Planning a Cross Country Trip

Hello All - Here’s my scenario: in 2014 I’ll be driving cross-country with my 3 dogs & 2 cats from CT to live/work for an indefinite amout of time at a dog rescue/sanctuary in CA. I expect to make either 1 or 2 more cross-country trips within the year after that, then most likely will settle in CA. My current car has over 206,000 mi on it, so obviously I’m looking into which vehicle should be my next one. I might need to haul a small, light-weight trailer on each trip, but then won’t need a trailer again, once settled. So, I’m trying to balance the need for a vehicle that can sustain those trips, but will give me optimal mpg once I’m relocated. I’d rather purchase a used, low-mileage vehicle than a new one, and I’m not a fan of SUV’s. I like station wagons the best, but I’d consider a van. What do you think - is it a search for Holy Grail, or do I have some options? And if I have options, what do you think will be the $$$ range? Thanks to all for your consideration! P.S. I’m also not a fan of GPS & am dedicated to using maps for the rest of my born days, so no need for a lot of hi-tech stuff in the next vehicle.

I expect that you will get a lot of suggestions for specific makes and models, but, rather than taking random suggestions from strangers with unknown agendas, I think that you would be better-served by getting a copy of the Consumer Reports Used Car Buyers Guide, which is available at Barnes & Noble and some other large news stands.

This publication lists every passenger vehicle model that was sold in the US marketplace over the past 10 years or so, along with historical reliability data on those vehicles, pros & cons on each model, mpg data on each model, and even expected prices for specific used car models. Surely this is both more comprehensive and more objective than the random suggestions that you might get from this thread.

And, no matter what final contenders you wind up focusing on, try to limit yourself to vehicles that come with full maintenance records. No matter how good a particular model might be statistically, all bets are off if it was not maintained properly.

And, even if a vehicle’s maintenance record passes muster, it should still be inspected prior to purchase by a mechanic of your choice. That inspection can detect collision damage that you might not have noticed, and can frequently find incipient mechanical problems that would explode in your wallet after purchase.

Additionally, don’t fall into the trap of believing the hype about Carfax reports, as they frequently omit as much information as they include. A Carfax that lists too many owners, accident damage, and other negative info, can help you to eliminate a particular car, but a “clean” Carfax is not any kind of a guarantee of a good car. The amount of missing or incorrect information on these reports is almost legendary.

Sadly, an SUV is probably your best bet. Without knowing how much your trailer will weigh, it’d be difficult to recommend anything. Crossovers are the new station wagons, FYI. While I’m not knocking your not wanting GPS, they are VERY useful if you don’t know where you’re at. And for $100, a portable one can be handy to have.
I think the Rav4 can tow up to 3000 pounds, so that’d be a start. With minivans, their weaknesses usually lie in the transmission; an expensive fix should one go out on your trip. Anything that gives good MPG won’t be able to tow very much, and something that can tow easily won’t get good MPGs.

Also, depending on where you plan on settling down will have an impact on the vehicle you buy, too. If you plan on living in San Fransisco, your vehicle needs will be different than if you settled down in Sacramento.

Small dogs or big ones? You might get by with a hatchback like a Mazda3 if your animals are on the small side. If any of your dogs are over 50 lbs, you might want something bigger. Cost is a big consideration. How much are you willing to spend? One thing about SUVs: they are the new station wagon. If you get one with 2WD, it is essentially a station wagon. You might consider a FWD Chevy Equinox 4-cyl. It gets great gas mileage and has a lot of room if you need a larger vehicle.

Toyota Venza - 4cyl., FWD (not AWD). Get the most basic model and you won’t get all that fancy GPS stuff. Check to see if Enterprise, National, or Hertz are selling any of these with 30-50K miles and you might find an affordable one.

Travel in comfort, anybody can fix it, Body & Frame construction, perfect for towing…Don’t get focused on fuel mileage, it’s the smallest expense of owning a car…

The Venza is a good choice new, but not used. Costs too much.

is the Venza even rated to tow anything?

Wow - lots of good suggestions, including buying the Consumer Reports publication! I do so appreciate reading differing points of view. Looking forward to more input from others, and more learning on my part.