The Truth About Cars » cross country The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 19:25:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » cross country Road Trips, Pit Stops & Public Employees Fri, 20 Sep 2013 15:18:41 +0000

In the next couple of days Autumn will officially begin. For most of us, however, Summer ended back on Labor Day, that final day of freedom before kids all over the country had to get up early, stuff their new school supplies into their backpacks and board those big yellow nuisances to all of us who have a daily commute. Anyone with kids, kids, kids is tied to home so, for all but a privileged few, the season of great cross country road trips is at an end.

I am a seasoned cross-country road tripper. I started road like most children of my generation, in the rearward facing back seat of my parent’s Oldsmobile station wagon as the Kreutzer family made our regular pilgrimage from our home in the mist shrouded forests of Western Washington to the vast, sun scorched plains of Eastern Kansas. Five kids, ranging in ages from 4 to 14, and two adults were crammed into the interior of the silver-green machine while our luggage was secured up-top in an old-time wooden roof rack covered under a tightly lashed canvas tarp. A couple of years later, we made the same trip in the back of my father’s newly purchased Chevrolet pick-up, the adults isolated happily up front while we kids rolled about loose in the atop blankets and sleeping bags protected from the elements by an aluminum canopy. Later, when my older siblings were deemed just “too big” to be forced into making the trip, my sister Connie and I shared the back seat of dad’s Delta 88.


I made my first cross country trip behind the wheel around 1990, with my friend John in my Dodge Shadow Turbo, when I drove from my home in Washington State to the Seafarer’s International Union’s School of Seamanship in Piney Point, MD. To this day John will tell you that I am some kind of control freak because, despite his many offers to relieve me, I drove every damn mile of the trip. Despite the fact that I hadn’t ordered cruise control on the car, the little Shadow proved to be a good ride for the cross country trip. With a tall 5th gear it positively loped along the interstate and, thanks to tall comfortable seats, we made the trip in good shape. When my training was done, I made the return trip alone in just under four days.

In 2001 I made virtually the same trip in my 1984 Cutlass when I drove from Washington State to Washington DC, a trip I made at the end of February managing to stay just ahead of a wicked arctic air mass that dogged me all the way across the great Plains, and, after storing the Olds for two years while I was overseas, made a leisurely return trip with my wife. In 2010 I crossed the country yet again in my 300M Special and, if the best laid plans of mice and men work out, expect to make the trip the opposite way in our new Town & Country sometime next summer.


The trip out to Buffalo in the 300M was probably the worst trip I have made. The car itself was great, it was the man in the driver seat that had real trouble and the reason was my as yet undiagnosed Diabetes. The ancient Greeks called Diabetes the disease in which you drink away your arms and legs and extreme thirst is one of the first signs that your blood sugar is out of control. As I understand it, when your body’s own insulin fails to bring your blood sugar down to normal levels, your body reacts by making you drink gallons and gallons of water. The water, in turn, carries away excess sugar in your urine and that sugar makes every trip to the bathroom smell like Lucky Charms.

The big Chrysler and I probably got about the same miles per gallon all the way across the United States. Unfortunately for me, my tank was a lot smaller than the 300’s and I ended up stopping at damn near every rest area on Interstate 90 as I made my way out from the west Coast. For the most part, I am pleased to report that the vast majority of rest areas along my chosen route were perfectly serviceable facilities and I feel nothing but gratitude for the men and women of the State Highway Departments that maintain them. One state, however, has rest stops that are head and shoulders above the rest. Are you ready for it? That state is South Dakota.


Rest areas in the State of South Dakota are beautifully maintained facilities. Their grounds are always impeccable, my own yard should look as good, and inside the restrooms are always sparkling clean. In their lobbies, many of the buildings have computerized informational kiosks and interactive geographic and historic displays that make them seem more like museums than public restrooms. Larger Information Centers are actually manned by staff who can help plan side trips and point out special attractions along your route and feature much appreciated extra amenities like pet exercise areas and places where RVs can empty their septic tanks. Having had the opportunity to visit almost every one of them, I think I can say with some certainty that they are consistently the best in the United States and I think it is important to note that Interstate 90 through that part of the country is not a toll road. These services are provided at no cost to Interstate travelers by the people of South Dakota.

