Station wagons, fuel economy, and gadgets!
Mon 7 May 2012 - Mon 7 May 2012 77 °F
Over two years ago, as the concept of this roadtrip became more concrete, we started looking at what sort of vehicle we might take on the road with us during this massive journey. The kinds of vehicles that come to mind when I think "stereotypical road trip" are basically RV, van, or VW minibus. In my own experience, my family made trips to Florida and North Carolina to visit my grandparents several times. At first, we took Dodge Colt Vista - something of a minivan predecessor. After that car kicked the bucket, we replaced it with a Dodge Caravan. Or maybe it was the Plymouth equivalent. It had not occurred to me until typing this paragraph, that I've spent most of my roadtrip miles in Dodge vehicles - even if one of them was basically a rebadged Mitsubishi.
"My Greek father, John, was a mechanic and a general fix-it man. As far back as I can remember, he owned a big, blue Honda station wagon. The back was filled with buckets of tools and hardware, and miscellaneous mechanical parts. It was filthy, and smelled of hot vinyl. He always had it tuned to a radio station that was playing Cliff Richard's "Some People" or Tiffany "I Think We're Alone Now."
"I have many fond memories of that blue station wagon, and when I was in my late teens, I bought a shitty $2000 blue station wagon of my own. Mostly, I used it to transport band gear, for which it was very useful. Being shitty, it developed many problems, most egregiously - the windsheid leaked at the top. My mother, when borrowing it one time, fixed it with silicon caulk, which was obviously slathered across the top of the windshield and onto the roof. The next time my mother borrowed it, I was in the USA on our roadtrip to new orleans that partly inspired this one. When I got home, my mother said, "Your car's been confiscated." I was, naturally, shocked. What on earth happened, I asked her. I thought maybe she had been dealing drugs - anythign is possible with my mother. Turns out that she had simply been driving it on Paramatta Road, where police had 'randomly' pulled it over for a safety points check. It failed spectacularly, and that was the end of my blue station wagon. Until Matt came home with this one.
"I love small cars, but my heart lies with big blue station wagons."
There were two big features that had me eyeing up a Dodge Magnum for the roadtrip. For one - I was pretty sure that if I put down (or took out) the back seats, I could lie flat on my back and still have room to stretch. The other thing that it had going for it was surprisingly good fuel economy for a full-size vehicle. At the time I was looking, we both drove Hyundai Elantras - I could squeeze 450 miles out of a full tank, getting at least 32mpg. The base model Magnum has an advertised fuel economy of 27mpg. That's close to double the economy you'd get out of a van, certainly double the economy of any RV. But some research, combined with some advice from old friends had me doubting the longevity and capabilities of the base model's 2.7l V6 engine. Additionally, if we're going to be on the road for an extended period time, we're going to want something comfortable, and generally, car manufacturers only give you a cozy interior if you take a bigger engine with it.
Now the next step up version of the car was now on my radar. It has a 3.5l V6, 250 horsepower (my 1st car had less than half that at 89hp) - but only gets 23mpg on the highway. That might not seem like such a drop, but that was now almost 10 fewer miles per gallon that our Hyundais got. And when you're planning to drive tens of thousands of miles in a single month - that's several hundreds of dollars of added expense. Some of the niceties that kind of offset that are the fact that the model we eventually found had the 'comfort package' installed - power adjustable everything (you can even reposition the pedals), big comfy leather seats, a sunroof and Sirius radio, and the one we found was low mileage at a great price. But still - 23mpg! And that's what the EPA says we'll get if we're on the highway, I don't even want to know what it got driving the streets of Philadelphia.
One thing it did not get, something only available if you bought even BIGGER engines, was a car computer display. Buy a Magnum with a Hemi, and you get an active readout of your MPG, various fluid temperatures, and other handy diagnostic things. Since we were going a long distance relying on this car not only for travel but for a place to sleep, I'd love to have something like this on our car. Retrofitting it is possible, but I couldn't justify the cost. I did learn about this thing called a Scangauge though - it shows even more information, and works with just about any modern car. Really, the only thing I wanted it for was the fuel economy meter. If we had an idea of what effect our driving techniques had on the gas tank, we could save a few bucks on this trip.
I've already gotten way too wordy, but the long and short of it - through careful driving, and hanging behind tractor trailers when we could, we've been getting around 27mpg. Again - doesn't sound like a big deal. On a 500 mile drive, that's about 3.2 gallons less per day. At four dollars a gallon, that's $13 a day. Being on the road 35 days - that's a savings of $455 over the trip.
And that's cheap. As Mel just added - "Gas costs three times as much in Australia as it costs here."