Finding a Car for that Perfect, Unforgettable Road Trip

I don´t like cars. One of my least favorite things about Seattle is having to get in a car to go almost anywhere. I don´t like traffic, I don´t like being inside a metallic box instead of being out in the open field. However, I love road trips. I love that feeling of being on the road, with the wind on your face and that open-feeling that anything is possible. I´ve been on roads that lead to magnificent places, but I have never been behind the wheel.

Now that I am trying to come to terms with the fact that I need to start driving if I wanna have a full, enjoyable life in this highway-ridden parts, I caught myself thinking about the things I might need in a car. The most important thing to me is this: it has to be a car that is suitable for long, long road trips.

With friends everywhere from Clarkston to Vancouver, and from Salt Lake City to LA, my pedestrian days are finally over: I need a car.

I have been doing a bit of research and considering what my priorities are in terms of buying a car, and I thought it might be useful to other people who find themselves in my situation to share my conclusions.

Priorities

Before buying any car it helps to consider your priorities. When you are on a budget, one of the number one concerns is that the type of car, its age and engine power, amongst other criteria, will determine how much insurance you’ll pay and how often you can expect to have it serviced or repaired. As a newbie driver, which I´ll -hopefully- soon become, I was relieved to find out that some providers offer cheap insurance to learner drivers.

Features of Cars for Long Journeys

As I plan to use my car for regular long journeys, I am looking for some specific features, which are very different from those needed for driving around in a city. Comfort is a big concern in my case, especially because I often suffer from lower back pain. There is a little feature I love about my boyfriend´s car that will be a must when I look for my own, namely, heating on the seat around the lower back area; especially for driving around this often chilly Northwest region, this feature is a godsend. Obviously, the seats will have to be extremely comfortable, offering a set of different, cozy positions. After all, you never know when you´ll have to take a nap in the car.

I also want something that feels easy to drive with a comfortable driving position, a spacious cabin, so I can stretch my legs, a large trunk that can fit all our adventure-ready gear, good suspension. For example, I´ve learnt that sports suspension and large alloy wheels can make for a harder, less comfortable ride. I am not sure about how often I will be carrying passengers, but just in case, I will also make sure that the passenger and rear seats are comfortable, as well as child car seat-compatible.

Ideally, I also want a car that handles country roads well, and special features that enable it to drive smoothly on snowy roads would be a total bonus. Just a few weeks ago, we tried to go up to beautiful Crystal Mountain, but it was snowing heavily, and we were never made it to the top, because we didn´t have snow tire chains to make it up the mountain road. Some cars have chains that you don´t have to put on yourself, but that you can simply operate by pushing a button. I sure want that feature, but, of course, if you live in Florida or anywhere down South, you will not end up putting your hard-earned money on that. If you leave in Arizona, you might want a car that performs well in the desert. But as a rule, anyone can appreciate a vehicle with sturdy wheels that can take many challenges.

Sound and Extras

I love to listen to music on the road, but I find that some cars are too noisy to be able to enjoy it. I will definitely choose a car that has been reported to be extra-quiet. It is important to note that even when the car seems quiet during a test drive, it might be noisy under different conditions, so, the safest bet is to read a lot of user reviews.

As a music lover, I should be more passionate about putting together my own car stereo system, picking the right subwoofer and amp, and the best speakers. Sadly, I just like some things to be ready-made and give me no trouble. Personally, I want a car that comes complete with an above average stereo system, where I can plug in my iPod and forget about all my mundane concerns.

Another feature I am all for to make my car long-trip-ready is cruise control. I just love the idea of not having to worry that much about driving, while also improving fuel efficiency, and making sure I am not going over speed limits.

Of course, the main concern when shopping for a car for this type of adventures is overall fuel efficiency; in other words, how much fuel does it take to go from point A to point B using each particular model. Most of the more economical cars have diesel engines, though modern petrol cars tend to perform better than older models. As a rule, cars designed for fuel efficiency tend to cost more upfront, which can cancel out any savings unless you do a lot of mileage – in my case, I plan to take that car on the road every chance I get; I´m sure I´ll make up for the extra expense.

Other than that, my boyfriend thinks German cars are always the most reliable, and I kind of see his point.

Featured image by Frank Kehren

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One comment on “Finding a Car for that Perfect, Unforgettable Road Trip

  1. Oh, Vero, one does not simply drive to Crystal Mountain without winter tires or chains. 🙂 Not even with US-Canada-Europe-style “All-Season Tires”. “All-Season” is the Fifth Biggest Lie. 😉

    You are about to discover the bizarre differences between the Uruguay and USA auto markets. Beyond that bizarre “snow” thing you already discovered.

    My “drive to Crystal” car was a 2010 Suzuki SX-4, which in the USA was the nearly very smallest car on the market, definitely the very smallest and cheapest All Wheel Drive car, at about U$S16,000 (for other non-Uruguay readers, U$S is how US dollars is written in Uruguay – rest of comment will use US-standard of $ for dollars – which in Uruguay means pesos!)

    In Uruguay, that is the second-largest Suzuki, there are 3 or 4 smaller models, the 2-wheel-drive model is $31,000! Now in USA Suzuki is out of the car business entirely, while in Uruguay it is one of the top brands.

    There are no cars the size of the small “city cars”, the “kei cars”, which are the normal affordable small UY cars like BYD F0, Chana, Change, Lifan 320, nor the Hyundai i10 or similar 1-liter mini-hatchbacks. There are practically no hatchbacks at all. Entire European brands you know do not exist and have not for decades in USA (Peugeot, Citröen, Renault) or only have a N.Amer.built upscale-retro-toy like the new FIAT 500.

    I don’t think you want something that small if you are planning cross-country trips, though a level up, at the size of my dear departed Suzuki (sold to a Seattle dealer to pay my costs to move here to Uruguay!) was awesome for many cross-USA road trips, getting nearly 30MPG real life hard driving, and that was with a Thule ski/luggage box on the top! Often with a big dog, small cat, and beloved wife and our stuff jammed inside!

    The $16,000 Chevrolet Cruze is considered a small car and for a time was the smallest actual-built-by-GM Chevrolet, while it is a large car at $32,000 USD according to the listings of the “Grandes” in the Sunday El Pais auto section. Likewise the Honda Civic is not a large car, it is a small car.

    As a Uruguay citizen, you can bring a car back into Uruguay. Given the huge difference in price for the same or comparable vehicles, you might do well to buy a US brand that is well known in Uruguay (or a European brand like VW but I had a crapload of horrible luck and worse service with several VWs in USA) for under $20,000, spend the $10,000 to ship it in a container back to Uruguay, and sell it at a nice profit still!

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