In these still somewhat austere economic times, a lot of the services provided by federal, state and local governments have fallen by the wayside. We hear every day about poor service, bureaucratic nonsense, deteriorating infrastructure, new taxes and new forms of revenue generation so it’s nice to be able to report on something good for a change. That’s the discussion I would like to engender here today. Earlier this week we all had a chance to tell our stories about the times public employees have been less than helpful or about how our government has given us the runaround. Today, if you dare, let’s talk about the times they have got it right. Sure, it’s more fun to complain but somewhere, some public sector employee is fighting the good fight. It’s time they got a pat on the back. If you don’t like that, just to keep it classy, tell us about the best place to take a roadside dump.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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New or Used: Not that you would, or should…but you totally could. Wed, 12 Jan 2011 16:06:31 +0000

Peter, a repeat customer, writes:

My last question was certainly well-answered and I thank you for that! Problem is I have another because my situation has changed totally!  And this one is kind of urgent.

My wife and I need to relocate to California by March.  We’re going to drive my RAV4 appliance across the country with our dog.  Problem is, we still have that darn Corolla.  Money’s really tight now.  We’re looking at quotes of 800-1200 dollars to ship her car out there.  I’ve now got three choices:

1.  Drive her 95,000 Mile Corolla to Anaheim from VA.  It needs about 200 bucks worth of work prior to driving it out there: tires are 1 year old, but it might need shocks, the 100K service and it has some body damage for sure.  It’s really, really good on gas so I’m not so worried about that cost (probably another 200).  We’d need to drive in 2 different cars.  Our ability to take turns driving or be next to each other during this great trip would be compromised.  Plus, I may need to get earplugs with the roar and wind noise of the Corolla: it is really loud on the highway.

2.  Pony up the 1000 bucks to ship it.  I don’t know if any damage will come to it, but it already has some body damage to the bumper and rear door.

3.  Sell it.  I bet I can get 4K for it.  Not sure about that.  My wife owes 2 on it.  I can use that 2 grand as a down payment on a lease or something else entirely. We’d sell it here, and lease a Civic or something out there.  She’s almost got the car paid off though.

I can’t decide.  I would love some blunt help from the B&B.

Steve Answers:

So let’s see. You will spend less money. Have more fun. Get to see the country. Plus potentially have another keeper for the next 10 years. OR….

You can have $2000 in your pocket temporarily; have one car, then blow a good wad of that on another debtful decision with a negative return.

I know you are going to keep the car because otherwise I would have to hire Robert Farago to hunt you down. One option you may have is to tow the Corolla with the RAV4. But I don’t know whether your particular model can accommodate this since I don’t know it’s model year or features. I would either tow it or drive it.

One other side note: California and the entire West Coast has used car prices that are completely detached from the rest of the USA. They are sky high. So high that we non-natives had a saying at the dealer auctions, “they brought ‘balls’.” I wouldn’t be surprised if your Corolla brought $1500 more on the West Coast than in Virginia. I would still keep the Corolla for the long haul. But if you wanted to blow your money on another vehicle driving it cross country would still be the way to go.

Sajeev Answers:

As we discussed via email, Option 1 is my only recommendation.  This is the easiest/least stressful way to deal with owning a second car while moving across the country.  And, as my partner in crime made crystal clear, your Corolla will be very valuable in California’s used car market. I choose the path of least resistance; it’ll probably be the best for your stress level and your wallet.

