What car would you buy to drive Route 66?

I have a 20 year old Dutch nephew who is flying over from Amsterdam in two days to live out a dream: he wants to buy a cheap car here in Chicago, and drive Route 66 to LA. (Kingman, Arizona, don’t forget Winona, etc.) He wants to spend between $2,000 and $4,500 and his criteria are: 1) he has to be able to fold down the seats to be able to sleep in the back on an air mattress. 2) reliable. 3.) nothing broken/needing repairs.

My inclination is to find something on Craigslist, go check out a few cars with him, maybe take it to a mechanic if the situation allows. Shouldn’t be too hard with a million cars for sale here. Then he will take one to two months to get there, visit people in California, then sell the car, somehow, and fly back home.

What would you get if you were 20 and were going to take this trip? What can he do to not take too big a hit on selling the car? TIA!

I think he would be way better off renting a car for this. It will cost much less to rent one and not worry about repairs and having to buy, register, insure and sell a car.


A ford focus might be ok, If one buys a car on craigslist make sure it can be inspected by an independent mechanic, and do so. There is a used car dealer near us, repairs all issues, and tells you what they did, brakes, cv joint, fluid services, ties, etc. and warranties the car for 90 days. Any car you buy on craigslist is probably going to need some work to make the trip,

Great idea. I wondered about that. However, as a 20 year old, and as a citizen of the Netherlands, who would rent to him? Plus, it would be a one way 2,500 mile rental… (I guess he could be motivated to Cannonball Run it back with a truckstop case of 5 hour Energy if that was the only way.) But if you got ideas, we’re open!

Has he considered renting a moving vehicle (Uhaul etc) for a one way “move” to CA?

That’s probably the cheapest and most convenient (no need to buy and sell vehicle, and there might even be help if he needs it)

and here are sites that might have helpful info

He should look into getting an international driver’s license. I have no idea about the laws driving in America from the Netherlands though. I was planning on getting an international license here in America which will enable me to drive in Thailand next time I go.

Great dream to have… (They smoke that funny stuff over there, right?) I hate to rain on the parade…

I’m pretty sure I could do that here in Florida, but Chicago? I’d have to believe that Chicago’s climate and road conditions are really tough on cars. I know because I lived in similar conditions for many decades. I do buy my cars used, but I have a pretty decent mechanical aptitude, have proper tools, and do my own repairs and maintenance

Mechanic check-out or not, there’s no real way of knowing whether the car will need repairs during the trip. A $2000 to $4500 car is probably going to be an older one and all bets are off because of age. Besides, any car in that price range is going to need some additional conditioning to make it as roadworthy as possible and it will cost some additional money for that.

Dutch nephew is coming in 2 days and is going car shopping? How soon does he want to depart? I would strongly recommend that with any car purchased it should be operated close to home for several days/weeks to catch any bugs that surface and take care of them.

Let’s put it this way, if you can find cars in that price range that are reliable, will pass a competent mechanic’s inspection, with nothing broken, and don’t need any repairs, buy all of them you can because you can flip them for $500 to $1000 profit. Those cars would be a dream come true for millions of people needing transportation.

I think this should be the least of any concerns, possibly not a consideration.

I hope I’m wrong and you’re right.
I hope you can easily buy a car that is like new, but at 10% of original price, total cost, and have it make a several month cross-country road trip. If this works out, please tell me your secrets.

Please take time to look over some of the other suggestions that were put forth.

I’m not sure how the nephew’s car insurance would work. I know with my own car insurance there are time limits on rentals, like a couple weeks. Buying rental car insurance by the day gets very expensive.

Be sure and check all that out before considering a rental.

A twenty year-old could have a problem renting any car.

