By on February 6, 2017

1972 Dodge D200 Pickup in Colorado Junkyard, CUSTOM emblem - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

What type of extra-curricular activity do you enjoy taking on with your car or truck? No, not that type of extra-curricular activity, gutter brain. I’m talking about what we can do with our vehicles other than the mundane commute to work five days a week. Towing. Drag racing. Off-roading. Y’know, more than the basics. The fun stuff.

Having just spent two days wielding a 2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon to crawl over rocks and navigate off-road trails in the Valley of Fire just outside Vegas (review coming later this week), I started to give this question a bit of thought. There are leagues of people who make their purchasing decisions based not solely on road comfort and passenger space, but instead consider a myriad of complicated considerations and preferences unique to their own situations.

Some folks will buy more truck than they seemingly need in preparation for towing their bass boat to the lake. Many more buy a cramped and compromised muscle car, secure in the knowledge they’ll be visiting a drag strip, often before the ink is dry on the purchase agreement. (Shhh … don’t tell the insurance goblins.)

Me? I fall squarely in the towing category. One of the reasons it took approximately five eons for this author to choose a truck — a process in which my long-suffering spouse was extremely patient — were my list of demands for hauling: stout rear-end gear, oil and transmission coolers, integrated trailer brake, and a backup camera. Eventually, I found a truck that checked three of the four boxes; only the backup camera was AWOL on my purchase.

How about you, dear reader? Have you, either with your current ride or with one in the past, signed the note or handed over the cash for a vehicle because it met some existing or future demand beyond basic transport? I firmly believe (and I think my colleagues and most of you do as well) that our ride needn’t simply be a wheeled appliance. Now, go. Have fun. Experience more than the basics … right after you answer our question of the day, of course.

[Image: © 2016 Murilee Martin]

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63 Comments on “QOTD: Buying More Than the Basics?...”

  • avatar

    I have learned over a half dozen car purchases to buy the right tool for the job. I bought a 350Z in anticipation of track days I never did and came back to more basic transportation. But I did modify my Civic for a little more growl and sharper response. Good balance for the daily grind.

    I don’t know that I will ever be able to pull the trigger on a car for any kind of track or motorsport stuff. I feel more comfortable doing that with motorcycles.

  • avatar

    I’m a track day guy myself, but I really only get to maybe 3 a year at most. The good thing is the S2k is still good for twisty backroads and nice days.

    I’m also fortunate enough that I have a commuter for the M-F slog, because putting almost 100 beltway miles a day on the S wouldn’t be good for the car, my budget, or my sanity.

  • avatar

    I keep buying 4-doors with rear seats but am awfully good at making sure nobody ever gets in the back.

    Maybe three times in twenty years?

    • 0 avatar

      @OMP: You just described almost the exact reason why I have never intentionally purchased a 4-door CAR (meaning sedan/coupe). The only things that have ever gone into the back seat has been purchases, a dog…, and trash. With most of those cars if they saw human passengers at all, it was never more than about three times in the entire time I owned those vehicles. That’s why I’ve been so specific in NOT buying a car with four doors and to this date I’ve never purchased one. That doesn’t mean I haven’t owned them, I’ve just never purchased them… they’ve been given to me.

  • avatar

    I’ve never had to tow, I don’t go off road, but I do carry two kids and sports equipment nearly every weekend. Big bags of baseball gear in the summer and skis in the winter. One feature I really like is a pass-through between the two rear seats so I can carry skis inside the car AND carry four people. Other than VW/Audi, I haven’t seen this feature very often. The idea that I can get that AND a manual transmission may allow me to overlook obvious long-term ownership costs. Yeah… I could buy a larger vehicle like a three-row SUV or “mini” van and just rarely raise the rear seats, but that seems wasteful and they don’t seem fun to drive every other day. A VW Sportwagon seems to hit my hot buttons at the moment. Silly thing, that little center pass through. It makes me overlook just dropping a couple of hundred dollars on roof racks.

