Category Archives: buying and selling a car in south america

Things to consider when choosing your family’s overland vehicle

The carrera terra austral Patagonia....rks in progr
The carrera terra austral Patagonia….bitumen to come


2WD or 4WD?

Do you really need a 4WD to road travel? Well, yes and no….. We have been to many countries where a 2WD capable vehicle, would do just fine. My 20 year old hatchback, could drive down almost all of the dirt or unpaved roads we have been on. In some countries, there are road  works currently in progress to better the road conditions.   In a few years, even the carrera terra austral in Patagonia will probably be all bitumen. However, until this happens, a top heavy vehicle with low clearance, won’t make it on the dirt roads.  So, it really also depends on what sort of 2WD vehicle you have…. you may be able to drive a motor home slowly along a dirt road if you need too but you wouldn’t want to drive 500 kms of it!  We tried initially..see blog: our 12 day motor home nightmare.  You are risking damaging the vehicle, getting lots of flat tyres or worse, getting stuck. A 2WD van would be more durable.

Then there are some countries where you just simply can’t go without a 4WD – e.g. Mongolia (most of the country has basically no roads – your following wheel tracks), Far east Russia, and some of the Stan’s in central Asia. So, first ask yourself where do you want to go – e.g. which country/continent, and then ask yourself, where do you really want to go once there e.g. countryside, national parks, off road etc.

Crossing the high Atlas Mountains on a 4WD track
Crossing the high Atlas Mountains on a 4WD track

The highlight of our Moroccan road trip was spending a week driving on an off road track through the desert and also trying some off road tracks in the high atlas mountains. We only passed about 4 or 5 other cars during our desert time (compared to 1000s along the bitumen inland and coastal roads) and got to wild camp (I mean really wild camp in the desert with no-one else around, rather than camp in a car park with 50 others). It felt like a real adventure. Whilst in Morocco, we spoke to other road trippers who kept telling us how bad the roads were when in our 4WD we hadn’t even noticed.

A 4WD gives you the capability to go off road and find somewhere discrete to camp, or even a really nice location to visit that’s off the main road.  During our central Asia trip, we camped in all sorts of places off the main road, and we were able to get to places (e.g. across a river) to camp where other 2WD/locals couldn’t get to – sometimes for both peace of mind and safety.

4WD’s come in all shapes, sizes and capabilities.   A 4WD is more than just having 4 wheels that drive.   Factors such as clearance, size of tyres and weight carried, can all affect the vehicle’s performance and ability off road. Whatever you decide, consider both the potential and the limitations of any 4WD vehicles; whether it be a van, truck or overloading a 4WD car/pick up (Ute) with a top heavy camper.

A travellers converted fire truck home...your imagination is the limit!
A travellers converted fire truck home…your imagination is the limit!

Can you live without your creature comforts; fridge, shower, satellite t.v.?

I didn’t think I could live without a fridge (I’m a cheese freak, my husband a beer one!)    Our Engel fridge in our car back home was in place and  ready for any camping or weekend trip away.  Do you know what?  It was always full…. However I have discovered during our time overseas that I  can live quite happily without a fridge. It hasn’t meant that  we have stopped eating or buying cold storage products, instead,  anything  bought is eaten and cooked within a day or so.    Most countries stock UHT milk rather than fresh milk so this is easy storage.

A shower however, well nothing quite beats a hot shower with a strong jet. This is not to say that I would get one in a travelling vehicle… filling up every inch of space in a camper is not ideal. A heavy and over loaded vehicle even if it is a 4WD does not necessarily equate to stable and/or practical.   Most people we spoke to who did have a shower, rarely used it, and rather it became  storage space.  Even if you did fit out a shower, at best it would be a trickle…… There are camp-sites available almost everywhere, and  these are often full of self contained vehicles!    Many road travellers even those fully contained will usually stop at a structured campsite, even if its every 2/3 days – to access power, water or for the security, social aspect it provides.  Most camp-sites will have a shower/toilet block to use although I cant guarantee it will be hot water or clean!

