Buying and selling a car (in a day), the Chilean way

Our 4WD Nissan pathfinder: served us well for 4 months
Our 4WD Nissan pathfinder: served us well for 4 months

During our 5 months in South America, we bought and sold two vehicles (privately) in Chile for our travels. The first was a motor home (see blog: our 12 day motor home nightmare: but don’t let that put you off), the second a Nissan pathfinder. You could travel in a capable 2WD vehicle ensuring you go real slow on the dirt roads to avoid punctures ( we did meet travellers who had hired a 2WD drive doing the same roads as us).   A 4WD however, gives you the freedom to go more places especially hard to reach camping spots, off track.  It provides more opportunities for wild camping rather than structured campsites/carparks.   There are  a wide range of cars to choose from in Santiago, and these are quite affordable, compared with say, Argentina or even home (Australia).

It is possible to buy and sell a car privately if you wish. It is a fairly straightforward, simple and easy process. You don’t necessarily have to go through a dealership. In fact, we found that when it comes to doing the paperwork – its a one day job. I have provided a simple step by step process further on.

The actual buying/selling process takes a bit longer as there can be a bit of back and forth tennis communication going on, and locals can be quite hard to pin down – even when your the one trying to buy something from them. You may have to call/ text several times, just to lock in a time and then feel guilty when after the 10th call, the person tells you, can they call you back in 5 minutes, they are just coming out of church…….

We discovered that  locals tend to prefer phone contact rather than email or text (even though we requested email contact to help us with the communication process – google translate works wonders). But no, locals generally want to call and talk about it and you will get less interest if you only limit yourself to email communication.

Expect late night calls – yes even at 11pm, lots of questions, before someone even considers coming to look at the car. However, the one person who does come and look at the car, is likely to buy it – unless there is something drastically wrong – like its missing an engine or something. Both times we sold our vehicles, we also had what seemed to be serious offers to buy the car without seeing it. Cars seem to move quite quickly in the Santiago market place.

The biggest issue you’ll face is trying to organise appointment times for viewing. You’ll usually get the “ call me later, tomorrow, that afternoon, etc and see how we go..” either people are really busy, waiting for better offers or they are on the same merry go round as everyone else ( who are also being non committal) to make a time with you. No one really seems to know what they are doing tomorrow, until tomorrow comes.

In fact, we allocated times of 1-2 hours apart for 3 people to come and view our car one afternoon, and somehow all three managed to turn up within 5 minutes of each other.. It was a bit embarrassing but hey, the car got sold that day with very little negotiation. A private sale can maximise the price you can get for the vehicle, and if you have a couple of weeks up your sleeve before leaving the country, than it can be worth the extra little effort.

While there may be some fluffing around which happens during the pre sale, once you’ve bought or sold a car, the locals spring into action. Somehow, taking a day off work the very next day to complete the paperwork is no issue, neither is the inconvenience of suddenly not having a car. We went to view our 1998 Nissan pathfinder, agreed to buy it for $7,000US and the very next day it was ours with the authorisation papers. We left Santiago a day later. When we returned in 4 months we were able to sell it easily (in one week) at a loss of only $400US. Not bad when you consider the outrageous hire price for the same period.

While travelling through Patagonia, we saw many backpackers travelling by bus/ hitch hiking (it can get quite competitive and we sometimes passed 10 couples/individuals trying to hitch a ride). We also met other travellers who had bought or hired a car (depending on length and period of travel) and were camping/sleeping in the back of the car.  If you want to get to the National Parks and see the countryside (which is stunning by the way) rather than the towns..than having your own wheels is a good way to do it.   We did see some motor homes, mainly European imports, but nothing like the number of motor homes/campers you would see travelling through Europe/North Africa.  I gather the cost of shipping wouldn’t be so cheap…

Here is some practical information about buying a car in Santiago (Chile) to begin your road trip through South America.

What you need to purchase a vehicle as a foreigner

Obtain a RUT (Rol Unico Tributario) number

A RUT number is like an ID number. You need it to buy/sell a car, even to purchase a mobile phone or a BAM (internet access stick for laptop). Its useful, free and easy to apply for.

Apply at the office of: Servicio de Impuestos Internos (SII office). The office you visit will depend on where you are based whilst in Santiago. We went to the office at: Padre Alonso de Ovalle 680, which is the regional office for Santiago Centro (barrios of Centro, Independencia and Recoleta). For other office locations check out: Scroll to S for Santiago.

Office hours are usually 8.30am – 14.00. Go early, bring your passport. Walk in, fill in the paperwork and you will leave with a piece of paper which is your temporary RUT number. Carry it with you and guard it with your life until you get your permanent ID card. This can can be mailed to you or picked up from the original office 3 months later.

NB:  You can buy or sell a car with the temporary RUT paperwork.

Where to look?

Private sales

We searched the popular local websites;

Chile autos and


There are traveller websites such as lonely planet thorntree forums where those finishing their south american road trip can post vehicles for sale.

Note: When going out to view private car sales you may need to bring your own GPS as taxi’s can get lost when heading out of Santiago centre..!


Dealers generally sell cars on consignment, and you’ll find lots to look at. It may mean the paperwork takes about 3-5days but everything is generally taken care of.

There are various dealers and you can peruse popular areas such as Avienda Las Condes or Irarrazaval Av.