    • 0 avatar

      As a former sound engineer I love every manner of storage trick in the book. I appreciate your comment because long storage space in a car often feels neglected from a design standpoint. If the area between front passenger seat and trunk could fold flat, every car could store an insane variety of things. I wish more companies did this.

      Steve, I registered in order to send a reply that may open up your shopping a little bit: the Mazda CX-5 had a center passthrough that you can flop down with a lever near the rear lift gate. I was helping someone else shop for a car and noticed that. I really appreciated on the Mazda that they had separate, specific levers for each 60, 40, and center passthrough split that were usable from the rear lift gate. The Hyundai Tucson demanded you go around to the rear passengers doors to lower the seats and had no center passthrough – annoying! (Unless I didn’t see whatever the Hyundai had.)

      • 0 avatar

        Anyone happen to notice that the Jeep Renegade has one of those pass through arm rest cushions in the back seat. Maybe not quite as accessible as that in the Mazda, but it can serve the same kind of purpose in maintaining control of the skis (or other objects) while allowing back seat passengers.

        • 0 avatar

          It looks like that’s an option on the Renegade, with a choice between 60/40 split and the 40/20/40 as they call it. It’s hard to use the build tool on their website to see which trims it’s offered in, but it’s nice to know that there are more manufacturers doing it!

          • 0 avatar

            I seem to remember a similar thing in a Chevy Malibu from a few years back… It was being used to help haul a number of 8′ boards by my handyman to repair my deck railings. So you don’t even need a wagon-styled rig to get that pass through.

  • avatar

    Years back I bought a stock-ish 1986 Monte Carlo SS with the idea of turning it into a street warrior daily driver / track drag racer. Many mods and $$$ later I had a car that was pretty fast. But the reality of having a vehicle in Michigan that I could only drive in the warmer months eventually led me to sell it. And no, I never got a chance to really race it.

    My wife’s Mini Cooper S would be happier on the track as it’s not the most comfortable daily. It crashes over potholes, you can feel the smallest pebble or road imperfection, and the lack of interior space is laughable – especially with teenage son approaching 6’4″. But hey – it’s fun and intoxicating to drive for all it’s faults. We talk about making it a track-only car but the current lack of funds – the house! – means it soldiers on as a daily city commuter. Someday.

  • avatar

    I feel I am always in search of cars that are engaging and fun. Speed isn’t really my goal, although there is obviously correlation between the two. I want the steering to be right, I especially want the handling to be rewarding. I don’t care about speed, I don’t care about gas mileage, and I don’t care about how many seats it has. My 911 has been the largest financial investment I’ve ever made in a car, but it has come the closest to that for me and I specifically looked for one with options to get as close as I could to what I wanted.

  • avatar

    I bought my WRX STi because it blended a lot of what I wanted into one car, and drove significantly better than the new German luxo-barges that pass for “sport sedans” these days.

    Some of my favorite driving memories have involved having 3 of my friends in the car with me as we slide through snow or go to new places. The car needed to seat 4 at least reasonably comfortably, be fun for twisty backroads and canyon carving, and be track capable as I planned to start doing HPDEs.

    I love this car. It’s accomplished all of that and more. I can haul supplies for my amateur wood working, move most of my possessions from one place to another in one trip, bring my friends to spectate rally races in a city 6 hours away, and pass Caymans/Corvettes/Mustangs on track (tbh, only in the rain).

    The fuel economy sucks though…

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    This question drove our recent car purchase. I wanted a GTI or similar for the basic dynamics and the chance at monthly track nights but realized my daily commute is wasted potential for a fun car, and my kids don’t benefit from me running around a track on amateur night.

    We have a lot of public lands, though, and we frequently camp but are hindered by lack of ground clearance and 4WD. Went with a 4Runner instead. Not a lot of fun around town but I’ve already got a list of places to take the kids that will last us until they leave the house.

