2

I'm going to be making a round trip from Ontario to Florida (2000 km/1200 mi, one way) in December and will be borrowing a 2008 Toyota Sienna to make the trip with my family. I'm concerned about the mechanical reliability of the vehicle and whether it is prudent to make a trip of this scale with an older vehicle. As far as I know, the van hasn't had significant mechanical trouble in the past, and my mechanic said it's in good running order, but it has more than 300,000 km/180,000 mi on it, and the owners drive it quite hard (heavy acceleration/braking). It has be maintained by a conscientious mechanic.

Is a 10 year old vehicle with 300,000+ km likely to make a 4000 km trip without issue? Are there any specific things I/my mechanic should check or do to make sure the vehicle is in good shape?

Notes:

  • We will be taking freeways/interstates most of the way.
  • We will be making the trip in no more than a day and a half, so it will be near-constant driving for at least 10 hours at a time.
  • The van will be loaded with four adults, two infants, and a moderate amount of luggage. We will not be towing a trailer or overburdening the vehicle.
  • I'm not really interested in anecdotal evidence; no doubt a similar vehicle could make it that far, but I would like to avoid being stranded in the middle of Kentucky (no offense, Kentucky).
  • At that mileage there is no way to know for sure it will not break down, I would take it to a shop and tell them to look it over for any obvious problems that could cause a break down on a long road trip. – Moab Aug 13 '18 at 19:06
1

The age and mileage of a vehicle are not great indicators as to it's fitness for a long trip. It's all about the condition of the individual vehicle. A well maintained high mileage vehicle is better than a neglected low mileage one.

Anecdote alert: I drove a 1986 Dodge van from Toronto to San Francisco, north to Victoria and back to Toronto in 2014, 12000km in just over 3 weeks, on the word of a mechanic who said the vehicle checks out fine and he'd have no concerns doing the same. I still own the van, it's ancient and rock solid and I trust is as much as any other car I've driven.

So if you didn't already, specifically ask your mechanic if they would feel comfortable driving it across the continent with small kids in tow.

That was our approach, the mechanic gave his honest opinion, did about $500 of minor (non-safety critical) work and off we went. Secondly, trust your gut. How do you feel about this vehicle when you drive it, how do you feel when you look at it and look under the hood? If you don't trust it, then I wouldn't put your faith in it.

And finally, plan for a breakdown. Have some emergency supplies on hand (water, food, flashlights), and the number of a roadside assistance service handy. You might have roadside through your credit card or insurer, or you can pay into a service like CAA or similar. Travelling with small children, spend most of your time in the right lane so you can easily pull off in an emergency.

You mention doing the drive in a day and a half each way. This is fine for an optimistic timeline, but be mentally prepared for a breakdown because it can happen no matter what car you are driving. It might mean arriving a day late, it might mean renting a car for the duration while the Sienna sits in a shop somewhere. If you're mentally prepared it won't ruin your trip.

2

Stuff happens

First, it's important to remember that stuff happens. No matter how well you plan or prepare, unexpected problems can occur ranging from minor (nail in tire) to major (catastrophic engine failure). But you already know that, and you are intelligently planning to take reasonable steps to plan for and/or avoid foreseeable problems. With that in mind, I'll describe what I do before such trips, and you can decide for yourself which measures make sense for your situation.

Prioritize safety

This goes without saying, but I didn't want it to go without saying: prioritize safety first. As a practical matter this means, for example, that if you have to choose between fixing the 8-track player or replacing the wiper blades, you should choose the wiper blades. So the basic things that anyone should check would include:

  • tires and tire pressure
  • windscreen wipers and washer fluid
  • all lights and horn
  • brakes (check pads, rotors, fluid)
  • wheels and lug nuts
  • exhaust (mostly check for leaks/holes)
  • safety belts/harnesses/car seats and mounting
  • seat controls (do all driver seat controls work?)
  • mirrors (all intact and adjustments working)
  • driver (be well rested, attentive and careful)

Check major systems

You mention that the vehicle has been driven hard, but really the more important consideration is how it has been maintained. Has it always gotten oil changes on time and are tire pressures monitored and adjusted? Are the wiper blades new-ish or torn up and crumbling? I know you're just borrowing the vehicle and not buying it, but it may be helpful to imagine you're buying it. Evaluate the vehicle dispassionately, and carefully. To that end, after the safety items already listed, I'd look at and/or inquire about:

  • oil level and condition
  • transmission fluid level and condition
  • engine belt condition and adjustment
  • suspension and bodywork condition
  • shock absorbers (dampers) condition
  • engine coolant level and condition
  • radiator and hose condition
  • power steering fluid
  • battery condition
  • all driver controls (steering, pedals, emergency brake)
  • all doors and locks
  • hood and trunk/hatch latches and releases

Pack intelligently

If you had to make a sudden stop, is that heavy bag secure or is it in danger of flying forward and injuring someone? In a passenger car, I try to put nearly everything in the trunk for two reasons -- first for safety and secondly so that if I stop at a rest stop, there isn't anything obviously attractive to steal.

Travel plan

Pilots typically file a flight plan, and so should you. It doesn't have to be big and formal, but somebody you know and trust should have at least the outline of your intended trip. I usually email a friend or relative and let 'em know where I'm going, how and when. That way, if anything bad happened, at least they'd have some idea of where to look for me. (Pro tip: make sure it's somebody who would both know and care if you went missing!)

Make sure you also build in time for adequate rest. Your trip will be more enjoyable and you'll be a safer driver.

Travel docs

Sure it's "just US and Canada" but it's probably worthwhile making sure that you make sure you have all necessary and useful documents. For example, if it's a borrowed vehicle and you got stopped at a random traffic stop, do you have sufficient documentation to indicate that you have insurance? That you didn't steal the vehicle you're driving? That you're not kidnapping those infants? That all might sound like a joke, but things can get serious if you even unknowingly break a law, such as this young woman who was detained by US immigration authorities for two weeks for inadvertently crossing the border from Canada into the US while jogging on the beach.

Clean machine

Personally, I hate a messy car. Before a long trip, when, especially with kids, things can get messy, I usually try to wash the car and clean the interior. That has more to do with my preferences than with safety or reliability, but I also usually also do stuff like replacing (or at least checking) the interior air filter and making sure the flashlight in the glove compartment has fresh batteries. I also usually take some minimum complement of tools, but that's only useful if you'd also be prepared to use them.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.