Following on Short Geologist's list of things you do and don't need at a field hotel, and fresh from the field (where by "field" I mean "three days of driving around the mountains looking for stuff", and by "fresh" I mean I'm still at the airport), I thought I'd do a list of amenities that I want in a field vehicle.
I was on a fairly simple reconnaissance mission, which involved driving around with a map and a clipboard and taking notes. Obviously, jobs requiring more equipment (and less driving/working while your foot's on the brake) have slightly different requirements, mostly involving cargo space.
- Multiple cup holders. Constantly scrounging for the whatsit you put on the passenger seat next to the map, that has since rolled onto the floor or gotten wedged in the cushions, is tiresome. Actually, what I want is a cup holder (or two, if I am in the field with a coworker), plus a pencil holder, a GPS holder, and a wallet-change-keys-iPod holder... but we could start with just putting the parking brake lever on the left-hand side somewhere, instead of the right, and using that console space for storage. Chevy Aveo, I'm looking at you here.
- Emergency kit. I don't think I've ever encountered a rental car that came obviously stocked with basic first aid supplies, or been offered a kit in the list of pay-per-day add-ons, but it would be nice. It's a pain to pack your own, but when you're driving around on random back-country logging roads all day, it's a good thing to have with you.
- Aux input on the stereo. Much easier than fiddling with a little "personal radio station" adapter thingie, or trying to find decent music on the radio.
- Although I'm sure the folks at Enterprise would be horrified if they saw some of the roads I covered with their precious little econoblob, four-wheel drive is still worth thinking about for, say, back-country logging roads. It's unfortunate that the "wee little Jeep" class isn't more well-represented on the rental market, because for any job I've been on short of a multimodal geophysical survey or 30-person field trip, a "standard" 4WD pickup or SUV is total gas-guzzling overkill (I've complained about this before).
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Do they not have companies that specialise in car hire for mines over there? We use Corefleet and Sargent here, and if you say at the point of hire you want a "BMA spec vehicle" you get everything from high mounted tailights and removable whip flag through to wheel chocks, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, VHF, the lot.
Mine companies are notoriously hard on vehicle inspections though, I've been slung off site for having high-vis call up numbers that weren't quite hi-vis enough. The new one they're bringing in is a vehicle GPS transponder which tells the Big Chief SSE where you are, what speed you're doing, if you're parked without being in gear, if your passenger isn't wearing their seatbelt.
Big brother is alive and well and working in the communications market.
Diesel engine, split rims, and a working Jack are a must (When's the last time you actually *Checked* to see if your rental jack worked? Hint: the side of the road is a lousy place to find out it doesn't).
We also tried to get 6 cylinder landcruisers, since that's what our toolboxes have spares for.
I think some of us have larger budgets than others. 6 cylinders? Specialized car rental places? I'm lucky if the damn thing has all-wheel drive.
They make up the savings by having us sleep on tarps on the ground, instead of in motels...
I almost forgot- this feature is very important:
Towballs that don't fall off when used to tow a trailer.
It's unfortunate that the "wee little Jeep" class isn't more well-represented on the rental market
Some places offer Subarus and/or car-based SUVs, which sound like the sort of thing you are looking for here. I rented a Subaru Legacy Outback the last time I was in Alaska, and it came in handy dealing with the hilly, snow-covered (this was in January) back roads. Unlike several colleagues who rented more conventional cars, I never slid off the road (it also helped that I am used to snow and ice in New Hampshire, unlike my Californian colleagues). It's no problem to rent such a vehicle at Fairbanks International Airport if you reserve it in advance. I assume it should be possible elsewhere. If you're day tripping (or longer) from Seattle, the magic words are "state approved traction devices", which also allow you to cross the Cascade passes in all but the worst of winter weather conditions.
Although I'm sure the folks at Enterprise would be horrified if they saw some of the roads I covered with their precious little econoblob...
The servicefolk at my Toyota dealership keep asking me "How did you do that to your Prius?"
I just smile. :)
My husband had a Honda Element for a few years that I commandeered for field work a few times. It has great flexible cargo room, plastic easy-to-clean floor, aux jacks for music, and AWD. It's biggest drawback was lack of ground clearance. Otherwise, I loved it for doing field work.
I did rent a Nissan X-Terra (I think) one time that came equipped with a first aid kit--that was pretty much it's only plus. I saw a Jeep SUV once that had speakers in the rear door that could be flipped down (if the hatch was open) so that you could hear the radio better if you were sitting outside the car--I thought that would be pretty handy for some mindless field jobs.
We have government field vehicles that get stuck in half an inch of snow and wet grass at the side of the road. Meanwhile, the computer geek drives from his office to ours in a big SUV.
When I was younger, working cowboy, I had a F-150 short cab, short bed, wide tires. I had a camper shell for on/off as the mood fit. My dog (cougar bait/bird retriever) usually sat in the front with me. I was in and out of creeks so often, that I had to rework the bearings about every 6 months. One time, in the rain, on a slough levee. I got off the top of the levee too far, and couldn't get back up. So I drove down over the rip-rap to a lower road that was fortunately still above the water. My partner thought we'd never make it all the way.