By Barbara MellonI need a new car. My measure of this is not how many miles are on my vehicle, how filthy it might be, inside and out, how dinged and damaged the body, or how bored I am with the color. I know I need a new car when I begin to be concerned about taking it for long trips by myself.

It’s a comfort factor. My knowledge of cars and what makes them run, or not, could fit in the proverbial thimble. Not long ago, a little red indicator on my dashboard lit up. Alarmed, I turned to my passenger and said “What should I do?” “Pull off the road immediately,” he told me. So I did. We both looked at each other and I whispered, “Now what?” I’d still be sitting there by the side of the road if he hadn’t told me to put some water in the radiator. I was never so thankful that I’m a bit casual about cleaning out my car. We managed to find quite a few half empty bottles of water by rooting around in the back of the van.

Naughty puppy “Diva” is ready to take another bite out of the armrest

Naughty puppy “Diva” is ready to take another bite out of the armrest

So I’ve been compiling a list of requirements for a vehicle. I did this, half in jest, a few years ago, but this time I approached the task more seriously.

The road I live on is not paved, so it can be a bit of a challenge throughout the winter and early spring. Snow, ice, mud, ruts, all become easier to manage with four-wheel or all-wheel drive, so this feature is probably at the top of the list. For the same reason, a higher ground clearance is also important. Without it, I’d be ripping all sorts of important things off the bottom of the vehicle as I barrel over the bumpy surface.

Anyone who has paid for fuel lately knows that it makes sense to consider gas mileage. For this reason, I considered a hybrid, but quickly discovered that this wasn’t a good idea for me. Hybrids save the most when driven in city environments where there are more stop-and-go, short trips. For the added thousands of dollars, it would make little difference on our country roads and highways. Everywhere I go is a long trip. So no hybrid. All of the other high MPG vehicles are either out of my price range, way too small, or in some other way not appropriate. So I’ve had to settle on the 20-22 mpg range of cars.

Closely examining my current van, I come up with other requirements. The chewed off armrests tell me I need to consider that I have two dogs, one a puppy. The interior should be able to withstand claws and teeth, mud and hair.

Further examination shows me lots of trash floating around, things I usually toss into the back seat when a friend needs a ride somewhere. Add to this that the trash is usually shredded by that darn young puppy, and it’s not a pretty sight. More reason for a sturdy, unadorned interior. I have to admit that this requirement made the Honda Element look really good. The doors on this vehicle open in opposite directions, with no stile in between. This gives you an opening that is at least 6 feet wide. The back seats can be folded up and secured, so the entire back of the car is one open space. Add to that a rubberized floor and presto! I can see myself blowing all the garbage out with a leaf blower, and then washing the interior down with a hose.

Another helpful feature would be a keypad on the door. This was added to my list on a recent Wednesday as I prepared to go to the Transfer Station. I threw my purse on the front seat and called to the dogs as I loaded the trash cans into the back of the van. The puppy dove through the back door, excited to be going on a journey. Unfortunately, as I slammed the rear door and went to get in the driver’s seat I realized that in her excitement she had pressed the door locks. There I stood, clueless as to where I had lost the second set of keys. In a cold sweat, I worried that the teething pup might chew up the cash and checks I had in my purse to deposit for the Library. And worse, it was apparent that I wasn’t going to make it to the dump before closing. This is not the first time I’ve faced a locked car with the keys inside, so the ability to just key in a code is a real plus.

Trips to the Transfer Station add another requirement. Friends of mine somehow manage to have neat little bags of garbage that they put into the trunks of their cars to take down the Tremperskill, but I’ve got a bunch of huge trash cans. I’m not really sure why I can’t manage those neat bags, but I can’t, so I need a vehicle that will hold these receptacles.

So these days I spend a lot of time on the internet, comparing facts and features of Subarus and Fords, Hondas and Chevrolets, then running up to Oneonta to test drive different models. I think I’ve got it narrowed down, but you never know. Something may come up tomorrow that adds another “Must Have” to my list. ~

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