Many people purchase vehicles especially for their drive down the Panamerican Highway. Read more about how to purchase a vehicle in a foreign country, and what types of vehicles you might want to look for.
General Vehicle Selection Tips
Before you buy any vehicle, particularly in the USA, do your homework! Many vehicles, which a) are a common daily sight on American roads, and b) have a good reputation for reliability, will NOT be found ANYWHERE in South America!! NOWHERE! That means you won't get basic parts either! Until Panama you can find some older US vehicles as they import used vehicles from the US.
For countries further south I won't mention US national brands because not many of them are being exported. US models from "World ''market leaders''", like newer NISSAN and HONDA SUVs and pick-ups are also US-versions only, even almost every Toyota 4WD from the US is different in all its technology to what's being driven in South America. Your best bet to drive South America might be an old Volkswagen (pre 1990 or so), a Toyota 4-Runner, old Toyota HiLux pick-up (if you can find one), Subaru Legacy, or the standard Suzuki Vitara (despite its small engine - sold some places as Chevrolet). I saw along the way more Porsche Cayennes than any common US vehicle.
We bought a Ford F250 with the 7.3 liter Diesel for our trip = such a common and well respected vehicle in the States. I searched, and searched a little more, before committing to the truck, found videos and docos from Latin America with them in the picture, hence I thought we should be right... WRONG! You see quite a few Ford F250 (or more often F150), but most come either with the 5.4 liter gas engine (no 7.5 l either), or with a 3.9 liter CUMMINS Diesel engine (see http://www.ford.com.br or http://www.ford.com.ve/Camiones/F350/Introduccion). In both versions almost everything else is different, too: brakes, axles, gear box or transmission, the list goes on... In the end I guess with a Dodge RAM pick-up (thanks to its Cummins Diesel technology) we would have been better off! (this section by dare2go)
Purchasing a vehicle in California
Roadtrippers Zooey and Rianne flew to the United States and purchased a vehicle in California before driving south. This seemed to be a fairly painless process. Many used vehicle listings are available on Craigslist, which has separate listings for many different cities in California. You can easily look at the vehicle's history and estimated value by entering the vehicle's information at Kelly Blue Book. After finding a vehicle, it may be useful to look at the California Department of Motor Vehicle's buying and selling] website. You will need to transfer the ownership within 10 days from the date of purchase. You will need to do and/or have the following:
- Make an appointment (for faster service) to visit a DMV office with the following documents
- A properly endorsed title, also known as a pink slip, with the previous owner's signature on line one. If the vehicle is or was financed, line two of the title will also require a releasing signature. The vehicle mileage should also be disclosed on the title.
- A document proving the vehicle passed California's smog check test. Smog certifications are good for 90 days from the date of the inspection.
- You will also need to pay any tranfer fees and taxes.
- You will have to fill out a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability in order to transfer the vehicle into your ownership.
- You will also need insurance in order to receive your valid registration. If you care to renew your registration after a year and the car will not be in California, you can fill out a Certificate of Planned Non-Operation stating that the car will not be driven in California. As you won't likely don't want to pay insurance for the car in California as the car won't actually be there, you need to fill out this form as the DMV will cancel your registration if you don't have proof of insurance.
Selling a vehicle in Paraguay
We went to Cidade de Este (Paraguay) but decided to get a hotel on the Brasil side of the border because it is much safer. The first day we decided to go over on foot and take photos of our car to the potential purchasers and if they were interested then we would bring the car over. This worked not bad, but we did have to pay the motos guys to tour us around to the dealerships. If I was to do this again I would just drive across with the car. We didn´t have much luck at the beginning because everyone was saying that it was going to cost $1500 - $2000US to get the proper paperwork and plates for Paraguay. Also, they don´t have any Honda CRV´s in Paraguay. If you want to sell your car there you are much better getting a Toyota, there are everywhere! We found two dealers that were interested in the car and agreed upon a price of $2500US and went back to get the car the same day. They said that everything would be done that day, however, at the end of the day it was not. We went back to Brasil and then back again the next day to finalize the paperwork but this was also taking a long time, and the guy thought that it might take one more day. We decided to go to the aduana office at the border and enquire as to what this process was going to take to be completed. They looked at the registration of the car and said that in Paraguay you could not legalize a car that was more then 10 years old!! When we returned to the dealership and explained this to the owner, he offered to pay us $1500US for the scrap value, and we could take the ownership and plates home. We took the money and headed back to Brasil. We are not exactly sure what happened with this whole business transaction, either the guy was telling the truth or got the car for $1000 less but we do know that if you are going to do business in Cidade de Este you are going to have to endure some shady business practices. For us at the end of the day we were happy with the outcome, we sold the car and arrived back in Brasil alive. As we always say to each other the trip was not about selling the car and making money, the car was a means to an end and at the end we were able to get a little money to help buy another car when we get back home. If i was to do it again, i would check more of the scrap yards in Brasil, because people say you can get $1000US for a decent car and you won´t waste your money, sanity or energy going to Paraguay!
--Submitted by Alex
Selling a Vehicle in Chile
There is an importer at the Free Port here who can legally purchase vehicles from other countries or arrange for buyers. For more information, contact Alejandro Perez. He lives in Punta Arenas, Chile and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org
-- From Liz and Raul
edit: you can actually sell any "special purpose vehicle" legally anywhere in Chile, the important thing is the "special purpose". Lucky for us "Motorhomes" fall (together with crane trucks, ambulances, fire engines, etc.) under this category. You will not be able to sell your US-bought station wagon, SUV, or the likes, except in the two free trade zones (Iquique & Punta Arenas), prices there are low due to cheap imports coming in by the ship loads. There is a market for camper vehicles with strong demand (depending season) in Chile!
We sold our slide-in camper on a Ford F250 to a Chilean police man. I advertised the vehicle [in Spanish] on several online pages, among them vivastreet.cl. Before that we visited a dealer at Rancagua, km99 Ruta 5 Sur, Kunstmann of http://rodantes.cl/, but he is buying newer camper models.
We are travelling the Pan-American in a small van, which we converted to have storage and a bed. The problem with this set up is there is a relatively small air space which heats up quickly from two people and a dog inside. We can open the windows, but then mosquitos get in. Furthermore, we have no living space to cook, hide from rain, or write our blog.
If we were to do the trip again, we would buy an older diesel 4wd and put a camper on it, giving us the convenience of a fridge, netted windows, a table and a place to cook. With this set-up we would have saved a considerable amount of money from hotel and restaurant costs. With this in mind, the camper will probably put you over height and cost more to ship across the Darien Gap. (This section by Cam and Summer). For more info on how to find the right camper for your trip see here.
If you are considering driving a right-hand drive vehicle, there are some things to keep in mind. We chose a right-hand drive from Japan because we could get a 4WD Diesel Mitsubishi L400 Delica van, which is easy to find parts for.
- There are a lot of slow vehicles on the road that you need to pass, and therefore you need a partner to tell you when its safe, as the driver will see too late.
- El Salvador did not want to let our right hand drive into their country and after much pleading, we were given just a 24-hour transit permit.
- Headlights are designed to point slightly off the road, if your right hand drive hasn't been upgraded, they will point into traffic and you will constantly get flashed by people thinking you have your brights on.
- You can apparently get it converted to a left hand drive in Chile for ~$500 (this section Cam and Summer)
- Bolivia will not let right-hand-drive vehicles into the country at all.