First Car at 50

I am beyond 50 years old and have never driven a car or truck before. However, I love to travel and plan to do some now that my working career is winding down.I would like to hear the community’s ideas on a first vehicle to run around North America in. I have few requirements: I would like something economical, easily maintained, that I might be able to sleep in or at least carry stuff, and room for a dog (breed not yet determined - just like the idea of a dog handing out the window wnjoying the wind in his/her face).
I would be delighted to get any feedback.

If you only need a car for you and your dog, a compact car would do just fine. Since you are going to travel around the country, one with a reliable reputation and sold in sufficient volume to be easily and quickly repaired, means you might choose form such cars as a Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra.

Of the above, only the Mazda3 Hatchback and the Hyundai Hatchback are large enough to sleep in with the backseat down. But unless you are used to a lot of tent camping, I would not recommend sleeping in a car.

Depending on your budget you might go up a notch in size and price and go for a Mazda5, which is a cross between a compact minivan and an SUV. It has more interior space.

However, please let us know your budget and you will get a more specific recommendation. As a car novice you want ease of operation, reliability and ease of repair and service. You don’t want to stuck in rural Idaho with a car nobody knows how to work on.

Maybe you should get your license and drive a few cars to get comfortable behind the wheel and then drive the cars that interest you.

Don’t know what kind but, buy new and you might want to consider brands with dealers most everywhere. I know with our Acura, dealers are few and far between should we have a problem. Chevy and Ford dealers are everywhere. Probably the cheapest and most pracitcal is a Dodge Caravan but who knows how this Fiat/Chrysler relationship is going to go.

A minivan was my first thought. They would use more gas than a small wagon or crossover but they have plenty of room. I have found that you can actually get pretty comfortable in just about any passenger side seat by putting the back down as far as it will go and using a king size pillow. Doesn’t work on the drivers side as the pedals and steering wheel get in the way, but if you are the only human and the dog isn’t too big, any compact car can work, and you can get upwards of 40 mpg. I have done this in my old Saturn SL.

If you do this, get a Rand McNally large size US atlas from WalMart. The ones sold at WalMart give you the locations of all the WalMarts in the US and for those that are within two miles of an interstate exit, they give directions to those WalMarts. These WalMarts allow overnight parking for campers and RV’s. They don’t mind a compact car in their midst. Be sure to have a way to cover all your windows though as the parking lots are well lit.

These WalMarts also are 24 hour stores with restrooms and some type of fast food outlet for Breakfast. You can also stock up for any necessary items for the days trip and get gas too. I think that is part of the reason they allow this.

If you are over 62, be sure to get a Senior Pass at the first National Park you stop at. Its a bargain. If you are under 62, check the National Park website for free days and other bargains they offer. Taking the US 89 loop is one of the great drives you can make, but plan on taking your time as it is no interstate.

A word about the dog’s head out the window: you may want to check but I think veterinarians recommend against it. While the animals love the saturation of their senses, it can cause cataracts.

Folks here have said the Prius (presumably the larger version) is good for car camping. The seats can be folded back to form a flat surface, then, b/c the rear window is tilted quite a bit from vertical, laying in the back you can see the sky and see shooting stars up through the rear windshield. The only problem w/the Prius is that if you wander far afield, far from major cities, if something breaks, you may have to wait a few hours to a few days for parts to be shipped from a major city. And you may run into a problem where none of the local mechanics in town have the training to fix it.

Another alternative would be to do it as a bare minimalist, using a Corolla or Civic. I do some car camping w/ my Corolla, and just bring a small tent. I prefer sleeping in a tent than in the car myself. If I want to sleep indoors, I’ll go to Motel 6 for the night. The advantage of using an econo-boxes is that they are affordable, reliable, repair parts are widely available, and it is no problem to find a local mechanic who can fix them. I think touring around in a Corolla, sleeping indoors in areas where a Motel 6 is available, and outdoors in a tent when no Motel 6 is available, to me that’s probably the best compromise.

If you don’t like either of these ideas, next in line would probably be the Toyota Matrix. Not sure about current models, but the design was originally based on the Corolla so at least drive train parts and local mechanics who can fix it should be widely available.

hmmm … what else? Well, if I were going to do this myself, like in a big way for a trip where I’d be away from home for months at a time and might be traveling on rutted dirt roads where clearance might be an issue from time to time, need to cross small streams, where I might like to have a more self-contained rig which had a sink with water, propane tank to power a fridge and a gas stove top, I might be inclined to put a small camper on the back of a truck, something like a Ford Ranger.

One more idea. Read the non-fiction book by John Steinbeck “Travels With Charlie”, where he pulls up stakes in New York, and spend the summer driving around the USA with his only companion his pet standard Poodle “Charlie”. Or you could listen to it on your way, as an audio-book.

“A word about the dog’s head out the window: you may want to check but I think veterinarians recommend against it. While the animals love the saturation of their senses, it can cause cataracts.”

