Buying a Car for a Mature Driver: Considerations and Pitfalls
As one reaches the youthful age of 50 and looks ahead to one’s 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, we are loathe to relinquish the freedom we demanded as teenagers and enjoyed as young and middle-aged adults. Our cars, our homes and our incomes are our primary means of maintaining our independence. To keep the freedom that comes with keeping a car, make careful choices when you purchase a new car, ensuring it includes features helpful to mature drivers.
Common Grievances From Mature Drivers About Their Vehicles
One complaint you won’t hear often from mature drivers is about the cost of insurance cover. In recognition of the fact that we (finally) have our heads screwed on straight, insurance companies offer greatly discounted rates—especially for mature drivers without a claim history. You can see what different companies are offering over 50s at Compare the Market, for example.
Aside from insurance costs, however, mature drivers have plenty to criticise when it comes to automobile design:
- Knee or hip pain increases the difficulty of entering and exiting the car
- Arthritis or repetitive strain injuries interfere with safe handling of the steering wheel and easy use of dashboard controls
- The decreased stature (‘shrinking,’ if we’re being frank) that comes with age makes it an embarrassing struggle to reach the accelerator and brake pedals
- Back pain decreases the comfort of lengthy car journeys
Technologies and Features to Look For
Fortunately, automobile R&D has come a long way. Now that road safety is pretty well covered by technologies like airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock braking systems and the like, automotive engineers have turned their attention toward drivers’ comfort. The independence movement among adults with disabilities has furthered the cause of driver comfort as well. Many car technologies that are helpful to mature drivers got their start as assistive technologies for drivers with disabilities.
Look for the following when you purchase a new car to see you through your golden years:
- Power seats that adjust six ways—up, down, forward, back, seatback forward and seatback backward: This technology increases the comfort of getting into and out of the vehicle, especially for mature drivers with knee or hip trouble.
- Adjustable foot pedals for accelerator and brake: These are a welcome addition for drivers of smaller stature.
- Steering wheels that tilt and telescope away from the dashboard: This is another technology that increases driving comfort for ‘vertically challenged’ drivers. Closer access to the steering wheel may also alleviate joint pain in the hands or elbows that can come from gripping a distant steering wheel with too much force.
- Keyless entry and keyless ignition: ‘Keyless’ vehicles come with a small device, called a fob, that you place on your key ring. When you are in close proximity to your car, the fob interacts with an electronic box on the dashboard to unlock the vehicle. Once you are seated, you press an ignition button to start the car. Keyless entry and keyless ignition save strain if one has arthritis.
- Heated seats: Available for both the driver and passenger, heated seats may ease back pain.
Other suggestions for mature drivers include:
- Consider 4-door vehicles, which tend to have lighter doors that are easier to open and close.
- Avoid cars with bucket seats, which are notoriously tricky to get into and out of.
- Look for a car in which the seat height is at the ideal height of mid-thigh to lower buttocks.
- Steer clear of vehicles with high door thresholds.
- Consider adding a thicker steering wheel or steering wheel cover, to decrease the strain on arthritic fingers.
Additional suggestions for features to look for when buying a new automobile to suit a mature driver may be found in the publication ‘Smart Features for Mature Drivers,’ developed by the American Automobile Association in cooperation with the National Older Driver Research & Training Center at the University of Florida.
Reliability of the Vehicle
As mature drivers, we need reliable cars as well as comfortable cars. Having to make frequent repairs is inconvenient and expensive, no matter your age. For the elderly, many of whom live on fixed pensions, unexpected car repair expenses are a serious blow to the budget. We want reliable vehicles that will start like a charm, whether we drive them every day or once weekly.
The Reliability Index is published by Warranty Direct, a consumer warranty company. The Reliability Index assigns a reliability number to various makes and models of passenger vehicles, based on the number of claims submitted for mechanical failure. The lower the number, the more reliable the vehicle—by statistical standards, at least.
Reliability of the Driver
As a closing note, we should not neglect to assess our own reliability as drivers. If an illness or disability causes any significant changes in eyesight or fine motor skills, conduct an honest self-evaluation of your safety on the road. All U.K. drivers must renew their driving licenses upon reaching age 70. If you have concerns about your safety on the road, consider scheduling a driver assessment with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).