The American Association of Retired Persons estimates that 44 million Americans are currently caring for a relative. For today’s older drivers, that can mean caring for a spouse, sibling, parent, adult child or grandchild. Since caring for someone else usually involves taking them to doctors’ appointments and other activities, as well as bringing them along on regular outings and errands, having a car that supports your caregiving efforts is important. Here’s what caregivers should look for.
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. If you or the person you’re caring for has limited or diminishing mobility, look for cars that are easy to get into and out of. Minivans tend to have a low step-in but high seating position, so occupants don’t have to stoop or climb to get in them. The same is true for crossovers, which look like SUVs, but ride lower to the ground, like cars. A chair-like seating position is easier to get in and out of than the low-slung seats you see in many sports cars and sedans. Make sure that the doors can open wide enough to make getting in and out easy and to accommodate any equipment you may need to carry. If you think you may need a modified vehicle, check with the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association to see what modifications are available on various cars.
In addition to ensuring that any car you consider works for your passengers, make sure it also works for the gear you usually carry. This not only means making certain your stuff will fit in the cargo area, but also seeing how difficult loading and unloading it is. Before you buy a new vehicle, take the things you usually carry to the dealership and practice loading and unloading it.
Finally, make sure the gas mileage of any vehicle you’re considering fits with your budget. If you drive a lot of miles heading to appointments with specialists, going for something with good gas mileage could save you a lot of money in the long term. Though the small cars and hybrids that get the best fuel economy may not fit your caregiving needs, you can still find something that can comfortably fit your loved ones and your gas budget.
Having the right high-tech tools in your car can improve the quality of care you give. If you care for children or adults that are easily bored, a good entertainment system can help keep everyone happy. Rear-seat entertainment systems can play DVDs, video games and, in some cars, even show live TV. These systems, though pricey, are available in almost every type of car on the market now. If you don’t want to spring for a built-in entertainment system, a portable DVD player can make a lot of sense. Most cars on the market today have 120-volt electrical outlets, just like the ones in your home, or power sources that can keep electronics charged with an adapter. Before committing to passenger entertainment, make sure it won’t distract you while you’re trying to drive.
When you’re in an unfamiliar area, a navigation system can be a godsend, giving you directions while your eyes stay on the road. Many navigation systems, including aftermarket models you can buy at any electronics store, go beyond giving directions. You can use these systems to find the nearest hospital or pharmacy. Lots of navigation systems also offer real-time traffic updates and can route you around backups. That can help you make appointments on time and limit aggravation.
Telematics systems, which use satellite technology to pinpoint a car’s location and connect it to help centers, are becoming increasingly common on new cars. You can also purchase an aftermarket adapter to get a telematics system on an older car. Though these systems usually require a monthly subscription fee, in an emergency, it can be worth it. Telematics systems can connect you to emergency services at the touch of a button and transmit your exact vehicle location to first responders. They also can alert emergency services that you’ve been in a crash even if everyone in the car is incapacitated. If you get locked out of your car, a telematics service can unlock the doors for you remotely. Most of these services also provide vehicle location services. That’s handy if the car is stolen, but some of the latest systems will call or send you a text or email if the car is driven beyond parameters you set. If the car is driven after a time you specify, over a certain speed or outside of a certain area, you’ll know about it. It’s helpful if you have a hired caregiver using the car, or if the person you’re caring for is at risk of wandering or driving away. It’s also a good tool for keeping tabs on your teenagers.
Even if you don’t want to spring for the latest high-tech systems, some seemingly insignificant features can help make caring for others easier. Going for a car with heated and cooled seats can make people who need help regulating their body temperatures more comfortable. Heated seats can also soothe aching muscles and joints while you’re on the road. A remote start system can get the car heated up or cooled down before anyone gets into it, making everyone more comfortable.
Most importantly, however, make sure that you’re happy with the car you buy. You may feel like you need a large van or SUV, but if you’re intimidated at the thought of driving one, a crossover may be easier to drive and still fit your needs. Though you need to make your loved ones comfortable, don’t forget to make sure you have the space, comfort and features you need, as well.