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Why I decided to buy a Toyota RAV4 for my next road trip

Choosing a vehicle for road tripping is not the same experience for everyone. What kind of vehicle to buy depends on your expectations, on your way of travel, on your comfort level and on your bank account. With the huge selection of vehicles available the options are endless. I’m looking for a vehicle for long-term travel to replace my old Toyota RAV4; one I can sleep in and live in.  If you’re a short-term visitor to Canada you may be best off to rent a car instead of buying one.

I am a Toyota fan. My old 2001 RAV4 took me up to the Canadian Arctic with zero problems on the way and had over 300,000 km on the tachometer when I arrived back in the Okanagan. It was a rough ride and would be hard on any vehicle. I drove approximately 8,000 kilometres on this road trip and over 2,000 kilometres were spent manoeuvring on gravel roads.

Toyota RAV4 for road tripping

Before I left the Okanagan I had a general service and checkup done on the car.  I also invested in four new tires, the best I could find and it was worth the expense.

I got to appreciate my old reliable Toyota RAV4 during that trip. There were times when I was cramped up in the back of the car, listening to the wolves crawl while trying to sleep.  Still, I felt safer curled up in my sleeping bag and protected by the car walls than I would have been sleeping in my tent.

Unfortunately, just as I expected, the northern road trip took a toll on my old Toyota RAV4. Back in the Okanagan I soon knew that it would be best to invest in a newer vehicle, as I  already had my next big road trip planned. So the search began…

I hate shopping for new cars. It’s both time consuming and frustrating. I would have rather bought a new horse than a new car; shopping for a car is just not my thing. and so my struggle began.

I arrived at a stage where I got sick of looking at websites about road tripping rigs and scrolling through pages of ads and write-ups telling me which vehicle was the best.

What I was looking for in my new used car

  • 4×4 / AWD – For me, this is a must because I live in Canada all year round and I love driving gravel roads. FWD vehicles can take you to most places and for the majority of people, this is all they need, especially for summer travel.
  • Reliability – As a single road tripper, my safety depends on a reliable vehicle when I venture to isolated destinations. Once in a while, when I’m on the road, the thought of an unexpected break down in a remote location creeps up on me.
  • 5 – 10 years old with low mileage – Low mileage was more important to me than the age of the vehicle; preferably 2008 plus with not more than 130,000 kilometres.
  • Good ground clearance – When exploring logging roads, to find remote trailheads, good ground clearance on a vehicle makes life easier.
  • Low gas mileage – With skyrocketing gas prices in Canada I’m not willing to waste money on large, thirsty engines.
  • Lots of storage space – Because I travel alone, storage space is less of an issue. If you’re travelling as a couple or take along your dog, space becomes to be a major factor when you’re looking for suitable wheels.
  • Affordability – What’s my budget for buying a car? How much are repair and maintenance costs? Are parts easily available? At the end of my search for the perfect car I didn’t buy my dream van, the huge investment just didn’t make sense to me.

The vehicles I researched

The good thing was that I had a fair idea of what I was looking for and what options there were available in Canada. I only concentrated on a couple of brands.  I mostly used two websites to do the search:

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van 4×4, 140” wheelbase

A big rig was out of the question and I soon got hooked on the new 4×4 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, the small version with a 140” wheelbase. As an adventure enthusiast with a passion for off-road places, a Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 conversion would be the most perfect van for life on the road. Unfortunately, I soon learned that the 4×4 Sprinter was not available in Canada yet.  All of the exciting videos I watched were produced by our US neighbours.

The first Mercedes Sprinters 4×4 were on the market in 2015 with a 4 cylinder engine and I was hoping to find a used one in Canada. Unfortunately, I was out of luck. Finally, I gave up on this idea and started to look further.

While I did the Mercedes Sprinter research I found the new VW California van as an option, but it was another slap in my face… VW California vans are not available in North America and can’t be imported. There go all the German brands.

