If you are driving into Mexico, Central, or South America, you may want to get a four wheel drive, or more importantly, a car with extra clearance. This doesn't mean you have to have a 4x4 or a jacked up truck. We have profiled lots of roadtrippers driving the americas in everything from a 1990 VW Golf to an antique Land Rover. Check out who is driving what! Or read more about purchasing a vehicle for your trip.
One thing you need to be aware of is that many countries will not allow you to enter unless you own your car outright. If you don't, a letter of agreement will be needed from any lien holders listed on your title (select a country listed to the left for specific requirements for each country). This means that if you have a leased car or a car loan, you will not be the only person listed on the title and you will need to get a letter from that company acknowledging you can take the car out of the country. Many companies will not allow their cars to be taken beyond Mexico or Canada if the car is leased or loaned (see complete lists of documents you will need).
Insurance in Mexico
Most insurance plans in the US and Canada will not cover you in Mexico. The Mexican government does not recognize any insurers outside the country. This means that you will need to get Mexican insurance through a Mexican company before entering the country. Many people use Sanborns Mexican Insurance, which can be obtained at the border or ahead of time online. Baja Bound Mexico Insurance is another option to buy and print your policy online.
Insurance in Central and South America
Most insurance plans in the US and Canada will not cover you in Central and South America. Sanborns will also provide insurance for Central America and South America that can be renewed for extended travel. Comparable insurance can be obtained through Geico, however, any policy purchased through Geico cannot be renewed once you have left the US. These insurance options exclude the countries of Belize, Costa_Rica, Nicaragua, and Colombia. Basic car insurance for Belize and Nicaragua can be purchased when you arrive at their borders. Additional insurance for Nicaragua (recommended highly since the basic insurance only covers damage to property or other people) can be purchased in Managua from Aseguradora Mundial Nicaragua. SOAT in Colombia covers only 3rd party, not total loss or damages. There is no way (right now) to get more insurance coverage for your vehicle in Colombia, so there is some increased risk.
|Insurance Consultants Internationa||
1155 Larry Mahan "H"
El Paso, TX 79925
Phone: 1-800-434-3966/ (915) 591-8279
Fax: (915) 592-1293
|Baja Bound Insurance Services, Inc.||
750 11th Avenue, Suite 101
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: 1-888-552-2252 / (619)702-4292
1945 Expressway 77 (Executive Inn)
Phone: 1-800-258-1656/ (956) 546-6644
Fax: (956) 504-2919
|Aseguradora Mundial Nicaragua||
Edificio Invercasa, 1er Piso.
(505)276-8890 They do have employees who speak excellent English.
Aseguradora Mundial Website
|Instituto Nacional de Seguros (Costa Rica)||
Phone: 2287-6000 (In Costa Rica)
Instituto Nacional de Seguros
|Insurance Company of Belize, Limited||ICB Website|
email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cartagena office location: Pasaje de la Moneda Avda, Escallon No 8-59, Cartagena
(just outside the old city)
Suramericana de Seguros
At the Nicaragua border, you will need to buy basic coverage. The coverage is as follows (2008):
|Death or damages caused to one person.||Up to US $ 5,000.00|
|Death or damages caused to one or more persons.||US $ 10,000.00|
|Material damages caused to third parties.||US $ 5,000.00|
If you feel that you require more insurance you will have to head to Managua to contact Aseguradora Mundial Nicaragua where you can work out a better plan for your vehicle. Their address is Edificio Invercasa, 1er Piso. Managua, Nicaragua Managua lacks any street signs, so you will have to ask locals for directions to the Edificio Invercasa. Call them at (505)276-8890 if you have any questions, and they do have employees who speak excellent English.
Roads and Driving
The road conditions vary widely depending on the country, see the Roads and Driving page for detailed information on driving tips and what to expect.
Here are some ideas on how to add a little more security or comfort to your car.
Locking Gas Cap
If your car doesn´t already come with a locking gas cap, you may want to purchase one.
If your car doesn´t have a full sized spare, you may want to purchase one. Another item you may want to consider (along with the full sized spare) is a canned tire inflator. On many roads, there are few places to pull off the road to change a tire. A canned tire inflator will allow you to get to a safe place for changing a tire. In addition to this you might also want to have a puncture repair kit and even a small air compressor - jack up the car so the tire just barley comes off the ground, repair a flat or slow leak, air the tire up and go on your way without having to change it.
