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Looooong Road Trip

I’m 36 and don’t know much about auto repair. But I’ve got wanderlust. Bad. I’ve got the itch to drive thousands of miles all up and down North America. I’ve driven cross-country four times. Once by myself. But always in later model, reliable vehicles…
Now I will tell you about the fantasy vehicle I have in my naive mind: My budget to purchase a car is $5000. A wagon would be nice, mainly to have a place to sleep in mild comfort from time to time. But I’d also be packing pretty light, camping gear, water, food, clothes, probably some spare parts based on recommendation and common sense and maybe, just mmmmmmmmaybe a bicycle and skis. But I’d like something that is easy to learn to repair and also able to be repaired in shops in the outer reaches of the US, Canada and Mexico. Basically, a cheap, reliable, enduring auto for a simpleton.

So, that’s that. Cheers!

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I share your fantasy, but the vehicle you described is a fantasy.
Good luck, but if you decide to do this I would recommend staying in the contiguous 48 states and have a good roadside assistance insurance.

My own fantasy trip is to drive, what is left of it, Route 66 in a 1950s car.
Get your kicks on Route 66.

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I’d pick any car that begins with the letter “T” and ends with the letter “A” and forms a palindrome with the article A in front of it.


Fufill your dream find a V8 Buick or Chevrolet wagon. New tires and brakes. Check the rest and hit the road. Take a portable CB radio.
If it breaks, any hamlet will have a garage that can fix it and a nearby NAPA store or boneyard with parts.
Plenty of room for camping. Bonus points for a roof rack and fake wood trim. Much more style than a van.

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Many years ago I’d suggest a carbureted V8 van from Ford or Chevy. But not anymore. Parts availability could be a serious problem.

A van can be slept in and carry lots of junk but these days they are ridden hard and put away wet for $5K

The best I can recommend is a mini-van - not a Chrysler or Dodge - and a cell phone and patience. You won’t be able to fix what a $5K van might need on the road so a cell phone and patience waiting for parts and repair are needed.

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Sarasota Craigslist. 1993 Buick Roadmaster with new tires $1600. What could go wrong? It has adecent interior and nice patina.

Agree, Another fantasy car— Jaguar by Tata. But then, F-Type or XJ.

What about an Econoline E-150 with the 4.6L/ 5.4L? Or a GMC/Chevy Express with the 350 or 4.8L/ 5.3L Plenty of those around for the price range he’s looking for, plenty of room, robust mechanicals, easy and cheap to fix. Won’t be particularly cheap to fuel, but they tick all the other boxes, and when the OP is done he/she can probably sell it for close to whatever he/she paid for it.

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Both are good choices IF she can find one in good shape. You can’t find one where I live for $5K or under (waay under) that isn’t a total wreck. They are typically trade vans.

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minivan with best reliability rating.

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If you want a vehicle you can sleep in, a minivan or full size station wagon would be your choice. I have driven cross country 7 times, twice while pulling a camper with a 11 year old Buick. A Dodge Grand Caravan is cheap and not the most reliable, but you can get service anywhere in Canada and the US. I would stay away from Ford Minivans.

I would stay out of Mexico for a number of reasons, but car service in Canada is as good or better than in Montana and North Dakota.

Your plan is not a pipedream and takes me back to my college days when a German exchange student after graduation wanted to tour North America on a shoestring.

I helped him buy a 1950 Pontiac 2 door 6 cylinder with no options whatsoever. for $150! It ran well and had a few rust spots. He bought me dinner at a good German restaurant in town in late April.

I heard back from him in October after having driven over 30,000 miles across Canada and the USA, and thanked me for my help. I asked him how the car behaved, and he said he had a repair on the gear shift that cost $28!. Otherwise the trip was trouble-free. No problem getting service for a stove bolt 6 high volume US/Canada made car.

He sold the car for $100 before heading home to Germany.

Lesson learned and advice:

  1. Buy a car almost anyone can fix and in good condition; you WILL have some breakdowns.
  2. Drive sensibly
  3. Have an AAA membership and a cell phone
  4. Carry at least one credit card.

I would also stay out of Alaska. The Alaska highway can be an unforgiving place to have a breakdown.

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This sets off my yellow warning flag. Because around here, a $5k car is unlikely to be super reliable. So my question is, your purchase budget is $5k, you need to consider how much do you have in reserve to fund repairs on the road. Because if you can’t do them, and need towing/emergency repair on the road, that can add up pretty fast. Like ditching the heap at a mechanic for towing fees and taking the bus home.

