My First Chase Vehicle: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions...

Well, my 16th birthday is in 19 days and as a reward for my good grades (3.89 average) as well as my general need of a vehicle for the 45 mile round trip to school and back every day, my parents are going to buy me a car. Well, they're going to make the payments until I can get a job and use the majority of the paycheck I bring home to take over the payments. I had a real dissapointment this week and learned a valuable lesson, which is when you find a vehicle you really want, make time to call on it, because somebody else probably wants it too.
On Saturday night I was cruising Autotrader and found a 2000 Subaru Outback Limited with dark blue/tan exterior(my fave color combination), dark grey leather interior, heated front seats, side airbags, dual moonroofs and 77,774 miles on the clock, in excellent shape for $9,900. The car was in Fort Collins, 75 miles away, an easy two hour drive from where I live.
I was going to call on it but FMHS was putting on "The Wizard of Oz" (in which I played the great and powerful Oz :) ) so I was tied up with that Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Then Monday night I was tied up with homework and Tuesday night we didn't get home till almost 9 o'clock at night and I was so exhausted from taking three, count 'em, three tests that day I fell asleep. I called on Wednesday afternoon and found out the car had been sold that morning. AAARGGGH!! :evil:
So after kicking myself around the block for not calling on it sooner, I began looking again. I found some good alternatives. Now you may laugh at me for listing such nice used luxury cars as potential chase vehicles, but I want something that has four wheel drive (which SUV's and full size pickups do) can haul a ton of stuff (which SUV's and full size pickups do) and gets more than 20 mpg reguarly (which SUV's and full size pickups don't)
So here they are:
1999 Audi A6 Avant Quattro, 81,235 miles, dark green, 23 mpg, $11,995
1999 Audi A4 Avant Quattro, 85,050 miles, metallic sand, 26 mpg, $9,995
2000 Volvo V40 AWD, 64,920 miles, dark blue, 26 mpg, $10,495

Now you may be laughing and saying "Why are asking your parents to pay so much for your first car, I had some clunker that cost a grand or two, you're a spoiled brat, why would you want to drive something that nice as a chase vehicle, blah blah blah." The reason for that is this: whatever car I get I'm going to have to drive all the way through college, so I'm going to be driving whatever vehicle I get until 2012 (unless God forbid I get in an accident and total it). So I'm paying more initially to get the lower miles, because I don't want to start out driving something with 110,000-130,000+ miles when I'm going to put almost 30,000 miles a year, not including chasing on this vehicle. And I've had it with American cars, my mom has a 2000 Malibu LS and it's a typical GM piece of crap, plus it's depreciated from the $10,500 we payed for it when it had 36,000 miles in August of 2003 to a pathetic $4200 and it only has 72,350 miles on it for crying out loud. At least the Japanese and the German cars retain their value well, plus they are all reliable as heck and you can drive some of them 200,000+ miles without having to do major work on it, i.e. overhaul the engine, put in a new tranny, etcetera, so to me its worth the intial investment to be able to drive one of these cars to 200,000 or more miles without major problems.
As for driving something as nice as I'm looking at for a chase vehicle, I have this to say:
I will never core punch, I will keep my distance from baseball dropping mesos, and if it ever gets hailed really bad, I'll fix it. Besides, hail dents add character. A chase vehicle simply wouldn't be a chase vehicle without a few battle scars, whether it's a used luxurious AWD German Bahnburner wagon or beat up piece of crap American-as-apple-pie pickup truck.
I'm a fan of Nissan myself. I agree with the foregin car statement, but after owning a domesic as well, it seems foregin cars are more reliable, but parts cost more, whereas domestics break more often but are cheaper to fix. I'd rather have foregin. Four-wheel drive is a must in my book for chasing, even though you can get by fine without it. I've only been in 1 real situation where four wheel was the difference between a catch and a bust (we busted anyway, but doing 60mph down unpaved county roads isn't the safest idea). If you plan on having the car through college, do get something with low miles. If I were you, I'd get something nice to get you by with chasing, and then later on buy a chase vehicle. But that's me, I gotta have more than one car. I would shoot for a V-6 (for gas), 4x4, foregin, and make sure it's not something that's made of plastic that's going to fall apart. I've seen some Blazers that have like all plastic interior and after a few years they can get noisy (rattles). I would say Nissan, Toyota, VW are some of the better ones. Just list out what you want in a car and look around and find a match. I'm a fan of Nissan Pathfinders ('87-'95). Not sure how the new ones perform, but I've put two of mine to the test (and they passed... except when I drove through the dry lake bed that wasn't dry. Didn't really drive THROUGH it I guess, heh). If I could have any SUV, it'd be an Expedition 4x4 Special Service Vehicle (police package), that's about the only way I'd buy domestic.

