On returning to Santiago the search for a van was to resume in earnest. We decided to head back to La Chimba Hostel in Bellavista, although we did decide to sleep in the airport on arrival to avoid an expensive taxi ride and a nights accommodation cost. This caused a bit of amusement as we inflated our camping mats in a quiet corner of the airport.
We established a daily routine of searching yapo and chileautos websites for suitable vehicles, me trying to arrange viewing in bad spanish on the phone then getting the staff at the hostel to bail me out. The process of getting to actually see a vehicle can be a bit hit and miss with the Chilean laid back approach to life, however – who would think some of these guys were actually trying to sell a van?!
I had put together a checklist to go through each time to try to weed out the problem vehicles. Sadly we found that every van we saw for two weeks had unacceptable issues. It was amazing and disheartening seeing what people were trying to sell for 4-5m pesos (~£4000-5000). A few examples…
A van advertised having done 110,000 km actually had 350,000km on the clock, but apparently only 110,000km on the current engine! How about a van thats tacho showed 500,000 km, it was advertised with 150,000 km, but the tacho clocked a kilometer every second – but the van had only done 150k, honest! Maybe a van advertised as ‘first person to see it will buy it’ would be the one? I was that first person, but having gone over the van and established that the engine was leaking coolant at a reasonable rate I thought I’d give the key a turn. It didn’t want to start. Finally it spluttered into life, only firing on 3 cylinders, ran for a bit then stopped. Eventually I got it restarted and went round to have a look under the bonnet when I was told that one of the injectors was a bit dicky. I thought I would humour the sellers and take it for a spin and boy was it smokey! We said we weren’t interested and left, only to get a text offering a £200 discount, mmm let me think…
We had now pretty much exhausted the available vans from our internet searches that met our criteria. So we widened the search, non hightops were now in and we could pay more. Still no luck after two weeks of hunting. We decided to perhaps change tack and go for a four-wheel drive vehicle that we could live out of if not live in. However, it seemed our perfect van might just be round the corner when I found two old Peugeot Boxer based ambulances advertised at a car lot. We decided to go there first thing the next morning and be the first through the door. We arrived about 10 mins after they opened and asked to look at the two vans. We went over them both, but test drove only one (the one without an oil leak). The van was a great runner and only had one problem, the speedo didn’t work! We tried to negotiate a price but they would not budge and furthermore it turned out the revision technica was out of date. We could not get a new one till we had changed its appearance from being an ambulance to being a white van without flashing lights etc. We went away without doing a deal as we needed to do some research on the speedo issue and think about how to turn it back into a white van.
We did not want to risk losing the van so we phoned them and said we would take it and would be back in the afternoon. I did some more research on the speedo issue so I could try to diagnose it on our return. We also found somewhere to buy white sticky back plastic!
When we returned there were already other people looking over the other ambulance. Good vans sell fast in Chile! I dived under the van we wanted and found the gearbox speedo sensor unplugged, that old trick… do any vehicles in Chile have a genuine mileage?! Anyhow the mileage wasn’t that important, the vehicle ran well so we went to go and figure out the rest of the deal, although with a different guy from the morning. He came down stairs from their in-house notaria with bad news – the van had been bought at auction and was still registered with the police as an emergency vehicle and was not even yet in their name. It would take a further 4 months to get it in to our name and until then we would not be able to take it out the country! Well that ended that and we left feeling pretty dejected, it seemed we were not going to ever make this work.
With our alternate 4×4 strategy in mind, we thought we’d get a feel for what we should be looking for by trawling used car lots for a day. A few hours later, and several different options viewed and measured, we spied tucked away in the corner a Mercedes Sprinter. Trying not to seem too interested we asked to take a look, and it seemed tidy enough although there were crash repairs back and front, and it was a little smokey when cold. We made a ridiculously low offer just for kicks, and the guy instantly took 600,000 pesos off the price. We went home to sleep on it, but couldn’t help getting a little excited – it ticked pretty much all of the boxes except for the high top! However a decent sounding Peugeot boxer hightop also came up that evening so a viewing was arranged for that too the next day. The viewing for the Boxer was in a DIY center car park, not ideal, but after some shenanigans trying to find the guy the van was generally pretty sweet except for a dodgy gearbox that felt like it would fail soon. I made an offer taking into account the gearbox, the guy said he would call me. So we decided to go look at the Sprinter a second time and try and negotiate a deal based on the fact we had an alternative now. We went over the vehicle more thoroughly first and then started negotiations – in the end we got 1.2m pesos of the window price which seemed like not a bad deal. In doing some research on Sprinters it seemed that they don’t have many running issues at all, certainly not like Peugeot Boxers do. We decided to have a second look, going through the full checklist this time, the brake wear light was on and there were a few vibrations when lifting off the gas, but they didn’t seem too bad. A good bit of negotiation later, and we had a deal on the van!
As the initial offer we were given was 6 million pesos, we just had to name him Steve Austin, the 6 million Dollar Van!