What's a good car for driving on Navajo reservation?

My daughter will be working with Teach for America on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico for the next 2 years. She will either be living on the reservation or in the town of Gallup, but in either case, expects to do a lot of driving. We’re from the East Coast, and have never been to that part of the country, but she’s been told that there are many unpaved roads and a lot of snow out there. She’s planning to buy a used car. Can anyone recommend a specific make/model that would be best suited for driving conditions out there, keeping in mind that she might be pretty far away from dealerships and repair facilities?

If the roads are really bad, then maybe you should get a crossover like the RAV4 or CRV. I’d recommend a Subaru, but they need to be serviced at regular intervals to avoid catastrophic problems.

On a side note, I’ve always wondered: how would the people on the Navajo Reservation react if you showed up in a Mazda Navajo?

The absolute ultimate vehicle on The Reservation is a Chevrolet Apache P/U Truck…Since those are getting hard to find, a Ford Escape, something like that…

The Reservation is high desert. Very little rain or snow…Dust and wind…She may be going there to teach, but first she has to learn…

Stick with something basic. Fords and Chevys. Otherwise, it’s off to Albuquerque to get it fixed…200 miles or more…

Agreed. I used to live in NM. I love Hondas, but if the low-maintenance back roads around Gallup are still like they were when I lived there, a CRV wouldn’t stand a chance. She needs to figure out if she will need to take those roads. If so, she needs a real truck, not a car-based SUV. A Cherokee might fit the bill.

Also, you haven’t given us a budget, which can make a big difference.

But, as a “blend in” idea, even if she has a big budget, I’d recommend against showing up in something like a Land Rover. Keep those in Santa Fe :wink:

I am tempted to suggest a Pontiac Aztek, a Jeep Cherokee, or a Chevrolet Apache, but I have to admit that I don’t know how Chief Pontiac’s tribe, or the Aztecs, or the other two tribes got along with Navahos.

At least with the Pontiac Aztek you could scare any evil doers who approached the vehicle. That design of that thing could scare even the fiercest warrior!


What’s a good… CAR ?
–Whoa, stop right there.–
This here’s pickup country.

GROUND CLEARANCE is everything. Get down on the ground and look under every potential vehicle.
Focus, too low.
Camry, too low. etc.
You’re not only looking at the actual space there,
but looking to see what gets whacked first if you high center.
– CLUE ; if you have to touch your ear to the pavement or get your shirt shoulder dirty to see under any vehicle…it’s too low

I’ve been a parts man at the Ford dealer in Gallup for thirty years now and it used to be our customer base was 90% pickups. Back in the 70s & 80s the hot seller was just 1/2 ton / 6 cylinder / manual trans / 2 wheel drive and every one got by just fine.
4x4 sometimes but ground clearance is still the key.

In recent years many customers are trying out cars and finding out fast the sad truth about ground clearance.

The snows are gone and the ensuing mud is dried up now but the ruts that result and remain year round DEMAND ground clearance. Oh yah, people get by, but you must really be on guard and drive slowly and evasivly on the dirt rez roads or you’ll tear up the underside of any thing too low. ( a Focus will rip out the radiator, condenser, and fan before it even gets to the oil pans )

So she’ll find that a good number of brands and styles that will be good eneough AND she can also learn the adaptive driving techniques that allow most others.
Pickups, SUVs, crossovers are all great out here.

I have a friend with a 99 Mitsubishi Galant. She is a local Window Rock born Navajo and should know better, “but it was a good deal” she says. A Gallup city dweller at present, she visits family out past Window Rock.
After pulling this sled ( shod with new BFG Traction T/As ) for a quarter mile till the snow and mud were shallow enough, I asked her -again - "a good deal huh ? " <

And furthermore ;
Buy brands that are servicable around here.
Gallup ; dealers—Ford brands, GM brands, Toyota, Nissan, Dodge.; Good indys – Richard’s auto, Bill’s radiator, Marshall’s texaco, Leyba’s auto.
Farmington ; add Subaru, Kia, and Honda to the Gallup dealer list.

Albuquerque is 140 miles east of Gallup.
Farmington is 140 miles north of Gallup.

