Cargo space, reliablility, and the ability to cross mountains/desert


#1

For various unfortunate reasons no one really cares about I have been non-vehicular for several years. Recently, for more unfortunate reasons, I have moved from my beloved New Orleans to Texarkana, Texas via U-Haul.

It’s not permanent, however, and in somewhere between a few months and several months, I will be moving again, this time to Olympia, Washington, and hope to do so in my own vehicle, which has presented the problems which I am writing about today.

The cost to rent a U-Haul that distance is so extraordinarily high that it looks more logical to buy a vehicle in Texarkana and drive it up there, hauling the stuff (there isn’t much) as cargo, shipping whatever can’t fit. The original plan was an old Suburban or a cargo van of some sort, but that might not be applicable due to two major factors: The Rocky Mountains and/or Mojave Desert.

I am a city-boy, and a flatlander, having spent most of my time in the urbanized swamp of New Orleans. I have some experience with driving in mountains while on vacation in Kentucky, and living for a short time in New England (after Katrina). However, nothing with the height or steepness of the Rockies, and the furthest west I have ever driven is the Austin, TX area. Thus, I need something with the power and reliability to get over the Rockies and/or reliability in heat to get through the Mojave (avoiding one makes you have to drive far in the other). On top of that I need something that can haul cargo and cats, and is relatively affordable.

Part of this is the fact, that, as I said, I have driven exclusively in the eastern half the country, and thus have little experience with the long empty stretches of desert I will have traverse in New Mexico and Utah (northern route) or New Mexico and Arizona (southern route) or the northern route’s possibly engine-killing mountains. (Kentucky and Tennessee mountains killed the old Chrysler land yacht I bought after Katrina ($500 newspaper special) cheap because I’m a cheapskate . . . er . . .thrifty, I meant thrifty and I am a bit worried about a repeat as I’m sure the higher, steeper mountains could kill an engine even quicker.)

Probably will not be in the position to spend a lot of money. Preferring cheap, but I don’t care if it’s butt-ugly.

Lastly, once I get to Olympia, if it’s a big off-road SUV/camper or van/camper I might want to trade it to one of the more outdoorsy types up there, since I am not outdoorsy at all (city-boy, remember) for or sell it to someone and get a more city/efficient/compact. (I was a huge fan of the Mazda Protege back in the day when it was the official car of 90’s slackers in the south, but something in the Mazda/Prius/compact/etc area.)

So, I would appreciate any advice or insight y’all can offer, or, in words closer to how I am actually feeling at the moment, “HELP!!! I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING!!!”

Thanks a bunch


#2

Any well maintained car in good mechanical condition can handle deserts and mountains with no problems. Assuming you don’t overload it and try to hit 70 MPH on the upgrades.

So I’d find a good independent mechanic I can trust, and any prospective used car that I’m interested in, I’d take it to him for an inspection. Will cost about $100, but well worth it.

As to what type of vehicle to get, that depends on how much baggage you will be hauling. Most cars won’t handle much in the way of furniture. If you get something large like a full sized van, to carry a lot of furniture and other goods, you will be paying a lot more in gasoline for the trip. That plus the loss when you sell it, and possible breakdowns, would point towards renting something for the trip.


#3

Agree; A minivan will accommodate luggage and your cat and driven conservatively, will get you there.

As pointed out, here is no mystery to driving to the NW across the Rockies; I’ve done it a dozen times in all manner of vehicles often while towing a trailer.

Used furniture is very cheap, especially at summer garage sales. I would just take electronics and small appliances along, since you will be moving again soon.

Make sure a mechanic checks out your new wheels, and enjoy the trip!


#4

I think the vehicle condition is more important than the type, so just get what fits your needs and budget. I’ve seen just about anything crossing the mountains. You just go slower or use a lower gear. There’s pretty much interstate roads all the way, so enjoy the view. Everyone should be required to tour the US to see what it is really like.


#5

You might want to look at a pick-up with a camper shell. To that you could add a small to medium sized trailer if needed.

The disadvantage of the truck is that they hold their value well, so getting one won’t be cheap. But the advantages are, they hold their value well so if you need to sell it, you get most of your money back. Go for an extended cab pick-up for the cats (how many) to have a little room, but you probably won’t need a crew cab (4 door) truck unless its a lot of cats.

