South America Drive

We chose a Toyota 4Runner for our South America Drive

December 15

“I can’t wait for our car. We feel so stranded in Montevideo. It is too expensive to rent often. We thought our vehicle would be here and we would be on our way to other parts of Uruguay. There is no vehicle available here that comes close to the one we shipped. Chris did a great job researching. We only drove it for 5000 miles back home, but we loved it.”



This post is long, but has lots of information. I had to ask Chris for the info – this is not my area.

Chris carefully chose a car that could be serviced in all of South America if needed. We have had routine maintenance done 6 times in 4 different countries. Toyota was well represented and we have repeatedly been happy with this choice. We had considered an older Range Rover, but finding parts would have been harder and we did not wish to do our own work on the car. Chris chose the Toyota 4Runner – Trail Edition. There are not many Trail Editions sold in the US (only 63 that year), but it had things we wanted.

The KDSS suspension was one upgrade that was available with the Trail Edition. Also, the exterior had durable thermal plastic parts instead of chrome. Not only was it chip resistant, we were happier having the less flashy matte black finish than the shiny chrome. We chose silver as the least flashy light color. The seats were covered in military grade nylon which we (dogs included) have tested yet still look like new. Plus, it came with additional crawl control (also known as hill descent). Other options we knew we wanted were the cargo cover, rear floor cover, and rubber mats.  Next, Chris added a cold air intake, locking lug nuts, and a 21 c.f. Yakima box (one of the largest available). Two things that came with our Trail Edition that we may not have chosen but have liked were the slide-out tailgate platform and navigation. Navigation gave us a nice touch screen for iPod controls. We have not really used the navigation controls since we are using TomTom and Garmin for SA.

We came to SA with a full toolbox, jumper-cables, tow strap & small tie-downs, hitch & balls, and air compressor. We considered a winch, but at $900 for just the mount, we decided to take our chances. And before our first border crossing, we purchased a First-Aid Kit, fire extinguisher, and an emergency triangle…then shortly after, we bought a second triangle (story for a later post).

Last and perhaps most important, Chris put on different tires. Although the original tires were very good, Chris wanted ones better suited to a wider range of terrain and conditions. He chose tires slightly larger than what was recommended; they occasionally rub when we turn sharply while braking. Chris bought 5 Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac 285/70R17 tires. When we recently replaced our tires after 30,000 miles, we chose the same ones. Chris says that if we were not facing icy mountain passes, he would have driven the old tires longer. We read of travelers that had numerous flats; we have not had a single one. We have traveled all kinds of roads. The most challenging were probably southern Chile’s Carretera Austral. We have driven most of Argentina’s Route 40, much of it unpaved. And we have driven the PanAmerican Highway from end-to-end in SA.

The PanAmerican Highway stretches from Alaska down to the southern end of Chile, the only gap in the road is between Panama and Colombia. This gap is known as the Darien Gap. If you drove down through Central America, you would have to deal with the Darien Gap. You need to ship your vehicle from Panama to Colombia. Some people have traveled the Darien Gap by motorcycle, but it is neither easy nor safe. The Colombian drug cartels are still active here. As of now, Panama has no plans to complete this section of road. Competition for The Canal?

Ironically, one of Chris’ major concerns when choosing South America for our adventure, was whether the road system was good enough to drive through most of the countries. Our Toyota has been perfect.

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