I know you and your wife woulda enjoyed that trip in the same cabin, but consider this: if you screw up and really piss her off before you hit the road, you have your own isolation chamber!  Not that you would, or should…but you totally could.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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Curbside Classic: 1961 Rambler Classic Cross Country Mon, 01 Mar 2010 21:36:30 +0000

It’s morning on a bright summer day in Iowa City in 1962. I may have fallen asleep with pictures of Marilyn and the Corvette, but now they’re lost somewhere in the folds of my sheets. The fantasy is over, and its time to face a reality of rampant Rambler Classic wagons with wheezing sixes piloted by boozy but anything but sexy Moms. Instead of a fancy night club where a jazz band is playing, we’re off to the pool, and if we’re lucky a stop at the Purple Cow drive-in for milkshakes and floats afterward. The distinctive pattern of Rambler upholstery seared into the backs of my thighs and the stain of artificial strawberry on my trunks will be the tell-tale of having crowded in with half a dozen other hot (the wrong kind) and sticky kids in the back seat. Why did I have to find you, Rambler Classic Wagon? I was so enjoying my fantasy memories.

These Rambler wagons were everywhere at the time, the choice of the younger families that were so busy birthing and brooding baby boomers. This picture, which includes a house that is much more Iowa then Oregon, takes me back to riding in my friend Chris’ identical family Classic wagon, wishing it was a Pontiac Bonneville like the family across the street. Lets face it, Ramblers were about on the same pecking order of a passionate nine-year old piston head in 1962 as a ten year old Kia does today. These cars were the Kias of their time: the most frugal and pragmatic transportation in the land, if you needed more room than a VW. [Updtate: Ironically, it turns out that Eugene's Kia dealer was once the Rambler dealer, and a Daewoo dealer in between. Hat tip to Littlecarrot]. Rambler wisely turned away from trying to compete with the Big Three after a couple of disastrous years in 1954-1956, and identified a niche for frugal midwesterners, no matter what part of the country they lived in.

And it worked like a charm, as plenty of folks were sick of the over-sized chrome-winged flash the big guys were serving up in the late fifties. In 1960, Rambler set new records for an independent, and in 1961, a recession year, Rambler was Number Three in the land! A truly remarkable accomplishment; kind of like Hyundai in the past year, but  shooting all the way to third.

Of course it wouldn’t last. The Big Three threw their barrage of compacts and mid-sized cars at Rambler, the Studebaker Lark, and the imports, and it hit hard. Rambler’s heyday was brief and inglorious, inasmuch as the cars were utterly dreadful bores, and horribly styled, like the truly wretched 1961 American and this somewhat but only slightly better Classic. The Ambassador? That was truly a joke, trying to compete with the stylish and toned-down new ’61s from GM, especially the Pontiacs.

Obviously, a nine-year old isn’t thinking about the practical virtues of a Rambler. This Classic Cross Country was the Volvo 245 of its times, with a healthy sprinkle of chromium-laced fairy dust in two tones. It had practical big 15″ wheels when everyone was doing 14 and 13 inch mini-donuts. And AMC actually dropped the V8 option in the Classic line, which probably had everything to do with the fact that the ’62 Ambassador lost its larger platform and was now just a tarted-up Classic. That made all Classics dogs, because that six was a pretty feeble affair.

The 195.6 cubic inch 127 (gross) hp engine had its origins in 1941, and was updated with an OHV head along the way. But it was an old school chuffer, with a tiny 3.13″ bore and a massive 4.25″ stroke. Plenty of low-end torque to haul the kids around with, but I remember seeing these struggling in the Rocky Mountains, with the camping gear lashed to the standard luggage rack over that weird lowered rear roof section. And if memory serves me right, there was an all-aluminum version for a couple of years, in that brief US fad that resulted in lots of warped heads and the scratching heads of unhappy owners. Cast iron was here to stay, for another forty years or so.

This 1961 Rambler was one year away from the end of the line for the 108″ wheelbase platform it sat on, having first seen the light of day in 1954. Of course, it was a unibody, a fairly light one at that; even this wagon barely topped 3,000 lbs. The next year, the Classic got the handsome new body that we praised in one of our first Curbside Classics. It was long overdue; eight years was an eternity back then, and it was all-too obvious to me at the time that this ’61 was already a rolling antique. Enough Rambler ragging; I’m not nine anymore, but childhood impressions are hard to totally purge. And fantasies are infinitely more pleasurable.

More Curbside Classics are here

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