This is a guest blog post from Jamie Page Deaton, the Managing Editor of the U.S. News Best Cars rankings. Having owned everything from mid-eighties Volvo station wagons to BMWs, pickup trucks, and classic Corvettes, Jamie is passionate about the cars and technology that move us.
AARP estimates that in 2007, over 34 million family caregivers provided care at any given point in time, and about 52 million provided care at some time during the year. That’s a lot of Americans in caregiving roles.
Caring for someone else can mean a lot of stress, and it also can mean a lot of time in the car: driving to doctor’s appointments, tests, the pharmacy, and even just trips around town can take on another level of complexity when you’re responsible for someone else’s needs. But if you have a car that supports your caregiving efforts, life will be that much easier.
Here’s what caregivers should keep in mind when shopping for a car.
Access for All
If you or someone you’re caring for has limited mobility, ease of entry and exit is a big deal in a car.
- Avoid low-slung sports cars and mile-high trucks and SUVs.
- Minivans and crossovers offer some of the best ease of access on the market.
- Minivans, like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey, don’t require a huge step up to get into, and their seats are just at hip level for many adults, which means they’re easy to lower yourself into and get out of. Most minivans also offer doors that you can open and close remotely, so even if they can’t open doors themselves, getting in and out can still be easy for your passengers.
- Crossovers ride slightly higher than cars do, but not as high as off-road SUVs, so getting in is easy. Look for doors that can swing wide and plenty of interior room for everyone to get situated. The Toyota Venza, Jeep Patriot and Hyundai Tucson all have easy-access height and doors.
Access for Stuff
Caring for someone else often means carrying a lot of stuff. Make things easy on yourself by getting a car that can not only handle extra cargo, but makes loading and unloading easy.
- Most crossovers and minivans offer remote-opening rear hatches. For example, on the GMC Terrain, you can hit a button on the key fob and the cargo area will open. That’s a big help if you’re fumbling with grandkids and bags in a busy parking lot.
- Consider how high the cargo load floor is, particularly if the person you’re caring for has heavy equipment that needs to be carried places. If you’re dealing with a heavy wheelchair, that will take a toll on your back. Before buying a car, take the gear you usually carry with you to the dealership see how easy it is to load and unload.
One way a car can make caregiving easier is by having the right interior technology. Depending on your needs, gadgets can be as basic as a radio for soothing someone who’s agitated or an automated emergency response service that can connect you to help.
- A navigation system can be a big help to any caregiver, particularly if you go out of town a lot. Most navigation systems can quickly find and direct you to the nearest hospital or pharmacy. Since navigation systems on new cars can be expensive, you might try a portable unit. They usually cost less and do many of the same things.
- If you frequently make calls while on the road, a hands-free Bluetooth phone system can help limit distraction. Systems like the one in the Kia Sportage let you make and answer calls with voice commands, keeping your eyes on the road.
- Don’t forget about having some fun, too. A rear-seat DVD system can keep grandkids and adults happy.
- Consider in-car telematics, which are systems that monitor the car’s health and position. A touch of a button can instantly connect you with a real person to help you do something as simple as figure out why your check-engine light is on, or something as important as connecting you instantly to paramedics. And, since using them is as simple as touching a button on the rearview mirror, a child or someone you’re caring for can get help if something happens to you.
Taking care of someone else can take a healthy chunk out of your budget. Make sure your car’s appetite for fuel doesn’t do the same thing. Crossovers are not only easy to get in and out of, but they also tend to have better fuel economy than SUVs.
Car makers are making more products that make sense for an aging population, but in some cases, the car you buy off the lot won’t be able to handle everything you need it to. If that’s the case, you’ll need to consider how the car can be customized to your needs.
Things like a ramp are going to be easier to install on some types of cars than others. Resources like the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association can help you not only find the right car for the modifications you want, but also find a reputable dealer to install the features that fit your needs.
What have you found to be the biggest “car” challenge to face when caregiving? What cars (or car features) do you think make caregiving easier?
Photo thanks to Imagine24.