I never imagined that tires would be such a hassle.
Our Provan Tiger CX weights a little over 10,000 lbs (4600 kgs) and runs on LT265/75R16, loading rating E tires with a capacity of 3700 lbs each. In theory there is a lot of excess carrying capacity in the tires. In practice the tires, particularly the rear tires wear rapidly. After only 50,000 miles we are well into our 3rd set of tires. Thats about 20,000 miles per set of tires. Because of this short life we have needed to buy tires at some in-opportune times. In Whitehorse YT we bought two, In Phoenix two more, Irquiqui, Chile one, and Bariloche, Argentina four, and we had to make a trip from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile to two rear tires.
Apart from the cost, this is a problem because these tires are hard to find in South America. We started looking for tires in Peru when we destroyed one on a metal grate. We contacted the Bridgestone importer in Peru. They could find us the right size but not load rating E. We could find only one tire to act as spare in Irquiqui Chile. In Argentina we got a set of Hankooks in Bariloche, but as we later discovered in Buenos Aires, that was a stroke of luck because no-one in Buenos Aires could provide load rating E in that size. We were told by a Bridgestone dealer that these tires existed (that is they could find them in their computer system), but no-one had any actually in stock.
The message from this is clear:
10,000 on four LT265/75R16 E tires is too much weight
don't come to South America expecting to find LT265/75R16 E tires.
Mid sized buses and trucks with 16 inch wheels are every where in South America, but they are typically using 7.5x16 or sometimes 8.25x16 tires in load rating F.
I have seen a small number of trucks with 17.5 or 19.5 inch wheels and then only in Chile and Brazil.
Dodge Ram pickups with Cummins engines are the most common US style pickups trucks in South America, they are running 17 wheels and 265/70R17 tires.
The most common wheel size on heavier vehicles up from 16 inch is 20 inch. Tires sized 20x10.5 seem to be common.
While preparing for this trip I considered installing a combined winch and air compressor, Warn Industries make a nice combined unit of this type. But decided that a winch was just a bit excessive. What I did not give enough thought to was air. We have had more difficulty getting air for tire inflation and top up than I would have expected. Every country we have traveled in has road side tire repair shops called variously monte llantas or gomeria with air compressors but often their compressors don't have the power to inflate our tires to the required 75 psi. Also many of the gas stations don't have air available and when they do, even in Chile and Argentina, the systems often don't have the necessary pressure. So my advice to fellow travelers is carry a good air compressor for inflating your own tires.
The Tiger Chevy 3500 LTX chassis has a factory equipped tire pressure monitoring system. This system has been very useful. It flashes a warning while a tire is deflating giving the driver time to find a safer place to pull up. Also on rough roads when a flat tire might not be noticed for a few miles, the monitor indicates a flat immediately allowing the driver to stop and prevent further tire damage.
I would consider a tire monitoring system a necessity for another trip
However there is a catch. The Tigers system mounts a sensor on the back end of the valve stem. This requires special valve stems. We did not think to bring spare valve stems so when we recently had to replace a valve stem we lost the sensor in one wheel.
Propane is in very common use domestically for cooking in all the countries in which we have traveled.
Strictly speaking it's a propane butane mixture that is different to the US, but that is a minor issue as the difference only becomes a real issue at low (by Central and South American) temperatures.
But being in common use does not mean that it is easy to get it into the propane tank of a US or other RV/motorhome.
Tank swapping is the universal distribution system used for domestic propane throughout Central and South America. Refill stations like those found in the US and Canada are not common and there-in lies one of the problems.
Here is a link to a nice write up on propane for expedition vehicles from the Hackney's website Propane Systems for Expedition Vehicles
Chile, Peru, and Paraguay are the easiest countries to deal with as in each of these countries there are refill stations for propane.
Chile uses the propane/butane mix to fuel taxis (and some other vehicles) in the larger cities and hence has refill stations. These stations are typically NOT at regular gas stations but usually at a gas plant on the outskirts of a town. If in doubt ask a taxi driver or stop at any establishment with a lot of gas bottles. The other good news is that the fitting used in Chile is the same as that used on the fixed tanks of US RVs. Hence in Chile you can fill your RV's fixed tank with no difficulties. The typically portable tanks used in US campers are more problematic. They can be filled at a gas plant but sometimes the plant managers will refuse to fill one on the grounds that it's not one of their tanks. They also often charge a premium.
Peru uses propane for vehicle propulsion and has filling stands at regular gas stations, those showing a sign for GLP. Vehicles have a female dutch fitting and the pump has a male version. It is possible to make-up an adapter so that a US RV's fixed tank can be filled from these pumps. They do not fill US portable tanks or any other type of domestic tank. We bought our adapter in Lima, but I would advise sourcing it (together with other stuff I will mention below) before leaving home. Finding a gas fitting shop in Lima is no easy task.
The adapter can be purchased as an Acogas store located at Av Colonial 5443 (Colonial recently renamed Benevides), GPS coordinates are S12 03.077 W77 05.204. Also see their website : www.acogas.com.pe
Paraguay uses propane for vehicle propulsion and has propane filling stands at some of the gas stations. These stations are able and are allowed to fill both domestic and vehicle tanks with a range of fittings. They do not typically have adapters for a US RV's fixed tank but can accommodate the same type of fitting as used in Peru (the so called dutch fitting) as well as a PLU fitting. The type of fitting that is typical on older US portable tanks, the inside thread on newer US portable tanks, and the outlet side of US fixed tanks.
