When we decided to go with a pickup truck vs a Sportsmobile for our overlander we knew we had to determine how to run auxiliary power to the bed of truck to sustain a refrigerator, light and inverter without risking the main battery power. After a little research (youtube and 4×4 forums) I determined the best combination that suited our needs and felt secure. I decided to go with breakers vs fuses so we would not have to depend on fuses throughout a trip such as this. Breakers, although a little more expensive, meant a little more reliability. I purchased 25 feet of welders 4 gauge cable to assure a thick, durable outer liner and an extra few feet so I could wire an in-dash battery disconnect with key to shut off all power to the alternator as a second layer of protection for vehicle security. I installed a battery isolator to ensure when the vehicle was off it would not drain the main battery. There are several types of isolators and from what I can tell it’s a personal preference on which model/type to install.
After determining the schematics of the system, I needed to figure out a way to secure the auxiliary battery in the bed of the truck so it would maintain a good ground connection, not slide around and maintain accessiblity in case repairs or troubleshooting became necessary. For this I created a battery ‘box’ to securely contain all the components. Honestly, I looked around the garage for scrap wood and built a quick small two sided box. Once I secured the breakers, isolator and battery within I installed it into the back passenger side of the truck bed close to the drain hole so I could feed the 4 gauge main battery line up with ease. The inverter connects directly to the battery however I wired in a small 4 point fuse box for the DC power outlets and LED truck bed light (yes I brought a bunch of fuses just in case but can rely on the inverter if I have to go without).
We are attempting to be as self sufficient as possible so by wiring an auxiliary battery it also allows you to be able to give yourself a “jump start” by by-passing the isolator and starting our truck off of the auxiliary battery should that scenario ever come into play.
Choosing a battery to use was a quick and painless exercise of going to an RV shop and picking up an oversized deep cycle marine battery to allow complete draining of the battery without compromising the integrity of the recharge as you do in an ordinary car battery.
The refrigerator was a challenging decision for us because we were trying to stick to a tight budget so I went with a Coleman powered cooler the first time around. I designed the sleeping platform around the dimensions of the Coleman cooler so it fit nice and snug with some breathing room for the fans. Once the platform bed and cooler was installed we went on a ‘test run’ camping trip to Wyoming to work out some ‘bugs’. Come to find out the Coleman cooler running at 4 Amp/hr peak drains the marine battery very quickly, as in just a few hours. A little Coleman powered cooler was definitely not going to work for us so after much research into alternative solutions I went with a Dometic CF-40 portable refrigerator that pulls .6 Amp/hr. After some minor adjustments to the platform bed to install it properly it fit much better, kept a constant cool temperature and most importantly lasted for several days without having to recharge the Aux battery.
Throughout the planning stages of this adventure we struggled over whether shipping a vehicle to Argentina was the best idea or not. We had obvious concerns about cost and clearing our vehicle through Argentine customs but never worried about issues on the US side. [side note: we did consider Uruguay but then our agent told us we couldn’t ship there without expatriate transfer orders and now after arriving in South America we’ve learned that Zarate, AR is a less expensive option all around ] As you may have already read in our previous post “Houston We Have a Problem!“, the US side was a nightmare due to the inadequacies of our state-side shipping agent (Warning: DO NOT USE: Sea & Air Experts). However, our agent here in Buenos Aires, Weber Servicio Internacionales, is 5 star; the family owed company in Buenos Aires was established by Francisco Weber and his brother over 55 years ago. It was comforting that they seemed to know exactly what was going on and who to talk to in a respectable, professional manner.
Claims – part I: Our vehicle is registered in Colorado, USA, a title holding state; meaning, if you have a loan on the vehicle the lender holds the title as a lien until the loan is satisfactorily repaid. We approached this issue a number of times and from a couple of directions within the months preceding our departure. We also had numerous conversations with our US agent who clearly didn’t have the ability to see the big picture and thought we’d satisfied the requirements. We really should’ve known when our trusting guts told us things were not going to go smoothly when we showed up to the Houston receiving warehouse and they didn’t have any idea we were coming, then later asked for the title. After our vehicle arrived and in our initial dealings with customs we learned that Argentinian law requires drivers to carry the original title in the vehicle at all times and must be presented to an officer if you should get pulled over. That being said, our black and white notarized copy was not going to be accepted. We needed the original title. After numerous hours on the phone with USAA and working every angle we could think of, we had a color, notarized copy in the mail.