The smaller cab will be easier to keep cool. Your household goods do not need AC, only you and your cats. Most manufacturers use a one size fits all AC so you want to have the smallest area to condition that you can get by with. It takes quite a bit of time to cool down a cavernous van compared to a regular cab pick-up.

Don’t worry about anything that is less than 20 years old. If it can make it across town, it will make it across the desert and the mountains. Just get it checked by a pro to make sure it will make it across town.

Avoid 4WD trucks, they just cost more to buy and to operate. Get good tires on it, winter tires if you plan on driving in the winter. Chains or cables would also be a good thing to have in winter, just in case.


#6

What’s your budget?
Is there an option, say perhaps the bus?

Your chances of finding a vehicle reliable enough for an immediate long trip with no knowledge and no money are pretty slim IMHO. It there’s any other option available, you may want to consider it. Busses are still a pretty good and very affordable method of making a long trip.

No disrespect intended.


#7

Another option to consider for the moves, rent a truck. I rented a Budget 16 foot truck to move a load of furniture and household goods from Denver to San Francisco a few years ago, relatively inexpensive and the whole shebang went off without a hitch. 105 degrees in Winnemucca Nevada, no problem, just turn on the AC. Even when crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains between Reno and Sacramento, construction detours routed me through Nevada City on narrow & steep winding mountain roads, still no problem. Driving that truck was as easy as driving my Corolla, except I had to watch out for how tall it was, that’s the main difference between driving that truck and the Corolla. I had to apologize for denting a hotel’s rain gutter in Elko Nevada! … lol … But overall everything went well and the ride quality and handling was superb.


#8

Any car in good condition will handle the trip. However, driving a fully loaded vehicle in the mountains of the west requires some driving techniques that you may not be used to. When trying to slow the car, truck or van going downhill, use the transmission as much as possible to avoid burning out the brakes.

At first, the engine noise will sound alarming when you do this, but you will soon get used to it.

I would do a transmission oil and filter change before the tripas you are going to be heating the fluid quite a bit. Use the proper fluid. Do not let anyone talk you into “universal” fluid or Dexron with an additive pack for your car. Only cars designed for Dexron should use it.


#9

Take the northern route and avoid the desert.


#10

I’d try to avoid hauling a trailer. That is where all the extra stress on the tow vehicle can cause the motor to overheat, and likewise the transmission. I think an older used mini-van is a good option. You can take a lot of stuff in a mini van and won’t have to ship as much.

Mountains and desert are no issues if the vehicle is in OK shape. Make sure the cooling system and AC are working. Buy the vehicle at least 2 months before you set out to drive it and deal with any issues that crop up. Good tires properly inflated are important. A new serpentine belt is a good idea. Make sure the radiator and heater hoses are good. Most on road breakdowns are for blown tires, broken drive belts, and burst hoses. A triple A membership might give you a bit more secure feeling too.


#11

Thanks for all the advice. One thing I should have mentioned, I prefer automatic transmission. I can drive a stick shift, but as I learned in Massachusetts, (where someone had the brilliant idea of putting a stop light at the very bottom of a mountain before a steep grade) I am more than capable of stalling it out and having to crawl up the shoulder in first. Not sure if that makes much difference or not.


#12

So, crawl up the shoulder in first! Years ago, I rode bicycle a lot. Riding into a strong wind actually wasn’t hard once you learned to go into a low gear and take it easy. The big problem was trying to go into the wind fast. That would kill you in a few minutes, when you were 20 miles from home. Same with a heavy vehicle. Let it grind up in low gear. Keep the oil changed; don’t let it overheat. Stop for a cool down if you must.

A man I worked with had a sign on his station. I forget the exact words. Something like

You can have the work done fast.
or, you can have it done cheap.
Or, you can have it at very high quality.
You can have two of three, but you can’t have all three.

In this case, you can make the trips cheaply. Or, you can make them with great reliability and safety. Or, you can make them fast. Two out of three, but not all three.

Before Law Enforcement became bigger thieves than the criminals, I’d have said, so cross the desert at night! Not any more. I will at times drive at night in Mexico, contrary to most trip advisers, but never in the USA.

In any case, take not one molecule of illegal substances. Don’t even think it. And, take no cash beyond soft drink change.