What Do Seniors Need To Consider When Buying a Vehicle?
May 12, 2007 8:34 AM   Subscribe

My parents are seniors who, assuming their good health continues, will be able to drive for another 10 years or so. They're about to buy what will presumably be their last vehicle. In addition to the standard points to consider when choosing it, are there any factors associated with aging for them to keep in mind as they’re shopping?

For example, my father finds it difficult to get in and out of low-slung cars, so they’re thinking a truck would be best. However, there might be other issues that will come about with aging that would make a truck not such a good bet.

Suggestions for vehicles are very welcome too. They’re looking at spending between $10,000 and $15,000 Canadian and would like something that’s approximately 5 years old. They’d like it to be an automatic.

They pretty much only drive themselves and occasionally one or two other adults, never children. It would be used to drive around their small town (population approximately 900) and to drive in to the city on average about once every two weeks (it’s an hour’s drive each way).

Thanks in advance for any help you can give me.
posted by Amy NM to Shopping (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Loud blinkers, minimal blind-spots
posted by Mick at 9:03 AM on May 12, 2007

The standard 'old person' car in my family tends to be Lincolns or big-ass Chryslers. They're not low-slung--you basically go from standing to sitting.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:03 AM on May 12, 2007

Easy entrance and exit is most important. My elders had to give up their so-called "last car" and get a newer boxier thing because of this.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:10 AM on May 12, 2007

I don't know much about trucks one way or the other. But if it's a car suggest mid or large size with 6 or 8 way power seats to help entry/exit (move seat back for entry, then reposition for driving). A gated shift lever (like on a nissan altima) can be easier to use than the more typical back-and-forth motion type. Power mirrors facilitate backing up and parallel parking (aim passenger side mirror down) without need to look over shoulder. My stroke afflicted mother uses all the foregoing to good advantage.

Re truck: would the extra step up present a problem at some point?

Older people are less resiliant and have higher death rates when/if there is an accident. That would suggest a heftier vehicle - truck or mid-sized car or higher.

Lastly, Canada = snow, thus 4 wheel drive so less need to shovel to get going?
posted by Kevin S at 9:20 AM on May 12, 2007

A truck-ish vehicle that is dependable and easy to get into and out of? how about a used RAV4 or a used Vitara?
posted by seawallrunner at 9:21 AM on May 12, 2007

Factors to consider: decreased flexibility, mobility, strength, senses (as in hearing, vision) and cognitive processing speed,.

So in addition to ease of getting in and out of the seat, ease of opening and closing the car door. Short doors, such as on a 4-door vehicle, are shorter and thus lighter than the doors on a coupe. Additionally, short doors do not have to be swung out as far to give the users enough clearance to reach the seat.

Also related to decreased flexibility: a large and unobstructed view out of the rear and side windows to help counterbalance the neck/back stiffness many elderly have (it's harder to move your neck around as you age). Cars with a high rear deck (look at a car from the side. If the backend seems higher than the front end, it's got a high rear deck) have a larger rear blind spot than cars which are more level. Cars with wide side pillars (the solid metal parts inbetween the windows) also have bigger blind spots.

Power everything: windows, brakes, seat adjustments, and power assist steering.

Instrument clusters should be uncluttered: some manufacturers like to duplicate information (such as using both digital and analog readouts), which makes it more difficult for a driver to quickly discern and process the offered data. Honda, to pick one example, makes very clean and easy to instrument panels.
posted by jamaro at 9:32 AM on May 12, 2007

My mother could not handle low vehicles well at all, but would have had to climb up into a standard-size truck. That would have been a back idea as she went through her seventies into her eighties.

Her solution was a series of used mid-sized Mercurys (Mercuries?), Oldsmobiles, and Buicks. In other words, the typical little-old-lady car worked very well for her. The other big thing was to have the automatic gear shift lever on the steering column instead of in a floor console. She found that much easier to reach and use.
posted by Robert Angelo at 9:34 AM on May 12, 2007

My parents were in a similar situation five years ago, and bought, much to my suprise, a 10 year old Mercedes. It is a very comfortable car for them, and after living a frugal life, they do enjoy it. It had been well-cared for, and they haven't had any major mechanical problems. By the way, they also own a small pick-up.
posted by slowstarter at 9:35 AM on May 12, 2007