Claims – part II: With a new document in the mail I jumped in a tiny car with Francisco Weber (who speaks German & Spanish) and Nicolas (who speaks Spanish & some English) and off we were to the port to continue negotiating. From the second we stepped out of the car Francisco seemed to know everyone he walked past and was sure to give them a hug and the customary kiss greeting or at the least a “Heeeeeyyyy” with some sort of open armed hand motion or fist bump. After providing a passport and finger prints I was ‘sworn’ in and given a badge so I could enter the gated section where customs and the unloading docks where. Francisco approached the customs agent that would eventually help us unload the container, hopeful we were making progress but of course it was lunch hour, so we had to wait. About 30 minutes pass by when finally the customs agent and two other men with hammers brought us to the container that held our overlander. What a relief to know that our container was actually there!
I held my breath as a few locks were cut and the doors were slowly opened. An exhale of relief…there it was, our truck in tact and seemingly in the condition we had left it with the exception of a bit of dust. I climbed into the container and was able to connect the battery while the two men with hammers dislodged the supports on all four tires. I sat in the drivers seat and again held my breath as I turned the key…without hesitation Hermes started right up. I must say that is was a fun and unique experience reversing out of a 20 foot container, then driving through the aisles of a customs warehouse to the inspection point. Workers turned there heads and smiled as I drove by as if it was the most exciting part of their day, I know it was mine 🙂
Now another clock is ticking; with Hermes out of the container we have 5 days to produce the proper documentation and remove the vehicle before we start getting charged ‘storage fees’. We were diligent to make digital copies of important documents prior to our departure so, determined, I searched city streets for a Kiosko that would print a double-sided, color document that I could provide Weber Servicio something worth another attempt with customs. Realizing the different paper sizes I also had to work to ensure proper alignment and cut to size so it looked (somewhat) official. With one more piece of paper in hand, we spent the better half of the afternoon waiting for the “persona correcto” to arrive…unfortunately, we were unable to connect so we try again tomorrow.
Claims – part III: The following morning, we were able to speak with “ la persona correcto” only to find out that our only option was to obtain a copy of the title that has been certified by an “Apostille“. When I heard this, my heart sank because I had no idea what that meant or where to start. So what else do you do when you have no idea where to begin, ask Google. After reading what an Apostille actually is and how to obtain it I was also able to find a service that was designed to help those in a similar situation. PERFECT! Apostille.net came to the rescue with getting a color copy of our title, notarized, certified, signed off by the New York Secretary of State and sent via DHL. Although we missed the Friday evening cut off, it was in the mail Monday for delivery on Wednesday or Thursday.
Claims – part IV: Monday morning rolls around after a nice weekend and German Weber, my Argentine agent, asked me to come in to sign some customs paperwork. Upon my arrival the FedEx truck was just dropping off the color, signed and certified copy of my title I requested from USAA the previous Thursday (not the Apostille). When we opened up the package we all thought it may be worth at least giving it one more try, so Francisco and I were off to customs to give it one last shot before giving up and waiting for the Apostille copy. After a ridiculous conversation between the two of us speaking in broken English and Spanish we arrived at the customs office. We were the only ones there this time, walked right in and as if they had never requested the Apostille they signed off on all the documents and it was off to the Port to begin another round of inspection and verification. Three hours later, with what seemed to be a dozen different agents and two inspections I was in the drivers seat pulling out of the customs warehouse and on my way. It was a surreal feeling driving the streets of Buenos Aires in our truck we had so patiently yet painfully waited for these past weeks.
