Going on a road trip demands a lot from a car. It’s putting the car through a lot of wear and tear, through rigorous terrain and lots of running time. A stiff ride will make the journey miserable and cost a lot in chiropractor bills. Another thing to consider is ride height, so the car has enough clearance to make it in those off-roading situations.
If you’re shopping for a car to take on road trips, here are some key things to look for while you test drive:
The Ford E250 Extended Cargo Van is perfect for the road trip to explore some wilderness where you can park on the side of desolate sections of highway and adventure off the path for a few miles. Without the middle rows of seats it’s big enough on the inside to take a couple dirt bikes and gas cans, a cot and luggage. If you get an E250 with a wheel chair lift, you can use it to put the bikes in and take them out with relative ease, and make some room for two people to sleep comfortably next to each other. While the front seats aren’t the most comfortable, the suspension is bouncy and soft so it won’t do a number on your lower back. The engine pushes hard with a lot of low end horsepower, and with it’s full 35 gallon gas tank the van can go ideally at least 500 miles.
Going to the snow can be treacherous. it can be unwieldy, where a car can easily get stuck if it’s not properly equipped and the cold temperatures certainly don’t help either. You want something that is nimble and powerful enough to get yourself out of trouble. Enter the 2005 Subaru Legacy GT. It’s got AWD, has 250 horsepower, gets up to 25 mpg and with the rear seats down can accommodate skis and snowboards up to 185cm (73”) in length. If you get a roof rack to go with it, you can put the skis and snowboards in a cargo box and use the back of the car to sleep in. As long as you get good snow tires for the Subaru you’ll be in good hands. The Legacy GT is a proven work horse in the snow.
One of the most brutal journeys you can go on in California is through Death Valley. Besides having enough room for all the drinking water you’ll need, you probably want to carry a tent, camping supplies, and some food. You’ll also want AWD, and enough ground clearance to handle the roads. The Honda CR-V is a good option for this kind of journey, however it would be quite a crash course for a brand new car. It might be an interesting idea to buy an older model for not a lot of money, around $1-2,000 and just use it for the trip. They are available with manual transmissions as well, which if you run into problems down the line would be much easier to deal with than an automatic. You can push start a manual relatively easily, if a gear goes out you have a few others you can choose from instead of relying on the transmission, and it’s also less likely to break in the first place. Aside from that the CR-V gets decent mileage, is comfortable enough on long distances, has A/C and a lot of storage space, especially if you’re only going with two people when you can fold down the rear seats.
For attending sporting events across the state, it’s tough to beat the early 2000s Dodge trucks. People are reporting their Dodge 2500s from 2001-2004 get more than 20 mpg, which for a truck of that size is impressive. With a truck like that you could haul a bbq, a canopy, chairs, luggage, food, and basic camping gear. Perfect for going to sporting events and parking outside of the venue. Dodge trucks from that era tend to have somewhat rough rides, with slightly reactive and jumpy suspension but you feel taller than anything else on the road, and the seats are comfortable enough to last long distances, making the early Dodge trucks readily equipped for a simple road trip.
For road trips, you don’t necessarily need AWD, but if you do plan on visiting places like Yosemite or the Sierras during snow season it would make things a lot easier. Power and comfort are important as well, because without enough power you can get stuck in mud or snow, even with AWD, and if the car’s not comfortable then the trip will be all that much more unpleasant.
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