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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:


Ford Econoline

motorcycle (death wish?)

The only vehicle that I would recommend would be a Toyota 4Runner.
In addition to being able to withstand the punishment of bad roads in third-world countries, it is well-known enough in South America for you to be able to find parts in the event of a breakdown. With the second seat folded down, there should be room to sleep in the rear.

The vans that you mentioned are far too old to even be considered.

4runner is a good choice. What year would you recommend?

Yeah, the cars I like are on the older side, but realistically speaking something newish would be better.

What about renting or leasing?

Buy, Lease, or rent?

I met one of the guys here in Denver who did this trip:

You may want to look at their site. Toyota trucks can be repaired anywhere in the world.

Take this scenic road if you have time:

Thanks for the great links!
I wonder if I can get sponsored somehow…

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…

Nissans are much more popular abroad too. The Exterra offers that same capability as the 4runner for less money used. Problem for both is mileage. So, go with an extra cab 4cyl PU with a bed cap for sleeping.

Daunting but not impossible.
Why do you think that sleeping in a car is suicide? I plan on sleeping mainly outside of cities and/or in garages.

sometimes in a tent

Have you EVER traveled in the third world?? Slept outside in the Tropics?

Two stary eyed American college kids…As a ransom object, you two represent a $250,000 ransom request…Daddy will pay, right? They know that…If Daddy won’t pay, guess what happens to you…You speak excellent Spanish I hope. An absolute necessity for the kind of adventure you are planning…Your biggest expense will be vehicle costs and gasoline…Lots of very expensive gasoline…FORGET travelers checks, they are useless. You will need CASH or several ATM cards. Always have plan 2 sketched out. This could be a once in a lifetime adventure but it will take careful planning and lots of money to insure reasonable safety and comfort and avoid heartbreaking disappointment…

What kind of vehicle?? There is only one. A 4-cylinder stick-shift 4WD Toyota P/U. with a decent, secure, shell-camper. If you don’t start your journey with one, you will certainly end it with one, that or The Bus…(not a VW Bus, a public transportation bus)…

There was a Michigan couple who did a very similar trip and wrote about it on the web. Google & read their experience. They brought their dog, both an ice breaker with locals and protection. You will have to ship the car to south America . The road is not continuous so be prepared to pay and I assume smaller is better. More than 4 wheel drive I would look for something light and small. Also, possibly take an electric winch, Habor Freight tools sells a 2 ton for less than $100, and buy extra cable and a a hook or bolt at the end. Much of the road is very poor. You could then pull yourself out. Take a folding shovel as well. Finally, make sure the motor is relatively simple and low compression. You can burn bad gas and get repaired by more mechanics .

On motorcycles, I saw a number of them on Patagonia . If you don’t have experience riding a dirt bike over rough ground or a road bike over lots of rough road don’t think about it. Also, be prepared to make repairs yourself, most I saw looked like they were, they also were riding in groups. I saw no solo riders.

More on driving. I am an-ex ranch kid, ex-forestry firefighter who had seen huge differences in where you can go safely with identical vehicles depending solely in the driver. If I weretaking this trip I’d contact an off road school and see if I could get some private instruction in your vehicle as well as advice on tires, etc. Here is one in CA

pick ups are a bad idea. But I’ve been looking into the xterra, not sure which I like more the xterra or the 4runner.

great tips, thank you very much.

That trip around Darien Gap, I of course have never taken that trip. But, those who do, talk about a ferry, which is slightly different from “shipping” your car, at least in my opinion. Since I have not actually done it, I think you need to check it out.

VW Bug would be appropriate since they are still made in Mexico and South America and are simple to work on and easily pushed by hand. Find a book by someone who has made the trip… Oh, yes,… has anyone actually survived the trip?

The trans Canada highway is beautiful, and the Alcan highway is enough adventure for a lifetime: just a suggestion.