I’m all for adventure. Just realize what it could end up like and plan for that possibility. Hope for the best but plan for the worst…


The “outer reaches” of Canada can mean a lot of things, including ice roads and large stretches of country with more bears than people. We’re talking around 100,000 people in over 1.5 million square miles. So, if you’re going to the outer reaches, bring a sat phone and lots of money, because otherwise if you break down you’re in trouble - there are places up there that are 20+ hours between repair shops.

So I’m guessing you’re going to want to keep things at least slightly more civilized so that you don’t have to fundraise to mount an expedition.

I’d agree with the GM wagon idea. It’s cheap, relatively simple, and there are about a squillion of those platforms running around still so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding repair shops that can fix it.

As to working on it yourself, that’s a great idea, but you’ll be pretty limited even if you know what you’re doing, because if you pack enough tools to tackle anything you’ll need to pull an enclosed trailer to haul them all. :wink:

I’ve lived out of my '87 Toyota pickup (long-bed, 7-foot, so I could stretch out, XtraCab so I could keep more stuff in the cab). I carried a bike that I had to take out and lock up when I slept. I kept everything in scavenged milk crates that I could stack in order to have space to sleep inside. I liked sleeping outside so only slept inside when the weather was too rough.

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Canada is the world’s second largest country with only 36 million inhabitants.

If you get the AAA road maps you will see that 90% of the population lives within 500 miles of the US border. True, there are roads in the North, but you should avoid those since they are mostly gravel and more lonely than the Alaska Highway. I have driven in most of Northern Canada and it’s “wilder” than Alaska.

With respect to wildlife, be on the lookout for deer or moose crossing the road. I’ve had collisions with deer and my wife actually killed a bear that she collided with. Those were all in National Parks, where wildlife is protected. In Northern British Columbia you will encounter wildlife on public highways; wolves, coyotes, deer, the odd grizzly bear. Stay in your car.

One final note: don’t buy a California car; the emissions are real screwy in older ones and mechanics may be puzzled. The 49 state version is very compatible with Canadian emission standards and repairs should be easy. The advantage of a Detroit V8 station wagon is that the powertrain is nearly the same as that in pickup trucks, which are plentiful all over North America.

And an AAA membership is accepted by all the Canadian provincial auto clubs and the CAA (Canadian Automobile Association).

Bon Voyage!

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Folks here who like to car-camp say a Prius is a good choice. Apparently you can fold the seats down flat enough so you can sleep in it pretty comfortably. Not sure if you can get a good one for $5000, but definitely take a look what’s available. If you don’t want to sleep in the car, but use a tent instead, i’d recommend a Corolla or Civic. The advantage they have is that most any shop will be able to repair them. Another idea, one time I rented a Chevy HHR, and the seats fold down nice and flat, the area big enough you could sleep in it. It handles really nicely at higher speeds, another plus for long freeway trips. If I had your wanderlust desires myself and $5000 burning a hole in my pocket, I’d buy a used Corolla and sleep in a tent. I think that’s the best compromise.

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I’m not exactly sure if $5000 is enough. Given the cost of your trip and possible repair, I don’t think it’s suffice. Get yourself a pickup truck so you can bring stuff for your outdoor adventure such as camping material, bikes, fishing equipment, or even a kayak. LOL

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Look around for a Ford TransConnect minivan. These are not popular and most were used for business, around town delivery and such. You might find one in good shape at a decent price, but beware even with low miles, those will be hard miles. The van may have a LOT of engine hours with low miles due to idling a lot. But if it runs good, it might be good for a road trip or two.

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A Chrysler Corp minivan (Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth) would be my choice. Actually, we have had two. They are ubiquitous, therefore reasonably priced with readily available parts new and used. They do not score high for reliability, but we have never been stranded and the problems we’ve had are not deal breakers: after 125,000 miles a sliding door latch problem, windows don’t close in subzero temps, a noisy alternator pulley, etc. You can keep your bicycle inside away from rain and road grit and still have room to sleep. A canoe fits securely on the roof rack. We get 24 MPG highway loaded.


I dunno. We’re talking about being in the “outer reaches” of some of the wildest terrain on this side of the planet. Reliability statistics aren’t just interesting from an “I don’t want the expense and inconvenience of a breakdown” perspective, but from a much more critical “if this thing breaks down in the wrong place I will probably die” standpoint.

As such, the thing really can’t be reliable enough.