I’d get on the internet and try to scope out the used cars in Gallup and Window Rock. Your daughter probably wants one of the vehicles there are a lot of. That’s probably what’s suited to the roads and what she can get fixed easily.

I’m not normally a fan of small pickup trucks because of their lack of comfort, mediocre gas mileage, dubious safety, and the poor traction of the 2WD versions. But this may be a case where their good road clearance trumps other concerns. I’ve never driven on the reservation, but I’ve trundled over a lot of desert and mountain roads in California and Nevada and I think there is a pretty good chance that the standard small cars that would be the normal vehicles of choice (Honda, Toyota, Mazda, etc) simply don’t have good enough road clearance to be driveable without constant attention to the road. My 1979 Mazda GLC was fine for unmaintained dirt roads. But our current 2002 Mazda Protege is a good four or five inches closer to the road and is no fun at all on roads with deep ruts.

The Navajo Nation is HUGE, extending well into Arizona, Tuba City and beyond…Hopefully you will be teaching in a single school and won’t be traveling that much…Truthfully, there is no place to go and no reason to go there…Can you say “culture shock”??

Shirley you jest, Apache truck? how about a Ranger, oops never mind, political correctness runs a muck, Really it probably will not make much difference.

A decent used (or new if you want to spend the money) Toyota Tacoma, extended cab, four cylinder pickup, with air conditioning. That’s what you need, and all you need.

You’re worried about snow? Are you familiar with the Google?

This is a case study of why you don’t go to a bunch of old guys on the internet when you need real answers.

That said, best of luck to her.

"Gallup, NM climate is mild during summer when temperatures tend to be in the 60’s and very cold during winter when temperatures tend to be in the 30’s.

The warmest month of the year is July with an average maximum temperature of 88.90 degrees Fahrenheit, while the coldest month of the year is December with an average minimum temperature of 10.70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperature variations between night and day tend to be relatively big during summer with a difference that can reach 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and relatively big during winter with an average difference of 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

The annual average precipitation at Gallup is 11.45 Inches. Rainfall in is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. The wettest month of the year is August with an average rainfall of 1.99 Inches. "

Thank You, Dr. Laura !

Thanks for the climate report! That’s as important as anything, and we’ll take all the information we can get.

Thank you for the info. I had a hunch ground clearance was a really important issue.

I spoke too soon when I said she was going to be near Gallup. Her placement may be more remote–Cuba, NM? Even with the internet and a map in hand, it’s difficult to tell what’s around there in terms of dealerships and private repair facilities. As you recommended, my goal is to get something that can be serviced relatively conveniently. Are you familiar with that area at all? If it makes any difference, we’re planning on a used vehicle.

Not familiar with the Cuba area. Been in Gallup 38 years and have never been that way.
Cuba is getting mountainous there. Los Alamos is 40 miles east with an 11,000 ft peak on the way. The Santa fe national forest is the mountains to the east. Albuquerque is a short 80 mile trip mostly south with Farmington at 100 miles north west.

You probably still need to buy ground clearance here too, Although I can’t vouch for just how many rez roads you’d be traveling to the west.

For vehicle servicing do a yellow pages search but Cuba is very small. Her best bet is local indy recomendations from the soon to be co-workers.

I agree with both GSN and Caddyman if that’s OK. A compact SUV in AWD is a nobrainer recommendation. Whether it’s a RAV, CRV Forrester or Ford Escape depends on service available. If she’s dealer service dependent, that may make her decision for her.

It’s difficult to figure out what to do from such a distance. I’d love to find a used vehicle for my daughter in NM, but my internet searches have turned up significantly lower mileage vehicles here (Philadelphia area). So maybe I’ll end up buying something here and taking a road trip out to New Mexico. (Truth is, I’m dying to see what it’s like out there.) My daughter has friends who will be placed in the Gallup area, so I will pass your advice and recommendations (re: dealerships and indep. repair shops)onto them. Thank you.

Cuba, N.M. is in a different world than Gallup…It’s located north of Santa fe, in mountain country west of Los Alamos…The elevation here is higher, winters may see a little more snow…The nearest “city” is Santa Fe, where all services are available…This area is a little more civilized than the hard core Res between Gallup and Tuba City…