Lada Niva offroad
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How To Buy a Used Car in Bulgaria

I *thought* I had bought my last combustion engine automobile years ago in San Francisco. The city of San Francisco and the state of California have done a good job of making the environmental impact of using a car commensurate with the price of operating one. I love biking, and I never thought I would buy another car. But priorities change.

In Bulgaria it doesn’t make sense to buy a new car. The quality of the roads is poor–you’re going to beat the shit out of whatever you buy anyhow. If you park on the street in Bulgaria, you’re going to get scratches and dings, and maybe the car is slightly more likely to be broken into because of that fancy laptop you carry with you when you get in and out of the car (although, really, crime is low). One year there was a historic hailstorm in the center of Sofia and overnight every car lost 40% of its value. You just can’t keep a car looking new for very long. So, given that your car loses a good bit of its value right off the lot, why would you buy a new car if you can get a good used one?

When you start shopping for a used car, you’re going to find some ‘deals’. But take a step back. There are a few things you should know about that 2012 Mercedes CLK for $6500.

  • German cars are cheaper in Europe than in the US (at least the ones that are built in the EU are); trade is friendlier within the EU, after all
  • These cars typically have pretty high miles on them, considering their age. Some Bulgarian mechanics specialize in rolling back the miles on used imports.
  • The cars that cannot be resold in Germany, because of poor maintenance history, or because they don’t meet emissions standards, or because they’ve been in a collision, for example, accumulate in Southern Europe–so there are many more lemons here. And there is a fair amount of outright fraud.

So we hit the lots at Gorublene to get an idea of what makes and models appealed, and we drove a few. Seriously, these guys are super laid back, friendly, and I’m sure that some of their cars are good quality. But ultimately we knew we should buy a car from an owner. (Meaning: we should buy a car from the person who previously drove the car.)

I spent a few hours trying to squeeze listings out of OLX.bg, which has been super in the past for me for finding lightly used household items for sale, and even musical instruments. But on the used car front, it was coming up short. There are currently only 50K used cars in the database, and many of the listings are from the dealers who hang out under the overpasses of Gorublyane.

Bazar.bg ultimately is where it’s at. This online marketplace currently has about 300K used cars on it. I was looking for something a little unusual (CNG + gasoline for its eco-friendliness and economy), and so we needed to look as broadly as possible.

If you want to register a car in your name in Bulgaria, then you’ll need a registered permanent address. For EU nationals, this is a relatively simple process. For non-EU nationals (if you’re coming from the US) then, it means applying for long-term residency. This is a somewhat longer process, and out of scope for this post.

Maybe the easiest way to own and have access to a vehicle is to get a Bulgarian friend to own it for you. I chose my future wife, and we’re still together, so that has worked out for me. It was a little funny getting stopped at the border with Turkey and told that I need permission from her to take the vehicle into another country. But, an hour and a few phone calls later, we were on our way without any more hassle.

Best of luck buying a vehicle in Bulgaria, if you really need one.

Lada Niva offroad