Can You Depend on Your Car in an Emergency?

Can You Depend on Your Car in an Emergency?

A few years ago a friend bought a sporty, good-looking car that seemed to be the perfect vehicle. It was well priced, it got great gas mileage, it was small enough to fit in tight parking spaces and big enough to load everything he needed for a week road trip. He felt like he’d done his homework and finally got it right. Except he forgot to consider one thing: Things That Can Go Wrong.

Our friend lives in flood-prone area and quickly found out that the sporty low clearance was a problem when his neighborhood streets flooded. Then he blew a pricy low-profile tire while driving down a pock marked dirt road on a mountain bike trip. Though he doesn’t live in a snowy or ice-prone part of the country, his parents do. On his last visit home he was forced to wait until the roads were completely clean of snow before he could start home, costing him an extra three days of unplanned “vacation”. The last straw for his relationship with his dream car was getting stuck in a muddy parking lot at an outdoor concert. Mechanically, the car was dependable and will probably be on the road for hundreds of thousands of miles.  However, for his lifestyle, he actually couldn’t depend on it. If everything went right, it was a great car. But when something went wrong, it was a disaster.

When he finally admitted defeat and started shopping for a different car, he added criteria for utility in situations where things could go wrong: He drives to the Midwest for the holidays and he regularly drives slightly off-road to camp, bike and kayak. He lives in a hurricane zone and an area that frequently floods, so he needs to think about water, mud and extreme traffic. He also needed room to pack the dog kennel and all the things he and the dog would need for a couple of weeks in case they had to evacuate because of a disaster. He still had an average budget and he still insisted on high gas mileage, but having been stuck four times in twelve months, he realized that utility, especially in a non-average situation, was at the top of his priority list.

Of course, all of us at Wise think a lot about being prepared, so this topic started some interesting conversations for us. We looked at the types of natural disasters that could happen around the country, both small and large, and came up with a list of critical vehicle features:

  1. Four-wheel drive – This feature is not just important for snow and ice. If you’re trying to get through muddy storm areas, you’re going to need it. If you do live in a region prone to winter storms, 4WD, or at minimum AWD is a no-brainer.
  2. Ground clearance – In an emergency you’ll sometimes have to make a road where there isn’t one. Higher ground clearance allows you to take on curbs, ditches, underbrush and deep puddles. (However, never drive through water if you don’t know how deep it is. Just two feet of water can float an SUV.)
  3. Cargo spacePretend you need to leave your house for two weeks. Your vehicle should have sufficient room for your family, a kennel for each one of your pets, spare food, water and personal belongings. You don’t necessarily need an enormous SUV, you may just need a car with versatile cargo storage and a roof rack.
  4. Convert to a sleeping space – In emergencies there are a lot of situations where you may end spending the night in your car. If seats can lay flat or the cargo area can accommodate an adult lying mostly flat, you’ll have a safe, handy hotel if you ever need one.
  5. Gas mileage/capacity – Though many large SUVs and trucks easily tick all the boxes, they typically don’t get great gas mileage. If your vehicle of choice doesn’t get good gas mileage, make sure it at least has a large tank (some even have two tanks) so it can go a long way between gas stations, particularly should gas stations get down to emergency rations.

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