Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil

Finding the Van

March 14th, 2012 | Posted by Brianna in How To

So we’re van shopping.  In my dream world, we will find a ’71 VW Westfalia with 52,000 miles for $3500 that gets 40 miles to the gallon, is named “most reliable” by Consumer Reports, and has the perfect clearance, tires, and all wheel drive for any off-roading we might want – or have – to do.  Emphasis on dream world.

For us, “van” has become the symbolic title of the vehicle in which we will travel the Americas, appropriately unchangeable based on its impeccable fit into the word vagabonds, regardless of the actual style we select.  In order to figure out what make and model this “van” will come in, we started by creating a list of desirable traits.  We know we can’t have them all, but it’s worth collecting data anyway so that we can make a balanced and informed decision.  Areas we’re looking into are:

  • Gas Mileage – One of our top priorities
  • Consumer Reports – See Grandpa, I listened!
  • 2WD/AWD – Road quality unpredictable, looking for AWD
  • KBB Value – Another top priority, trying to keep it 4-digits
  • Horse Power – Not a high priority, but good to know for rugged, uphill terrain
  • Clearance – Road quality unpredictable
  • Cargo Volume – Room for the bare necessities, two dogs, and the occasional uncomfortable night’s sleep
  • Turning Radius – We like to be agile; could come in handy when running from Zetas
  • Gas Tank Size – Those drugs aren’t going to hide themselves We’d like to be able to choose when we stop
  • Additional criteria we’ve deemed unimportant

We transferred this list into the x-axis (horizontal, top row) of a spreadsheet, plugging vehicles we wanted to compare into the y-axis (vertical, left column).  Though a number of vehicles could work for this adventure, we have eliminated sedans, based on the facts that we want AWD, space for two dogs, and potential sleeping room if needed, as well as large SUVS or vans, based on their gas mileage and inability to navigate narrow, rough roads.  This drew us to a list of compact SUVs and small trucks such as the Honda CR-V, the Jeep Cherokee, and the Toyota Tacoma, among others.  Our next step will be to select a few specific models we’d like to shop for and start looking.  In the meantime, you can take a look at our working Vehicle Model Search spreadsheet, populated with information from and Consumer Reports.

Side note: Rather than spending the $5.95 for a monthly Consumer Reports online membership, we opted to check out a print edition from the library.  This would have been a smart savings move on our part had our sweet dog, Maya, not eaten part of that magazine.  We now owe the library $11.95…

Maya ate the library's copy of Consumer Reports Auto Guide 2011

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6 Responses

  • Amelia Howard says:

    Though that VW red van is awesome, a Honda Element could be another one to look at :)

    • She’s a beaut, isn’t she? :) Thanks for the suggestion on the Element! We have actually discussed adding it to our list for comparison recently. One of the main drawbacks we see with that vehicle though is its newness/cool vibe as it has only been produced since 2003. In order to avoid catching anyone’s attention while driving, we were hoping for something at least 10-years-old. You know, something that says, “Awesome, but too poor to be worth robbing.”

    • I love my Honda Element. You can hose it out if it gets dirty, there’s a cooler in the center console, there’s a “dog package” that provides your dogs with a living area, and a bed package. They’ll be a bit more than $3,500, though…

  • You could try to find an old turbodiesel International Scout— 20 city, 30 highway mpg… but they’re harder to find. Maybe just a late model diesel…

  • hofberg says:

    you know that you can view consumer reports online with your wake county library card. you guys are awesome…good luck

    • Ian says:

      Thanks for the heads up Hof. If only we had known sooner we would have saved ourself some cash. I am hoping that if I offer to make a hand-drawn custom cover to replace the original everything will be okay.

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