Road Trip Conundrum--which car to take, or should I rent?

My friend and I are going on a 24-day, 8,000 mile cross-country road trip. I had planned to rent a car from Enterprise but just found out that they charge 30 cents per mile for every mile over 150 miles/day once I get past the Mississippi. This will add almost $2,000 to the original rental price of $700! I’ve looked at other websites and the starting price is $1,000 for each, without even calling to find out about hidden fees.

I’ve decided to take my own car. It’s a 2002 Toyota Corolla. I spent about $1,000 to get new brake pads, alignment, oil change, and other things that I don’t remember now. I know I need to take it in again this week because every time I go over a pothole/bump, there’s a creaky sound under the car like something is loose. I’m also rather afraid it will simply die on this trip. My mechanic said the car will survive…he isn’t so sure about me!

Here’s the thing–my mom just called and offered for me to take her 2010 Subaru Forester for the trip, and she will take my car for the time I’m gone. I know it might get worse mileage than my car, but it’s in great condition (at least, for now…).

Should I take my mom’s car (and risk damaging it), take my car (and risk destroying it), or take a rental (and risk spending $1,000+ unnecessarily)? I have enough money that if I need to buy a car when I get back, I can put about $3,000 into one just to get back and forth to work and grad school.

Oh….and the trip is in 12 days.

Also, I know regardless of the vehicle, I will have to take the car to get an oil change and check-up during the trip at least once. Any advice on what all I should have done, and how often?

Smart thinking! Even Rent-a-Wreck can put you in the poorhouse with the extra mileage charges. That happened to 2 Australian tourists who got taken in by the low basic rate and ended up paying some $2200 for the extra mileage incurred by touring the USA.

Some years back I borrowed my father-in-law’s Buick which had a trailer towing package and put 7000 miles on touring the US and Canada. Total repairs were $14 for a spark plug wire.

I had replaced the front brakes prior to the trip for about $200.

Extended rental costs can pay for a whole lot of repairs!!!

I don’t want to influence your decision, but I have an 02 Saturn with 268k miles on it and I am planning to take a similar trip this summer.

Be sure to check the tire pressure, maybe bump it up a few pounds over the recommended just before the trip. If all your other maintenance is up to date, then tires are the biggest concern, and it won’t matter much which vehicle you take.

The newer the vehicle, the more reliable it should be, so that would seem to dictate using Mom’s 2010 Forester. However…if you ruin a tire on that Forester anywhere along the way, you need to be prepared to replace all 4 tires, as replacing just one tire on an AWD vehicle can lead to…expensive repairs a few thousand miles later.

So, I would suggest that you factor that information into your decision, as well as the fact that you would need to rotate the tires at some point, along with an oil change. The Subaru’s tires are supposed to be rotated every 7,500 miles.

Also–no matter which car you take, remember that maintenance means more than simply changing oil and rotating tires. At certain intervals, you also need to flush the cooling system, change the transmission fluid, replace the spark plugs, and change the brake fluid. Make sure that you carefully check both the mfr’s maintenance schedule and the maintenance record for whichever car you intend to take on this long trip.

Thank you all SO MUCH for your comments! You’ve eased my mind and made me feel much more confident about this process!

I’d sooner use my own car here than mom’s. I hated to rely on family generosity…better to keep it “in reserve” for when I REALLY needed it! Assuming you’re driving on well travelled thorofares where a mechanical is just a lost day vs. a “Deliverance” re-enactment…it’s all part of the adventure, right? (One of my more interesting detours was a stop in Tulsa when the truck I was driving died…)

'TDepends on your relationship with your mom. If the car breaks down and needs a fairly expensive repair, will her response be;

  1. Poor baby. I hope that didn’t ruin your trip. I’ll have my mechanic look it over to make sure the work was done right;
  2. Why do you have to break everything? That car is almost new and never causes any trouble, but you drive it and it falls apart. I should have never offered.

If you have mother 1, go ahead and swap cars. IF you have the other, take the Corolla. Odds are it will be just fine, though check oil levels regularly as many older Corolla burn a lot of it. A newish Subaru and an older Corolla are both well above average reliability. Get any wear items replacedcon the Corolla that look like they could be badly worn by the end of the trip. It’s just fewer things to have to worry about on the road. And have a wonderful trip.

I love it when people take these opportunities while they still can, before family schedules get complicated, jobs demand excessive overtime, and health problems develop. The worst thing to for is assume a long, healthy retirement flitting about in a motor home. My parents got about five years from theirs before my mom couldn’t climb the steps. They had a few nice trips, but not what they expected. So do it now if you can. If you have kids of 10 up, even better. There are so many places kids may like, but you have to know their interests. My dad, older brother and I all loved trains, so if there was a good museum, that went on the itinerary.

