Rich from French Harbor has gotten into the American car import business in the last year as well. He’s Waldina’s Car Wash and car rental business next to Petro Sun in French Harbour and has been operating for five years.

Buyers are about evenly split between islanders and foreigners.

Rich looks over a COPART auction house in US, decides on a vehicle he like and relies on a business acquaintance in US to inspect the car and purchase additional pieces that would need replacing and installing in Honduras with cars that are easy to manage here.

Some cars are more desirable on Roatan than others. Rich focuses on importing the more desirable models like Toyota Corollas, Kia Sorrento and Ford Escapes. As the road system around Roatan improves the necessity for owning a high suspension SUV decrease. In 2022 the most popular car on the island is a sub-compact SUV. In 2022 the Ford Escape is currently a popular choice for importing to the island.

The auctioned cars are shipped from US to Puerto Cortés, Honduras. They clear customs at the port and then they end up in repair shops in San Pedro Sula before being shipped to Roatan. The prices of used cars on Roatan are more expensive and there are several lots on Roatan that sell cars imported and fixed up in San Pedro Sula.

Rich says his buyers are about evenly split between islanders and foreigners living on the island. Rich typically sells two to five cars a month but is looking at his business expanding.

There are things that you need to learn the hard way according to Rich. “You can’t just buy cars because of the looks,” says Rich remembering purchasing a 3 series BMW and a Mazda 6 that cost him much headache and expense. There were expensive to maintain and difficult to get parts for.

“Get your own information [about the vehicles],” says Rich. He checks vehicle VIN numbers to get a record if they were in any accidents. He now has mechanics and bodywork technicians working on site repairing vehicles he has. “I have control of when and how I have my vehicles.”