Just because dogs enjoy something, that does not mean that it is healthy for them.
Over the long-term, this habit can lead to cataracts, but even in the short term, the chance of an insect (or other object that is not eye-friendly) impacting the eye at high speed and causing corneal damage is fairly high.

I would recommend a minivan. It has the ability to meet all your needs. And as far as a dogs head out the window our golden is 14, and it has not hurt her a bit. As far as dogs go, I never thought I would enjoy an ankle biter, probably a cairn terrior as in wiz toto. Our golden is great, but this little dog my daughter found freezing in an alley is the quintessential ambassador. Talk of both assisted living centers for wife mom and my mom, even became my profile picture! I even buy stupid outfits for the dog to make the old folks laugh, last one was a grey sweater with a pink heart and pink tutu, looking for a superman outfit now! A golden is a loving wonderful dog but this critter is more portable, less messy easy because it just loves to run and play and will not knock anyone over, even got old betty the wicked witch of the west to love her and miss her.

I would vote for the minivan. I would take out the rear seats so I just had front seats. Power windows are a must. You can open the window as needed for the dog. Some times I just open it a little bit so he can just stick his nose out. I have a dog ( Lab mix ), a van will give the dog room to move about in the back. Also you can keep a small self-water bowl, self feeder ,so it can eat/drink when it needs to. I have one it holds 1/2 gal of water. I just drove 20 hrs strait with my dog in a van and one other driver. We made sure he had a place to move around and eat/get water. He did fine.

George reminded me of a good book “blue highways” by William least heat-man. I listened to the tape version as he traveled all the by ways and slept in his truck.


“Just because dogs enjoy something, that does not mean that it is healthy for them.”

The same could be said about people . . .

Sure we are all on the path to destruction,

Be aware that it is much more difficult to get a hotel room with a dog in tow. They are available, but you would have to plan in advance to be sure there is space at those inns that allow dogs. Also, you limit your travel times to warmer months if you sleep in or near your car. But the newer pop-up tents do set up and come down quickly. No problem with your dog there.

My parents slept I’m the back of a Dodge Caravan (minivan) through the nineties. Just took out the back seats, unrolled a foam pad, and tossed down sleeping bags. My brother does the same in a more recent Honda Odyssey. With one person there will be plenty of room at night for you, the dog, and luggage.

I can’t see you being comfortable in any compact unless you’ve already tried sleeping in a reclined passenger seat. To sleep I’m the cargo area you would need at least a mid-sized wagon or ute, unless you’re very short. An Acura TSX wagon, Toyota Venza or Subaru Outback could work if you aren’t pressing six feet. And you won’t have much space for your stuff. A minivan is far roomier, comparably priced, and gets similar gas mileage.

I have this dream sometimes, too, and crawl around the backs of cars at shows. I’m right on six feet and have found few cars I could sleep in at all. Rear seats rarely fold flat and cargo areas over six feet are rare except in minivans and biggish utes. Pleasant dream, for sure, though I think one of the smaller camper van conversions might suit me better.

I know with our Acura, dealers are few and far between should we have a problem.

Since Acura is made by Honda…Any Honda dealer in the country can work on a Acura. Same with Pontiac and Chevy. And the Honda dealer will cover the Acura warranty.

Honda and Toyota dealers are plentiful…with maybe some extremely remote places in the country (although I haven’t found those remote places yet).

First choice of vehicle to drive the country…reliable/economical…and big enough for you luggage and dog… I recommend a Toyota Corolla…Or a little bigger the Camry or Honda Accord.

@db4690“The same could be said about people . . .”

People smoke because they enjoy it, they overeat because they enjoy it, and they do all sorts of other things that will inevitably compromise their health. Enjoyment of something is not necessarily an indication that something is good for you!

Dogs should be strapped in or placed in a cage or put in a cap in the rear of a truck
I recomend an extended cab PU with a cap on back for fido. I will not buy a car from anyone who let man’s best friend have a run of the interior of a car or truck. I grew up with dogs but I never let one share my living quarters or my car’s interior. We share the out of doors. The back of a enclosed truck is fine. We have deer ticks around here and people are contracting that menacing Lyme disease from their pets while sharing living space. Ain’t going to happen here. Sorry to sound like a kill joy. I live and work in the woods and fear this disease. Yet, my neighbors and friends who have contracted this disease don’t. They got it from their pets while sharing living space with them.

I thought about your post again. Anybody who’s never driven himself at 50 and is winding down his career at 50 is probably in a position to buy pretty much any car he desires. If that’s true, since you’ve never driven before and plan a lot of traveling, you may want to consider the new Mercedes S class. The vehicle has the latest in high-tech driver assist technology, including lane a holding system and a system that can automatically apply the brakes if necessary. It also has the absolute best in driver protection technology should you end up in a crash.This might be a great vehicle for lots of driving by a new driver.

I got the perfect vehicle for you if you want to camp in, get one of the 2013 Ford Transit Connect vans before they are gone. They are out of production now. The 2013 was very industrial, the new 2014 will be more luxury oriented.