This week, a friend and I rented a car and drove across the state of New York to visit my home town. For the first time, I am consciously aware of having not enjoyed the car I was driving.
When renting a car, the most important factor I’ve considered in the past has been cost. This puts me solidly in the “economy” section of options, much to nobody’s surprise ever. In the past , I haven’t needed to give much thought to factors like a car’s weather-worthiness, and it’s only because of the few extremes we hit on this trip that I would absolutely not recommend driving the Ford Focus anywhere that doesn’t offer a consistently mild climate. Northern California, maybe.
Why? Because other places have weather, and this little car failed to prove its mettle in inclement conditions.
On the way up, after creeping through bumper-to-bumper traffic that stretched from Queens to the Tappen Zee Bridge, we were finally underway and almost to Albany when I noticed that the gray clouds overheard just a few moments before had grown more distinct and ominous. “You know, I think we’re going to get some rain,” I said, and no sooner had the words left my mouth than—
The heavens opened. Cue panicked search for the windshield wipers. At first, I had to use the wash-the-wipers button just to get them to go; pretty soon, my co-pilot and companion was able to locate the proper buttons and we got the windshield wipers working. This was the first moment it became apparent that driving the Ford Focus in the rain was going to be distinctly not awesome. Rather than swinging pleasantly in sync from side to side, the wipers were at odds with one another, both swooping in and out at the same time.
The aesthetics of the issue moved to the back-seat as the downpour continued; trundling along at a pokey 40 mph (down from the NYS Thruway’s ubiquitous-in-practice 75), visibility became worse and worse. At one point, I think traffic had slowed to the mid-thirties, and despite this we still couldn’t see what was going on through the rain on the windshield.
We appeared to have hit the limits of the car’s engineering.
It became a bit of a joke as we hit scattered showers on our way home, but a nervous one – ultimately, we got off the thruway an exit early because torrential rain meant there was no way to drive at a safe speed on the highway.
At the end of the holiday, driving home, we ran into another environmental situation: once the outside temperature passed about 93, the amount of relief provided by the A/C (on full blast) became notably less than before. As my friend pointed out, it was possible that after a 2000-mile trip, the system needed to be topped off. But added to the earlier issues with the rain, it was enough to convince me that the Focus wasn’t the kind of car I’d want to use if I were driving in, shall we say, serious weather.
It gave me some insight into how tricky buying a car must be; as my friend and I discussed, if we had been on a test drive and not encountered that kind of weather, we wouldn’t have known of the Focus’ apparent shortcomings.
Luckily, I’m not in the market for a car, and don’t plan to be for a while. But when and if I am, at least I’ll know two more things I have to be wary of when making my purchase.
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