Given my recent efforts at car maintenance and just generally being more of a “car person,” I paid close watch to what I believe are the most popular cars in the various countries we’ve visited. Additionally, I’ve been paying extra close attention to any Land Cruiser sightings, as I obviously have a special affinity for our chariot and its ancestors/descendants. (So most of the pictures are of Land Cruisers…sorry.)
Without further ado…
Most popular: an old Ford Explorer. Anything from the early 1990s on to the early 2000s especially. I guess they are in plentiful supply, relatively easy to fix, and have enough durability even for the tough roads? Interestingly, Mexico was the only country where we saw almost no Toyotas. Plenty of VWs, including many of the iconic original Beetle, seem to have taken their place. Even Honda and Nissan were more popular in Mexico than Toyotas, which were represented solely by a few Tundras in the north and Hi-Luxes and Hi-Aces in the south.
Land Cruiser sightings: almost none, only a couple seen in the Yucatan, and they may have had US plates.
Most popular: the 3rd generation Toyota 4Runner (1995-2002). Guessing most of these were imported from the US: we saw Belizans in Mexico caravaning south with newly purchased US cars of varying age and quality. Cars hold their value in Mexico and Central America in a way that’s totally foreign to Europeans and Americans. Basically, if it runs well, it has value, regardless of accident history or cosmetic damage. With our wreck damage, we blended right in!
Land Cruiser sightings: a couple, as well as the first 80 series (same as ours) that we saw since leaving the US.
Most popular: tie: Toyota Corolla (7th Generation, 1991-1995, as well as the rebadged version sold as the Geo Prizm) and the Toyota Pickup/Tacoma (all years). I had read we’d be getting more towards Toyota country as we went south, and that was true. But wow, when you hit Guatemala, just about every other vehicle is a Toyota. They particularly love the mini pickup trucks that “real truck” people in the US make fun of – e.g. the Tacoma and its predecessors going back to the early 80s. You can drive through (the horrific traffic area of) Chimaltenango and western Guatemala City and be presented with lot after lot with dozens of clean examples of Toyota mini pickups – they must be absolute masters at body work and paint there.
Land Cruiser sightings: again, a few – for most people in Central America, a Land Cruiser is too expensive, even if it’s 20 years old – they top out at the 4Runner or Hi-Lux. But interestingly, Guatemala was the first country where anyone asked us what we would pay for a car like ours in the US – so I think it’s safe to say they’d have one if they could.
Most popular: A bit more evenly distributed between makes and models, but I’d still say Toyota pickups are the favorite.
Land Cruiser sightings: this is where things get interesting – one of the relatively frequently seen Toyota pickups here is the 40 series Land Cruiser truck! I of course immediately wanted one, regardless of how poorly I can drive a stick shift, and I’m not at all ruling out coming back some day and driving one north. We also saw a pristine (obviously restored) 40 series or two tooling around in western El Sal, as well as some turbo diesel 80 series (again, impractical drool on my part – but they are also almost old enough to import as “classics”).
We were asked by nearly every dude we met in El Salvador how much we paid for our Land Cruiser, or would pay for a similar one. To a man, they all said to purchase one in El Salvador, regardless of cosmetic condition, would be more expensive.
Most popular: a three hour drive through a country doesn’t really give you the full picture, but this guy from Texas (we met him in a spa in El Sal but he lives in Honduras) claimed to love his Volkswagen Amarok pickup truck – good on bad roads and 40MPG, he claimed. I doubt it’s actually the most popular, but we didn’t do enough driving here for me to form my own opinion.
Land Cruiser sightings: Some, but not enough to draw conclusions.
Nicaragua was the land of the Land Cruiser 70, especially the truck version. Shockingly it is just about as popular there as the traditional Toyota pickups. We felt that the cars in general in Nicaragua were newer than the previous four countries we went to. There is obligatory insurance in Nicaragua so perhaps there are more controls on car condition than elsewhere.
Land Cruiser sightings: almost every kind and variant, the 70 most of all – even ambulances are Land Cruiser 70s here, (the troop carrier version).
The car of Costa Rica is the crummy Diahatsu micro-mini SUV that the rental car companies give out to all the tourists who request SUVs but don’t want to pay for a real or even a mid-sized one. (The roads are bad, but somehow that kind of a car wouldn’t inspire a lot of confidence.)
Land Cruiser sightings: A few. But Costa Rica is expensive even for locals – a lot more Hyundais and other cheaper vehicles here.
Panama’s car (or actually Central America’s car really) is any wrecked-but-running Japanese SUV or sedan that gets sold on eBay or a wholesale lot and put on a RoRo ship to Manzanillo. Since Americans won’t pay as much for cars with a wreck to their name, and CarFax makes it hard for used car guys to lie about stuff these days, all these lesser value cars have to go somewhere. Pretty much if it runs and drives, that means it ends up in Central America. As I mentioned for Belize, the northern countries in Central America would get these cars by driving them through Mexico. But to get them to Panama, it’s probably cheaper and easier to load them on a ship in Miami or Houston. There was a group of people taking cars out of the RoRo lot just as we were dropping ours off, and clearly the Toyota 4Runner was most popular.
Land Cruiser sightings: a decent number, but things are almost as expensive in Panama as in Costa Rica, so not as many as e.g. El Salvador.
Ah, Peru. Land of the left turn from the right lane, and vice versa – blocking traffic and taking your life in your hands. I guess it’s the distant cousin of the Michigan left, except that it’s not actually a legal move, just a frequent one. They need more traffic lights in Lima – desperately.
The car of Peru is any totally crap Chinese sedan you’ve never heard of – special mention to the GEELY Emigrand C7. (We saw a lot of trucks by e.g. Great Wall throughout Central America, but Peru is the first place with a lot of sedans as well.) We rode in more than a dozen Ubers because it’s the most efficient and cost effective way to get around Lima. Four of these were in Chinese-manufactured sedans: a Geely, a Great Wall, a BYD, and a Lifan. They’re all cheap as heck and make American-manufactured car interiors look like Bentleys. But only the Geely, god bless it, felt like we were motoring around with a malfunctioning motorcycle engine powered by squirrels with mononucleosis, with a transmission that caused the car to lurch like a Wiliams College drunkard. In short, the worst new-ish car I’ve ever been in.
Land Cruiser sightings: here and there, but since we’re pretty exclusively in the city in Peru, and a Land Cruiser would be entirely too big to drive around here, not many.