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Driving the Pacific Coast

So I live in the North East… Ottawa, Canada to be precise! I want to spend about a month visiting people all the way from Edmonton Alberta, down to Seattle, along the coast to Portland and the Redwood National Park, cutting across to the Grand Canyon thereafter. Sounds like a nice trip right? Isn’t sudden unemployment a precious resource?!

In Ottawa I have my 2004 Saab 9-5 wagon, with about 60,000 miles on the clock and a lot of warranty work under its belt. I have total faith in the drivetrain to survive such a trip, with a stop somewhere for an oil change and maybe some pads; and, it has air con seats, a real plus on any long trip. But the round trip will add about 7,000 miles; the car is also not super efficient, topping out at 30 miles per gallon in the right conditions; and the first 2,000 miles and the last 2,500 miles are long and boooooooring!

Should I just fly to Edmonton, buy a cheap Camry or Crown Vic and do the interesting drive along the coast and into the desert, selling or scrapping the car once I’m done with it and grabbing a cheap flight from Vegas? Or should I see how many species of bugs I can collect in the battered front air dam of the Saab Sled?

I would drive and not worry about the car, it should do OK. That type of driving is very easy on a car if you observe the speed limits and check the fluids regularly.

I did a similar trip from East to West and down the coast years ago with a camper pulled by a 10 year old Buick station wagon. We did 7000 miles and only had to replace a spark plug wire.

Buying a “cheap car” in Edmonton and the reselling is more trouble and expense than it’s worth. You would be “importing” a car into the USA, and regualtions apply. You will only find Western Canadian and US plains boring if you have travelled them many times. If you really want to fly, the the best choice would be to rent a basic car and drop it off at Las vegas.

I have driven across the continent 9 times and have always been fascinated by the changing scenery and the attitude of the people as you drive West.

I took a 4 month trip to Europe once, and contemplated taking my old Chev over and then dumping it. The unreliability of the car and gas prices there dissuaded me from that. Instead I rented a 3 year old VW Beetle and the 13 country, 10,000 km rental cost me just $900.

P.S. Please let Employment Canada know of your wherabouts and that you are still looking for emplyment, even when you are in the USA.

I am planning a trip from Ohio to California in the not distant time.

7,000 miles is just an oil change. Don’t sweat it.

Note: In the summer many gasoline cars don’t handle the heat. Most cars will be fine, but keep an eye on the temperature gauge, or drive a diesel, they tend to have far less wasted heat. You may need to stop or slow down a bit. Make sure the radiator is clean and coolant is at the proper level. You might want to bring along a jug of coolant if you are worried.

Good Luck and have fun.

“2004 Saab 9-5 wagon, with about 60,000 miles on the clock and a lot of warranty work under its belt.”

Generally a car’s history is a good predictor of its future. If it’s been unreliable to date, it’ll only get worse as it ages.

On the other hand, your liklihood of getting a reliable car cheap without an extensive earch is near zero. With an extensive search your likelihood gets better, climbing to perhaps 50%. Taking a long trip in a cheap car that you’ve just picked up cheap and have no knowledge of is, to say the least, very risky.

Given these two options as the only ones available I’d opt for taking the Saab. At least you know the history. Bring an auto club card with you too.

At least check out the cost of renting. Flying to Edmonton, renting a car and dropping it, maybe in Vancouver, bus to Seattle, rent there and drop it in Las Vegas or Denver. Renting a car for really long drives makes sense, because you are putting those miles on someone else’s car. Of course, it comes down to dollars, but it costs a lot to drive your own car, too. The IRS says 50 cents a mile, including fuel and wear and depreciation, etc.

If you check car rent rates, try picking it up in town instead of at the airport. The difference can be huge.

I’d strongly vote against buying a car. The reliability will be questionable, the paperwork will be a major hassle, and you could end up losing a lot more than the cost of a rental.

If you’re considering flying, I’d also check out train fares on Amtrak and the Canadian trains. Since you’re not in a hurry, that could be a reasonably priced and scenic way to make part or all of the trip.

Make sure you include the drive from Banff to Jasper as part of your trip if possible. (That wouldn’t be part of the direct route from Ottawa to Edmonton to Seattle.)