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International Road Trip San Francisco, California to Patagonia, Argentina. What car should I buy?!

Hello Cartalkers! I desperately need your advice.

I’m taking a roadtrip with my girlfriend in the spring of 2012 that will start in San Francisco California, go down the western coast of the Americas, all the way down to the southern most tip of South America, the Patagonia, and up the eastern side, and probably end in San Diego, Ca.

What car should I buy/rent? Please consider my small budget as I am a college student. Any tips? Also, both of us plan on sleeping in the car or in a tent next to the car for the majority of the trip.

TL;DNR: very long road trip spanning most of the western hemisphere. Sleeping in car. What car to take? Extra tips?

Things to consider:


Sturdiness, ease of maintenance, cheap parts

Sleeping arrangement

Cars I’m considering, so far:

VW bus

Ford Econoline

motorcycle (death wish?)

My vote would be for a Toyota pickup truck with a cap or maybe a Toyota 4Runner.

That’s a good suggestion above. Any small pickup with a cap, new or used, should serve you well. Second choice would be a minivan with removable rear seats. Good luck.

Ford Econoline.

You won’t be able to rent anything.

I have known people to do it in older SUV’s like Ford Explorer fine. I think you may have more luck with an older Toyota 4runner in terms of familiarity to mechanics down there. They also are incredibly well suited to the purpose.

Make sure it is thoroughly looked over before leaving. The roads can be very hard on vehicles down there in my experience.

Ford Econoline for sure. You got two seats up front (perfect for driving and watching the view) And you got the whole back to design! You can put a mattress a small tv, anything you want and sleep in the comfort of your van. The E series is extremely reliable and a dependable ride. The A/C is great for those hot south american days.

A minivan will get torn to pieces. Only maybe a Chevy Astro or Ford Aerostar on truck frame should be considered.

Many roads in central/south are in very poor condition once off the Pan American highway.

A Nissan Pathfinder (86-97) would also be a good choice. Get one with 4wd. Look at putting on the largest high profile size tires you can get, at least 75 series tires. You may be able to put 225-75 15 on it. Make sure AC works and look at putting in an aftermarket radio with an i-pod or MP3 option, you will want your own music. Consider a satellite radio to keep up with the news.

See if you can find a phone card that allows international calls from the countries you will be going through, just in case you need to call home, and of course, you will need a Visa card. They are generally more accepted than MC or American Express.

Toyota Land Cruiser…or 4 Runner…or Toyota Pickup with a cap (Tacoma TRD) ALL 4WD of course. Nothing and I mean nothing can beat a Toyota Truck for reliability and toughness…There is a very good reason you always see them in the Arctic, in the Desert and in the Jungles of the far corners of the Globe. They were built for that sort of thing and are no secret to people living in rough places.

If you went with any Toyotie Truck from the 80’s or 90’s they would be very familiar to most any mechanic you mite come across. Those trucks are a staple in 3rd world areas. I think the Tacoma with its truck bed will suit you…depends on how many people are going and how much gear you are bringing… With 2 people the pickup should suit you…there are almost endless rigs you can use when camping out in a pickup truck bed…Tho with a cap you get limited…if the bed was open they make things you can rig up in and on the back of pickup beds…the variety is endless. A FULL size pickup bed with a cap could house both of you…hopefully the other person is a Female as it would be a little “Brokeback Mountain” on you with 2 guys squeezed in a mid size pickup bed with a cap…

Man I wish I could go with you…now thats a ROAD TRIP MAN!!!.. AND I’m a Mechanic…nothing like having your own on board mechanic…eh?

Do you think it’ll be able to handle the rough roads?

Are all Astro’s and Aerostar’s built on truck frames? Im definitely worried about the offroad capabilities.

Thanks for the advice. I’m putting the Pathfinder on my list.

There is no road between Panama and Columbia…The Darien Swamp…You will have to ship the vehicle between Colon, Pamama and Buenaventura, Columbia…The cost of this adventure, the difficulty and expense of obtaining the necessary vehicle import permits and insurance is daunting…You will be lucky to make it to Panama…Sleeping in the car?? That’s suicide…

I also think a pickup + cap is the way to go. An Econoline is huge for the narrow winding roads, isn’t (usually) 4wd, and uses LOTS of gas.

It seems like everyone’s loving on the 4 Runner. I would have liked a little more space, but I think being able to handle the road is more important.
However, I don’t link the truck idea because it separates me from my stuff while driving. Also, I’d hate to have the truck stolen while asleep in the back. Trucks are a popular target for thieves.

On board mechanic would be sick. It would be really interesting if I could get a lot of people together and caravan. Originally, the roadtrip was a solo or maybe a 2 person trip, but perhaps it could be a large caravan. My only problem is that I’m a photographer and as such would like to stop randomly, and of course the freedom of not having to adhere to a caravan, but perhaps if the caravan gets big enough it won’t matter.

yeah, but the two gas tanks and very spacious size sound very nice. Although crossing the Bolivian Road of Death in a Econoline would be extra scary.

Why is sleeping in the car suicide? just stay outside of cities or in garages.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Aerostar is on a Ford Ranger platform and Astro shares it with the S10 pickup. Both have AWD available.

You can pay $10-$15 nite for places with inside parking.

Theft is very high especially in certain places for Gringo cars with US plates.

I have dual citizenship with Mexico, so I’m going to get Mexican plates on the car hahaha.

You have to remember as far as parts go, many of the places you visit mechanics may think 3 out of 5 lug nuts is fine on the mountain roads. 70’s or 80’s vintage chevy etc you might be able to find a mechanic.