Let me begin by saying that shipping a vehicle overseas can be a logistical nightmare; there are so many pieces to the puzzle it will make your head spin. I’ll give it a whirl to see if I can make it clear enough to make sense of it all. Private shippers, meaning those who do not have a license with a shipping company to utilize their services (like us), must use an “licensed agent” to coordinate all shipping logistics. Remember that there is a departure port and an arrival port, therefore you are required to have an “agent” at each; and yes you guessed it, that is a separate payment, I mean, agent per port. The hired agent is the single point of contact for the drop off warehouse, container packing, trucking company (carrier), the departure port and the shipping company itself. Keep in mind you are working with dual agents, one from each country, so in the end you’re essentially coordinating 7 companies to get your vehicle overseas from point A to B. Here is a little sketch to put it into perspective….
We felt as though a brief explanation of the over all process was necessary before giving an update as to where we are in reuniting our beloved truck; so I hope that helps. When we dropped off Hermes at the warehouse for receiving and customs it was quite sketchy but we were assured everything was okay and on track by our agent. We spent the next few days in Houston tying up loose ends and catching up with friends, assuming everything was going according to plan. Upon arrival our arrival in Buenos Aires we got through our first hurdle of getting Lucia, our 2 year old foxhound/cattledog, out of customs and felt like things were off to a great start. I contacted our agent to confirm the expected arrival date only to find out that they were having significant issues with the receiving warehouse who missed the customs deadline in order to make our expected ship out of Houston (1 week delayed). Adding insult to injury, the warehouse failed to inform our agent that they missed the cut off and were having additional issues with “the paperwork”, so they claimed, and were not able to get our container cleared in time for the next ship out the following week (2 week delay). I immediately began micromanaging the situation, to include calling customs on my own to find out what the issue may really be.
At this point patience was beyond thin and I went straight to the owner of Sea and Air Experts; he informed me that he was changing the warehouse, carrier and shipping company all together to assure our shipment would be on its way. However, it wasn’t over, yet another speed bump: Labor Day! (additional 3 week delay). Ok, deep breath, it will be okay, we are in Buenos Aires – we are trying really hard not to complain but, begrudgingly, days and budget tick by.
Our agent assured us we were cleared for the next ship scheduled: September 15th, 2015. The paperwork was submitted and the truck completely cleared through customs on a ship stamped for anytime on or after the 15th of September. Low and behold, the shipping company was running ahead of schedule and moved the sail date to September 13th. Our paperwork was stamped for the 15th, and already within the 72 hour window couldn’t be changed (4 week delay); so yes, you guessed it, yet another week. Having made our lodging arrangements for the original ship date we are now checking out the day the truck was supposed to arrive and it’s still sitting in Houston, not scheduled to depart for another week. The blows to the chin keep coming.
After four weeks of delays our truck is finally confirmed as loaded on the “Monica” shipping vessel leaving Houston, TX for Buenos Aires on September 22! We are thrilled with anticipation of its arrival…we just hope everything is in place on the Argentinian side and things go much smoother!
The search for the right overlander is important because it is going to be your ‘home‘ for an extended period of time. Your ‘home’ needs to be reliable, safe and of course rugged enough to get you where you want to go. Some will suggest that when traveling international you should be inconspicuous, try not to bring attention to yourself. However, as a 6’3″ red-head we feel like we are going to stand out no matter what so we might as well travel comfortable and enjoy our ride.
We began the search on craigslist within our home state of Colorado; scouring posts for a sportsmobile, truck or whatever would fit our travel needs. Although a sportsmobile seemed like a great option it was either a bit more than our budget would allow or the amount of work needed to get it up to long haul condition would have broken the bank. As the weeks went on our search began to widen to the point where we were looking nationwide. Finally, a Silverado 1500 with low miles appeared. The truck was in excellent condition, meticulously maintained and had the start to what we wanted for our trip.
After 8 long weeks of searching for our house-on-wheels we decided to go for it and take a risk on the sight-unseen Silverado – the major hitch being that the truck was in California. After several, several days of negotiations we bought one way tickets to San Jose and rolled the dice. After some of the conversations and the seller’s request that we make the transaction in cash we had a lot of logistics to work through and some doubt that the sale would in fact take place. Buying and selling a vehicle on Craigslist can be risky and this seller was concerned enough to put us through some hoops. We arrived and made our way over to the meeting place check in hand and putting our trust in the seller to make this all happen. We knew exactly who he was when he drove by, the truck is a beautiful beast.
