Cars in Thailand are widely used, more so than bikes in some areas. For the self-sufficient expat they are a must have transporting heavy stuff about and recovering big bikes. Some consider them essential for protection on the 'dangerous' roads. They, like bikes, allow a great deal of independence from public transport and allow you to strike out on your own to discover things for yourself.
Types of Car in Thailand
The common and humble pick-up.
Thailand's rural masses swear by the pick-up, they are affordable, utilitarian and popular throughout Thailand. The low engine cc's may not win them any road races but they are economical and can handle village dirt-tracks and roads with equal measure. They are a mainstay for thousands of small to medium businesses who operate them. Cities, towns and villages all have these types of vehicle (although in the latter they are the most common).
Typical examples include: Nissan Mighty X.
Typical Price Range: 250,000 to 1,500,000 baht brand new.
Next up the food chain of cars is the Sports Utility Vehicle.
A cross between car and off-road vehicle they are expensive, thirsty, gas guzzling beasts. They are typically refined and comfortable. A status symbol of sorts they are quite popular in the cities where image is important to poo yais and city big-wigs.
While they are not suited to driving off-road they can usually cope with mild rough terrain.
Typical examples include: Toyota Fortuna, RAV4.
Typical Price Range: 1,500,000 to 6,000,000 baht brand new.
Off-Road Vehicle / 4x4
Not the mainstream vehicle of Thailand but one that is in a class of its own. While not a rebel band-wagon it does have something of a 'club' following as few people own them in Thailand. Too hard-core to be a city-slickers SUV and usually not with the cargo capacity (although the roof is capable) for Somchai in his pick-up. Not the most comfortable vehicle to take out on the streets but usually capable of the toughest off-road challenges. In rainy season they can come into their own element with stability and macho prowess where other vehicles are slipping and skidding everywhere!
Typical examples include: Suzuki Caribian.
Typical Price Range: 175,000 to 1,200,000 baht second hand.
Ordinary Car / Family Saloon
The ordinary car for most Thais tends to be either a Toyota or Honda Family Saloon car. They usually are not that cheap but neither expensive either and tend to feature in upper-working class and middle class families.
Typical examples include: Toyota Vios, Honda City.
Typical Price Range: 250,000 to 1,900,000 baht brand new.
Sports Car / Exotic
Like most countries these types of car tend to be the most expensive to buy and own. The high engine capacity make them a magnet for import tax (almost all sports cars in Thailand are imported). Some thais bolt-on big exhausts and add body-kits to cars with lower engine capacities and performance to give the 'sports car look' to ordinary cars.
As a rule, if you own or drive one of these cars you will own a status symbol and be in the 'club' of exclusive cars. The girls will be interested and you can look the part while driving around town. Servicing may be a nightmare so do your homework and find out where the best place is to get it seen to. The police will be curious, especially with a white man at the wheel so be prepared to be pulled over at roadblocks etc.
Typical examples include : Mitsubishi Evolution, Honda Prelude, Nissan Skyline.
Typical Price Range: 250,000 to 7,900,000+ baht brand new.
Buying a Car in Thailand
Buying a Car will save you money in the long run, renting cars is not cheap to begin with and after a week or so the expense will rip into your wallet. Make sure you've a trusted place to store it if you have to go back to your home country.
It should be noted that cars in Thailand are very expensive compared to western Europe and the US. There is currently a 180% import tax on foreign imports and an additional 25% VAT tax!
It is cheaper to buy Honda and Toyota's for example than BMW, Ford or Mercedes cars. Conversely, while 2nd hand residual values are typically quite poor in the west, in Thailand they hold their value with only minimal depreciation.
This isn't a hard and fast rule though, cars that are imported from Europe and the states may be 'cheaper' to buy 2nd hand than a comparable Honda or Toyota due to the latter pairs popularity. Whichever brand of car you go for, if possible buy a car brand new. Its highly unlikely to break-down. Second-hand cars in Thailand can be a bit hit and miss on the condition owing to the debatable Thai mentality of maintenance and quick-fix solutions provided by unscrupulous mechanics.
Unless you specifically know the history and trust the seller well steer clear of second-hand cars.
To buy a bike brand new from a dealership you will need: A letter of residence (available at your nearest consulate) stating your address in Thailand OR a photocopy of property ownership details.
You also may need a non-immigrant 'O' visa stamp in your passport.
In addition you will need to accompany the seller to the nearest government motor vehicle office to register as the new owner. An emissions test may be carried out also while you are there.