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  1. Default Denver to Reno in an older car

    Hello and thanks for looking at my post,
    I'm very grateful for all the excellent information on this site, and for the amazing community on this forum. I've been reading a lot to get prepared to move my family from Chicago to San Francisco at the end of the month.

    I'm having a tough time making one planning decision: how to get from Denver to Reno. My indecision is rooted in a lack of faith in my car and my very limited experience road tripping in the Western states. My car is a 10 year old VW Golf Diesel, and last week, the day after it received a clean bill of health from a mechanic, the clutch failed and left me stranded in the city. Now, I'm worried that something else is lurking and waiting to fail.

    This concern is influencing my drive planning. I'm leaning toward taking I-80 from Denver to Reno via Cheyenne because it appears to be a more populated route that's also slightly cooler and over less elevation than the alternatives. Should I have another breakdown, I imagine that my family and I'll have an easier time getting a AAA tow truck and a service station along that route.

    However, if I-80 and I-70 are about equally challenging if I were to have a breakdown, then posts on this forum have led me to believe that I-70 is so much more beautiful, that it's the way to go, especially in the warmer months.

    So I'm left choosing between:
    1) From Denver to Cheyenne, then I-80 to Reno
    2) same as above, but with a jog up to Ogden/Layton via 84/15 near Salt Lake City
    3) Or I-70 to 191/6 to Salt Lake City, I-80 to Reno

    If anyone has any advice for me, I'd greatly appreciate it.


  2. #2


    I70 from Denver to the Continental Divide would be the hardest bit of that route on your car. It's also no problem getting road service on that part of the route or on Vail pass a few miles to the West. Once you are over Vail pass, it's mostly downhill and easy on a car.

    Assuming your car is running fine when you hit Denver, I would stay on I70. It's a lot more scenic than the I80 route.

    Keep an eye your gauges while crossing high altitude mountain passes. If the car is running abnormally warm, turn of the air conditioner and slow down.
    Last edited by AZBuck; 07-15-2009 at 10:17 AM. Reason: Quote of entire previous post removed.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Relax.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    I think you need to put your fears behind you and choose the route you wish to take. VW's have a reputation for reliability and if your fears are based upon the clutch failing and no other reason then I would relax as it's a wear and tear part that could go on any motor at any time after so many miles. [although it's more normal to have it slip or have excess pedal travel or a noisy thrust bearing as a warning of wear]. With a sudden failure it would of been impossible for the mechanic to detect, unlike brake wear, worn drive belts, poor tyre condition or even engine wear which are visual or carry sound defects.
    If it is well maintained, serviced and you are happy that the mechanic is competent you should have no problems, if not get a second opinion but either way I doubt you would have any problems getting help and recovered from what ever route you choose.

    Good luck and have a great trip !

  4. Default Thank you

    Thanks very much for taking the time to read and respond to my post Kestrel and Southwest Dave - it means a lot. May I ask a few follow up questions?

    - We'll be driving with our dog in the backseat. If we're crossing the mountains and have to turn off the A/C at the end of July, could the car get to 100 degrees inside, even with the windows open? Would you have any advice on keeping the car cool without risking an overheated engine?

    - Barring severe weather or a breakdown, is it reasonable to expect that two drivers can make both the trek from Denver to Salt Lake City via I-70 in one day, and the trek from Salt Lake City to Reno on the next? I don't have enough experience road tripping to know if I'm being conservative or aggressive in my trip estimation.

    Thanks again,

    P.S. I realized that I should add my planned schedule if I'm going to ask about driving estimation:
    Day 1: Chicago to Omaha via I-80 (~480mi)
    Day 2: Omaha to Denvie via I-80 (~530mi)
    Day 3: rest in Denver
    Day 4: Denver to Salt Lake City via I-70 (~540mi over elevation)
    Day 5: Salt Lake City to Lake Tahoe via I-80 (~550mi)
    Day 6: Lake Tahoe to Saratoga via I-80 (~240mi)
    Last edited by Gizmometer; 07-15-2009 at 12:26 PM. Reason: added postscript.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default overworrying

    Certainly you're going to go over elevation but I think you are worrying a bit too much. Interstate highways are built with so the grades are as gradual as possible and even going over passes really isn't that taxing on a car. Simply put, if your car is in good enough shape for a cross country trip, then going over some mountains isn't going to be much of a problem. If your car has a problem going over mountains, then there is a good chance it was going to have a problem driving down a flat road.

    Overheating should not be an issue if your car is in good shape, however, if you do have to open the windows instead of using the AC, you'll certainly be getting a good breeze, and more importantly, you're only going to be going over the mountain in a matter of a couple dozen minutes, its not like you're going to be traveling up a mountain for hours at a time.

    Your drives are all quite reasonable, and are very much within our recommendations of keeping your mileage to 500-600 miles per day on a multiday trip.

  6. Default Thanks Again

    Thanks for the response Midwest Michael,

    I've read too many road trip horror stories, and I have very little road trip experience, so I've been imagining the worst. Thanks to you guys, I feel a lot more at ease. This trip should be quite an adventure!

    I'll report back here from the road,

  7. Default

    I had a '93 VW Cabriolet and I thought the built was really crappy. And bear in mind, I've owned 10+ 87-93 Mustang 5.0's so I'm no stranger to crappy cars that shakes & rattles. And my '93 VW was considered to be in the more reliable years vs. the generation right after. Everyone I knew with a Jetta had horror stories.

    But if you just had the car checked out OK, then it should be fine. Clutches wear out and fail, that's normal. Just remember that you need to break in the new clutch for at least 300 miles, so drive it real smooth for a while.

  8. Default

    Thanks for the reply slowone,

    I didn't know that about breaking in clutches - thanks for that! I probably wouldn't have given it a second though, but I'll take it extra easy as long as I can. It's going to have to hold up against a fully loaded car in just a week, and I probably won't have more than 100 miles on it before we leave. I'll try to be extra smooth that first day we hit the road.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default It'll be fine.

    Your clutch will be fine under normal load and driving conditions, just don't do any burn outs ! ;-)

  10. #10

    Default And those mountains and A/C

    Under normal atmospheric conditions, the higher the elevation, the cooler the air temps. The average is 3 to 5 degrees F per 1,000'. Denver is at roughly 5,000', the Eisenhower Tunnel and Vail Pass are 11,000' and 10,000', respectively. The outside air temps should be 18 to 30 degrees cooler up top than in Denver.

    In short, your interior is unlikely to become extremely uncomfortable if you cut off the A/C part-way up the grade. In fact, one of the nice things about driving in the Rockies is the relative absence of the need for A/C.


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