In all other countries propane is distributed by tank swapping. In these countries there are only two possibilities for getting tanks refilled (not counting gravity filling - see below). A bulk gas plant that fills all of those small tanks that everyone is swapping and the delivery trucks that takes gas to larger industrial/commercial fixed tank installations. The commercial tanks that the delivery truck fills have the same filler fitting as US RV fixed tanks.
We only tried the gas plants a couple of times and generally the efforts were not very successful. There appear to be legal impediments in some countries (Columbia for example) that prevent one of these plants filling a tank attached to a vehicle, so often they won't even try to fill you fixed tank. Portable tanks are a bit easier.
To my surprise we also found that the pumps that these plants use to fill tanks are not powerful enough to actually force the gas through the fitting of a US RV's fixed tank. These fittings have a spring loaded valve that needs to be forced open. The only solution to this is to try and get a delivery truck to do the job. The pumps that they use for deliveries seem to have more than enough power to do the job.
We only tried this technique once, and then really it was an experiment rather than a necessity. However we met a number of people with both US and European vehicles that used this approach as their standard filling method. Basically the trick is to get a nicely filled local tank of propane and drain the gas/liquid from it into your somewhat empty US (fixed or portable) tank.
Here is a link for a nice explanation of the process http://www.gswagner.com/propane/propane.html
In an RV and Central/South American context there are two other bits of information that might prove useful.
Fixed tanks on US RVs are best filled through their outlet valve. As discussed above the normal filling valve is spring loaded and requires lot of force to open it. Also the outlet valve is a PLU type of fitting that is relatively common (but don't rely on getting one on your journey).
The nicely filled local tank can be a bit of a challenge also. The smaller tanks of around 10kg (20lb) are ideal for the job as they a easy to handle. Unfortunately there is not much standardization of the fitting on these tanks. Hence you will be faced with having/finding the correct non-regulated fitting for that nicely filled local tank and attaching it to your filling hose.
Argentina, and Bolivia make it easy as their normal domestic tanks are 10 kg with PLU fittings.
In Chile 10 kg tanks with PLU fittings are common but not the standard. Though it's is better to fill a fixed tank at a propane plant as discussed above.
Columbia is also straight forward; its standard domestic tank is a 15 kg type with a PLU fitting.
The standard domestic tank in Ecuador is 15 kg and requires a special (though commonly available) non regulated tank fitting - see photo.
Peru, the standard tank domestic is 10 kg and again with a special, though commonly available, fitting. For fixed tanks the better solution is to fill as a gas station with the adapter described above.
Finally, as far as I can tell, all the 45 kg tanks use standard PLU fittings. So it seems like a filling hose with a male PLU at each end would be a workable option in all countries.
We relied on a combination of our fixed tank and a separate local tank that was connected in to the RV's propane system. We used the fixed tank when refill was possible and relied on a local tank when we could not refill the fixed tank. As I write this we have a 10 kg tank purchased in Argentina as our source of propane. This can be swapped for a new one at almost any YPF gas station, in Argentina, sometimes swapped in Chile, and refilled in Paraguay at some gas stations and was gravity refilled in Ecuador.
This is our second tank, earlier in the journey we bought and then discarded a 15 kg tank bought in Ecuador.
We had to change local tanks because of incompatibilities in the fittings used in the different countries on the smaller tanks.
I will be interested to see if I can get the current 10 kg tank which has a PLU fitting refilled in Ecuador and Columbia - answer to this question:: it can be gravity filled in both countries.
A couple of notes about attaching an additional tank to the RV gas system.
The connector that attaches to the tank must not have a regulator in it, instead the hose from the tank must connect to the existing RV gas regulator. You can buy complete systems to do this in US RV stores. Our Dometic refrigerator was very fussy about gas pressure and would only run correctly when the gas passed through the original RV regulator.
If connecting flexible hoses to fittings with typically 3/8" or 1/2" hose clamps ensure that the hose is warm and soft when the connection is made and that two clamps are used on each joint. We had a hose blow off due to gas pressure. Not a good situation.
We shipped our vehicle twice between Panama and Cartagena, Colombia. Once going south and then again on our return journey. Both times the effort was relatively straight forward. Though in truth on the way south we had the help of a friend who has in the past run tours of vehicles to South America and had shipped many times. On the return journey we were on our own.
In Panama we contacted Wilhelmsen Ship Service also know as Barwil. The person we dealt with was Everlyn Batista; she has shipped many overlander vehicles either RORO or container, and is mentioned on a number of overlander's websites. Her contact details are:
Her email is: Evelyn.Batista@wilhelmsen.com I think her phone is 507-263-7755
In Cartagena, Colombia the shipping agent (Everlyns equivalent) is:
Naves Av Miramar Calle 24 No 23-65. Cartagena, Colombia phone +57 4 660 94 50 Telefax +57 4 660 94 47 www.navescolombia.com firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also used a local customs agent in Cartagena. It's a small family business named Enlace Caribe. Luis and Sonja are the owners. They charged about $200 and were well worth the money. Don't try to do the formalities yourself unless you speak Spanish.
Luis Ernesto La Rota R. Enlace Caribe Ltda. Manga, 3a. Avenida No. 26-47, Of. 103 Cartagena, Colombia Ph +57 (5) 660 8960 Mob + 57 315 758 5872 www.enlacecaribe.com
We got this info from some Austrians, but have not used it ourselves.
One can ship RORO US to/from Argentina using k-line (k-line).
US ports - Jacksonville(Fl) Baltimore Argentina - Zarate (a little NW of BA)
This route also stops in Mexico and Costa Rica.
Agent in Argentina:
Mrs Gabriel (speaks English) email@example.com 0054-11-4314-6300