Best Cars for Senior Drivers
What You Need to Know
Most drivers have preferences, and senior citizen drivers are no different. Depending on how much driving is being done in their later years, senior drivers often require cars that come equipped with certain specs to make their experience safer and easier While many middle-aged adults value speed and efficiency, senior drivers will probably do better in something that is more practical for their daily needs. Although there are many different cars for senior citizens to choose from, the best choices tend to fall into two categories: sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and sedans. If the senior citizen has a lower budget and they are known to drive around a lot, a sedan that is good on gas may be the best option. However, if they need a vehicle that can withstand extreme weather conditions, like heavy rain or icy roads, an SUV may be the superior choice for them. This article will go into greater detail on the differences between sedans and SUVs, as well as discuss a variety of needs senior citizens should have met in their new vehicle.
By breaking down the needs of senior citizens into various categories, it will be easy to select the best vehicle for yourself or your loved one. Keeping in mind that not everybody who is a senior citizen will require the same car, it is good to keep your options open.
How to Choose Between Sedans, SUVs, and Crossovers
Sedans normally have four doors and a closed-off trunk in the back. Due to their small size, they are much easier to maneuver and park than SUVs. They are also a cost-effective purchase. Sedans are generally priced lower than SUVs and are far more fuel-efficient. So, if you are on a tight budget, sedans are probably going to be ideal for you. Additionally, when conditions are optimal sedans provide a smooth and stable ride.
There are a few drawbacks to sedans as well. For one, they offer less storage space. If you are a driver that tends to haul around a lot of cargo, a sedan will be difficult to do this with. The most important concern for senior citizens is the diminished accessibility of a sedan. Because they are lower to the ground than other options, they can be difficult to get into and especially hard to get out of. Another factor caused by their low height is that visibility is limited. When you drive an SUV, you can often see over the cars in front of you and have a higher vantage point to observe the road. This is not the case with a sedan. Sedan drivers often have their vision of the road limited by surrounding cars that they cannot see past.
Sedans are great to drive around town, pick up groceries, or go shopping, while SUVs are built to take on extreme weather, steep inclines, and rugged terrain. If wet or icy roads tend to give you stress, you could purchase an SUV and alleviate much of that concern. However, it should be known that SUVs are generally more expensive than sedans. Further, what makes SUVs capable of handling extreme terrain and conditions is also what makes them gas guzzlers.
A more crucial benefit is that SUVs are easier to access than sedans for most older drivers. Since they are high off the ground, seniors can avoid having to maneuver into and out of that awkward squat position necessary to get into a sedan. And, as talked about before, since SUVs are higher off the ground they offer drivers a better view of the road and traffic.
If you are reading the descriptions of sedans and SUVs and thinking to yourself that you would need a mixture of the two, there is a great option for you! You may want to purchase a crossover. Crossovers in the car industry refer to an SUV that has been built on a sedan platform. These cars are created with their body and frame as a single unified piece, much like a sedan. Unlike SUVs, which are two separate pieces, the body and the frame, which are then fused together.
The advantage of a crossover is that it is more agile and lighter than SUVs. With this light and sedan-like frame, the crossover is also far more fuel-efficient than an SUV. Even better, crossovers still offer the benefits of high seating and additional cargo space that SUVs are known to provide.
Although crossovers are unique, to simplify this article we will be including them when referring to SUVs.
Now that we have discussed the main categories of cars for senior citizens, let’s summarize the differences. One of the main differences for a senior citizen between a sedan and an SUV is the height of the vehicle. This is something to consider if there are mobility problems to take into consideration. A big SUV would not be as practical as a sedan if the individual is going to have a hard time stepping up and into it or stepping down and out of it. However, for some senior citizens, an SUV may actually be easier to get into than a sedan. The same senior citizen who can step up and into a big SUV may have difficulty squatting down to get in or out of a low-lying sedan. The vehicle should be a comfortable fit, so you need to ask yourself or your loved one to seriously examine which mobility areas they struggle in and select the correct car based on this.
In general, a sedan is going to be a smoother ride than an SUV. Along with its size, many senior citizens find them to be very suitable. There are always exceptions, of course. If there is a need for more space for whatever reason, then a sedan is not always going to work. There are some SUVs that are actually smaller and easier to drive than the traditional full-size SUVs. These compact crossover SUVs are the perfect middle ground for those who still need space but do not want to drive a big car.
