The Great White Toad

RVs are great in so many ways. In one way, however, they kind of stink: mobility. Sounds funny, right? They’re literally moving houses. However, once set up at a site, you pretty much want to leave it set up until it’s time to leave. There’s a not insignificant amount of setup and hookup to do every time you want to go somewhere. As such, having another mode of transportation is a fabulous idea, at least for longer trips.

Enter the toad

Otherwise known as a towed vehicle. Towed. Toad. Get it? I didn’t come up with it, but I dig it. There are many ways to tow a vehicle.

  • Get a trailer. Works for damned near anything, just drive the toad onto it and go. Heavy, expensive and then you have to store the thing somewhere, and does take some fiddling each time you use it.
  • Get a tow dolly so the front wheels are up and the back wheels are down. Can tow most things, including our existing cars. Not as expensive as the trailer but you still have to store it, and I’ve heard that it can be a bear to get the car up and down each time.
  • Get a tow bar and flat tow a vehicle with all four wheels down. Cheapest solution if you have a flat towable car (which we don’t), storage is a snap, and hooking and unhooking is a breeze.

I thought about the dolly. It would allow us to use our existing cars, so that’s solved. But the storage is an issue. I really can’t store it at the house, so that leaves the storage area where we’ll have the RV. Functional, but still non-ideal. Also, neither of our cars has a ton of storage so getting our stuff out to the RV is tricky. Further, the only way to get our bikes out to the RV is my car… and I don’t trust my hitch/bike rack combo to go long distances towed behind an RV. That’s a recipe for lost bikes. Even further, that would mean taking my car on trips. I love my Wild Child Mazdaspeed 3, but a family touring car it is not.

The hunt is on again

There are surprisingly few cars that can be flat towed and as the new model years roll out there are fewer and fewer. Even manual cars (like my Mazda) often can’t be flat towed because they have something in the transmission that is still in play while rolling that needs lubrication that is only provided when the engine is running.

Even more limiting, of the cars that are capable of being flat towed, there are even fewer that I actually want. Going down the list, I quickly narrowed it down to a select few but with one at the top: the Subaru Outback. I like the AWD, I like the styling, I like the amount of space. Now I just had to find one (that sounds familiar).

Unfortunately, Subaru screwed RVers in 2015. None of the 2015 model year Subarus are flat towable. They all have the new continuously variable transmission that would smoke and fall out the bottom of the car if flat towed (or even dolly towed, actually). Thanks Subaru! So, ordering a new one was out.

That left me in a hunt for a 2014 model (preferably… older would work but I’d rather have a newer car) with manual transmission since only the manuals are flat towable. I couldn’t believe how few there were! Plenty of Outbacks for sale, but only about 5% have manuals. Tack on my desired color (white) and interior (tan) and it fell to the single digits. Throw out the high mileage units (how do you put 60,000 miles on a vehicle in 18 months?!) and there’s a handful.

As luck would have it, I found a perfect one about 2 hours away at a dealership, but found that it had sold while I was negotiating price. That was it for a reasonable radius.

We can wait, we have until July!

I’m hoping our RV is ready to pick up in early July. That gives us plenty of time to find a car. At least that’s what I told myself. Tuesday I awoke and Cat said “go check the computer”. I looked and she had pulled up a car she’d found in Pennsylvania, as well as the site of a car shipment provider. I could buy it and have it shipped for about $500 and it would be here in about 2 weeks. That’s fairly cool, but has problems:

  • I’m buying it sight (and, sometimes more importantly, smell) unseen.
  • It’ll take two weeks to get here. Yes, I’m patient, but that’s still a while.

I pulled up flight information and discovered I can fly up there for about half that. *thoughts churning*

I negotiated with the dealer, settled on a price, put down a deposit, and scheduled that flight for the following day. Yesterday, as it happens.

Nervous? Yes. Sure, the CARFAX checked out. The pictures looked good. Dealer claimed it was non-smoking and hadn’t been through a northern winter. I entertained the idea of paying a local mechanic to check it out, but gave up when every shop within 15 miles looked like it would prefer to tear it down and sell it for scraps. So, that’s a big leap of faith to climb on a plane, cashier’s check in hand and expect everything to go smoothly.

Wheels up

Haven't flown into an airport this small since I was a kid
Haven’t flown into an airport this small since I was a kid

Everything went smoothly. I flew into a delightfully small airport (which, humorously, was locked up tight and deserted when I came out of the restroom) in Johnstown, PA. Soon thereafter, the owner of the dealership pulled in to take me to the car. Seemed like a decent guy (though his blatant love of the Pittsburgh Penguins was almost a deal breaker) who showed me around their cool little town on the way in. The car gave every appearance of being in excellent condition, and drove like a dream.

A bit of paperwork while no less than three salesmen provided sound advice on the route I should take to get home, title in hand and temporary plates on and I was on my way home. Didn’t quite make it all the way and stayed a night just south of Richmond in the least welcoming Candlewood Suites ever, did the rest this morning.

The Great White Toad met with Cat’s glowing approval. She actually drove it today since she had to take me to the airport to fetch the Mazda from costly parking.

Step 2 down. Many steps to go.

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