So you want to travel through the South American countries with a car and thinking about a suitable vehicle for it? Well, I had the same idea not so long time ago and here I’d like to share my experience with you as I think it might be useful. The best country to buy a car for foreigners is Chile but I don’t want to go into the technical details of the buying process as it is very nicely covered in this comprehensive article. Instead, I’d like to share my thoughts about the ideal car for such a trip.
Right from the beginning I was considering 4×4 car (like Nissan X-trail, Toyota 4Runner or Mitsubishi Pajero), although I knew it’s not totally necessary as the majority of the roads are quite okay for even a small personal car. But I wanted to have more options, to have the possibility to see the off-the-road places, and to have a more reliable car. That’s all truth, but when things come really bad one 4×4 car doesn’t really help you. Also, there is always the possibility that something breaks. If something can break, it will break; it’s just the matter of time. We did some serious off-road in Mendoza in Argentina but all the time in the middle of nowhere I was thinking ‘What are we gona do if something breaks here?‘ Well, not much. So that’s what I had in mind all the time, instead of being relaxed and enyoing the trip. The best way how to enjoy the trip is sensible planning and avoiding those risky off-road parts. I was so concerned in those exposed parts that I even didn’t take any pictures! :) I know, you may miss probably some remote, beatiful places but come-on, there is hundreds of wonderful places in South America which are easily accessible even with a simple car.
Another thing is the technical condition of the car. I wanted a newer car in a very good shape and I bought it at the end. It was affordable, but it stretched my budget. Also, it does not give you peace of mind to spend some 70% percent of your savings for a car; a good car but still a car. I mean something still may break. Or you can crash it or somebody else can crash you. Or simply somebody can steal it. If you have expensive car you worry too much about it and you can’t enjoy the trip itself!
Another consideration was to able to sleep in the car. Although you may build a sleeping platform in it it won’t be really comfortable in a long term. You won’t have much privacy in there. It’s okay for a week or two, but not for the kind of trip you are planning. In South America the weather is often hot and humid which makes sleeping in the limited and enclosed space of a car quite uncomforable. And if you open the windows, hordes of mosquitos come in to make you unpleasant company.
So my final suggestion is following. Assess expected expenses during your trip – gasoline, food, camping and attraction fees along the way and subtract it from your budget. Now, take 30% of what’s left in your budget and look for a car in this price range. Buy a small personal car, rather newer and in a good shape, with low fuel consumption and possibly with a good resale value. If whatever bad happens with it it won’t hurt you so much. If you could sell it at the end of your trip and get some money back, well, good for you. But accept it as an anticipated and definite expense for the trip. It will give you peace of mind! Also, having a small car won’t make you such a big attraction for thieves in those poorer regions of South America.
Then, buy a nice and comfortable camping tent, big mattress and some camping gear. It will give you much more comfort, privacy and happiness at all. There is always a campground near you, with hot shower and toilet. Sleeping in 4×4 car, though equipped with sleeping platform, somewhere in the middle of nowhere at the gas station won’t make you happy. Another popular option is a roof tent, though me personally I won’t like it at all, just because it looks strange and attracts lots of attention wherever you are. And you would need probably again 4×4 car to accommodate it, although smaller but still way more expensive than a simple personal car.
Another consideration might be a camper van, but that’s something out of my experience. It would cost you probably more than a small car with some camping gear. For me 4×4 car simply didn’t work well and I sold it one month later, doing only about 5000km with it.