    I put up with the fuel economy and driving dynamics *entirely* because of the extra-curriculars this vehicle affords.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Once I smartened up? Never. For the last 20 years have purchased vehicles only to fulfill the requirements and needs of the family. End of story. And never once regretted buying based on that logic rather than emotion.

    Unlike the many poor auto purchase decisions I made when I acquired vehicles for ‘fun’, for ‘prestige’ or for possible future once a year use.

    • 0 avatar

      This is an interesting idea. I’ve never once bought a vehicle based only on “requirements and needs.” You’re making me think about what that would involve. And the answer is 1) the same C-Max we have now; 2) no other cars; and 3) a rental of $GENERIC_BIG_CUV for road trips maybe 5x/year.

      How totally boring.

      • 0 avatar

        That 5x rental per year would probably cost you as much as a year’s worth of payments each year for a similar vehicle. I looked at renting a small SUV for a one-week trip for two and it still would have cost more than round-trip air fare to the same destination. I bought my Renegade instead and still haven’t paid as much as that one trip would have cost.

        • 0 avatar

          I have access to a contract with National that keeps those costs well under control. A 5X weekly rental of a Traverse or similar would cost me about as much as 2-3 monthly payments on a base Traverse or similar, and that’s not counting insurance or registration.

          • 0 avatar

            I guess I’m just a little more picky on choice of vehicle. Not a fan of the Traverse (or anything GM, really.) Will take Fords only as rental (the Focus isn’t too bad) but the vehicles I particularly prefer tend to run 2x to 4x the rental rates of the more common models. Funny thing, some of them should be renting for even less than the Focus but they like to keep those models low-mileage for some reason.

  • avatar

    I bought a simple, light hatchback figuring that would be a decent frugal commuter car – decent mileage, not much to go wrong. As an added bonus, a slow, light car is a great way to start in autocross. Went to my first few sessions this year. Still ended up in the bottom third, but it was fun, and hopefully stickier tires (when I’m due for replacement) will help.

  • avatar

    When we were going to sell my 2004 Impala and buy something new, I really desired the 2006 refresh, and went for a 2012 model.

    Previously, my 2004 was a base model w/sport appearance upgrade, because rental-grade just wasn’t going to do. I take pride in my ride.

    Wifey and I decided that we weren’t getting a basic vehicle anymore, as her 2002 CR-V was top-of-the-line. An Impala LTZ with Sunroof was the only way we would buy one.

    Well, as it was July, 2012, the cash on the hood was pretty nice, making the car we bought a very attractive deal. I added a couple of personal touches to it to “make it my own” and have been quite happy with it.

    As to what comes next? I’ll be retired with considerably less cash to spread around, so I have doubts anything we buy will be new. Still, if it’s my ride, I will make it my own, no matter what.

  • avatar

    My wife and I bought a Certified Pre-Owned 2010 Honda Odyssey LX 8 days before our firstborn arrived. So I guess you could say we bought a car for hauling toys, oversized car seats, poopy diapers, crumbs, clothes, strollers, and other child stuff. We’ve made a lot of great trips and memories in that van in the past 3 years.

    Of course I’m 25 years old and have only purchased two cars in my life. Lots of years for fun vehicles ahead.

  • avatar

    What is this? The truth about buses and uber?
    I have honestly tried to buy ‘basic transportation’ a couple of times. (midsize sedans.)
    3 generations Audi 100, one Accord 2.2i, and a Ford Mondeo. Apart from the Honda neither lasted very long. And the Honda wouldn’t have lasted long without a trailer hitch an awesome 2.2 liter engine and a manual transmission.
    That being said, I actually use all the features of my cars regularly. And as I feel acrual physical pain owning an ugly boring car, I regard some sort of looks and fun as a ‘need’ when I buy a car.

  • avatar

    My Miata has always been a line item in the “hobby” part of my budget. In 6 years, I’ve never once taken it to work, and I functioned fine without a vehicle at all before that. Its sole use is to get out of the city into the country, and for a while I was doing casual track days with it. Contrary to my bikes before it, it’s fun at near-legal street speeds, and I enjoy that. It’s also a bit more comfortable for longer jaunts, like taking the girlfriend on a camping weekend or to Lake George.

