Small Cars in Strong Wind

I need to buy a used car. I plan on buying a small, automatic, fuel-efficient car. I’ve owned a 2000 Chevy Prizm since 2003. I like the car very much, but it’s awful in strong wind. It wants to go all over the road and the gas mileage really takes a beating. Is there a small, fuel-efficient car that isn’t such a victim of the wind? In 1992 I bought a Honda Civic new that was pretty good in wind, but I usually can’t afford Hondas used. Since I have to rob my retirement account for the money, I can’t pay a lot for this car. Thank you for your comments

Unless you have the bad luck to be driving into the wind wherever you go, fuel economy taking a beating is your fault.

As for “wanting to go all over the road,” it’s only going to happen with a cross wind, and generally speaking the less angular the better. My 84 Corolla got pushed a bit in strong crosswinds, but I viewed it as a challenge. It made driving more interesting…and as long as there was no ice (where I grew up, it was rarely windy in winter) it wasn’t really dangerous. Anyhow, that thing was boxy like a Volvo. But your Prism shouldn’t be, so I guess it’s more subtle than that.

About the only real suggestion I have is something designed to be really aerodynamically smooth, like a Honda Insight or some sports cars. Anything that presents a low, small profile should do pretty well. A Miata maybe (if you never need more than one passenger or about 10 2x4s, they’re cheap and they’ll work). Oh, and Ford had that fetish for round styling for a while. A Ford Escort might do (Focus is a little tall, a little boxy, and really light for its class). A ZX2 would be better. Maybe a Subaru Impreza.

Or, unless you’ve got a medical condition that is sapping your reflexes, you could just learn to handle the car you’ve got. Not that I really envy you that, since 2000s Toyotas are pretty dull.

Small does not equate to wind problems. It is a little too complex to get an accurate answer based on any one factor. Most modern cars do well in cross winds but some are better than others. I have not had a problem in any car in a long time so I can’t offer you any advice about any specific car.

I liked my 02 Prism too and had marginal problems that most other small cars had in wind. I would suggest you first have wheel alignment checked if it hasn’t been done. They can be less forgiving if it’s off slightly (toe in). I also found that going to the wider low profile tire helps too. They may have a recommendation as mine did in the manual.

You are right about earlier Honda. The lower front ends had their advantages in wind (poor ground clearance though). If these suggestions don’t help enough and you still want to change cars cheaply, I would still highly recommend a used Honda Accord which we found was an excellent road car and better than Camry. You loose little to Civics and Corollas in highway mileage and gain much in comfort and highway performance, esp in wind, with these cars. An older more affordable Accord in decent shape has plenty of life left.
Sorry to conflict with your financial situation.
Best of luck, and slow down if you safely can in the wind.

Wind sensitivity isn’t about size, it’s about aerodynamics and suspension design. Full size vans and box trucks are much larger and heavier than your Prism and they’re terrible in the wind, while Lotus sports cars are much lighter than your Prism and they’re almost oblivious to the wind.

I don’t know of any compilation of data for wind sensitivity. All you can really do is test drive and test drive some more.

I agree to a degree, but we’re talking about small economy cars, and as a class they tend to be more wind sensitive than the intermediates. They tend to have similar seating in a lighter chassis which generally means the same height profile with less weight than intermediates making them more wind sensitive. I don’t think it’s a discussion of a Lotus vs. a box van.
It’s not rocket science and a Prism should not be any worse than most other compacts and could be less than the newer ones that I’ve driven with more upright seating. I had few problems with mine compared to the VW I learned to drive on.
Sorry, but “Size matters” in some cases if were talking about weight.
As a sailboat racer, I can say that not only weight, but weight distribution has a dramatic affect on wind sensitivity, every thing else equal.
If you don’t think weight matters, compare a loaded box van with an unloaded.

I rented a Hyundai Accent two years ago and drove it for 2 weeks in all sorts of weather, including high winds. This little car performs just fine and should be inexpensive to buy used (2years old) and be quite relaible.

As other suggest, driving in crosswinds in any car requires concentration. Tall vehicles are the worst in crosswinds, regardless of weight.

Not if they weigh enough. It’s a combination of lateral wind resistance and weight which are not independent factors in considering wind sensitivity. I’ve driven too many trucks, loaded and unloaded to discount weight.