However, there are always other ways to wash that will do the trick if you don’t want to stand under a cold shower jet.   Be creative – go for a swim, have a bucket/flannel wash, carry a solar shower pouch or do as the locals do – have a bath at the local bath house (private showers in Mongolia for $1), the baths in Turkey, hammans in Morocco, the saunas in Russia. Washing kids is easy – buckets/baby baths/standing in the sun with a water container….  Even at 2 and 4 yo, my kids could still fit sitting together in a baby bath we borrowed from a neighbouring family, they thought it was hilarious and fun.

Save yourself the money and space and go for the cultural as well as the cleaning experience.

In terms of everything else; ask yourself if it really is a must have.   The bigger your vehicle, the more space to fill, and believe me, you will fill it!

Location and purpose

Camping in the middle of ruta 40, Argentina
Camping in the middle of ruta 40, Argentina

Where and how do you want to travel?

Some of our  trip highlights have been going to places where others can’t go so easily.  Fewer tourists and fewer people equals more remote, and in my opinion, a nicer experience.  If you do meet a local, you might even have a genuine interaction.

Getting to the good bits, chile's national parks
Getting to the good bits, chile’s national parks

In Patagonia, there were few motor homes. Partly because of the shipping costs and partly because you couldn’t drive the kms needed to, on the dirt roads.   We chose a 4WD and camped, it was summer time and lovely. We enjoyed touring the national parks and being outdoors in some breathtakingly  natural and scenic environments.  See blog: overland vehicle choices when buying in South America.


However, in Morocco, camping in a tent was not so nice. This time, we bought our 4WD in England.  Structured camp-sites are made for motor homes and are essentially glorified car parks.  Free camping is not so easy and/or practical with a tent.  In addition, it was winter: warm and sunny, but early cooler evenings.  In this situation, we would have liked a contained lock up vehicle – to be able to either camp in structured sites or have the freedom to really park anywhere.    It would’ve  been useful to have the choice to drive even after dark and be able to stop for the night and get into bed without setting up a tent.  You could even buy a reasonably cheap motor home/van in Europe, as there is the variety available – every brand and year you could think of.  For a family of 3 or 4, a pop top or hard top van or 4WD is a reasonable option with enough bed and seat space.

If you are considering a road trip in Europe or North America, you have predominately bitumen/paved roads so that a 4WD would be unnecessary and plenty of infrastructure exists for motorhome travellers such as free camper overnight stops.

When considering a vehicle, imagine how you might be perceived in the local country. Do you really want to stand out? What do you think locals see when you drive by in your €150,000++  convertible travelling home…. Even for a westerner from an affluent country like me, it seems like an inconceivable amount of money to spend.

Imagine locals in some of the poorer countries of the world where there are many more people than cars.   In Morocco, we gave 3 women a ride in our car (yes 3 women squeezed in the front seat next to my husband) when they flagged us down. They were already  walking (in the middle of nowhere), when we saw them and had another 8 kms to travel carrying heavy packs on their heads. They had no car, not even a donkey to help them carry their heavy load. Suddenly we felt very wealthy in our £3000 Land rover.   In Mongolia, we often had locals ask how many people slept in my sister in law’s rooftop tent, surely not just one?!   We would often see old Russian jeeps pull up, and could not believe the number of adults who would emerge….5, 6, 7, 8! was like a bottomless car..

Period of travel and budget

Think of the period you will be travelling for, are you doing a long extended trip or a short one?  Is it worth spending a significant amount of money on a travel vehicle you will only  use for a short time…what about the re-sale value?  Will you need to sell the vehicle quickly?

Some people will travel for 3 months every  year and want a vehicle that’s well set up and ready to go that they will use for the next 10 years…. In Australia, people love caravans because you don’t have the huge registration costs and expense of another vehicle to maintain.

If its an extended trip – how long for?  Do you plan on road tripping the whole time or stopping somewhere for a few weeks/months?   The money saved in not buying an expensive convertible home could buy you months/years of accommodation in some places – especially when negotiated for a longer period.  While in Morocco, we got to stay in ryiads in some of the city medinas, and in Patagonia in cosy log cabins when we needed to (in times of bad weather, in cities, or simply for a treat).