    I’m using it less these days, though. I think I put about 2,000 miles on it last year. More and more I’m seeing the appeal of a practical, comfortable, economical car.

  • avatar

    2500HD Long bed 2WD WT. Most versatile vehicle I own that makes money. Cost per mile within a few cents of diesel with less hassle, while remaining tow legal. Slide in truck camper for mobile office, 20 foot trailer to move stuff and pulling a camper when the family routes to a camp site.

  • avatar

    Yeah the run factor is important for me. I love to take my car to the strip or track a few times out of the year if I get the chance plus any curvy road and on/off ramp is a chance for fun.

    On topen if that you have the various car shows anc meets and the mod game as well as maintenence which is rewardin and if itself.

    I just can’t see making such a huge purchase for just mundane transportation.

    My biggest piece of advice for anybody is get the car you really want so the payments aren’t hard to swallow and given and they won’t become a noose around year neck down the line.

    I’ve had nore than a few friends buy a vehicle for basic transportation and end up regretting it as they dwell on options they skipped or let every little problem mount thier frustration until they either trade it in with negative equity or just stop paying altogether (due to being in a tight spot).

  • avatar

    In the past, when I bought sporty hatchbacks or coupes, it’s because I had a mantra ever since I was a teenager that I would “only ever buy sports cars or sporty-cars”. Now in my 30s, that doesn’t really apply any more.

    I really liked the Forte Koup, and the Civic coupe. Especially since you could get either with the turbo. I really found no other reason to get a sedan since I rarely do travel with friends in the same vehicle, and I don’t necessarily NEED 4 doors because there’s just the two of us. A coupe would suit me just fine, in all cases.

    None of our vehicles are large enough to carry large loads, like cabinets and such. SO the need for even a hatchback, is moot, even though I prefer hatchbacks and wagons.

    I ended up buying an Elantra value edition. Because it’s a perfect commuter car for me. Despite the fact that I don’t need a sedan. And I skipped getting a hatchback, because hatchbacks are just noisier, and we don’t really need one. Our Fiesta is a hatchback, but it’s hatch utility is just limited to things that are more SQUARE and need the seats folded down.

    It’s also not sporty or a sports car by any stretch (I skipped on buying the Elantra Sport, because of Bay Area traffic, and I don’t trust the 7 speed DCT in stop and go gridlock, especially in California Summers). But the catch is that I still have my E36 to fulfill that need.

    In a nutshell, a small-midsize sedan fits all of my needs sufficiently, even though it’s not the class of vehicle I necessarily want.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I bought a T100 after I got the Cummins Ram stuck in the yard a few times.

  • avatar

    I think nearly all of my automotive purchases have been made with a modicum of “greater than basic transport” added. Hell, some of them were made with “basic transportation” stipulation pretty far down the list… one doesn’t buy project vehicles with “cost per mile” or “EPA smog rating” in mind.

    Well, some people do, but I sure as hell don’t.

  • avatar

    I didn’t see anyone post this one yet, but I live in a place where I have to street park my car in parallel spaces multiple times per week.

    When I went looking for a car I tried to find a car that wouldn’t depress me every time I drove by a space I couldn’t fit in, but that also wouldn’t depress me by being sort of bland every time I went to drive it.

    I ended up getting a Fiesta ST, which turned out to be beneficial in city driving in three other ways I hadn’t thought about: people seem to act nice to small economy cars, it requires less space to merge, and it is quick enough to make merging easy.

  • avatar

    The one car that stands out in my mind is my old 95 Town Car Sig Series that I used to take off-roading.

    Nowadays, I have two CUVS…a 2016 CRV EX-L AWD that does family duty (which I love because it makes our lives a lot easier), and a 2003 RAV4L that I currently use to commute in.