You seem to be under the impression that this kind of trip will be hard on a car. It’s not. The car won’t care at all. If you want to be hard on a car, drive it only about 5 miles every other day.

Take you Corolla to you shop one last time for a “trip check.” Make sure that you have a roadside service - which you need no matter what car you are driving - and hit the road in your corolla.

The only way I’d tell you to take your mom’s car would have been if it’s a minivan. A minivan is a FREE place to stay along the way. So forget the Forester. It’s just a big money sucker.

Road trips at this time of year are extremely benign to cars. The weather isn’t too hot or too cold. And highway miles are the easiest miles for cars.

If your mechanic says your car will survive the trip, it will. Just have the oil changed mid-trip at a recommended local mechanic (ask around in the town you’re in or browse the web and check Yelp reviews for a good local mechanic. Don’t go to an oil change chain shop because they will try to sell you unnecessary stuff.)

Take a triple A card and you’ll be fine.

It’s just I don’t understand the attitude where people treat a mechanical in a Focus with the level of importance they treat a mechanical in a Boeing. I mean, if you have “no fixed residence” for 24 days, what does it matter if you lose a day in an auto shop in Bilgepump, IN? Is the trip that well scripted that a day off irrevocably throws it akimbo?

Just check the usual “likely to kill you” stuff real well (brakes, steering, fuel and exhaust integrity) and enjoy yourself…

Very good advice, meanjoe. Consider unexpected repairs as an opportunity to explore the sights of a town you might have driven right by.

It’s only a serious problem if your vacation is tightly scripted, with tickets bought in advance and reservations that can’t be changed. For longer trips I try to add a couple of days for problems (bad weather, most commonly), and so I can spend additional time at places I found more interesting then expected.

I wish I’d had a few more days in Baltimore some years ago. Cool place, reminded me of Boston, anther fun city. Next time I’ll make the fuel pump fail in Baltimore. Nah, something a bit exotic and hard to find. Though from what I’ve read here, Hyundais tend to be straightforward to repair. Anything unusually hard to fix on a current Elantra GT?

also check out a couple of rental agencies. i just check on hertz, and i can rent a minivan (non-airport) for about $500 bucks per week. it also included unlimited miles. not to say you will see this price, but maybe there are other rental companies that have unlimited miles.

but if you want to save the most money, just use your personal car. it will handle it fine. and if it needs a repair along the way…meanjoe is right, embrace the adventure

Just be careful about renting. Sometimes those unlimited miles only apply to a limited region. Friend found out the hard way - he rented in Denver drove to Corpus Christie, Texas. On the way back he got a ticket, rental company found out and charged him $0.50 per mile for the whole trip. Ouch!

I recomend the Forester from mom. Why ? First, no one else is and second, it will be much more roomy, comfortable and safer then the Corolla. Mom wants you to be safe . I would take her up on it. But, I would also pay her to take it…not as much as renting, but something.

Just because a mechanic says a car is ready doesn’t always mean it is. Some years ago, we were driving south on I-35 in OK. We pulled in that rest stop with the walking trail through trees, lower then the highway, and there was a woman standing around. Mature, but dressed very attractively. We talked to her, and she was going to Ft. Worth, and her old van died.

She said the family mechanic had looked at it and told her it was ready for the trip.

The radiator hose was cheese, and had blown, and the vehicle over-heated and stopped.

The belts were ready to shred as well.

We convinced her to let us give her a ride into Ft. Worth, because we did not think it was a good idea for her to be in an Interstate rest stop after dark.

We called her later. Her husband showed up later with coolant and a hose, but the next day the motor died forever.

You would think an okay from a mechanic would mean something, but this was pretty basic. Belts; hoses; and tires have traditionally been the most likely highway risks.

Yup, when I was a kid (sixties) it was always a belt, hose, or tire that failed. With full-size spares the tire was no big deal unless your spare was too worn to get through the trip. The belts and hoses back then failed unpredictably. My dad was good about having it checked over, but the belt that failed looked OK. Hoses, too. And they weren’t that old. They last a lot longer now.

Check with other rental companies. I rented from Hertz with unlimited miles. I did not tell them where I was going, just that I needed the car for a week.

I would take the offer of the Subaru. This is no slight on the Corolla’s reliability it is just that the Subaru will be more comfortable than the Corolla. I place comfort above all else when traveling.

If cash is your primary concern then by all means take the Corolla without hesitation. Remember that tire problems are the number one malady on road trips.

"rattlegas The new (2014) Corollas are larger, more comfortable and have wider seats. I agree that earlier models like my 2007 are less comfrotable.

@docnick I’m sorry if I missed the possibility of a 2014 car being used for the trip. My eyes are not as good as they once were.