Perhaps something that can also easily store a walker or wheelchair. If it can be easily lifted in/out by the other spouse, all the better. A pickup might make that harder in the winter and it might slide around more. A small SUV (RAV 4, one of the newer CRVs) might be good for that - not so high, not so low.
posted by fionab at 9:40 AM on May 12, 2007

make sure the boot is easy to open and that shopping does not have to be lifted over a high edge in order to put it in/take it out...

ensure controls can be manipulated easily by someone whose finer motor skills are not what they once were, i.e. no tiny buttons/wheels etc.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:51 AM on May 12, 2007

Statistically speaking, your mom is likely to outlast your dad, so both of them should be comfortable driving it, not just him. Great question, btw. Something I never thought about.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:52 AM on May 12, 2007

Ricability has some good advice on choosing a car for elderly or disabled drivers. For example, Motoring with arthritis has lists of things to look for.
posted by pracowity at 10:01 AM on May 12, 2007

Please consider both their safety as well as others on the road. Unfortunately, many seniors stop driving only after they have had an crash and the style of car you drive can really affect the outcome for others that are involved in a crash.

Many of the new cars have control panels that require you to take your eyes off the road to fiddle with them (even to change the tempreature or radio station). This many be something they want to stay away from.

I have no experience with it, but you might want to consider something like Onstar. I know of many folks who had to stop driving after they got confused and then took a multi-hour drive over hundreds of miles away.

My dad sure loves his heated seats.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:32 AM on May 12, 2007

My grandma broke her wrist and had a lot of trouble steering once she recovered, until a fellow at a service suggested that she get a knob on her wheel, so she could steer with the knob. They're not legal where she lives (I guess they're used for street racing?) but for her it's been the difference between driving and not driving.

You can put this on any car, obviously, but keep it in mind if they ever say steering is hard for them.
posted by crinklebat at 11:35 AM on May 12, 2007

The Toyota Avalon, particularly in the previous (pre-2005) generations, was essentially designed for older North American adults, with thoughtful features (I'm told there are grab handles that only make sense if you've got a bad hip, but if you do...), great reliability, and excellent safety ratings.
posted by backupjesus at 11:37 AM on May 12, 2007

I know Ford has been working on making senior-friendly control panels in some of their vehicles...that is, controls that aren't so confusing, and are easy to see. This article may be of some help.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:56 AM on May 12, 2007

You can get a sensor installed on the rear bumper or whatever car you end up with that will beep when it gets too close to a pole, a car, or a person. I think it's worth it for older folks.
posted by jaysus chris at 12:33 PM on May 12, 2007

The steering wheel knob is legal in our state, if the doctor signs off on it. I knew a guy with one arm who used it. (Check in your state if you need one. It's probably still true.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 12:38 PM on May 12, 2007

What about the Toyota Matrix? I don't know if you could find one that was 5 years old, but you could almost certainly get one in your price range, they build them in Ontario, and Toyotas have a repuation for not being a hassle to deal with. The Pontiac Vibe is basically exactly the same car but is built in California.

Also, Subaru Outbacks are all-wheel drive station wagons, so it might fit well if you're looking for something not as high-up as an SUV with good equipment for the snow.
posted by mdonley at 1:56 PM on May 12, 2007

My parents (who care for my 80-something grandparents) just bought a Mazda 5. It's easier for elderly people to get into than my parents' old Civic or my grandparents' old minivan. It has good storage for a walker and I imagine a wheelchair would fit, too. The side doors slide instead of opening on an angle like in a usual car. This makes it easier for passengers to get in and out. Sometimes, an elderly person finds it easier to sit in the back seat, since the door opens so wide. My parents -- who are in their 50s/60s -- say it's easier for them (not my grandparents) to get into the car, too, as it is not low-slung to the ground. They find it easier to see the road.

