Drive to Ushuaia in These Five Vehicles Under $3,000 - EP

General Discussion, generally referring to vehicles or wheeling.

Drive to Ushuaia in These Five Vehicles Under $3,000 - EP

Postby KF5ZXT » Wed Jul 09, 2014 9:12 am

Drive to Ushuaia in These Five Vehicles Under $3,000

If we’re talking in broad strokes, there are two distinctly different ways drive the Panamerican Highway. The first, which usually involves ludicrous amounts of cash and years of planning, is to build up a best of breed overland truck…or maybe some kind of Unimog-based vehicle that’s larger than most apartments in Manhattan. The second, which I affectionately call the dirtbag method, is to buy a cheap vehicle, hit the road, and worry about everything else later. Somehow, the latter seems more romantic—so here’s a few vehicles to consider.

Why go cheap?

A few years ago, I spent a few months running Panama Passage, an overlander’s hostel in Panama City where likeminded travelers could hang out, chat, and eventually ship to Colombia. Being the “end of the road” for the first half of the Panamerican Highway, quite a few different people walked through the door, needless to say, there were some travelers that were a bit more “spur of the moment” than others. I noticed that those people ended up having a lot more fun than the well-prepared travelers who were too scared to leave their expensive vehicles unattended.

Detaching yourself from the vehicle allows you more freedom to do what you want. So let’s say you get an opportunity to go sailing for a few weeks in Costa Rica—would you leave your $200,000 Earthroamer sitting in a foreign country relatively unsupervised? I doubt it. Now if you had a $3,000 Isuzu, you might end up jumping on the boat.

With a cheap vehicle, the journey becomes about the experience, not the drive. Forget about the roof tent, the roof rack, the lockers, the suspension lift and the big tires, it all adds up…quickly. Buy a tent and sleep on the ground, stay at hostels, get a hotel—get out in the city and find fellow travelers to share your experiences with. It will add to your experience in unmeasurable ways.

It’s important to note that there’s a huge difference between a cheap vehicle and the mentality that comes along with it, and a piece of junk vehicle. A cheap vehicle is economical to repair, returns good fuel economy, and is relatively reliable. A piece of junk vehicle is something you shouldn’t have bought in the first place which ends up making your traveling experience about fixing said POS—not finding cool beaches and dive bars.

First Generation Toyota 4Runner

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Why it’s good:

The first Genetation Toyota 4Runner is a jack-of-all-trades kind of vehicle. You can fix it with a basic tool kit, flog it off-road, sleep inside of it in a pinch, and never have to worry about it breaking down. You can also get them pretty much anywhere for around $1000 if you’re willing to do a few mechanical repairs and don’t mind one that isn’t cosmetically perfect.

Why it sucks:

Most examples are seriously beat. You’ll pay top-dollar for 1985 models equipped with electronic fuel injection and a solid front axle. These weren’t designed to be collector cars—they were built to be used and driven, so expect a bit of rust, a few dents, and a worn-out interior.

VW Vanagon

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Why it’s good:

Without stepping into the extremely expensive 4WD Syncro Vanagon, you’ll be stuck with 2WD on your adventure. That being said, depending on the model you find, you’ll end up with a bed, a couch, and a nice place to hangout during your adventure. The VW Van is certainly one of the most livable cheap vehicles you can buy.

Why it sucks:

Even thought he Germans are lauded for making reliable vehicles, I’m not so sure that’s the case with the Vanagon. Early models are air-cooled, with later years receiving the waterboxer engine. Neither are that reliable. Repairs can be expensive and they’re slower than a tortoise on the highway.

Isuzu Trooper (all generations)

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Why it’s good:

The Trooper, quite literally, is a trooper. It’s relatively reliable, decently capable, and it has great use of space due to its boxy, utilitarian shape. You can also pick one up with relatively low miles for under $3000—a serious bargain for how much vehicle you get.

Why it sucks:

As with any 4WD, maintenance is key to reliability. The Trooper depreciated quickly, leaving important, and often expensive maintenance to fall to the wayside on what was considered to be an “economy 4WD”. I’d look for an enthusiast-owned Trooper that was cared for and you won’t have to worry about it.

Mitsubishi Montero (all generations)

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Why it’s good:

The Montero, known as the Pajero (and a few other names) overseas, is a direct competitor to the Land Cruiser lineup. With each generation, the vehicle gets larger, more luxurious, and more expensive on the used market. They’re capable and parts are affordable and easy to find.

Why it sucks:

It seems that reliability is either hit or miss with the Montero. Again, the Montero has the same problem as the Trooper, with lots of maintenance issues ignored by a lot of owners on this cheap 4WD. They also have dismal fuel economy.

Mercedes 240/300D Sedan

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Why it’s good:

If you have no interest in backroads or 4WD trails, why bother with an off-road vehicle? Diesel Mercedes sedans from the 80s are about as bombproof as a vehicle will ever come, and they return excellent fuel economy. It isn’t uncommon to see 35mpg out of these small displacement diesel engines if you drive slowly.

Why it sucks:

While diesel engines are known to soldier on indefinitely, turbo-diesel engines to require the turbo to be serviced, often times this isn’t done on a cheap used car. Check the service records and if they show consistent care and maintenence, you’re probably good to go.
KF5ZXT
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Good, fast, cheap: pick any 2
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