If you plan to drive with an average american RV you will be likely using so-called "Light Truck Tires" with a load range D or even E. These tires (in a size similar to LT 245/85 R16) are almost impossible to buy anywhere between Guatemala and Chile! We found some after a long search, for around twice the US price, in Panama. Costa Rica has large a Bridgestone factory, but they only produce up to 6-ply tires (load range C), in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru we couldn't find any! Further south it's easier: Pirelli produces this size/load range in Brazil, and there are imports available, so you'll find them. The cheapest deals are in the northern and southern free trade zones of Chile (I paid ~$95 per tire in Punta Arenas). Better leave home with good tires if you're riding on "light truck tires". (added by dare2go)
Front and Rear License Plates
If your car doesn´t already come with both plates and you can't request another you may want to fabricate a bumper sticker (read more about the Peruvian missing license plate scam). Some countries in South America expect vehicles to have both plates and you could avoid trouble by mocking one up. A quick and easy way to do this is to take a quality photo of your original then visit a print shop to get it printed out at the correct dimensions onto exterior grade self adhesive vinyl.
Tamper Proof License Plates
Sometimes crooked police have been known to unscrew license plates and hold them at the local station until whatever 'infraction' has been paid for. It's advisable to install your license plate with tamper proof screws, you can do this cheaply yourself by drilling out the heads of normal screws after your plate is secured. Another option is to display your license plate behind the rear window.
You may want to bring spare air, oil and gas filters for your car in case you cannot find any that fit your car on your trip. You should also have spare belts and extra fuses with you. ''edit dare2go'': If your car has any electronics (most models released after 1990 will have some) take the most vital sensors for your model!
Tinted windows will keep a your car cooler – they also make it a little harder to see the camera on your back seat. You can get your windows tinted at many places for around $20-40 USD once you enter Mexico and throughout Latin America. *A word of caution if you are going to Peru - you are supposed to have a special permit to have tinted windows there. My car had 'mirror' type tint, so you couldn't see into it. This is not allowed in Peru. Normally you won't have a problem, but it they are looking for an excuse to get money or fine you, they might use this.
Adding a kill switch is a safety feature that bypasses the ignition which, when turned off, won't allow the car the start even with the key. It is a fairly simple procedure and another small thing that gives a bit more peace of mind when driving the Americas. A mechanic should be able to help you install the switch.
You may want to purchase a small Jerrycan – gas stations at regular intervals are not guaranteed.
Fire Extinguisher and Safety Triangles
A common bribe tactic especially in Nicaragua is for the police to ask to see these items, it's unclear whether they are compulsory but having them deprives the cops of an easy bribe, they are also sensible things to have with you. You should also have two safety triangles, one to put in front of the vehicle and one for behind. See Scams for more info.
In the event you break down you can't call AAA to come to the rescue. It's very rare to see a tow truck unless you're on the toll roads. With a tow-strap you can solicit the help of a passer by to tow you to safety and not have to hope that they have one with them.
Vehicle Manual in Spanish
It's not a bad idea to hunt down a copy of your vehicle's manual in Spanish – this will definitely help the local mechanics.
Yes, it sounds crazy but apparently it's on the books in Argnetina that you should carry a white sheet in your car, apparently to wrap bodies. While this scenario seems unlikely, if you have some kind of white sheet in your car it's yet another thing the crooked cop will not be able to catch you for.
Keeping your car unwashed can make it look less appealing for thieves and stand out less on the road. Throwing some mud over the license plate can help disguise your foreign plates.
However, others may disagree. If you're traveling along the coast and camping on beaches, you will experience far more rust. It's important to wash off any salt residue especially on the undercarriage. You'll also get a lot of comments from the locals about having a dirty car. You'll notice that the vast majority of them take an immense amount of pride in their vehicles and keep them clean even if they're falling apart. Also, having a dirty car may just point out that you're on a long haul and not from around there making you a target. Trying to hide your plates with mud may also be a futile effort since anybody walking by will still easily be able to tell you have foreign plates, unless you completely cover them with mud, which will mean a lot more hassles at checkpoints. They'll probably even make you clean it off before they allow you to go on your way.