Oh, and I would keep maintenance in mind (cost of parts for like brakes, pads, belts, tires, suspension, windshields... anything normal things that chasing might wear). I know I kinda roughed up my four wheel drive on that chase on the county roads, heh. All about the $$$
If gas mileage wasn't a concern, I'd look into the Toyota 4-Runners from 96-2002. I have a 98 with 190,500 miles on it and it has never had a single problem. It is a tough SOB and it's a workhorse too. I tow a 3400lb ski boat ever weekend during the summer, so alot of the miles are hard-earned. Gas mileage is the only drawback, though. The best that I average on the highway is 20mpg. The peace of mind is the most important thing for me. I trust my Yota to take me to the storm and back without giving out. The vehicles value is also most impressive compared to others in it's class. I would also suggest you look into the Pathfinder as well. A Subaru would also make a great chase vehicle/daily driver.

Of the chase vehicles that I have had extended exposure to....I would avoid the Blazer and the Tahoe(sorry to anyone that has one). My chase partners Tahoe was visiting the shop EVERY week during chase season. It's hardly drivable right now, and it's a 99 with like....120,XXX miles on it. The Blazer was a 97 and it had serious electrical problems. Good luck with your search and remember that this vehicle is going to take A LOT of crap from mother nature.
Justin Teague said:
go with the pontiac vibe.

29/34 MPG
I would except a decent used Vibe still costs about $13,500, which is beyond my price range. Thanks for the advice though. The Vibe would be one that I would consider if I had the money because it is based off Toyota mechanicals (It and the Matrix share the same chassis with completely different skins and interiors) and the GT has a hot engine.

Mike Gauldin said:
If I were you, I'd get something nice to get you by with chasing, and then later on buy a chase vehicle.
Yes. I absolutely agree. I'm going to use the Audi/Volvo/Subaru/whatever moderatley, and try hard to keep it relatively nice looking (refer to my first post for my opinion on hail dents) and I figure that if I scrimp enough here and there, I could buy something like an older Explorer or Pathfinder just for chase use. The car I get in a couple of weeks will likely take me through Chase Season '06 and '07, with the chase only vehicle getting purchased in time for Chase Season '08.
Of the three choices you listed, I would go with the Volvo. It has the lowest miles, is priced well and remember, you can talk that price down a little too.
I feel your pain on GM products. Unless it is a truck or burban, I'm not interested.
My love for the Jeep Cherokee as a chase vehicle is no secret. You should be able to pick one of these 4x4's up with 40-50K miles for around 8K - 10K. I have driven the crap out of three so far. My chase partner has one we are in the process of driving the crap out of it each season in fact.
This vehicle will easily get you to 140,000 miles before any major issues. Drawbacks for you will be gas mileage and space. I feel a little cramped in the Cherokee but I'm a tall guy. More then two people in it is not an option for a chase... the back seat is just too small - right Justin? heh...

Justin recommended a 4Runner. I totally agree. They are sweet looking vehicles and yes, he has put that truck through just about everything and it still runs like new. It's thirsty though when it comes to fuel.

Good luck with your search. If you have time, maybe you should wait on another Outback to come along. Those are great vehicles from what I understand.
Besides the other excellent advice; if you're down to a couple cars and want to differentiate them somewhat, consider how easy/hard it will be to actually "use" them for stormchasing.