When in doubt, there is always the option to take any car out for a test drive. See if it is a comfortable fit and if it drives smoothly. Imagine how much space is needed, and then think practically about how much space you are working with. When you double-check these features, it should be clear what the preference is. Some people also do not mind either way and are thinking more along the lines of budget. This is also going to be something to take into consideration, as sedans tend to be cheaper.
Innovative Features for Easy & Safe Driving
Every car has its unique features, and this is something to keep in mind when searching for the perfect car for a senior driver. Depending on how important each one is, you are going to make the best decision possible for both the driver and those who are on the road around them.
There are a variety of innovative safety features now included in many cars that seniors appreciate. One such innovation is the backup camera. Many of the accidents seniors get into are small fender benders in parking lots. This is because their range of motion is limited, and looking over their shoulder to check for surrounding vehicles becomes difficult. A rearview camera provides even more visibility than the traditional rearview mirror. They are so useful that U.S. lawmakers have made it mandatory for new vehicles to be equipped with them. If you know parking lots are a hassle for you or an elderly loved one, you should also look for a rear cross-traffic alert system. This technology activates when the car is in reverse and alerts the driver when a vehicle or object is crossing its projected path. Rear cross-traffic alerts have prevented a countless number of parking lot fender benders.
Another feature that helps seniors who have difficulty looking over their shoulder is a blind-spot warning system. This feature works by alerting you when there is a vehicle alongside your car that you may not be able to see. It can operate in a variety of ways, but most commonly works by alerting the driver through a yellow dot appearing on the side-view mirror when there is a passing car. It may sound simple, but blind-spot warnings greatly reduce the potential of a driver to side-swipe another vehicle.
If you or an elderly driver you know have difficulties with paying attention to the road or experience fatigue while driving, there are now a variety of safety features that also address this. Automatic emergency braking is a great life-saving innovation that is installed in most newer cars. This feature is able to detect when a car crash is coming and either slows or stops your vehicle if you do not react in time. For senior citizens who have lost some reaction time, this is a crucial feature. A separate feature that deals directly with fatigued drivers is driver attention warning. Vehicles that have this feature monitor driving patterns and noise in the cabin to detect signs of drowsiness. Lives are saved by this mechanism which alerts people to the fact that they are dozing off or even wakes them from sleep.
While these features can help a great deal in keeping you or your loved one safe, they cannot be relied on solely. For the safety of themselves and others on the road, drivers must be honest about their capacity to operate vehicles.
Moving from a standing position into a seating position can be difficult for some seniors. It is within the motion between the two positions that trouble is usually found. This squatting movement is not possible for all senior drivers, so accessibility becomes a very important issue.
Look for vehicles that have wide-opening doors. This is going to help with the maneuvering involved when getting in and out of the car.
Cars that also have a taller roof are ideal because this limits the risk of the senior driver hitting their head while they are trying to get into the vehicle. The same can be said about the step-in height of the vehicle. When you combine all of these features, you are left with either the perfect car for a senior driver or a car that is going to be difficult to move around in. Make sure that it is always accessible and comfortable for the senior driver.
While we have discussed safety features that can help protect drivers that fatigue easily, one of the easiest ways to prevent fatigue is to ensure the driver is comfortable.
Newer vehicles often come equipped with power seats. These seats can adjust to fit a variety of different body types and seating preferences. With just the push of a button, you can move the seat closer to the steering wheel, angle the seat down or up, change the elevation, and more.
Another great seating feature is heated seats. Heated seats are great for a chilly day, but also key to relieving lower back pain, stiff hips, and other aches. Some heated seats even allow the driver to set the temperature of the seat back and bottom to different settings. Although not as common, there are also vehicles that have cooling functions for their seats. If you know that treating your various aches and pains with temperature adjustment, look into a heating and cooling driver seat.
As we age, our eyesight is one of the first things to go. This is a natural process that happens over time. It can result in dangerous driving conditions if we are not careful. As a senior driver, visibility is a very important feature. They need to be able to see clearly from every window and every angle when they are driving. Big windows and backup cameras are going to prove to be very helpful in this case. Luckily, most newer cars come equipped with both.
For older drivers with visibility issues, it is also important to have an easy-to-read dashboard. Many newer cars are equipped with touchscreens, however, this can often be confusing and difficult to operate for senior citizens. Dexterity issues, like shaky hands, can make navigating these touchscreens even more difficult. It may be a good idea to look for a vehicle that can operate with voice commands so such issues can be avoided.