We also went to visit a Nissan car dealer, who spoke good English and was helpful.carlos verdugo

 Purchasing a vehicle

So you’ve chosen a vehicle, checked it out, negotiated the price (may not be much negotiating…) – what next?

Accessing Money:

ATM’s in Santiago will only dispense 200.000 Chilean pesos at a time ($400US). Plan for this when organising your payment/pick up time!

Most people will not want you to come with wads of cash that they carry back to their home or office, so organise a “vale vista” (bank cheque/money order) at the bank.

Complete the transfer of sale

To transfer the car in your name or vice versa as a foreigner,  you will need to visit a notorio to complete the paperwork. If you were a local you could do the paperwork at the main registry office for $40US!

There are notorios everywhere and both times we went to one located near the vehicle. The local person you are buying/selling from can even help with finding one. The average cost is about $200 – 300US, but they lodge all the paperwork and take the necessary paperwork required from you – no hassles. Both parties need to go to the notorio together preferably first thing in the morning, because it can get hectic. Usually the person buying the car pays the notorio fees but we paid for the notorio fees when selling our car also because a local doesn’t have to go to a notorio, however we do.   Locals can  chose to do so because they want to ensure all is done well from a legal perspective but they could just as easily pay $40 and go to the main registro office…Your call/negotiation.

The car paperwork will take approximately 15 working days to transfer into your name. You will need the official paperwork before you cross borders but you can travel within Chile with the temporary one. You can get the paperwork posted to a forwarding address or do as we did – we visited the local registro civil office in the town we were in, pre crossing the border and got a print out from there.

Ownership/other paperwork to do with the car

You will soon discover that the servicio de registro civil is where it all happens: birth, death, marriage certificates, passports, car paperwork etc… Its a one stop government shop. So your official paperwork will be issued by this office. The main one in Santiago centro is: Servicio de registro civil: Huerfanos 1570, Santiago. Go to for other region locations.

Permiso de circulacion

This is the yearly registration (tax) cost for the vehicle, paid end of March. We sold our car start of March before we had to worry about any additional costs. Why not do the same?

Revision tecnica

The car’s safety inspection certificate. Again, check when this was completed last, and when its due again.

You can request a “ certificado de anotaciones para vehiculos motorizado” which shows any violations, parking fines etc outstanding on the vehicle.

Heading off

Car insurance is not compulsory in Chile. It is compulsory in Argentina and other South American countries, and can be easily organised before you cross the border through MAPFRE – we did this online before crossing the border (you will need a print out of your insurance – don’t just flash the document on your computer around!). We also noticed as we neared the border of Chile/Argentina (especially on the main/popular border crossings) signs advertising : segurios obligatarios – insurance available to buy at various shop locations. You can either check country by country or organise insurance to cover you for your entire south America period through: MAPFRE (it does most of South America, but double check) or falabella (local Chilean department store)


To enter or exit Santiago, you will need to purchase a day pass (toll fee) which can be done prior or within a 24 hour period at a servipag office in Santiago: or you can find automated booths at  major COPEC fuel stations. Just make sure you know your car registration details!

Any other toll fees are paid at toll booths in cash.


Pre pay service fuel. Attendants fill up for you!

Crossing borders

The paperwork that matters is your RUT number, official transfer sale document and insurance if required (and of course your personal document/passport). Make sure that the car information is typed correctly when crossing borders by the immigration official. The Argentine official at the border had made a typo error when entering our number plate. So, instead of owning a Nissan pathfinder, it came up as a completely different model car altogether. The police at a random checkpoint picked it up, questioned us about it (sensitive to illegal importation of cars given the ridiculous price difference) but accepted it as a one number typo error…

Selling a car

RUT: You can sell your car with either a temporary or permanent RUT. So if you finish your trip before you receive your permanent ID card (in 3 months), that is okay. Make sure you still have your temporary RUT paperwork. Most importantly is  the official document of car ownership in your name (15 working days to obtain at any servicio registro civil).


We advertised in both Chile autos (free) and Mercardolibre websites (paid). We also posted on a couple of traveller forum websites and made up some flyers to place in various city hostels, especially as we were giving away some of our camping gear with the car. The best response was from the local private websites. We got lots of interest even after the vehicle was sold. You will get a good response if advertised for the right price…check out the competition online before you advertise.

Buy back

When you are looking at buying a car from a dealer they may offer a “buy back” from you at a reduced cost (a % loss). This sounds very attractive to a short/medium term traveller and may influence your purchase of the vehicle…e.g. The car has only been bought and its already sold! Just keep in mind, it may or it may not happen. If it does, than it’s another great option to consider when selling.

We had our dodgy backyard dealer (when we bought our motor home) tell us he would happily buy the motor home back from us, which was a complete croc. He didn’t want anything to do with it and we came to understand why…. So, when buying a car, would you still buy it if not for the attractive offer of a buy back? E.g. is it a good reliable car, or if you don’t care for it to be,  then is it worth what you are paying for it?


Visit the servicio registro civil for the “certficado de anotaciones vigentes” (document with all the particulars of the vehicle – current/past owners etc) prior to the visit to the notorio – usually the morning of the sale.

Visit the notorio, but this time as a seller, not the buyer.

Get the cash, and congratulate yourself for a smart cost effective way to travel and don’t spend it all at once…..!!!