I Need An Affordable Adventure Vehicle To Travel Cross Country! What Car Should I Buy?

Can you ID the car? Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove
What Car Should You BuyThe experts at Jalopnik answer your car-buying questions.

Nicholas has wised up and decided to get the heck out of NYC. He wants to take a cross-country road trip with his girlfriend, see the sights, make new friends and find a new place to live. But he needs the right car to make the journey, what should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.)


Here is the scenario -

I need a mean machine to get me through a Great American Road Trip with my girlfriend. I am in my 20s living in NYC and planning to hit about 40 states and also look for a new place along the way we would come back to settle down.

I’m looking for an affordable SUV or a minivan, that can comfortably and reliably handle the journey. Max budget is about $10,000. I would like it to have enough power to get up a mountain but it can’t be too terrible on gas. It would be great if I could stand up inside the vehicle, but having some windows in the rear is more the must-have feature.

Also, it must look like a regular vehicle, I don’t need something wacky that stands out too much.

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $10,000

Daily Driver: Sort of; it will be daily driven across the country

Starting location: NYC

Wants: Comfortable, reliable, enough size to sleep in if needed

Doesn’t want: Something too weird or too thirsty

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Not Just A Minivan, The Greatest Van

Image: Craigslist

Nicholas, good for you for recognizing the futility of living in NYC. Look, I love New York but it is a terrible place to live. At least a quarter of Jalopnik’s Slack communication channel is folks complaining about how bad the trains are and how they’ll be hours late to the blog mines. I don’t know how people live like that! So it’s time for you to find some adventure and a new space to live.

I think we can all agree that between the van vs SUV choice, the van is clearly the superior option. But you don’t want some boring van, you need a Jalop van: a Toyota Previa. That’s right, a rear-wheel drive (or all-wheel-drive) mid-engined minivan. It’s weird and different, but your average person would never know.


Here is a rear-drive version in Brooklyn for about $2,000. It has 172,000 miles, which means it has plenty of life left because it’s a Toyota from the ‘90s.While you may have some second thoughts about climbing mountains with the Toyota’s four-cylinder motor that makes about 140 horsepower, with all that savings you can get this thing in tip-top shape and maybe slap a supercharger and beef up some components to have yourself an on- or off-road hoon-van!

You should probably buy this before one of my goofball coworkers do.

Expert 2: David Tracy - Regularly Lusts After Chevy Astros

Image: Craigslist

Back in 1998, my Dad had to make a hard choice. His six boys were getting bigger, and the eight-passenger, manual Plymouth Voyager he’d owned since 1990 was starting to feel small.

For weeks, our family looked at cars, considering everything from the Pontiac Montana to the new Chrysler minivans. When it was all said and done, we ended up with a 1998 Chevrolet Astro, which transported all eight of us all around the American midwest and Europe for over a decade, racking up 200,000 miles without a single major mechanical issue.


One look at the Astro’s hardware explains why the boxy cargo van is so tough. The engine is the venerable 4.3-liter 90-degree V6, which makes a respectable 190 horsepower and a downright burly 250 lb-ft of torque. That power gets sent into a Turbo-Hydramatic 700R4, one of the greatest and toughest automatic transmissions ever put in a GM truck.

And a truck the Astro was, with its body-on-frame setup, leaf-sprung solid axle out back, and decent ground clearance. Plus, you could get it with four-wheel drive! In some ways, you can think of the Astro as the van version of the Chevrolet Silverado. But that doesn’t mean it’s not comfortable; the Astro rides like a magic carpet on its seriously soft springs.


You’ll probably only manage about 18 or 19 MPG on the highway, but it will be hard to find a vehicle this cheap (you’ll find them all over Craigslist for a couple of grand) that’s this tough and this spacious.

Expert 3: Jason Torchinsky - I’ve Done This. You Want A Toilet


Nicholas, buddy, listen to me: I’ve done exactly what you’re looking to do, only with a kid and a dog and cat. I was going the other direction, crossing the country from West to East, but the fundamental principles hold. This is a vast, fascinating country, and the only way to cross it is in something with its own toilet. You want an RV.

When I moved my family from Los Angeles to North Carolina, I wanted to be sure to enjoy the trip, and have the freedom to explore and do whatever. If you carry a house with you, you’re pretty much free to go anywhere you want. RVs are made for just this sort of trip, and, luckily for you, they’re even worse at keeping their value than a CRT television that someone’s cat’s been vomiting into for the past three years.


Campers and RVs are insanely cheap. They’re hard to store, they don’t get used as often as people think, and they just tend to sit. People just want them gone.

This is great news for you, because it means you can find a decent, well-maintained RV with everything you need to make your long, meandering journey perfect for cheap.


Look at this: a Ford Econoline-based 2002 Jayco Grayhawk Class C RV with only 27,000 miles for an insane $6000. It’s got a generator, kitchen, bathroom, it has a slide-out wall to make it bigger, it’s fantastic. You can be driving in the middle of nowhere and, if you have a sudden, panicked urge to take a dump, just pull over, grab a book, and enjoy your elimination!


Driving on the lonely road and have a powerful urge to eat stir-fry and play a Zelda game on a couch? That’s an achievable dream, anywhere, anytime, in an RV. What about a nice hot shower? Again, it’s yours for the taking, anytime. Anywhere.

Okay, the gas mileage from that V10 Triton will probably suck, but with the money you’ll save on hotels and, later, money from AirBnB’ing the thing when you find your eventual home, it’ll all be made up for.


Plus, wherever you’re going, you can take your time looking for that perfect place to live, because you’ve been driving your place to live for a week or so already!

Did I mention you can take a dump anywhere? Because you can. And that’s true freedom.


Expert 4: Patrick George — Wagons Are What We Must Drive


Nicholas, congrats on getting out of New York City. It is generally terrible and no one should live here. (I’m just kidding, it’s fine. Sometimes.) But I’d be remiss in my duties as Jalopnik EIC if I didn’t at least get you to consider a wagon instead of a van, or SUV. You get size, practicality and sedan-like driving dynamics instead of feeling like you are driving a bus.

Instead, I say consider a Mercedes W124 wagon, like a 300TE or its later designation, the E320. You won’t be able to stand up in it, but you’ll get power, comfort, plenty of space, room to sleep by the side of the road if you make some accommodations, and more style than any van can give you. And it’s one of the last cars from that super overbuilt era of Mercedes, so if it’s maintained properly by you, it should be more than up for the drive.


I found you one in nearby Rhode Island for a hair under $4,000. You’re welcome, bud.

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)