Toyota Highlander SUV

While I slowly pushed the 4×4 campervan idea out of my mind I started looking at SUVs again. Because of my loyalty to Toyota, I stumbled upon the Toyota Highlander and got interested. I liked its shape and the cargo space as well as the powerful V6 engine which would let me pull a trailer if I wanted to.

I couldn’t find a used Highlander in my price range with less than 200,000 kilometres. However, I did come across many excellent reviews regarding this SUV. I even found a 2007 Highlander with just over 140,000 km but learned, that the 2007 Highlanders and earlier productions come with a timing belt and not a timing chain. Timing belts have to be replaced periodically and can damage the engine if not done so. I wasn’t interested in an SUV with a timing belt.

Slowly but surely the Toyota Highlander option also faded away.

Toyota Tacoma Pickup Truck

What about a medium size 4×4 pickup truck, the ultimate vehicle for offroading in Canada?

A pickup truck can easily be converted into a camper with an add-on camping unit on the vehicle’s chassis. Another option is a popup camper which can be collapsed when driving.  For summer road tripping a truck tent may be all you need for your adventure.

I have never been a pickup truck fan and always left the trucks for the big boys. Still, I spent some time checking whether the medium-sized Toyota Tacoma may be an option for me. As a minimalist, all I would need would be a canopy on the back to make it into my living quarters.  The Tacoma would be an excellent vehicle for off-roading and to get to those special places off the beaten track.  But, used Tacoma trucks are not cheap and they are not that great on fuel consumption.

By now, I started to get pretty frustrated and went back looking at the Toyota RAV4s again, thinking that it still could be my best bet. At the beginning of my car search, my dog Trooper was supposed to join me on my travels, and space would have been an issue. Now, since Trooper will not be coming along for the adventure, the idea to buy another Toyota emerged again.

Toyota RAV4 for Road tripping

2009 Toyota RAV 4, my new home on wheels

A 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport, 4 cylinder SUV 4WD with just under 130,000 km was the SUV I ended up buying from a Subaru Dealer for C$15,000 including taxes and fees. I paid the same amount for the 2001 RAV4 nine years ago with the same amount of kilometres, and that was a private sale at the time. I sold my old 2001 Toyota RAV4 for C$ 1,800.

The RAV4 was blue on the online ad but ended up being red when I got to look at it. Red stands for Canada and my branding for “Backcountry Canada travel”, so I didn’t mind the colour change. How well does dust and mud show on red? We will find out soon enough.

Benefits of buying a Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 is a crossover SUV which means that it is smaller than a full-sized SUV but bigger than most cars.

If you’re looking for a reliable vehicle for road tripping, find out what I like about it.

  • Extra fuel efficiency
  • Large cargo space – For extra cargo space you can fold down the back-row seats to create a flat space with up to73.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
  • Lots of storage areas with cup and bottle holders throughout the car cabin. It includes a large capacity storage box under the rear deck, because of the spare tire being mounted on the outside of the back door.
  • Sky window for extra views
  • Quiet and comfortable to drive.

What I don’t like about my new RAV4

  • Plasticy type of body material which seems to dent when pressing on it. I got my first dent, the second time I drove.
  • Some parts seem to be flimsy compared to my old 2001 RAV4 and I’m wondering how it will keep up on gravel roads.
  • I would rather be without the security system and be able to have spare engine keys cut at the hardware store for a couple of dollars. Instead, new keys have to get programmed by Toyota and cost a couple hundred dollars.  My car came with only one key.
  • Taking the back seats out is a complicated process. The seats in my old car just slid out.
  • It has no navigation system
  • It has an automatic transmission; I rather would have a standard one.

Conclusion

In a few days, I’ll be heading out on my first road trip with my new RAV4. It will be a trial run before I start to convert the RAV4 into a mini camper.

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What vehicle are you using for road tripping in Canada?

Yrene Dee

Yrene lives in Lumby British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover. I write about things I love. Mostely.

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