For location work as a landscape photographer, IMHO nothing beats a van.† Mini or maxi, it's the most cost-effective, photo-effective combination of transportation and accommodation.† I can't begin to list the incredible locations I *awakened at*, all because I choose to travel in a 1988 Astro.†† Last time I looked - 320,000 kms, $0.10 per km at about $.90 per liter fuel cost.
Motels just don't cut it.† They're too far from the pictures.† †
I used to sell cars for a living and still have a lot of friends who buy/sell/wholesale vehicles (both new and used).[span style=\'font-size:14pt;line-height:100%\']Part I[/span]
Peter, your observations about the Chevy Astro Van are spot-on. As far as economy of driving goes, they get about 20mpg hwy, and the interior cargo room (with the rear seats taken out) can't be beat for the money. As far as price to get in goes, in the year 2000, I purchased a used 1986 Astro van for $3,000 that had 112,000 miles on it. It served me well up until 325,000 miles, including trips made back-n-forth from Nashville to Atlanta more than 10x. Went from California to Florida and back twice. That was a lot of service I got ... for just 3 grand
Further, the 4.3 motor in the Astro van is the best motor Chevy ever made. Ward's Auto World is the industry leader in evaluating motors, and Chevy's 4.3 motor is one of the Top 10 V-6 designs ever built. Engines are rated on power-per-cc, fuel economy, low emissions, and low need for maintenance/repairs, and the 4.3 motor excels in all categories.
Therefore, if "saving money" is the true motivating force here for travel, buying a used Astro van with a clean history would cost the least to get in, it would get great fuel economy, and it would very likely outlast almost any vehicle choice listed, engine-wise. Another thing about the Astro is the fact it is the ONLY minivan in America with rear-wheel drive
. Many vans come with all-wheel drive (AWD) but that is not true 4x4 capability. What this means is that, while other vans can only tow about 3000 lb, the Astro van can tow 6,500 lb, beating most light- and medium-duty trucks.
However, that said, the rear-wheel "strength" of the Astro in its towing capacity ... is also its weakness for all-weather travel; these vans are simply miserable on snow or other severely-inclement weather. You absolutely WILL get stuck in deep snow or damp ground, if a rear tire sinks in there.
The bottom line is for summer travel there is no more economical choice than an Astro van, if fuel economy and not much damage to your wallet to get into one are the truly motivating factors. However, if inclement weather and rough terrain are factors you will be facing, then the Astro van simply will not cut it here. Which brings us to ...[span style=\'font-size:14pt;line-height:100%\']Part II[/span]
The Nissan Pathfinder (2005-beyond). Nobody has mentioned this vehicle, but the 4x4 Nissan Pathfinder, post-2005 (with Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control), offers more bang-for-the-buck than any other 4x4 out there.
First off all, the 2004 and earlier Pathfinders were completely different vehicles. They did not have true truck frames, nor true 4x4 capabilities. They were glorified "grocery-grabbers," basically.
But the 2005 Pathfinders have true 4x4 capability, and in fact more of them than any other 4x4 under $60,000 ... and yet they are only about $38,000 to get in (and if you get a used one, you can get in for about $25K-28K). These vehicles will cost less to get in than the big Toyota, cost less in gas mileage, they will cover any 4x4 situation equal-to or better-than, and they are smaller and narrower to boot. And, finally, the VQ design in Nissan's V-6 motors have won more awards than any other V-6 engine design in automotive history, and are the ONLY engine that has been on Ward's Autoworld's "Top 10" list all 14 years Ward's Auto World has been rating motors ... and the Pathfinder's engine is the best and most powerful VQ motor Nissan has ever designed, out-performing many V8s in its class ...
Further, the Pathfinder's rear seats all fold completely flat, thereby maximizing the usable space in the back, and tow-wise the newer Pathfinders can drag about 6,500 lb also.
Finally, take it from an ex car guy with friends all over the business, and that is buying "a new
car" is the single WORST investment (rather waste) of your money you can do. BUY USED INSTEAD. Why? In the first 3 years of car ownership, your vehicle depreciates the greatest. But after 3 years the depreciation begins to level out. An extreme example
: a fellow traded in his Mercedes 500SL in our dealership. He paid $88,000 for it new, and yet in 3 short years that same car was only worth $31K. That man just lost $57,000 in a mere 3 years
. BUT >>>> the fellow who picked it up and bought that trade-in for $35,000 got a beautiful vehilce at about a $50,000 discount from the original sticker price
And, even though Toyota holds its value better than a Mercedes, don't think you're going to buy a new $50,000 vehicle and have "saved money" after 3 years. You will have LOST at least $12,000 in depreciation
, minimum, after 3 years of driving ... and that's over and above the difference you paid to get into it
. (And that is also if it is "low mileage" after 3 years ... the fact is you will probably lose between $15,000 to $18,000 in depreciation if you are running-up your mileage with cross-country driving during those same 3 years.)
So folks, whatever you like, and whatever you do in your purchase decision, DO NOT BUY A NEW vehicle if "saving money" is your strategy. "Buying New" and "Saving Money" are simply an oxymoron when you are talking about depreciating vehicles. If you just want a new car, then buy it. But don't think for a minute you have saved anything, what you have done is thrown away your money on impulse.
Instead, if saving money is your true goal, while still getting something nice, then let depreciation work FOR YOU ... and buy your vehicles right at about the 3-year-old range. Why? Because the most major fall in the depreciation curve of vehicle value levels-out
at about the 3-year mark, on top of which the vehicles are still relatively new at that age, and finally because 3-year-old vehicles will usually still come with a sizeable balance on their warranties
So if you follow an ex car guy's advice, you can take all that money you saved listening to me ... and put it into better gear, a better trip, and to sleeping better at night.