When we arrived to the mystic north of Chile (San Pedro de Atacama) we quickly became obsessed with the idea of buying a car and driving it all the way to The End of The World (Ushuaia). We were travelling with a couple of close friends from Australia at the time and thought it would be a cheaper and more adventurous way of navigating the Patagonian wilderness. We dreamt of camping roadside under glittering skies and feasting on fly caught trout BBQd on a travel-sized parilla.
While that dream came true to some extent (the trout was plentiful), moments often teetered towards nightmarish and there were many things we wish we had known.
This guide is designed to be as comprehensive as possible (it’s a lengthy post sorry!) and hopefully save you from waiting in as many (incorrect) queues as we did (practicing complex topics in Spanish that you really know nothing about).
NB: we can’t guarantee that this guide is 100% correct or if there are other ways of accomplishing the same steps because the information is based on our own personal experience
-Ultimately, a super fun way to see this skinny French fry of a country
-It does end up a cheaper way to do it (Chilean and Argentinian buses are pricey)
-Free camping in scenic and secluded locations along the way
-Stopping anywhere you want along the stunning Careterra Austral and Ruta 40 for a quick fly fish in the crystal clear rivers- priceless
-Considered the best Latin American country to buy a car – fair prices and the process is ‘easy’ (doubtful at times)
-Carabineros (police) aren’t corrupt in this country so you wont have to worry about scams and bribes. They will pull you over if you disobey street signs though!
THE CONS (hopefully you wont be as unlucky as we were!)
-Buying a car as a foreigner is more involved and there are added costs
-Breakdowns, flat tyres, push starts, battery replacements, visits to the mechanic, gearbox replacements… it happens
-Your car may get broken into, stolen, or both… it happens
-Added costs. Eg. Regular tolls for Chilean roads, Argentinian car insurance when you cross the border, car accessories (e.g. spare tyre, spare fuel container, replacing stolen items, anti-theft trimmings like a steering wheel lock)
CURRENT AVERAGE PETROL PRICE GUIDE (UNLEADED 95)
Chile: 720 Chilean Pesos/Litre (1.45 AUD). We found the price fluctuated a little during the day and mornings were generally cheaper
Argentina: The petrol prices varied a lot while we were there. 9.25-13.05 Argentinian Pesos/Litre (0.92-1.30 AUD as per the blue rate). It does become cheaper as you travel south.
THE PROCESS OF BUYING
- Presumably you have an international driver’s licence already. Carabineros do pull you over and check your documents from time to time.
- Get yourself an RUT number. This is essentially a Chilean tax file number and you don’t need to be a Chilean resident to obtain one. This can be done at any Servicio de Impuestos Internos office. Tell them why you need it, fill out the form and provide your passport. It’s free. Although, on our first attempt at obtaining an RUT number, we were asked to pay 20 000 pesos (40 AUD) and then redirected to another office. Don’t listen to such instructions; the Servicio de Impuestos Internos office is the right place to be. Keep trying different people until someone understands what you’re after. They will give you a temporary RUT number on a flimsy piece of paper (which is sufficient for the processes of buying a car and needed at border crossings so keep it safe) and will tell you that your card will be ready in 1 month at that same location (we never picked up the real thing – it wasn’t a big deal).
- Get searching. Some useful websites include: Chileautos, Yapo, and Drive the Americas. Work out what seems to be the average price for the kind of car you are looking for. If the price seems too good to be true, it definitely is. Avoid looking at cars in Iquique – the prices may seem enticing but this is a tax free zone in Chile and there are added costs and headaches involved when you try to drive the car out of this tax free zone. Beware of scams operating on the web (it goes without saying but avoid transferring any money to anyone saying that they live outside of Chile and will ship the car to you once they receive your payment…). Forget emailing vendors, they rarely reply. At this point being able to speak spanish (well) is a priceless advantage. If this is not an option… beg. Hostel employees might help you out and call the vendors on your behalf. We found people were a bit funny about calling mobile numbers from their phones so asking them to call using your own Skype credit seemed to be better received. Alternatively, a lot of cities will have a random street where used car sellers will tend to hang out together, especially on weekends. Try to get the inside scoop from a local on where this happens. This is where we picked up our beast and it ended up being a serious time saver. Beg some more and convince a spanish speaker to go with you if possible, otherwise you may end up buying a car and then have no idea what on earth to do next…
- Sort out your finances. Remember that some banks have a daily withdrawal limit so you may need to start a monetary stockpile a few days in advance.
- Ensure the car has all it’s documents up to date. Sight the following documents: Permiso de circulacion, revision tecnica, padron, seguro obligatoro. All the documents should be up to date and if any are soon to expire remember you will be responsible for renewing them.