Yep, he’s on it. It’s cheap and easy to do. I got one once before moving to Japan for a year (20 years ago.) Cost like $10 and looked homemade- on a piece of fold-out card stock with a list of 120+ countries that would accept it. Then I lived in Japan and bought a motorcycle there, and lived in New Zealand and bought two cars there, and in all that time, nobody ever, anywhere, ever asked to look at my international “license.”
We have arrangements to get him insured- not cheap but not too crazy- but getting a car registered as a non-resident may be the biggest challenge. I found out that for $10 he can get a 30 day temporary drive-away registration to get it out of state, but then to sell it in California, he would have to get it registered there somehow, which may not be doable. Maybe he could get it registered in a state along the way, somehow?

Thanks, great idea. I will look into it. And maybe he could break even on it by moving somebody’s stuff out west- so long as he doesn’t have to get their grand piano or pull-out sofa up to the third floor.

Well sounds like you guys have done some homework on this, so that’s good.
Look into the car rental and see which way will work out the best. I’d want to rent if it was just for a few months. Buying and selling a car can be a headache.

if he’s willing to consider the homework of helping someone move, he might also look into people who need a car (probably SUV or minivan) moved by driving from Chicago to LA (rather than paying a car transport service)

are you sure about that?
if he owns a car, he should have the car title with him when arriving in CA.
I might be wrong, but he should be able to sell the car with that title and the new owner brings that title to the DMV to get a new CA title and registration.

I think this person is going to be real disappointed . If he has read about the original Route 66 and what it was before real interstate highways there is just not enough of the R 66 to drive anymore.

Now if he just wants to see the sights in that general path that is different .

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A Dodge Caravan is probably the best one if you want to sleep in it. After his trip he can always sell it and get most of his money back. A European driver’s licenses should be OK. An international driver’s license is in 11 languages so any sheriff can read it.

Many years ago (1960) a German exchange student wanted to tour North America after graduation and before going back home.

We found a 1950 2 door stripper Pontiac 6 with manual transmission and no options, reasonably low mileage for about $200 or so. He bought me a sumptuous German dinner for my efforts.

In September I got a phone call from him just before he was leaving for Germany. He had covered 30,000 miles over the summer and toured throughout Canada and the US. He spent $28 on repairs but otherwise the car performed well. He sold it for $150 I believe.

Will a vehicle bought in Chicago , IL. sold in California have to have an emissions test ? That could be a problem if it does not pass.

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40 years ago, when I was hitchhiking, I spent a few days with a German young-fellow who bought an old beater and drove it around the US for a few months. @VOLVO_V70 is right about the current state of 66 (I live on it.) He’s heard the song or seen the show or something: I’d pick a different route. Considering that I’ve driven, bicycled, hitch-hiked, train-hopped all over and still have a bunch of maps, I could think about it for him.

Thanks for all the input, CSA. I am putting a note in my calendar for July to follow up after he has made the trip or gotten kidnapped/killed/married/or seen the light and joined some hippie cult in New Mexico. Look for that!

Another approach would be to tell him to spend no more than $500 on a car and save the rest for repairs/towing/bribes/bus tickets/Uber. (Hell, maybe taking an Uber all the way would work best!)

I bet just about any beater $500 Honda would make it. And if it breaks down, big deal. He’d learn how to fix an alternator with a band-aid and some gum, and he’d have a place to sleep until he does. I’m sure he wants to go home with some good stories to tell, which is why I plan to pick him up at the airport with a big sign that says “WELCOME HOME FROM PRISON!”

I think he will take a big hit on selling the car, particularly since he won’t want to wait around weeks to get the best price for it. All the more reason to buy a beater!


Right, V70, I’m a little worried about that. I grew up near the start of Rte. 66, and it was a dump then and is a worse dump now. There’s a section near the quarries and industrial armpit of the Southwest Side that is blocked off with Jersey barriers for a mile or two, but is still marked on google maps as “Historic Route 66.” He’s a smart cookie, though, and I think he’ll make the most of it. I don’t think he’s expecting to be living in a 1980s music video version of the 1950’s with a '57 Chevy and everything…

Be our guest, Random Troll! I’ve thought about piecing together a route for him with some highlights, but I’m sure you could do a better job! Then put it online! L.A. (then San Francisco) is his only concrete goal as far as I know.