If you want a stable familiar space for you and the kids – what size do you need?   How much are you prepared to spend for the initial outlay?  This is on top of your daily travel expenses.

We managed to 4WD and camp for a period of 3 months each in two different continents.  This was fine, although any longer, e.g. 6 months to one year of continuous road travel and a mobile home is looking good!

At the end of the day, your budget will determine what vehicle you can afford. Whilst being self contained helps to reduce costs e.g. accommodation, eating out etc, there are still costs to consider. Yes we met road travellers who rarely paid for accommodation (camp-sites or other) but most people we saw still parked in structured camp-sites where we were staying with our tent.

An affordable way to roadtrip in south america
An affordable way to roadtrip in south america


There are lots of affordable motor homes and converted vans available in Europe (less so in South America). However, a brand new motor home or self converted 4WD truck camper can cost anywhere from $100,000 – 200,000.

We met a traveller in a custom made 4WD truck after doing a desert off road crossing In Morocco.   We found out that he had driven one section of the  off road track we had, but then he decided to re-route back to the  bitumen road because it was too rocky (and it was). However, by doing so, he missed the best bit of the track – a second, more interesting and less rocky leg.   He had invested so much in a vehicle he had purpose built for exactly this sort of off road driving, yet the potential costs of any tyre or body damage was far too great that it outweighed the experience and the reality.  It didn’t matter so much to us, if our £3000 car, (with a couple of dents already) got another one. It didn’t even matter if we re-sold the car for £2,000 and lost £1,000  at the other end…it was a small scale risk. The more expensive the investment, the greater the liability and the greater the financial loss when things do go wrong.

Family size

So, what’s the size of your family? It can difficult to find a suitable vehicle that seats and sleeps 4 people without being oversized. However, if family size and comfort is your main consideration, then there are a multitude of options from vans, trucks, motor homes etc -the list and variety is endless. In some cases, e.g a smaller van and pop or hard top but be suitable.  It might be difficult to find one wide enough to sleep across so that your tall members of your family can fit…for example, my husband stands at 187cm tall.   It might just require a test sleep before you buy one!

What’s your style/personality?

Different countries will have different trends when it comes to road travel. In Australia, your lucky if you see a motor home – caravans, tents, campervans are all the rage.   In Europe/north Africa, there are lots of different vehicles but motor homes are topping the list in popularity – its the new holiday home.   It doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Find out what you like, what’s available and choose your style!  After all,  you and your family will be the ones travelling and living in it 24/7.

What would we choose?

We weren’t completely sold on spending our extended travel period, driving.  We liked the idea in theory, but we weren’t sure the practicality of long term road travel was for us.  Our youngest son was 1 when we started and not a big fan of extended periods in the car.  We also were keen to explore other continents and other ways of travelling.  We were interested in sailing and walking.   However, if we were to go on a one or two year road travelling trip or even if we wanted regular road trips to be part of our home life, these are options we would consider and our must have list….

Our list

  • 4WD e.g off road capable
  • can fit in a standard car park – gives us the flexibility to park anywhere – in a town, city, countryside, etc.
  • simple fit out (bed, sink, cooker, maybe fridge/portable toilet.
  • walk through cab
  • encourage greater outdoor living – cook inside or out and eat/play out
  • have a contained lock up space to sleep in
  • most likely pop top to fit beds for family of four, but be able to all sleep without pop top up- even if it means one mattress on the floor!
  • affordability
  • light!!  Windows that open
  • can fit in a container for shipping purposes
  • think less rather than more – keeping our “stuff” to a minimum: no overloading the vehicle
  • Some vehicles we have considered – 4WD ambulance, 4WD pop top, small ex military 4 or 6WD vans

What did we buy?

After almost two years of travel, meeting lots of other single, couple, families road tripping across two continents, seeing other vehicles/conversions (talking to lots of German and dutch travellers who can be creative and innovative when it comes to vehicles)  and simply working out what would be best for us given our preferences and experiences,  we think we have found the perfect vehicle for future road trips…we are in the process of trying to work out how and if we can import it into Australia….if we can, we will let you know about it!!






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…..!!!