Ethan is moving to Oklahoma and his family is growing. He has to give up his Pontiac Solstice for something practical, fun, and in what I can only describe as an “Oklahoma problem,” the ability to outrun a tornado. What car should he buy?
When buying a car, you not only have to consider what you want and how much you can afford, but also consider the environment in which that vehicle will be used. Ethan came from an area where a sporty convertible worked just fine, but now he is moving to a state where severe storms are common—and he plans on getting up close and personal with them.
Here’s the scenario:
I am selling a 2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP. I’ll miss the fun, but not the complete impracticality and cramped interior. I am moving to Oklahoma, where I’ll be commuting daily to work and - here’s the fun bit - I’m training to be a volunteer storm chaser.
I’m married and will soon adopt a younger kid so I’ll need something that can accommodate passengers without too much hassle.
Soft-top convertibles obviously won’t work, and I’d like four doors and four seats. I don’t really want all-wheel drive, but on the other hand, that might come in useful if I have to run away from a twister through a field.
Budget: up to $20,000 but cheaper the better
Daily Driver: Yes
Transmission: Manual preferred
Wants: 1) A fun and drama-free daily commute; 2) Comfort and style; 3) The ability to withstand golf ball-sized hail and get me out of the way of a tornado in a hurry.
Doesn’t want: A convertible
Ethan, it looks like you have some exciting times ahead for you with the adoption and the fact that you are going to be a storm chaser! As a dad of two kids, I’ll tell you this, tornadoes are not confined to the outside, every day my living room looks like a twister made its way through.
I really wanted to find you a Ram SRT/10, because Hollywood has taught me that the best vehicle for storm chasing is a red Ram truck. But all of those trucks were way too expensive with a lot of miles.
For this car, I’m going to recommend against getting a manual transmission for a few reasons. The first reason is the fact that the inventory will be much wider if you go with an automatic. The second and more important reason is that if you are chasing a storm you may need to operate equipment while driving and having to shift through the gears is going to add an extra level of complication to your tasks.
So you are looking for something fun, reliable, practical and will make for a great storm chasing car. You need a Toyota 4Runner. Don’t let the 95,000 miles scare you, well-maintained 4Runners can easily last into the 300,000 mile range and beyond. You mentioned driving in a field, so you are going to need a solid four-wheel-drive system and some ride height. You don’t want to be stuck in the grass when an F4 twister is bearing down on you. A 4Runner can go anywhere and survive pretty much anything. It’s also practical and comfortable enough for family duty.
While the-4.0 liter V6 isn’t going to smoke any muscle cars, it will give you plenty of power to get out of a tough spot quickly.
I lived in Lawton for two fond years, and even had the joy of experiencing the Bridge Creek-Moore tornado, one of the most powerful ever recorded.
After my family’s little stint there, my older brother Ben became fascinated with weather and started storm chasing. I called him up to get a few suggestions on what kind of car would be optimal for such risky business.
He told me that, even though he drove a Dodge Caliber for most of his adventures, you’re definitely going to want all-wheel drive, as sometimes you don’t really have a choice which roads to drive down. He says, in his experience, smaller two-wheel drive cars have a lot more trouble getting close to storms, in part, because between the hail and rain, dirt roads can become treacherous mud pits.
Another thing my brother mentioned is that, in high winds, a vehicle with a tall profile is going to be really cumbersome to drive, saying he was nearly pushed off the road driving a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee (a box on wheels) near a storm.
The third thing he mentioned is comfort, since storm chasing can take a while. (His longest trip was close to 20 hours.)
So you need a car that can do some moderate off-roading, that isn’t too tall, and isn’t going to hurt your butt or spine after a few hours. The perfect solution for your budget: a slightly used Subaru Forester.
Here’s a 2013 Forester 2.5X Premium in Oklahoma City for 19 grand. Its car-like suspension will serve you well as a daily driver, and that IIHS Top Safety Pick will give you confidence when driving your family around. More importantly: this one’s a manual.
You have my deepest sympathies on your relocation to Oklahoma, a state that as a Texan I am predisposed to hate—albeit with good reason. But if you are committed to facing the wrath of nature in a state we generally refer to as “America’s shame” and “God’s mistake,” you will indeed need the right ride.
You need something with ground clearance. You need something that can off-road at least reasonably well. And ideally, you need something with speed so you can outrun the tornadoes and their unquenchable thirst for human blood. I was going to suggest you pick up a used Ford Raptor, because that checks all those boxes. But most of them remain unfortunately out of your price range. I’ve seen a good many used Raptors in the $40,000 and $50,000 range. They seem to hold their value well!
So I’ll just recommend you pick up a gently used Ford F-150 4x4 like this one near you for $20,000, but there are a bazillion examples for far less than that. Plenty of capability and toughness, plus the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 is no slouch when it comes to outrunning storms.
Better yet, get a Texas Edition F-150. You can show the people of Oklahoma what a real state looks like.
I don’t know much about how or why tornados form, but I do know that they are terrifying and can cause serious damage. That’s why you need a vehicle that can withstand anything mother nature will throw at it.
You mentioned a manual (bless you), which I obviously took to heart. It really narrows down your options when looking for a vehicle these days.
Having a fun, drama-free commute can mean many things, but to me it means reliability, and rowing your own gears. Comfort and style is up for interpretation, too, but so long as you’re not supremely uncomfortable, or driving something with a “Geek Squad” logo on it, then that checks your boxes for me.
Lastly, which may be the most important aspect of your criteria, is that you’re going to be a storm chaser! This means your vehicle is not only a means of transportation from A to B, it’s a lifeline—a form of protection that needs to work all the time.
That’s why I’m recommending an older, diesel, manual pickup truck. Here’s one near you at an asking price of $8,000. The gas variants are even cheaper, but since you’re going to be commuting and putting miles on this, a diesel seems like the best option not only for fuel economy purposes, but for longevity as well.
And, it is a pickup truck after all, which means four-wheel-drive and space in the back to put all your various storm chasing devices.
A crew cab will ensure comfort for you and your family, while also providing protection against whatever you’ll encounter while being in the field chasing storms.