Large capacity transmission fluid cooler
Fabtech 6″ lift
35″ Nitto Trail Grappler tires
SnugTop camper shell
Rockford Fosgate amplifier and 2 12’s
Rear sway control bar
Besides being awed by the truck, we were also intrigued by this guy; strolling up looking like Hollywood. He even stopped the young waitress in her tracks and never before have either of us seen someone stumble for words like she did, we still laugh about it. I asked what he did and he said a family mental health professional, “Changing the world one family at a time”. But mostly he’s an avid climber, he had just returned from climbing El Capitan.
Off we were on a test drive and to the bank to finalize the deal. Everything checked out and we were anxious to get on the road. This was a quick trip with three long days of driving to make it back to work on Monday morning. We were sent on our way with an admiration of our courage and we were pleased to have the first major logistic of finding our Overlander that we now call ‘Hermes’, a reference to the God of land travel.
We did reach Houston safely and as expected. Without a speed bump or two what would this be? TOO EASY and not us! I mean to be honest, in the preceding months our must do logistics came together so easily and quickly that the train was on the track and rolling before we were ready or willing to do anything about it – and, besides who are we but a couple to just ride the ride… That being said, the puzzle pieces laid out in a jumbled picture, we would be naive not to expect a few hitches, snags, stumbles, hiccups, or whatever word comes to mind, along the way – Practice gloves off cause we’re on the road and this shit is real.
We’re lucky enough to have our old friend Anthony, who was wooed back stateside from Oz by his new bride Rachel, living in Houston and they graciously invited us to stay with them and ‘save some pesos’ before we took flight. It was a perfect opportunity to spend an evening getting acquainted with Rachel, Val and Moe (the cats) before the work week started and our countdown continued. We were also pleasantly surprised that Scott and Kim along with their son Cooper, whom we enjoyed spending time with at the February wedding, had recently moved back from Australia and were there to help with the send off as well.
An amazing launching pad and thankful we were able to help ease those kitties into this dog eat dog world – or wait, do kitties really rule?!?!?!? It was a good canine feline introduction where one really observes the bitch V pussy showdown. Both with their strengths and weaknesses – why don’t you want to play ball?!? The best part about it is that sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. Almost like that silly skiing vs. snowboarding feud.
With so much unknown we’re not quite sure what we are or aren’t ready for but there were a few must dos that need immediate attention. Shipping the truck was priority and has been the most evasive logistic to date. Preparing the truck for the container required removing all articles out the cab, off the top and ensuring it was secured inside the bed of the truck. That includes everything inside as well as the cargo rack with all its pieces. The silver lining being that with everything stacked and the monstrous spare tire front and center it may deter any sort of customs search on either side of the border. Officials have full right to confiscate anything they deem as prohibited and customs regulations are subject to change at any time. We can confirm this as things tend to change on a whim depending on what day it is or who we talk to. Again, shipping has been the most elusive, complicated and costly logistic.
Our shipping agent has been courteous, responsive and fairly informative but as a middleman simply coordinating logistics like the wizard behind the curtain fear of the flying monkeys set in when we pulled up to the dodgy receiving location. Chad walked out of the office and firmly said “I hope this isn’t the right place, they know nothing about us dropping the off truck.” An immediate call to our agent who reassuringly said to give him 15 minutes he’d have it straightened out and apologized for the lack of information. Just like he said, 15 minutes later out they walked with a camera and what looked like a scrap piece of paper with a bunch of incorrect information scribbled out and they asked us to write the contact information of our shipping agent. SKETCHY! They began to take pictures, note the condition of the truck and somewhat inventory the contents – I looked straight at the guy and said ‘Don’t lose our truck’!
So, that was it. The truck was gone and all we can do is hope it shows up in Buenos Aires with all it’s contents as we expect.