- Find out if the car is in the current vendor’s name. This is a minor detail that caused major problems for us. Because we bought from a guy who bought and sold vehicles for a living, the name had not yet transferred from the previous owner by the time we bought the car (technically a shady move by the seller – but it’s possible that he may have disclosed this to us and we just didn’t understand at the time). Thousands (literally) of kilometres later, during one of our many trips to the notaría (notary) we found out that this would be a bit of a bugger. You technically can’t sell the car later on unless it is in your name so we really needed to sort this out. Long story short, we got lucky that the seller would be holidaying with his family way down south close to where we became stuck, so he agreed to meet us (he had to appear in person to provide the document saying the car was sold to him by the previous owner) but I’m certain that this is not a common service provided by vendors and in any other circumstance we would have been completely screwed. Bottom line – don’t buy unless you see the document that shows the car in the vendor’s name.
- Ok so you managed to blunder your way through the puchase using spanish words you barely know the meaning of. And hand signals, lots of hand signals. Now what? The vendor must provide you with the anotaciones vigentes de vehiculos motorizados. You can go together to any Registro Civil (Civil Registration Office) and obtain a copy. It’s cheap (under 2 AUD). Then its time to visit the nearest notaría together. Here’s where the process is different for a foreigner and the vendor may not even know about it. As a foreigner you cannot complete the transferencia (document stating the change of ownership) at a Registro Civil, the way that locals would normally do it, for a significantly lower fee. You must do it privately at a notaría and therefore pay private fees (approximately 140 AUD). Here you’ll hand over the wad of cash for the car to the vendor and sign and fingerprint some fancy documents. Bring your passport along.
- Work out if you will be crossing any borders during the next month or so after you purchase the car. The process of the name change takes about a month. If you are staying in Chile this wont be a problem – just wait it out and then head to the Registro Civil to obtain an updated anotaciones vigentes de vehiculos motorizados which by then should have your name on it as the owner. If you know you will be crossing into Argentina during this period (if you want to explore Patagonia expect multiple border crossings along the way) inform the notaría and they will prepare another document (signed and fingerprinted by both parties) saying the transferencia is pending and the current owner has given their permission for the car to cross the border. Make sure you have a few copies of this document as the customs officers sometimes keep a copy.
- Buy car insurance if you cross the border. The 3rd party car insurance (seguro obligatoro) is only valid in Chile. You can buy Argentinian car insurance at the border or at border towns such as Futaleufú (prices varied a lot).
- Enjoy the freedom but exercise caution. I made vague reference to it already, but we were unlucky enough to have our car broken into as well as completely stolen while we were staying with friends in Valparaíso. Fortunately, police recovered the car the next morning. They found it in a field, pathetically camouflaged in tree branches. Everything was gone from inside the car (useful things like the radio, speakers, spare tyre as well as trivial items: toothpaste, tissues, empty water bottles). The joy ride left a decent dent in the side as well. Turns out our car could be started using any old key – even our friend’s house key. We became increasingly paranoid after this – we never wanted to leave our gear in the tray, even when we were camping roadside right next to the car. We scrapped the idea of taking the car to Santiago for fear of a repeat episode (not to mention the exorbitant tariffs you have to pay to drive your car in Santiago – the bus from Valparaíso was cheap as chips in comparison: 10-12 AUD return ticket in a comfortable bus). We were always searching for paid secure car parks and hostels with car parks to help put our minds at rest. We bought a steering wheel lock and began the ritual of manually disconnecting the engine whenever we had to leave the car. This wasn’t the freedom we were anticipating and we started to develop a love-hate relationship with our new investment piece. Fortunately as we drove further south, things felt different. The people were calmer and the streets were less grungy. The paranoia faded and we fell in love with the old girl all over again.
THE PROCESS OF SELLING
Not surprisingly, the selling process is essentially the buying process reversed.
- Make a ‘SE VENDE’ sign and stick it in the window. You will get a lot of inquires this way, from people walking past it on the street. Our Chilean friends let us put their number down as the contact, which helped a lot (we received no emails so make sure this isn’t your only means of contact).
- Advertise on the web. Put a detailed description of the car (in Spanish) with photos on the same websites you used to look for your car. Set a fair price and be prepared to negotiate.
- Learn how to make empanadas while you wait for the calls to roll in. Check out our delicious empanada recipe. It took us 3 days for the car to sell.
- Go to Registro Civil. Obtain an updated anotaciones vigentes de vehiculos motorizados, which shows you as the current owner.
- With your buyer go to the notaría. Technically the buyer is responsible for paying the fees associated with the sale (approximately 140 AUD), however you may want to negotiate to pay half of the notary fees if you end up selling to a Chilean. Go on, be a good bloke.
- Book your next bus ticket out of there. Sigh…