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  1. #1

    Default Roundtrip: DC --> Chicago, late December and mid-January in a Smart car?

    Hi Everyone,

    I am delighted to be here - this is my very first post but certainly not my first road trip. I stumbled across this site after googling some of the very information I'm about to ask here. I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to receive personalized advice, how fantastic.

    I am a graduate student, which means I have a generous 3-4 week break around Christmas. I currently live in the DC-area but would like to get home to the Chicago-area for the holidays. I've made the trip before in summer and spring, but never the winter. The sticking factor is that I have a pet guinea pig that can't be left alone for 3-4 weeks at a time and since I'm new to the area, I don't know anyone who would petsit and I'm not sure I want to pay for a "pet hotel" type of deal. To take a guinea pig on a plane costs between $100-$250 - one way - and pets aren't allowed on either Amtrak or Greyhound. It looks like my only option is to hop in the car...a Smart car, that is. Easy on the wallet, great for squidging your way around city traffic, but 750 miles in winter? That car is lightweight, slippery and not very powerful. I'm a confident and experienced driver, but this is pushing it.

    Can anyone possibly offer me any advice for finding a safe route between Chicago and DC in December/January? I usually make the trip in two days but would be willing to draw it out even further. (I generally save on hotel fare by taking advantage of the services of the good folks on!)

    Thank you all so much.

    Warm regards,

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default That's a Lot of Daily Commutes

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    Let's see... Planes and busses are out. I assume that renting a car for the trip is also out due to the expense. That leaves making the trip inn your own car, a smart (Note that smart prefers no caps for any of its make/model names!?). That is decidedly NOT what I would consider a RoadTrip car. However, the one factor you have going for you is the amount of time you have to make the trip. What you should be looking at is treating the entire drive as a series of many, many relatively long commuting runs, say 75-100 miles at a clip, interspersed with relatively long time-outs in between to give the car a chance to cool down. You'll also have to stay off the Interstates for the most part. I would have nightmares just thinking about driving a smart on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. So, look instead at routes like the old National Road, (US-40 for the 'most part) that run parallel to the Interstates, but don't carry nearly the traffic load (especially big trucks whose slip stream could toss your car around like a toy) and don't have the high minimum speed limits. Also keep in mind that your car was never intended for, and was not built for, long sustained drives. You probably shouldn't try to drive more than about 300 miles day, which means - along with not using the most direct route, that you should plan on taking three days for this drive. Finally, there is nothing you can do about the weather other than be willing to sit it out. Again, serious winter driving is outside the design parameters of the smart. Schedule a possible weather delay day for both the outbound and home bound 'commutes'.


  3. #3

    Default To clarify: the smart is quite highway-ready

    Hi AZ,

    Thank you very much for your post. I will refer to the car as "smart" from now on, since we're too indie for capital letters. ;) As concerned as I am about winter driving, I think you may underestimate the little guy! Before I moved to the DC-area, my daily commute (about 30-45 minutes one way) regularly involved use on the interstate highway - three, four, five-lane traffic is not a big deal, and I continued to drive it through the winter. I've pushed 90-95 mph easily (not in winter) so mechanically meeting minimum speed limits is not difficult (though the car has the worst acceleration I've ever seen). The longest trip I've taken with it is about 270 miles between DC and CT along I-95, which I've made a couple of times. I don't know much about auto mechanics, but it didn't seem to be huffing and puffing too much after those trips. :P I've never heard anyone express concern before about the utility of the smart car for long road trips but I will look into it.

    My concern is mostly about weather, which I realize will probably involve careful radar-watching and setting out at what seems like the most optimal time to avoid storms. But I'm mostly looking for advice about routing strategy - should I bow down south and come straight up through southern Illinois? Make a straight shot? As a native of the Midwest, it's been my experience that it's better to stick to the interstate highways than try to go on the smaller roads because the interstates get priority when they roll out the salt trucks. Are any interstate highways known for rougher winter road conditions than any others?

    All the best,

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default The smart as a RoadTrip Vehicle

    My concerns with the smart as a RoadTrip vehicle have to do with its weight (or lack thereof) and its aerodynamics (or lack thereof). Almost every review I've seen of it notes that it is very tricky to handle in gusts and crosswinds, as well as having turtle-like acceleration. Driving around 18-wheel tractor-trailer rigs on the Interstates is going to be far different than driving with almost entirely auto traffic commuting in and out of Washington. You say you've driven the car on long cross-county trips, so I will defer to your comfort level with your own vehicle. But it's not one that I would be choose for such an endeavor. Any winter storm that is going to cause you road problems is going to be bigger than any reasonable detour to the south. I would just pick your route and drive it when weather, and your winter driving experience, allow.

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