If a senior driver cannot see very well during the daytime, then nighttime is going to be even worse. Whether the vehicle is for you or a loved one, make sure that you test it out in realistic conditions so you can be sure that you can see everything around you. This will keep you safe when you are on the road.
Shopping on a Budget for Used Vehicles
Purchasing a used vehicle is a great way to get the correct senior-friendly vehicle you want and for a price you can afford. Before going on the internet to look for a used car or going to a dealership, read these tips.
Look for vehicles that are known to stand the test of time
Purchasing a used vehicle can be a horrible idea if the model you are getting is known to experience harsh wear and tear. However, if it is a car model that is known to stand the test of time, buying it used shouldn’t make a huge difference.
To find a car model that functions properly, even with high mileage, check out Consumer Reports’ best-used cars lists. This is a great way to find vehicle models that have held strong through the years. When you think you have found the right car for you, read online reviews by owners to make sure it’s the right choice.
Weigh the options of going with a dealership or a private seller
Buying from a dealership and buying from a private seller both have their ups and downs.
If you are buying from a car dealership, you’ll be paying a higher price. However, you will have the assurance that you completely understand what you are buying. Many used vehicles sold at dealerships have undergone inspection and come with a limited warranty. Additionally, all dealerships by law must provide a Buyer’s Guide to accompany all used vehicles. This guide will inform you whether or not the used vehicle comes with a limited warranty and how much the dealer is willing to pay you for repair costs.
The advantage of buying from a private seller is that it is most often cheaper than dealing with car dealerships. However, you will be buying the vehicle as-is. Meaning, there won’t be a Buyer’s Guide to inform you about the vehicle or provide you a warranty. What you see is what you get, including any hidden repair needs. Knowing this, you must check the vehicle’s condition yourself before purchasing from a private seller. Be aware that any manufacturer’s warranty that the private seller possesses is not transferable to you. If you are cautious and do your research, buying from a private seller could save you a sizeable amount of money.
Give the used car a thorough inspection and check service records
Even before you give the used vehicle a test drive, you should give it a good visual inspection. Keep an eye out for any dents, chips, scratches, or cracks in the frame of the vehicle. You should also ask the seller to allow you to look for signs of corrosion and rust on the engine, radiator, and battery.
Another thing to check, that many forget to do during daytime inspections, is all the vehicle lights. You have to cover all your bases. So, check that the turn signals, headlights, brake lights, reverse lights, and hazard lights are all functioning. Then check the vehicle’s fluids. Make sure that the engine oil, engine coolant, transmission fluid, and brake fluid are all filled to the correct levels and that none are leaking.
It’s much safer to buy from a private dealer that possesses their maintenance records on hand. Be sure to review these records to ensure that there are no costly repairs and maintenance needs that will be coming around the corner due to the vehicle’s mileage. Another great piece of information to get your hands on is a vehicle history report. This will tell you the car’s repair history, mileage, and if it has been involved in any accidents. To access these records go to National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. This site will provide links to a variety of approved companies that can get you a vehicle history report. Getting a vehicle history repor will most likely be accompanied by a service fee. After you give them the vehicle identification number (VIN), you should be all set. The VIN can be located on the driver side of the vehicle where the windshield and dashboard meet.
Of course, safety is always important when you are looking to buy a vehicle. Everybody pays attention to the crash test ratings, and this is a very important element to consider when shopping for a senior driver. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, they reported in 2020 that some of the safest vehicles include the Toyota Camry, the Hyundai Sonata, the Acura RDX, and the Kia Forte. All of them excel in crash test ratings and other safety functions.
After taking a look at this overview, you can see that it is still possible to shop from many different options. Even as a senior driver, there are still many affordable cars to drive. Never feel discouraged just because you are looking for a car to suit specific needs. Manufacturers get this, and technology is being updated regularly. There will always be safer cars coming to the market, so keep an eye on those test ratings
National Driving Resources
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
- AAA Seniors
- AARP Driver Safety Program
- Alzheimer's & Driving
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The Bottom Line
A senior driver is not limited to one type of vehicle or make and model. There are plenty of safe and efficient options that exist, so explore them all. While combining personal taste with safety, you will find that there are still so many great vehicles to choose from. They do not all have to be slow and small, so get excited as you browse through the countless vehicles that are deemed appropriate for senior drivers.