    The RAV is way overkill for a commute, and quite frankly, I don’t like driving it because it’s pretty loud. So, I’m in the process of replacing it. Despite considering other cars, the two that I keep defaulting back to are the Civic and Accord, so more than likely, it’ll be one or the other.

    I also go back and forth about keeping the RAV to haul crap around, like picking up furniture to restore.

    • 0 avatar

      I am envious of your future Honda Civic/Accord ownership lol.

      I love my Taurus, but as I said in the other thread (Insignia wagon), Hondas hold a special place in my dream garage.

      I would absolutely love a 97-01 Honda Prelude Type SH (was m/t only) in red, bone stock except for some nice modern Accord factory alloys go give it a fresher look. 16″ or 17″ I suppose.

      It wouldn’t replace the Taurus as chief Walmart car, except maybe on a sunny warm day like today when I can peel back the sunroof and roll the windows down, row throughout the 5 gears and have a little fun (when my pain level accommodates).

  • avatar

    Went I bought my 350Z I didn’t intent to track it – I just wanted a fun, fast hatchback to zip around in. Sure I wanted to get into some autocross or other fun stuff, but didn’t think it was something I could actually do in the real world due to costs and other unknowns. However after a few track days, some mods and some wrenching I realized it was totally do-able. I track the car about once every 2 months and that frequency is increasing. The cross over point for me was becoming an instructor… as now I have to practice what I preach. As the mods pile up my like of the car as a daily driver drops, but my commute is short enough that so far I can live with it. Most of the Z’s problems are NVH related and track mods certainly don’t help in that regard.

    My Dakota was purposely bought for towing my boat, I checked all the towing related option (different rear end, cooling upgrades, etc) but stayed with the cloth seats and basic interior. I personally don’t like driving trucks (too big, too thirsty, poor handling) so the Dakota only does truck stuff. Its kind of ironic that my truck is the one that sits in the garage all week while my Z is the daily. Most people assume the opposite once I tell I track my car. I see my truck as tool required to complete the task of getting my boat to the ramp each weekend. Its not a “fun” vehicle, but enables the fun on water stuff. Its just happens my car can pull double duty. One day its very possible that Z becomes a track toy only and I’ll get another vehicle for daily driver duties but its just too fun to not use it as much as possible.

  • avatar

    2011 F-150. We purchased it because we were in the market for a larger travel trailer. It replaced the 2007 Ranger I had at the time. The fuel economy was better in the F-150 than in the 4.0L Ranger, so that was a bonus.

    So, naturally, I got the best towing package available. Ecoboost, 11K+ towing capacity, extra coolers, back up camera, electronic trailer sway control, etc, etc.

    I still use it for towing, even though our main trailer has been downsized to an 18′ model from a 29′ model. The extras are useful, but the most I tow now is in the mid-4,500 lb range, so the towing capacity is overkill. It’s never really stressed though.

    It gets used to haul the 18′, along with our two vintage campers (a 1975 16′, and a 1973 29′, currently under restoration.)

    As well, it gets a lot of use hauling my wife’s ATV in the bed, while towing my side x side on our 12′ Utility trailer.

    Towing. Lots of towing. But honestly, isn’t that supposed to be one of the main functions of a truck?

  • avatar

    My trucks are always spec’d out to be able to tow my racecar trailers. Whether it be to a drag strip, Lemons race or just picking up and dropping off car purchases and projects. Having the right axle ratios, coolers, mirrors, hitch and trailer brake control makes a big difference in having the right or wrong vehicle for that job.

    When I get new cars, I always get something with the intention that I’ll take it to the track at least a few times, or other non-track motorsport related events like autocross, rallycross, or TSD rally.

