On Tuesday, I traded in my old compact car for a bigger car with better gas mileage. That sounds weird to say. Typically, people trade in big, gas guzzling vehicles for zippy little cars that are more friendly to the wallet when they stop by the filling station. As of this week, I became the proud owner of a hybrid. I am not telling which one so this column doesn't turn into a car commercial. Let me say that in the two days I have had it, I love it and my family does, too. My family is the reason I upgraded to a larger, more economical vehicle. In the past year, I have gone from a single person to the relative foster parent of -- with intent to adopt -- my two kiddie cousins, ages 7 and 9 years. I also became the caregiver for my 67-year-old uncle who had a cardiac incident late last year. Driving to the far reaches of the opposite ends of the state over several months for my uncle and years for the kids packed on loads of miles to my old car, which had 41 miles on the odometer when I drove it off the lot in July 2011. When I traded it in Tuesday, the odometer read 68,824 miles. Sure, I could have gotten a rental car at least a few times to take a load of my car but the convenience factor of loading up and hitting the road at any time of the day or night, well it was convenient. Plus, I had the prepaid maintenance plan so in the short term, I was saving money. Of course, I had no idea I would be making monthly 800 mile round trip treks to Southern California for as long as I have been for the sake of the kids. If I knew then what I know now, I would have gone the rental car route. Before I knew it, nearly three years has past and the case is still ongoing. The typical adoption case is six months to a year. Meanwhile, during all that driving, my old car developed a mechanical problem that would have required everything under the hood to be removed to make the repair. Of course, the problem was discovered right after I drove past the warrantee's 60,000 mile expiration date. That, plus my family and I felt like sardines during outings, made the decision to upgrade easier. In my old car, the kids held my uncle's walker on their laps in the back seat, while getting into and out of the car's front passenger seat was a struggle for my uncle. Squeezing in groceries, well, I wish I took photos each time we added something and someone inside the car. It was like playing Tetris and/or being at the circus and watching dozens of clowns cram into a tiny car. Now, everyone has space to move and breathe, uncle's walker fits in the trunk, he can easily sit in and get out of the new car, and the kids have their own cup holders. What's more, leather seats make cleaning up spills a breeze; not like I'm allowing anyone to eat or drink in the car until the new car smell disappears anyway. Now, here are some observations from my experiences on the road over the years, as well as the past few months and days:
- Look into getting a rental car for long road trips in general. Save the wear and tear on your car. That said, make sure to inspect the rental for safety, such as the tires having plenty of air and the fluids being at the appropriate levels. Also, make sure to ask where the blinker and headlight switches are, as well as any trunk and gas cap latches. Learn which side of the car the gas tank is on. If the rental is all electric, ask about finding charging station locations, including apps for your phone or tablet.
- When looking into buying a new car, go to the car sales lot in the last days of the month. The sales personnel really want to meet or beat their sales quotas and are easier to haggle with.
- When you see someone driving a new car or a rental, give them extra space. These folks are learning to drive a car that is different than their previous experience. All the knobs and controls are in different locations, there are new bell and whistle distractions, and they are trying to get a feel for how the new or rental car handles on the road -- particularly on Highway 17 or any curvy road no matter the speed limit posted on the side of the road or that being driven by other drivers.
- Due to side impact risks while parked parallel to the curb or along the road side, never put small children in the rear left seat behind the driver. Instead, seat little ones in the rear right passenger seat. If you have more than one child, place the smallest child on the right side of the back seat and larger children in the middle or on the left side depending on whether child safety or booster seats are being use and the size of your car. This seating arrangement also protects parents who usually stand outside the vehicle with the rear passenger door wide open as they tend to their child(ren).
- Check out alternate travel routes. The knee jerk reaction for me was to shoot down I-5 each month but curiosity, as well as fatigue from swerving big rigs, headlight glare and climbing The Grapevine made me look at taking Highway 101. Best decision ever -- almost zero big rig traffic and headlight glare and the gas mileage improvement from avoiding The Grapevine was appreciated.
- Plot your course, gauge your timing and let people know all that, including last minute route changes. The kids and I drove over night to make the best time, face the least amount of traffic and get the best gas mileage. Each trip, I texted my mom and adult cousin, as well as posted on Facebook my departure, estimated time of arrival, route, real time stops and safe arrival status. Also, I texted and posted pictures of us during stops so people knew our last location and what we were wearing. My thinking was, with all those people keeping tabs us, if I failed to send an update on our location, they would get worried and reach out to me -- sometimes I would forget to post depending on what was happening at our destination -- and eventually call the police if I fail to respond in what they felt was a timely fashion. Also, I am big on publishing my travel plans and updates in the hopes that all those loving thoughts and borrowed guardian angles help us reach our destination -- and home -- safely.