This may not apply if you like to chase "naked" (you'll have to read back a bit to get that one), but if you plan on using a little equipment (a radio/scanner, laptop, video camera etc.) then you'll need some space for that. How hard will it be to attach an antenna (if you plan on it)? I'm sure you see what I mean. Other considerations may become apparent if you've read others chase accounts and how they use thier vehicle.

Good luck on your hunt!
In addition to my last post and factoring in Steve and Justin's posts (I've chased with both of them and their cars). Some points I thought of:

Pathfinder (not sure on the '97+ models) - I don't have a lot of room for equipment. I plan on doing some interior remodeling, but I've built lowrider show trucks in the past and I don't have a problem with tearing stuff out, but most people with nicer cars probably wouldn't want to go there. Gas milage on the newer ones is great, but most SUVs are decent in newer models.

4-Runner - I don't know if the newer ones have it, but I'm jealous of Justin's back window (in the rear hatch) because he can roll it down. I've always thought that was an awsome design, and I've seen Steve hanging out the back filming without having to worry about dirty glass in the way. They seem to be more roomier than the Pathfinders, which is a plus on long chases. Again, since I've done lowriders, I'm used to rough-rides and small cabins.

Jeep - Don't know why I didn't say anything about these. They are awsome SUVs, built to drive and have great factory off-road capabilities. Parts seem to be widely available (used) since so many people tear these apart to build off-road rigs, I've seen a TON of suspension, drive-train, brakes, etc... that are in great shape but were replaced with something bigger and better.

Equipment mounting can be an issue and like what was said previously, make sure if you plan on equipment (mounted cameras, laptops, radios, scanners, CUP HOLDERS, and whatever else you plan on) that it has somewhere to put it. Laptop mounts can be put in almost anything, as they bolt to the floor and you can usually put a small radio on the bottom without much hassle. Justin can vouch for this when I say the inside of my Pathfider looks like a snake pit of cables. I've added a dual-outlet cigarette lighter adapter for equipment (which I think is a must), but those can be put anywhere. Antenna's shouldn't really be a worry. Glass mounted and magnetic mounted antennas are easy to pop on and just run the cable in a back door. I have a scanner on my dash, a Icom W32A ham radio that sits on one side of my e-brake, an inverter for the laptop on the other side of the e-brake, and whoever is in the passenger seat hold the laptop (until I get a mount). I really wish I had a column shifter instead of a floor shifter so I had room between the seats to build a console, but I'm gonna see if I can make something custom to work. My back seats have decent leg-room (unless your Steve :) ). I'm not up to speed on the VWs, Pontiac (I personally don't like Pontiac), and the others.

In the end, make sure it's what YOU want and what YOU'LL be happy with if your gonna have it for that long. Granted once you get older, you can probably trade it in or sell it for something, so don't get over your head on the price/payment (if it's financed). There's nothing worse than having a car that you owe more than it's worth. SUVs and trucks seem to not have as much of a problem retaining their value than cars. Speaking of trucks, if you decide on one of those, I'd shoot for a 4-door model (ie. Nissan Frontier Crew Cab). I've seen a few of those chasing. Also the Nissan Xterra are pretty popular and I've heard good things about them.
How about one of those Ford Crown Vics that the police use? They are very durable, large enough for all your equipt, comfortable, and last forever. You could probably get one with low miles on ebay for around $5-6K. Just my 2 cents. :)
Originally posted by Joe Hill
How about one of those Ford Crown Vics that the police use? They are very durable, large enough for all your equipt, comfortable, and last forever. You could probably get one with low miles on ebay for around $5-6K. Just my 2 cents. :)

Add another $5-6K for gas for chasing the month of May, and your set. :D
Originally posted by Joe Hill
How about one of those Ford Crown Vics that the police use? They are very durable, large enough for all your equipt, comfortable, and last forever. You could probably get one with low miles on ebay for around $5-6K. Just my 2 cents. :)

