I shift the seat forward a little bit, making sure I can reach the pedals. I adjust the rearview mirror and side mirrors, and try to find a comfortable angle for the seat back. After a few minutes of shifting and frustration, even getting out of the car to adjust the headrest, I give it up. But I came here to test drive this car, and damn I am going to test drive this car, uncomfortable seat or not.
So I do. I take the 2015 Nissan Rogue for a spin. It’s decently priced, with low miles and the features I’ve decided I need. Since it’s a dealership instead of a used car place, the saleswoman joins me on my test drive. It’s a bit awkward having someone with me while I try to assess a vehicle, although thankfully she doesn’t talk much or try for a hard sell. She directs me along a path that I’ve driven before, the same path I was directed along by another dealer, in another car, earlier this week.
The Rogue is unremarkable. It’s fine. That’s about as warm as I can get. Road noise is louder than in the Ford Fusion I drove earlier this week. The ride is relatively smooth, smoother than the Pontiac Vibe I drove three weeks ago. Visibility is decent, gadgets are fine, the saleswoman is competent. I’ve never considered a Nissan before, but Consumer Reports – an independent organization that assesses vehicles and other consumer goods – has given the Nissan Rogue a good review and reliability rating for the 2010-2015 models, so I thought I’d try it out.
The uncomfortable seat, though, doesn’t get more comfortable. And it’s hard for me to seriously consider a vehicle that isn’t even comfortable to sit in. After the test drive, I thank the saleswoman and take my leave. Another car to cross of my list, just like I crossed off the Toyota RAV4 last week.
Cars cars everywhere, and not one I’m sure I want.
When I started my car-buying journey back on February 3rd, it quickly became clear how much information was out there and how many decisions I needed to make. Price, make and model, features, age, miles, reliability – on and on and on.
Honestly, in my normal life, I don’t think about cars. Not even a little bit. If it gets me from point A to point B and doesn’t need a lot of repairs – it’s a good car, or good enough. What else is there to say?
But it turns out, there is a lot more to say. I have come to realize my priorities have changed, and changed significantly. My belief that bad things will pass me by, that bad, life-changing things can’t and won’t happen to me… well, that youthful innocence is gone, now. After four years healing from a concussion that never went away, and a second hit on the head making it impossible for me to continue to work, I now know weird little injuries, strange happen-chance accidents, can be life-changing. And that has made me re-prioritize my car-buying choices.
Safety. That is my number one concern. I mean, I and everyone else who drives a car acknowledges safety is important, but now it is different. Now, it is really really important I not get into another car accident. Or, if I do get into one, that I am as protected as possible. Another concussion, another hit on the head, could be catastrophic – plain and simple. I envision losing cognitive ability permanently, adult daycare, home health aids and other stuff I never want to have happen.
That is terrifying. Really terrifying.
So, safety. What is safe, and how much does safe cost? Which of the safety features out there actually matter? What is just expensive fluff? I turned to Consumer Reports (CR) to help me choose what I need in a new-to-me car. And it provided some answers.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) has been proven to prevent accidents and rollovers. It came onto the scene in 2007 and became required in vehicles in 2012. For Subaru Foresters, it only became standard in 2009. It was offered for the 2007 Subaru Forester (my current car), but only at a higher trim level. Some vehicles have had it standard starting in 2007 – like the Honda CR-V – and some waiting until it was required in 2012. CR conveniently provides a list of all recommended vehicles and when they adopted that technology. So, my new car needs to be at least 2007 and may need to be even newer depending on the precise make and model of the vehicle.
Another safety feature to look for is side curtain airbags. My 2007 Forester has a side airbag – like a pillow – carefully located so my head will bounce off it in case of a side impact. I found a picture at iihs.org
Here is a picture of a side curtain airbag, which Mary’s 2011 Honda Fit has for both front and back passengers.
CR agrees, side curtain airbags are the way to go.
There is a lot of new safety technology out there – automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring. And, it seems like it’s really great. My reality is, though, that I am on a fixed income… a limited income… and cars that new, with that many options, are simply outside of my price range. I’m not going to worry about what I can’t change, so I’ll set those newer safety features aside to consider during the purchase of my next used vehicle.
So, I’m looking for a 2007 or newer vehicle with ESC and side curtain airbags.
Next, I consider whether to go with an all wheel drive (AWD) or front wheel drive (FWD) vehicle. I know what I want – I want an AWD vehicle. But do I actually need it? Times have changed. I no longer live at the end of a long dirt road up a hill. Now, I park every night perhaps 15 feet from a main road that is maintained, plowed, and salted on a regular basis. My injury has limited my movement and activity significantly. I don’t go out much at night, I rarely drive on a dirt road, and if it’s truly bad weather, I just stay home. That sort of lifestyle doesn’t need AWD to get by. Rather, why not save thousands of dollars and simply go with FWD? In that spirit, I test drove a Toyota Corolla and it seemed fine.
Then I road around the Islands a bit with Mary in her Honda Fit – a FWD vehicle – and saw how her driving experience was different from my AWD driving experience. Every layer of snow blown onto the road, every ice patch, every uneven questionable traction situation required her attention. She had to think, consider, judge what was needed to stay safe – slowing down, stopping, changing her route. She had to use mental energy and flexible thinking to problem solve situations in real-time.
Seriously not my strong point, post mTBI.
I don’t want to invest that added level of consideration, judgment, decision-making into my driving experience. Rather, I need to make driving as easy as possible. There are still days I just don’t have the energy to drive safely – the concentration and awareness of my surroundings are simply beyond me. The last thing I need is to make driving more difficult, make it so I can only drive where I want 80% of the time, instead of 90-95% of the time. Easier is better. AWD it is. Next issue.
Like every car buyer in the world, I want a car that is reliable. Again, I turned to CR and their car analysis. They provided a convenient two page spread of all the most reliable vehicles, and what years they are reliable,and also specific cars to avoid that have had higher than usual problems. I used that as a starting place, determined which recommended ones have AWD, and started looking.
And that is why I just test drove a Nissan Rogue, a car I didn’t even know existed until a few weeks ago. And a Subaru Legacy between 2010 and 2014. And that Ford Fusion – another car I didn’t know existed – which had 2012, 2015 and 2016 as good years.
It has been satisfying, my friends, to turn fully into this task. Realizing I can only focus on one thing at a time has given me the freedom to really focus on that one thing. And it feels good to be making progress, one test drive at a time.
Hopefully, soon, this can be done. I do want to get back to the rest of my life as soon as possible. Writing, friendships, household projects. Thankfully, though, my life is such that I have the freedom to focus. And, since I have the freedom to focus, I have the ability to succeed. I thank the universe for that blessing.
Wish me luck finding that perfect used car with ESC, side air bags, AWD, low miles, the right price and a newish year. Hopefully it won’t be too long in coming.