Putting the Van in VangabondsJune 13th, 2012 | Posted by in How To
Step one was to lay out some priorities. In no particular order, the most important criteria were:
- AWD or 4WD — For every well-paved highway and picturesque cobblestone street, we expect a potholed, gravel, mountain road in the middle of the rainy season.
- Fuel efficiency — Over umpteen thousand miles with fuel prices heading ever skyward, the difference between 16 MPG and 24 MPG adds up.
- Ground clearance — See comments on AWD/4WD.
- Reliability — We’d just rather avoid breakdowns and repairs as much as humanly possible.
- Commonness — When the inevitable does occur, it would be great to be able to find parts quickly and find a mechanic who had seen our kind of vehicle before.
Secondary criteria included:
- Width of vehicle and turning radius — Anticipating narrow highways and tight colonial streets, the less room we need to maneuver the better.
- Gas tank size — Distance between gas stations might be unpredictable at times, so a higher trip radius could come in handy.
With these factors in mind, we headed to our local library branch to pick up a copy of Consumer Reports Used Car Buying Guide, which we used to make a preliminary list of some possibilities in a spreadsheet. Next, using Cars.com, MSN Autos, and the aforementioned Consumer Reports as references, we proceeded to fill in our criteria for each model, one of us starting at the top of the list and the other at the bottom. You can find all of our handy work on this Vehicle Model Search page. There were many immediate losers and a few also-rans, but two finalists emerged. Both the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 met all of our most important criteria.
So the search began. Ideally, we hoped to find one of these models from the late 1990s or early 2000s with low enough mileage to last awhile (90-120K) in good mechanical condition with just enough cosmetic issues to both help us blend in and keep the cost down. After some time getting to know the market, we started to get serious, making calls and setting up test drives.