It may surprise you to know that the mean travel time to work in Houston is 29.9 minutes. To refresh your grade school math, the mean is the number that occurs most often in a list of statistics; it's not necessarily equivalent to the average. And even if the actual average commute time is around 30 to 40 minutes, it doesn't make your two-hour commute feel shorter.
If you must take part in Houston’s pastime of driving for hours to work and back, or if you travel for business, you need a vehicle that makes the time in the car more bearable.
What should you look for in a commuter car?
Consider how long you will spend inside that vehicle. Cramped seats, a steering wheel that’s too far away or too close or seatbelts that you can’t adjust will just make the commute even more miserable.
The first thing to do when looking at a potential purchase is to sit in the seat, adjust everything to your measurements, and sit for a few moments.
- Does the seat support your back yet feel cushioned enough for a long sit?
- Does your foot reach the floor pedals comfortably?
- Are you reaching for the steering wheel or does it brush your torso?
- How does the headrest feel? Does it push your head forward no matter how you adjust it?
- What is it like to reach for the controls on the console and the door? Can you find the buttons easily? Is the touchscreen too touchy?
- Are the cup holders conveniently placed and will they hold your gallon container of espresso or Big Gulp?
Everything about your car-driving experience comes down to how you feel driving it.
If you haven’t been in a car that was built after 2010, you may not realize the extent of the technology that is available in the cockpit of new vehicles. Today’s cars have more than an A/C, heater, and AM/FM stereo.
Now you can get an entire entertainment system that includes:
- Satellite or regular radio
- Smartphone connection
- Flash drive/mp3 player
- CD player (in case you still buy CDs)
The screen can show images from the backup camera, maps, and the title and group singing that song you liked but didn't know the name of.
These entertainment centers typically come with a touchscreen, which, if you think about it, may not be any safer than the old radio buttons and can create problems when you want to adjust anything while driving a bumpy road.
However, a hands-free, voice-activated Bluetooth smartphone connection allows you to answer calls and listen to texts while behind the wheel. It isn’t a perfect solution as these are still distractions, but you won’t need to take your eyes off the road to attend to important messages.
In addition to the usual items like the headlights and windshield wipers, you can adjust the side view mirrors, open and close any window, lock or unlock the doors, and move your seat around, all using electronic buttons and sliders. Even your rear-view mirror may be showing camera images instead of a true reflection and also may display the outdoor temperature and other data.
Can you safely and reliably reach and adjust these controls while driving? Obviously, you should get everything ready to go before disengaging the parking brake, but do these controls help you drive the car safely and comfortably, without surprises? Can you see the controls in the dark? Are the steering wheel mounted controls easy to use without getting in the way of your grip?
Fuel economy and pollution control are still significant issues, even though the price of gasoline has dropped precipitously in recent months. All electric cars are still limited in range and hybrids may use a gasoline engine on the highway.
If you drive long distances or sit in traffic for long periods, you need a car that sips fuel and allows you to fill the tank without breaking the bank.
Check the EPA fuel economy estimates for each vehicle under your consideration. If your wallet is of primary concern, look at fuel economy first. A comfy car with great controls doesn’t help if you spend too much filling the tank.
On the flip side from the fuel economy, a powerful engine is also an essential part of a safe commuter car. Merging onto high-speed freeways, accelerating to avoid collisions, and pushing up hills all rely on the power of the motor. An underpowered engine may not allow you to accelerate quickly enough and could cause your car to slow going up the hills. It can be inconvenient, but worse, it can be dangerous.
Visibility, Noise Control, and Handling
During your test drive, you should learn a few things about your possible new ride.
- Can you see clearly in all the directions you need to look? Are there blind spots that limit your observation of the road? Visibility may be assisted by cameras and sensors, but you must depend on your eyes for total safety.
- Is there excessive vibration and noise? Test drive on the highway as well as on city streets and try to find one of those roads that seem to be paved with rocks. How noisy is it? Does the car do the shake at stoplights and the shimmy at highway speeds? You will have a headache and backache in no time.
- How does the vehicle handle around corners, while parking, and in extreme steering situations? If you feel like the steering takes you all over the road or the car tilts alarmingly during a right turn or sudden curve, you won’t feel safe or comfortable driving it.
Newer cars may come with blind spot detection, automatic braking, and other safety features.
We just talked about a lot of equipment, and now we are asking it to be stuffed into a smaller car? Why?
Smaller cars and SUVs are easier to park, maneuver in traffic, and add to driver and passenger comfort. Driving an oversize vehicle may seem safer, but the trade-off comes in poor handling, difficulty parking, and spending all your money on gas.
You don’t need to get a tiny sub-compact, but a smaller sedan, SUV, or truck is easier to handle and park while still providing plenty of safety.
We hope these tips help you find the car you feel comfortable and safe driving during Houston rush hours at any speed. Do your research and create a list of potential vehicles, then visit a car lot or dealership like Shabana Motors to take a test drive and pick a car that fits you perfectly.