I own a 93 PI and the reason I probably wouldn't use it. No four wheel drive and it has a posi-track rearend, which when you corner on wet roads, it's very easy to fish-tail.
Mini Coopers get pretty sweet gas mileage, and look really awsome. They rae made by BMW, and are supposed to be VERY safe, and crash safe. Reliability is pretty good to, from what I understand, the price however, could be a concern. Or just go with a Honda Civic.
People, people. Thanks for your suggestions, but your missing my point. I want something with all wheel drive that gets decent gas mileage. Nissan Pathfinder/Jeep Cherokee/Toyota 4Runner get you 4WD but mediocre gas mileage. Mini Cooper(yes, Andrew, the price IS a concern, it's as expensive as hell; besides, wouldn't drive a sweet car like that through a hail core)/Honda Civic/Crown Vic get good gas mileage but no 4WD.
Well, anyway, I found what I want, a 1999 Audi A6 Avant Quattro wagon with AWD, metallic "Mushroom" (dark gray) exterior with tri tone black, beige and tan interior with gorgeous wood trim, third row seat that folds out of the flat load floor to carry up to 7 passengers, 62,520 miles, coming in at just under $13,000. Yeah, it's fairly pricey for a first car, but it's way under book (like almost $2500 under) and will last me for a long time. And besides, any hail dents will be hard to see on the dark paint. It's flippin sweet! :D My dad's going to look at the Audi on Tuesday, we'll probably get a loan on Wednesday-ish and pick it up next weekend.
We're selling one of our other vehicles, a 1997 F-150 XLT 4WD X-Cab shortbox with 117,000 miles for $7500, then that just leaves another $5500 to pay off on the loan, which I think I will get paid off by the end of college. A couple years down the road (read: college) I'll get a decent used Xterra or Liberty 4WD (by the time I'll be able to get a fully devoted chase vehicle, these will have come down into a price range that I can afford). Or maybe I'll get an Outback (by that time an '05 HD.6(3.0 liter V6 engine) Limited with lower miles might be affordable). Who knows, that's a couple years over the horizon. Thanx for all your input, recommendations and support. I appreciate it. :D 8)
And besides, any hail dents will be hard to see on the dark paint.

Dark paint shows dents worse than light colors. Dirt shows up worse on dark as well. Other than that, sounds like a deal!
This is from the point-of-view of a guy who's never had money, but I'd never pay five figures for any vehicle that has over 50,000 miles and is more than three years old.

But of the choices listed, definitely the Volvo. It's the newest, has the best MPG, and has the fewest miles. As for the two Audis, seems ridiculous to pay $2000 more for three miles less per gallon and only 4000 more miles. Two large for less than 4000 miles more is some serious deppreciation.

But to be honest, if you're in the market for a vehicle that must last 6 years and give you 180,000 miles (at 30,000 per year), you'd be much better off buying a new car. There are new vehicles out there for less than 10 grand, that come with warranties. Anything used isn't going to come with a 6-year warranty, and if something happens, you're screwed.

Why pay more for used and no warranty?
Well I guess the main factor is the AWD.... hard to find new cars in his price range that have AWD. So what's the reasoning behind wanting this feature (just curious)? It seems like bit of a oxymoron.... you want a car with decent mpg...

From chase experience, I'm on the highway much more than sliding out of control on gravel/mud roads, so I consider mpg a bigger factor. Usually, there are two types of roads in chasing... those you can go on, and those you can't. Either the road is dry, and passable even by my Saturn SL2, or the road is wet/muddy, and I wouldn't trust it with any vehicle.

Well I guess the main factor is the AWD.... hard to find new cars in his price range that have AWD.

Good points Aaron. I think it sounds like Mark is placing the AWD feature above all else on his vehicle selection; something that isn't a necessity on a chase vehicle, and does have a direct impact on gas mileage.

Of the past 5 chase seasons, I've only used the 4WD on my Jeep once. I do however like having the 4WD for non-chase related reasons, mostly the brutal winters here and the occaisonal off-road adventure.

Mark, I would strongly urge you to evaluate how much you need the AWD; not only does it directly affect the price, it will also add significantly to the maintenance costs and is severly limiting your selection criteria. I would also advise you to look at the track record of the vehicles that you're looking at (there's websites and books for this) for problem areas and typical costs for maintenance.