  • avatar

    I could not see myself owning anything other than a pickup. For most people, any penalty box on wheels can handle the to and from work grind. Even with the to/from work grind, I need a vehicle that can get me there even under the worst road conditions.
    Extracurricular activity: off roading, hauling around boy scouts, hunting, fishing(hauling my 12 ft boat), camping, mountain bikes, dirt bikes, towing, hauling stuff for friends/neighbours, family vacations, trips to the ski hill, winter travel to neighbouring towns, hauling home renovation supplies, hauling sons to their lawn maintenance jobs, and packing the dogs to the river. Virtually anything one can think of, I’ve probably done it.

  • avatar

    Every vehicle I’ve purchased has had more than one purpose in mind. Most have NOT been for, as my father put it, “simply transportation.” He never understood why I preferred certain types of cars over others. For as long as I can remember he never purchased anything with less than four doors EXCEPT when he was an insurance agent with a debit where he tended to buy the cheapest thing available and averaged one VW Beetle (used) every year for over six years, when he got away from debit work and became an independent agent. He only owned one wagon (a pity, all things considered) and purchased nothing but sedans after that ’til the day he died. He hated driving.

    I’ve always been the other way around; I love driving in general, though I admit I don’t like the heavy metropolitan traffic any more that keeps you always on edge as drivers in general seem to have become far more careless over the decades. As such, the vehicles I’ve purchased have either had a “cruising” aspect or off-pavement capability, excepting my two pickup trucks and my one ‘wagon’, whose purposes have been cargo hauling, one way or another. Now, get me on a nice, old, two-lane highway like the Dragon’s Tail (or Tail of the Dragon as it is more popularly known today) and inter-city highways away from the expressway is still a pleasure–giving me the ability to enjoy scenery people today simply seem too self-centered to appreciate. The wagon and both Jeeps have been able to go open top one way or another to make those cruises on-pavement and off more pleasurable.

  • avatar

    2004 F150 Heritage was originally purchased because my ex-wife was of the belief that “a homeowner should have a truck.” Now she’s long gone and the truck is still here.

    It’s paid for, sees all kinds of duty from fairly light towing and hauling, to extra vehicle duty if one of the other vehicles is out of commission.

    My Highlander is handy because of a vast cargo hold when the seats are all down and given the lack of delivery options out here in Nowhere, NM I have used it for carrying various things home from big box stores.

    My wife just bought a Terrain and it came with the tow package. That hitch will never see a ball. I told her about all the various plugs could get for the receiver unlit and lit, she just rolled her eyes and laughed.

  • avatar

    I could be driving a 1997 Nissan Sentra. Or an elderly Ford Escort. Or any other “old beater” that was remotely available when I bought my old Taurus for similar money.

    Its safe to say I chose more the I needed, or could’ve gotten away with. I may have come out better in some ways with something else, but for ME, I did the right thing.

    My previous vehicle was an Aerostar. Before that, an Isuzu Tooper, and a Tempo GLS.

    I really didn’t “need” anything more than a Ford Festiva. “Want”, “would/could enjoy”, and “get use out of” are different things entirely.

    I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the basics. Give me a 1982 Tercel with vinyl and a stick, I’m happy.

    Just don’t make it my only source of transportation, if possible. :)

  • avatar

    I’m a big fan of having a car for work and a car for fun.

    I used to think that the commuter can be just anything if I have a bonkers car for the weekends, but lately I’ve been itching to get something more lux and/or fun for the crawl to work. Automatic Camcords just aren’t doing it.

  • avatar

    I usually have one requirement after I decide on a car to buy (new at least): the largest/most powerful engine option. Even for a daily driver. Sometimes you just want to go fast.

  • avatar

    When we had our Forester XT, one of the big parts of its appeal was that it could handle Forest Service roads without drama. 8.5″ of ground clearance and decent-for-a-car approach and departure angles were worth the dynamic sacrifice. Before kids, we used it for that purpose about every other weekend.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t yet a BEV or PHEV that can do the same thing, so we sacrificed that ability when we got the C-Max. But with two small kids it’s less useful. Since the C-Max came we’ve only done one small bit of mud-roading, totaling about ten miles — and it was my LS460 that did it (without trouble). 0.o

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