Driving in Chile
Generally speaking the Chileans drive quite civilized. However there are a few things you should know before getting on the road in Chile.
Santiago traffic is not for the faint of heart, or inexperienced drivers. If you decide to join the fray, drive defensively to deal with the aggressive Chilean way of driving, and do not expect any slack. It's important to plan any route you have to drive beforehand. Santiago's streets are confusing, poorly sign-posted, and strewn with potholes. On some of the major thoroughfares, the driving direction will change depending on rush hour traffic, and on days with smog warning levels Pre-emergencia or Emergencia even vehicles with catalytic converters (rental cars, too!) can be banned from driving depending on their license plate numbers (announced in the media).
In town, the speed limit is 50 km/h (31 mph), outside max. 100 km/h (62 mph) - and you wouldn't want to drive any faster anyway, given the state of most roads. On most portions of the highways, 120 km/h (74 mph) are allowed. Speeds are checked often, esp. on highways and freeways, punishment is harsh and involves a tiresome bureaucratic procedure.
On the major arterials leading out of Santiago as well as on most portions of the Panamericana, you have to pay toll at a station (approx. USD 4.00). The fees for using the city highways in Santiago are collected by an electronic system called TAG. All rental vehicles dispose of the respective equipment. The fees for using these city highways with your rental vehicle will be charged afterwards to your credit card.
Gas (93, 95 or 97 octane) is between USD 1.00 and 1.30 per liter, and it gets more expensive in remote areas. You can find the current prices on www.bencinaenlinea.cl (also available as an app).
Before you drive off into the unkown, it is a good idea to inquire about road conditions. Most secondary roads are not paved, and gravel roads of widely varying quality can deteriorate, especially from long rains. Less experienced drivers should be especially cautious on such roads. It is a good idea to carry a second spare tire for longer tours on gravel.
When parking the vehicle, make sure that nothing inside is visible from outside, esp. in cities. The informal and semi-formal parking lot attendants cannot always be trusted. Find secure parking for your car at night but take all your baggage with you.
Always carry car documents, passport, and driver's license with you! If you have questions or run into problems, turn to one of the numerous police stations (Carabineros, see Police.)