For years, I've laughed at people dumb enough to bother driving in/around Bangkok; why would you want to pay to sit in traffic, I'd say. Having a car ain't cheap, I'd say. One of the reasons I left the US was to not have to drive anymore, I'd say. People driving in Bangkok are insane, I'd say.
Why buy a car indeed?
Now, I'm one of them/you. Why? Primarily to get out of the city, because I'm getting too lazy and/or too old to deal with having to get a taxi to a bus to a bus/van/train station, waiting for it to leave, then having to take another bus/taxi when I finally get there. I'm not 22 anymore, and the "journey" has lost its thrill. I'd like to be able to see places you really can only see with your own wheels. I have no intention of driving for my daily commute (although I'm also "over" the MRT/BTS at rush hour), but it's nice to have the option.
So, I recently got a driving license in Thailand in preparation for finally getting a car. I had no intention of paying some huge sum for a highly overpriced (compared to the US, anyway) new car, so I decided secondhand was the way to go. Even secondhand, cars in Thailand are quite expensive! It's quite difficult to find a car under 200,000 baht that's not 10+ years old and/or has 150,000+ kms on it. Popular brands like Toyota, Honda, and Nissan tend to be priced higher too, and don't even get me started on the 200%+ import tax for European makes.
Take a Thai
Without someone Thai, it's not that easy to buy secondhand in Thailand, especially if you go the non-dealer route like I did. There are several websites that have a nice volume of listings (DooRot, TaladRod, and Fast2Car seem amongst the best), but A) the descriptions are typically only in Thai, B) they tend to want you to call anyway, and C) if you can't speak or read Thai... well, you get the picture. I also checked out several dealerships, but the prices there are generally much higher.
Buying secondhand is always a gamble, but in the end I went with a low-km (<80,000 km) Chevy LPG converted sedan and haven't had any problems thus far, paying cash to someone that advertised on TaladRod. It's certainly nothing special, but it's a decent enough economical little weekend beater that's small enough to [barely] navigate the maze of sois [tiny roads] it takes to get to my condo.
Getting the paperwork put in my name was a bit of a hassle at the Land Office (Chatuchak, although you'd go to whichever office is in your district); it took most of the morning, and again you'd really need someone Thai to help out (or speak Thai fluent enough to understand legal/technical jargon) unless you're prepared to monkey everything out for hours on end, but all things considered it wasn't that different from the used cars I've bought in the States.
My understanding is that you must have a work permit to get the vehicle in your name with a valid visa, but I'm sure there are exceptions for retirement and other visas; the only documents they asked me for were work permit and visa. Note that you don't technically even need a driving license of any type to buy a car, which pretty much sums-up driving in Thailand. My seller apparently has done this before, so I basically followed him around, and aside from the queues, it wasn't too painful.
Made life easier?
Is it worth the 185k I paid for the car? Well, I've already had to make several trips to Nakhon Prathom which, using public transport, would have taken at least 2.5 hours versus the 40 minutes it took to drive (even with traffic, and in working aircon), and it sure is easier to go spend a lot of money you shouldn't be spending at Villa Market when you have a boot to put everything in.
I've only driven a handful of times since buying it earlier this month, as I still don't see the point in fighting traffic to try to find a parking spot at work every day; having driven in Atlanta, Washington D.C., Miami, Rome, Milan [by far the worst]... many of the big bad traffic cities, it's just not worth the hassle to me.
Still, the knowledge that I can go somewhere if I want to is worth it, regardless of Bangkok's psychotic traffic.
I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.
You might also be interested in....
Hot seat interview with Andy Wing - although this interview was done way back in 2004, Andy W carved out quite a successful business selling second-hand cars to the expat market.