And as an add on cause it’s too cold to be outside…
As you fellow sailors know, a puff of wind from the side, the boat accelerates and the apparent wind moves forward and you appropriately adjust the sails increasing your speed and allowing you to sail faster than the wind in low friction craft and increasing, not decreasing your stability. In a like manner, as a car/truck speeds up, their apparent wind moves forward, and if the angle of attack is appropriate on the vehicle, the forward wind velocity can “load” the vehicle making it effectively heavier and less susceptible to crosswinds. The racing pedigree of Honda and all those wind deflectors on tractor trailer rigs do more than just make forward motion easier, they can make a tall vehicle less wind sensitive.
So for some vehicles, weight not withstanding, forward motion makes them “more” stable. So “tall vehicles being worse in wind regardless of weight” some times discounts other factors.

I was referring to tall vehicles like pickup trucks, campers and vans which weigh more than small cars but are tricky to handle in crosswinds. Agree, a heavily loaded tall vehicle is more steady!

I added a little above before your post…I’m just waiting for the ice to melt, the weather to warm and sail again. Don’t mind me, my thoughts are often elsewhere. Lucky I didn’t start rambling about the recent supreme court decision.

Or a loaded compact car, for that matter.

I acquiesce. Weight does count, but only as one in a number of variables. I guess I was focused on getting the OP’s focus off solely size in seeking a new ride.

It’s also possible that after 10 years the OP’s Prism is due for some struts. New struts and a good alignment might take much of the wind sensitivity out of it.

Weight may be one factor in wind resistance, but as others have pointed out, the body design is also a factor. I owned a 1965 Rambler Classic and it was really affected by cross winds. Alignment and tire pressure was really critical. Even with everything in perfect shape, the Rambler was a handful if the crosswinds were strong. I also owned an AMC Javelin which weighed about the same as the Rambler. It was not affected nearly as much by crosswinds.

The type of steering strongly affects how a car behaves in crosswinds. I once had a 1962 Pontiac Catalina with the infamous linkage type power steering. Unlike the integral or coaxial (Chrysler), this had little hydraulic pistons pushing the wheels in the desired dirction.

The system had tons of play in it and in a crosswind you were constantly sawing the 5.5 turns lock to lock wheel form right to left, etc.

GM steering improved massively in 1963 with the integral unit and recirculating ball system, the predecessor to rack and pinion which has very little play in it.

I like the saiing analogies.

It’s important for people to realize when reading the analogies that a sail acts like the wing on an airplane, excpt that it’s sticking up rather than lying down. Think of the angle of the sail relative to the wind as being like the angle of a wing relative to its airflow. The wind “lifts” the boat forward, rather than pushing it forward.

With that understanding it becomes obvious how the speed of the boat can exceed the speed of the wind. Without that understanding, it’s confusing.

My '64 Fairlane had that type of power steering too. They were “baby finger” easy to turn, but definitely lacked the control of modern rack & pinion systems.

I have spent time driving semis, a class C RV, a full-size van, minivans, large cars, midsized cars, small cars, and motorcycles. My take on this issue is that in most conditions where you feel pushed around by the wind, the most important factors are aerodynamics, speed, and weight (in that order).

A semi with an empty trailer is much more susceptible to wind than a semi with a loaded trailer. A newer semi with an aerodynamic design is less susceptible to wind than a classic semi with a box-like design. Likewise, a motorcycle with a windshield is more susceptible to wind than one without a windshield. However, unless you are driving in a tropical storm, if you feel like you are losing control of your vehicle because of the wind, you can usually regain control of your vehicle by slowing down. As usual, when it comes to safety, [i]how[/i] you drive is more important than [i]what[/i] you drive.

All the other posts regarding alignment, and tire width and pressures are very valid reasons for vulnerability to crosswinds. Weight and aerodynamics are also obvious factors. My experience with 400,000+ miles in two Corollas (a '93 and a '96) also point to tire BRAND (a high quality tire vs. off brand cheapies) and strut condition as very important factors. On my '93 I began to notice crosswind susceptibility at about 150K. The ride and handling seemed okay generally and it passed the bounce test at all four corners. When I finally figured out the problem I discovered that one rear strut was COMPLETELY gonzo and on the other, while the hydraulic function was still fine, all the gas had leaked out. A new pair (I actually replaced all four at this point) eliminated 99% of the problem. Please note that these weren’t any expensive boy racer type Konis or Bilsteins, but basic OEM style KYB GR-2’s. The difference was like night and day.

I never felt any wind (other than when the top was down) in my Miata. Small and light.

I hear you, and it’s tough for me to bore people that know with any more details. I have several boats that I race, and two of them…JY15 and Dart 18 Catamaran, that can be sailed up wind, backwards. But only in light wind with flat water…still amazing how much wind can be utilized to your advantage.