If you’re a senior and about to buy a new car, now’s your chance to get the vehicle that works for you (and your significant other, if you have one).
car for seniors

You used to have to think about everyone else – your daughter’s volleyball team had to fit, your son’s tuba had to fit… or maybe you had to have a car that matched your profession and looked good in a client’s driveway. Guess what? Now’s your time!

So what is the best car for you?

Start by asking yourself a few questions, and be honest with the answers – there’s no sense buying a beast of an SUV – even if you’ve always wanted one – if you can’t get up and into it.

How are your knees these days? Mine are shot – so no low-riding sedans for me.

Seriously, if you and/or your mate have been moaning and groaning every time you get into or out of your car (if it’s a sedan), maybe it’s time to check out something else.

Crossovers ride higher so for some people they’re easier to get in to. You may be able to walk right up, plant your butt and swing right in – without crouching down at all.

I’m all long legs, so a crossover works for me. But I have a friend who’s about five foot three. My crossover is a climb up for him so he’d never consider buying one. SUV’s are even bigger and higher.

Will it be a sedan, crossover, SUV or even a van (no joke – my wife and I had three mini vans in a row – after the kids were long gone. Minivans are spacious, comfortable, serene on the highway – and they can haul three couples out for dinner!

Check out a few different dealerships and brands of vehicles – some vehicles of the same type ride higher than others. Some have bigger doors, such as my Ford Edge, that may be tough to pull closed from your seat – especially if you’re a more compact person.

But don’t write off sedans. Some, such as the Ford Taurus, are built with a higher than usual hip point. If you find that works for your body, you get the benefit of somewhat better handling than a crossover’s and better fuel economy.

There’s really no one best car for seniors – we’re all different.

A little stiff in the neck? Think high tech when looking for a car for seniors

We do lose flexibility with time. It just becomes harder to crank our head around to back up and park or to check our blind spot before changing lanes. Here’s where the rapid changes in automotive technology can work for you.

High-tech electronic blind-spot detection systems can be a huge benefit.

Using external sensors, these systems read everything around you. If you make a lane-change move when another vehicle is almost beside you in your target lane, you’ll get an audible and possibly even a physical warning – say, a vibration in the steering wheel. Really easy on your neck and it keeps your eyes on the road ahead.

car for seniors, crossoverRear visibility is becoming more difficult. Consider a backup camera.

They’re becoming standard equipment, but not all brands have one. Rear windows are smaller. aSedan trunks are higher. Headrests clutter up the view. And some crossovers and SUVs inhibit rear visibility. A backup camera can save you from a crunched rear end. That’s good – because if you bash the camera, it’s going to be an expensive replacement.

Is a relaxing highway drive is top priority? Then look for a vehicle with a collision-avoidance system

As we age, our reaction times can sometime be affected. The new collision-avoidance systems work in a variety of keep a set distance between you and the vehicle ahead. Others will slow your vehicle almost to a stop in case you’re late responding. Some can even bring your car to a complete stop without you touching the brakes!

Lane departure technology and more

Some systems will help keep you from drifting out of your lane, others will warn you of cross traffic or pedestrians when you’re backing up. Still others will take over and parallel park for you or provide 360 degree views of the area around your vehicle.

These systems are more than gimmicks, they’re real, genuinely valuable safety features. Consumer Reports has a good run-down on all the systems.

Long-term durability may count most

There are places to look for data on short- and long-term reliability. Consumer Reports, conducts a subscriber/owner survey every year. You can cross-check with the annual J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study.

Just remember, some of the dependability differences between brands are very small. And they are statistics – probabilities, not certainties. When I had my first minivan, it was rated the least reliable among them all. I loved it. During the entire three-year lease term the only problem I recall was with the alternator.

On the other hand, the look and feel may count more.

There’s no one definition of what’s best when it comes to choosing a vehicle. Styling, fit and finish and luxury appointments may mean more to you than durability or even comfort. Or you may still like a vehicle with a tight and sporty feel and crisp handling. Know thyself and you’ll know thy choice.

Consider the luxury brand version of the vehicle you like.

Depending on the amenities you want, such as power seats – that make having your seat in the correct driving position easier, as well as some of the high-tech equipment you may want, it may pay to choose the luxury version rather than the mainstream brand. For example Lincoln over Ford, or Lexus over Toyota, Buick over Chevy.

Generally, the luxury version is mechanically similar, but tuned for a softer ride and built

Depending on what you’d like to add to the base vehicle, the luxury brand could be good value.

The $

It’s very tempting to look at the discounts on new vehicles – often thousands of dollars – as THE opportunity to buy or lease NOW. But the real cost of owning a car includes much more than the sticker prices.

The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) has a Driving Costs Calculator on the Internet. It covers all manner of vehicles you’re likely to consider – and even includes the cost to the environment. And it calculates cost by province.

ThinkInsure has a good rundown of the total cost of ownership. It covers purchase cost, operating cost, financing considerations, maintenance, even the long-term cost of differences in fuel efficiency. And, of course, factors that affect the cost of insurance. One that not all drivers think of is the safety rating of a car.

Consumer Reports cautions about ads (in the U.S., 2012) that don’t address the long-term implications of apparently good lease deals.

What about buying a used vehicle – like one that has just come off lease? This could be a good option because a huge whack of a vehicle’s value disappears in the first two or three years.

Manufacturer-backed “certified preowned” vehicles are also available – usually at a significant premium over “regular” used vehicles. The peace of mind that comes from purchasing one of these vehicles may be worthwhile to you. However, Consumer Reports suggests a cautious approach when considering purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle – there are various levels of certification and much of the additional cost for these vehicles is for extended warranties and services plans – not always the best use of your money.

It’s a good idea to “bone up” on reliability/durability issues (see above) for the vehicle that you are looking at before you making a purchase.

All cars meet government safety standards but some are safer than others

The American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety sets higher crash standards than either the U.S. or Canadian government.

The link above goes to small-car ratings. There’s a drop-down menu in the site to take you to other kinds of vehicles. Although the IIHS is American, many Canadian cars are built for the U.S. market and meet its standards. Some Honda and Toyota brands are also made here for the American market.

The safer a car is the more likely it is to cost less to insure. But again, safety is part of a trade-off. Is the safest car one of the most durable too? Does it have low operating costs? Does it suit your needs? Do you just plain LIKE it?

To get the most joy out of your choice of a car for seniors, you may need a little mind shift.

I can assure you, acquiring a car for seniors is different. My condo parking garage neighbor, who’s a senior, had a crossover. His wife hated it because it was too high and too big for her. So he traded for a super-zoomy top-level sedan. Now he hates it because it’s too low.

Weather you stick with a brand or model you’ve purchased in the past, or go for something different just make sure you give your decision the time and care it deserves.

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