Roman is a filmmaker living in Winnipeg, Canada. He would like to take a trip down to beautiful Buenos Aires, Argentina, but he wants to drive and will need a special vehicle to get him there and back. What car should he buy!
Here is the scenario.
I’m a filmmaker from Canada and I am about to embark on an epic road trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, but I need the right vehicle for the job. It can be anything really, car, truck, SUV, or wagon. I’m not picky, but it has to be able to get me there and back.
It should be reliable, strong, and easy to repair. If it gets decent gas mileage that would be a plus too. I would also prefer something not too flashy. The one thing it must have is air conditioning. I don’t have a ton of money to spend but could probably swing up to $15,000.
Budget: $10,000 - $15,000
Daily Driver: No, but needs to be able to survive a lot of miles.
Wants: Reliable, sturdy, easy to fix
Doesn’t want: Something that stands out too much
Roman, this road trip is an awesome idea. Hopefully, you get a chance to film it because that would be an incredible story to watch. I’m sure you are aware that you will likely encounter some rough roads, or lack thereof, along your journey. Therefore, you are going to need something that doesn’t have to be confined to concrete or asphalt.
There are any number of solid 4x4s available, but one of the better values is the Nissan Xterra. A Tacoma or 4Runner would do just fine as well, but for fifteen large those suckers are going to have some serious mileage on them. The Nissan you can score within your budget and the odometer won’t already look like it has taken your journey.
Nissan 4x4s are pretty popular in Latin America, so sourcing parts and finding someone that can wrench on one of these shouldn’t be a problem. While the gas mileage isn’t all that awesome, the mighty Xterra should treat you well and provide plenty of space for gear. You could probably sleep in it if you had to. Here is a red one not too far from you with about 63k miles (99,665 km) for only $11,853 USD ($15,999 CAD).
Expert #2: Jason Torchinsky: Has A Thing For South American Cars But That’s Not What He’s Suggesting Here
When I opened the pneumatic tube and unrolled the telex and read what you were doing, one key point leapt out at me: you’re from Canada. To anyone who truly loves shitty, rugged, perfect-for-a-long-grueling-road-trip cars can tell you, Canada is notable for one thing: they have Ladas there.
Back in the 1980s, Ladas were as forbidden in the U.S. as Ivan Drago’s soulless, mechanized training regimen. But in Canada, land of those frosty, maple-gorged libertines, Lada Nivas were offered for sale, and it’s one of these that you really want.
The Niva is a fascinating enigma of a car: shoddy and rugged all at the same time. They’re well known for their ability to cover all kinds of rough terrain and keep on going despite all sense, reason, and, sometimes, physics.
It’s got a roomy hatchback body on a truck-like 4x4 chassis, and should have plenty of room to haul all your filmmaking gear and I bet you could sleep in it if you had to, though I’m not sure how much you’d enjoy that.
The floors are rubber and hose-outable, for removing evidence of any adventures you get in along the way, too. It’s not flashy at all—it looks like a slightly malformed VW Rabbit on big wheels, so I think it’ll fit that requirement as well.
I found one in Toronto for a mere $3750, in remarkably good shape, with lots of work already done on it. It’s a Niva Cossack, some arcane trim level named after the people who made my grandparents lives so miserable. Plus, it doesn’t even seem too rusty!
To meet your aircon requirement, just order yourself this $647 Niva A/C kit and install it! It’ll be a great way to get to know your new traveling companion while you guarantee a constant supply of chilly air, like they have on the steppes of Russia.
This Niva is, what, about ten grand cheaper than Tom’s option up there? Even if you have to repair it, you’re still coming out ahead, and the Niva is way cooler. This is a car that’ll become like a trusty mule: reliable, homely, smelly, and a true pal.
Get the Niva.
More than anything, you’re going to want reliability, off-road capability, and parts availability for your trip, especially if you plan to travel the treacherous Darien Gap.
The Niva and Xterra are both solid options, as they’re plenty capable, and finding parts in South America isn’t too tough. But why bother with those vehicles when you can buy the king of overlanding? I’m talking, of course, about the Toyota Land Cruiser, an indestructible international off-road powerhouse known to soak up the harshest, most grueling miles without any fuss.
And I’ve just found one for sale in Virginia for only $8,000. That’s dirt cheap, and what’s even better is that it’s a diesel, meaning you can find fuel in even the remotest of regions. Also, it’s got tons of low-end torque, which is great for off-roading.
Just look at that video above. Do you want to find yourself in that deep mud pit in Colombia behind the wheel of a Lada, or do you want to be behind the wheel of arguably the most reliable off-roader in history? Thought so.
All of these recommendations are smart and sensible choices for fitting in with the demands of cross-continental travel. A Mitsubishi Pajero would also be a fine choice for you if you want something dependable, affordable and reasonably reparable. However! There is no need to blend in. Instead, you should not forget your ability to act as a gleaming beacon of foreign-ness rumbling through town with V8-power.
I’m talking about a classic 1980s GM full size truck, specifically a Chevrolet Suburban. It is overbuilt, understressed, roomy, honest, capable and respectable. A buddy of mine had one of these things with the non-turbo diesel growing up and it is about as close to a small train for the road as you can get. He has road-tripped across South America himself and is expecting to run the old truck around the country, possibly on biodiesel. It will be an adventure ship, facing storms with the blunt face of older, grumpier industrialism.
The nicest one in existence still isn’t going to crack $10k, though any cheaper Chevy or GMC that’s sturdy with 4WD should be fine.