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En español | Caring for someone else can mean a lot of stress — and a lot of time in the car. Driving to medical 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 with the right features to support your caregiving efforts, life will be that much easier.
If the person for whom you are caring is fairly mobile now, it doesn’t mean that will always be so.
“When you’re looking for a car to support your caregiving efforts, think about what your needs are now and what they’re likely to be in the next few years,” advises Allstate Insurance.
Whatever vehicle you prefer, it should have some key capabilities that can make your life easier.
Access for people
The vehicle you use should be easy to get into and out of, especially if you or someone you’re caring for has limited mobility. Life will be easier if they can climb aboard by themselves or, at the very least, if you don’t have to contort yourself to buckle them into seatbelts.
So make the obvious choices: Avoid low-slung sports cars and mile-high trucks and SUVs. Instead, look to minivans, crossover SUVs and some sedans for good ease of access.
Minivans: The minivan market lately has been augmented by mini-minivans, such as the Ram ProMaster City Wagon and Ford Transit Connect Wagon, which have handy sliding side doors, offer passenger-oriented interiors, are smaller and easier to maneuver than conventional minivans, are priced less, and should be able to squeak out at least marginally better fuel economy.
And among conventional minivans, there are new designs such as the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, replacing the Town & Country, that offer a menu of entertainment and comfort features to enhance car time for drivers and the people for whom they are caring.
Check that the van you’re mulling over has remote-control opening and closing of the sliding side doors. That can make things easier on you and your passengers.
Crossovers:These vehicles are SUV bodies based on car chassis, for better handling and a smoother ride than truck-based SUVs. They sit higher than cars do, but not as high as some SUVs, so getting in and out might be easier. Look for doors that swing wide and provide plenty of interior room for everyone to get situated. Also look for power tailgates that open and close remotely.
Crossovers come in many sizes to suit the kind of driving, parking and toting you do, from the full-size Chevrolet Traverse, with room for three rows of seating, to the small, two-row models such as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Toyota RAV4.
Access for stuff
Caring for others often means traveling with a lot of stuff. Make things easy on yourself by getting a vehicle that has room for it all, and that lets you load and unload easily.
Those remote-control doors and tailgates let you keep your hands free to not only help your passengers but also to tuck their gear aboard. Ford crossovers let you swipe your foot under the back bumper to open the tailgate if your hands are full, a feature migrating to other brands.
Kia’s Sedona minivan even has an auto-opening tailgate that can be configured to yawn open automatically once the key fob is near the gate for three seconds.
Also consider how high the cargo load floor is, particularly if the person you’re caring for has heavy equipment. Some crossovers require a high lift (above your hips or waist) to get items into the cargo area. A heavy wheelchair can take a real toll on your back. Before buying a vehicle for your caregiving tasks, take the gear you usually carry with you to the dealership and see how easy it is to load and unload.
Desirable technology features
One way a car can make caregiving easier is by having the right interior technology. Depending on your needs, the technology can be as simple as a radio so you can play soothing music for an agitated passenger. Or the technology can be a communications service that will connect you to emergency workers if needed.
A navigation system can be a big help to any caregiver, particularly if you travel out of town a lot. Most navigation systems can quickly find and direct you to the nearest hospital or pharmacy; some can even help find doctors’ offices. (They can also locate restaurants and movie theaters, for when you need a break.) Although they are coming down in price, navigation systems on new cars can still be expensive. You could use a navigation app on your smartphone instead — Google Maps, for example — or try a portable GPS unit, which can be purchased at an electronics store.
Nowadays, voice control is the norm. You can tell the system where you want to go by speaking the name of a well-known place, or the address of any place, which is less tedious than typing in an address on the system’s screen.
If you frequently make calls while on the road, a hands-free Bluetooth phone system can help limit distractions. Fortunately, most modern phones and automotive telematics systems have a hands-free feature, as do many of the add-on navigation systems that stick to the windshield with a suction cup.
Some built-ins even will read a text to you and let you reply from a menu of standard responses, all via voice command. That’s key because a number of states ban using handheld devices for voice or texting. Having phone access from your car can be a big help when scheduling appointments or waiting for test results.
For extra safety, consider an in-car telematics system that can monitor the car’s condition and position. Some will connect you to roadside assistance or emergency services at the touch of a button. Some models of General Motors, Toyota, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and other vehicles also feature automatic crash response technology that detects a crash and sends help, even if you’re incapacitated.
Finally, don’t forget about having some fun, too. A rear-seat DVD system can keep children and adults happy. A SiriusXM satellite radio subscription can provide a wide variety of music, talk and commentary.
An AARP report in 2011 showed that caregivers provide 1.4 billion trips per year for older adults who no longer drive. And a study by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving published in 2015 showed that the median household income of caregivers is $54,700, slightly more than the $53,046 for the U.S. overall. So taking care of someone else can take a healthy chunk out of your budget.
One way to help keep costs down is to make sure your car’s appetite for fuel isn’t excessive. Typically, the bigger the vehicle, the more gas it will use. Government fuel economy data show an overall rating of 18 mpg for the front-wheel drive version of the Chevy Traverse crossover, and as much as 23 mpg for the somewhat smaller, redesigned 2017 GMC Traverse crossover with front-wheel drive.
Most minivans have mpg ratings in the low 20s. And most small crossovers are rated in the mid-20s, though Toyota has added a hybrid version to the 2017 RAV4 lineup that’s rated in the 30s.
Special features, just for you
Automakers are focusing on 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 so, you might want to consider how a vehicle can be customized to your needs.
For instance, a ramp is going to be easier to install on some types of vehicles than others. The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association can help you find the right car for the modifications you want — and a reputable dealer to install the features that fit your needs.