I'm not sure how much a 5-year-old Mazda 5 would go for -- I'm not sure the model is quite that old. It might cost a little more like C$18k, depending on the features.
posted by acoutu at 2:49 PM on May 12, 2007

Subaru Forester
Noticeably easier to get in & out of than an Outback, because the roof is higher.
All-wheel drive
Good crash protection, less prone to rolling over than other SUVs
Much more reliable than a Detroit tank or anything European
Fairly nimble
Reasonable (not great) gas mileage
Cargo area big enough to carry a walker
Power windows, brakes, & mirrors. No power seats, at least in 2002 & earlier.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:29 PM on May 12, 2007

Last gen Dodge minvan 96-01.
  • Even the fully loaded T&C will be under their price range. The stripper model is only 18K brand new.
  • Getting in you go from standing to sitting, you just kind of sit in.
  • Front door are wide and open wide
  • The floor is flat for all seating positions so you don't have to lift your legs out of a foot well.
  • View of the road is excellent (much better than any of the miniSUV's I've been in)
  • They easily fit in a standard garage.
  • The side sliders are easy to operate and won't blow shut in a wind when you're loading stuff in the van. Also easy to load a walker, cane or crutches into because of the flat floor and large opening
  • All engines but the 4 cylinder are adequate
  • Better fuel efficiency than a truck
  • Comfortable seating position
  • Can haul all sorts of stuff like bales of peat moss, plants, tables, chairs, plenty of luggage, etc.
  • Will easily tow a medium small trailer with say a golf cart
  • The short wheel base model is shorter than a full size sedan
  • available AWD in those years though they probably won't need it1 if they have a good set of winters, preferably studded
  • Soft car like ride, much better than trucks and minisuvs
  • As of '96 they had the most powerful A/C ever fitted to a production vehicle.
  • Roll over essentially not a problem.
  • The non child seat rear bench is comfortable for adults. Or they could go with Quads.
The biggest drawback (besides being as exciting as white bread) is there are so many of the things that it's not uncommon to come out of a store and be faced with a sea of semi identical vans to choose from. I bought mine predented on all four sides which makes it easy to pick out; you might want to suggest some pin striping or window decals as a more aesthetic option. The T&Cs are relatively uncommon and distinctive body accents and wheels that can help reduce the options.

You need a doctors note for a wheel spinner (the knob attached to the steering wheel) because they are a safety hazard. You can break fingers with them and they can get caught on your sleeve causing an accident.

[1] Depending on there particular situation of course, but if they needed four wheel drive you'd probably know it already
posted by Mitheral at 6:54 PM on May 12, 2007

Don't forget an easy to turn ignition (and especially an easy to remove the key from ignition). The super secure ignitions where you have to push a lever to release the key are a menace to old people, especially if they fall and injure their arms (which unfortunately tends to happen with old people, i.e. my grandmother).
posted by anaelith at 7:55 PM on May 12, 2007

Make sure they can see over the hood to the front of the car so they can see how far to pull into a parking space or not bash something in. I liked our Taurus for this (but the seats are hideously uncomfortable).
posted by kch at 9:20 PM on May 12, 2007

My grandma loved her RAV4. She traded it in for a little Pontiac, but she doesn't like that as much. She's been going on for years about getting another RAV4. :p

Having driven it some, it's not actually a bad vehicle, but it might be a bit too high for some people.

Personally, I'd go for the used Mercedes. ;)
posted by wierdo at 9:30 PM on May 12, 2007

I've used my Kia Sportage for transporting my sister, who has limited mobility, and some other relatives who find a low slung car difficult to get in and out of. Everyone has loved it. They are available as a four wheel drive and have a full range of power options. It's easy to get a wheelchair, scooter or walker in and out of the rear section and seats are very easy to put up and down. Plus, for the price, an astounding number of features are standard. Gas mileage is great and it's fun to drive! (Very fond of my car..)
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 4:02 AM on May 13, 2007

Thanks everyone! This is very helpful and we'll pass on all these points for them to consider.
posted by Amy NM at 10:59 AM on May 13, 2007

Chevrolet TrailBlazer.
posted by Roach at 12:08 AM on May 14, 2007

When buying a car, it's always worthwhile checking out the Consumer Reports auto issue. According to them, Caravans, Blazers, and (oddly, given the car's rep) Mercedes are all notably unreliable.

Note that CU actually grades reliability based on whether a defect or failure is major or minor, unlike J.D. Powers, which gives a broken door handle equal weight with a broken transmission.

Reliability is something older people tend to value highly, even more than most. Style - not so much.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:27 AM on May 14, 2007

Ya, well, you've got to take the CU rating with a big grain of salt. When it comes to cars their sampling method is inherently flawed. Unlike other hardware where they buy one of each and test it; cars are rated mostly from consumer feedback with little attempt at controls. They've even managed to rate the same cars with different names (corolla/prizm) differently for reliability.
posted by Mitheral at 5:45 PM on May 14, 2007

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