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Drive the Americas: How to Choose the Right Vehicle to Travel the Continent

Once I had finally decided to realize my dreams of embarking on a Patagonia-bound adventure, I had to figure out which vehicle to take with me.  Since my current vehicle at the time was still financed by the bank, taking it would be an almost impossible task.  Why wouldn’t you be able to take a currently financed vehicle with you?  Simple.

 

If you’re still making payments on a vehicle a bank or a finance company, you are probably aware that are not the “true” owner of said vehicle.  In order for you to take a vehicle out of the country, the real owners (the bank), would need to provide you with a written letter indicating that you have their permission to do so.  They may allow you to do this depending on whatever subjective criteria the bank decides applies.  A very obvious reason to deny you this permission letter is that if you decide to stop making payments on the vehicle, for whatever reason, it will be very difficult for the bank to repossess it.

 

In the off chance that you’re the brother or sister of the president of the bank holding the lien on your vehicle, there is still the issue of having to convince foreign border authorities that the bank’s letter is, in fact, authentic.  Even if you do manage to convince them, the legal requirements for that country may stipulate that the only valid document accepted is the original title, with your legal name on the dotted line.

 

In order to avoid hassles at each border crossing, I chose to sell my vehicle back to the dealership where I had originally bought it from.  Then, I purchased a clean-title, lien-free vehicle.  I’ll cover the vehicle I chose and what steps I took to make it road-ready in a later post.

 

Here are the five main points you need to consider when looking at whether your current vehicle will be suitable for the trip.

 

 

CHOOSING A VEHICLE

 

1) Off-Road Capabilities

It helps if you can buy the baddest, most awesome off-terrain vehicle you can find, though that is not really necessary.  While having 4×4 (all-wheel drive) capabilities come in handy should you ever need them, you’ll most likely be able to (hopefully) avoid roads that require them.  If it’s within your budget, find yourself a vehicle that is 4×4 equipped.  As it’s often said, better have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

 

2) Parts Availability

Choose a vehicle that is well-known and sold throughout most countries you intend to drive through.  Durable Japanese brands, such as Toyota, are preferred and American ones, such as Ford and GM, while well established, may be the second best option.  One thing to note here is that it’s best to avoid, if possible, US-only versions of well-known vehicles.

 

Also, stay away if you can from not-yet-universal brands, such as Hyundai, or fancy car-makers, such as Land Rover.  While these companies produce excellent vehicles, locating parts may be a bit of a challenge should your car break down.  Research car forums for the particular manufacturer you’re interested in and take note of what are the most common parts to wear out or go bad on you.  If possible, take replacements of sensors and other hard to find electronics with you and a copy of your vehicle’s repair manual.  It may help you or a mechanic down the road, should you ever need one.

 

3) Gas Mileage

While gas is relatively inexpensive in North America, prices go up considerably in most countries further South.  A gas-guzzler may be really comfortable and have all the bells and whistles, but you will pay dearly because of the added weight of the vehicle.  Take a look at FuelEconomy.gov to compare various makes and models and to find out the estimated gas mileage for each model you’re considering.

 

4) Comfort

Another variable that doesn’t seem that big of a deal until you have driven hundreds of miles over bumpy, jarring terrain, are your vehicle’s ergonomics.  Make sure that the seats and driving position are really comfortable and test them out on trips longer than quick jaunts to the corner supermarket.  A sore back and numb butt can take the enjoyment out of the most beautiful scenery.

 

5) Vehicle Styling

Here is where I advise you to stay away from traveling in the latest luxury SUV, or choosing one with the bright yellow paint job.  It is not a smart move to travel in a vehicle that attracts attention if you don’t know the area well and specially one that screams “Hey!  Look at me!  I’m LOADED with cash!”  The more you can blend into your environment, the less interest you will attract your way from both police and thieves (which may be one in the same, depending where you are).

 

What about campers and similar vehicles?

 

Taking a camper, if you can afford the added fuel cost, is a great alternative.  The benefits are that you will be able to save a lot of money otherwise spent on hotel accommodations.

 

Besides the fuel bill, the negatives are that you need to plot your course in advance and have a plan as to where you will park your vehicle during overnight stays.  You’ll also be forced to stick to the main roads, which is not a bad idea in and of itself.

 

Whichever vehicle you end up choosing, make sure it adjust to your needs, rather than the other way around.

 

*Top picture via Flickr @ indigoprime

About Rich Polanco

Fan of dogs + all things tech. Love a great pizza. My goal is not to travel to every country in the world. I only want to get to know my favorite ones REALLY well. Check out the big bio here. Follow @RichPolanco and connect on Facebook.
Currently exploring: Guatemala.

Comments

  1. Cilene says:

    Thanks for the interesting insight!

    • Rich Polanco says:

      You’re welcome! Keep me updated if you decide to make the trip yourself!

      -Rich

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