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  1. Default Buying a budget car for a road trip

    Myself and my girlfriend are planning a 6 week trip from Canada down through the states to Utah, Vegas, across to LA, and then up the West coast to San Fran, Portland, Vancouver and back to where we started. Total distance around 12,000 kms over roughly 6 weeks staying mostly at camping spots and national parks etc. Right now we are looking at buying a car for the trip, probably a minivan so we can take out the back seats and make a bed for nights when we don't want to set up the tent.

    We have up to about $4000 to spend on a vehicle. Right now we are trying to decide between buying a cheaper vehicle with more mileage (and having more money left over for repairs/reserve) or spending more money for a car with lower mileage (but having less reserve cash left over). For example, we know someone who is selling a 15 year old Toyota with 350,000+ kms on the clock but vehicle seems to be running well and would only cost around $1000. Alternatively, for closer to $4000 we could find a Dodge Caravan or similar with around around 150,000 kms on the clock (which we assume would be more reliable!?!).

    Either way we would buy breakdown cover which as I understand would just tow us to the nearest town with a mechanic. To make our decision we are trying to understand - How bad would it be to break down in some of the places we are traveling through on that loop? We would be mostly sticking to major routes (the vehicle would not be 4x4 so no crazy back roads) but we will be traveling through the desert (Utah, to Vegas, to LA) and potentially we could be a long distance from the nearest major town.

    Does anyone who has traveled through these areas have any advice? If breaking down would not be too much of a big deal then I think we are leaning towards a cheaper vehicle and more reserves but if a breakdown could be a big deal/dangerous then perhaps spending more on the car up front is the way to go.

    Neither of us have much experience with buying used cars or road tripping so any advice is much appreciated!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    I'll say this much, I wouldn't trust a $1,000 car for a major roadtrip. Any car at that price point is there because it is one step away from the junk yard. I mean, sometimes you can find a diamond in the rough, but as you seem to admit, that's basically going into a trip with the expectation that it is going to break down. That doesn't mean a more expensive car won't have issues - it's going to take some work to find a great car even at your higher price point - but if you are looking to spend a little more money, you should have a lot more option to start with.

    It doesn't really matter where you are, breaking down on the road isn't much fun. You're taking time away from your trip, and you have to trust a mechanic that you have no history with.

    As far as breaking down in remote areas, that's going to depend a bit on what you have for roadside coverage. For example AAA's basic coverage only covers 5 miles of towing, and it could get very expensive to be towed if you're in any rural area. AAA's Plus coverage, on the other hand, includes up to 100 miles of towing - which is enough to get you to a mechanic in everywhere but the very must remote areas. I assume CAA's coverage would be similar, but the point is, make sure you know what you are getting with your policy.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    Have you checked on the cost of a rental? That would be a brand new or almost brand new vehicle, and the rental company would take care of any breakdown.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.


    If you are buying the vehicle purely for this road trip then a rental is worth considering, if you are keeping the vehicle long term then you need to consider practicality after the trip. With a rental you have peace of mind, a nicer ride and will likely be much more economical on fuel. Roadside recovery can help you get out of a tricky situation but it wont pay for anew engine or transmission if one failed, even smaller repairs can get expensive real quick. When buying don't presume a vehicle that is newer and with less miles will be more reliable, that comes down to how well cared for it has been and that regular servicing has been carried out.

  5. Default

    As a former owner of a Dodge Caravan, I wouldn't assume one with 150000 kms would be reliable for a 6 week road trip. If you don't rent a vehicle and buy one, then use some money to have it checked and do preventative maintenance/ repairs before you leave.

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