Today: Don and his mid-life crisis VW Bug.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

I just turned 40, ughhhh, so I guess I have hit my "midlife crisis." Unlike my friends, I don't want a Porsche or a Ferrari. I want a late-'50s to early-'60s VW Bug. That's right, a VW Bug. I live in Kentucky, and you are more likely to find a vintage Camaro or Mustang than an old VW that still has a floor. I have, however, found several for sale at very reasonable prices in the Southern California area. Herein lies my question, oh esteemed wrench heads. Would I be crazy to fly to Los Angeles, buy a VW and then drive it across the country back to Kentucky? Oh, one more thing: I have never been on an airplane, and have never been more than 300 miles from home. I think this could be one of the great adventures of my life ... or not. What do you think? -- Don

TOM: I think it's a great idea, Don. Midlife crises occur when we get that first ugly inkling of mortality -- which often happens in our 40s. And we say to ourselves, "Self, I don't want to leave this earth without ever having ____." Fill in the blank.

RAY: And some midlife crises are more realistic than others. For instance, my brother's involved a trapeze, a Christmas tree and Heidi Klum. He's still in crisis. But I think yours is doable, Don.

TOM: Yours involves owning a car that you find romantic and doing some traveling, which you've never done. That's all good fun that doesn't do anyone else any harm. So here's what we suggest.

RAY: First, leave yourself plenty of time. You'll need time in Los Angeles to see several cars and have a mechanic of your choosing check them out. Try our Mechanics Files, at, where you can find mechanics who've been personally recommended by other readers and radio listeners of ours. Call them in advance, and tell them what you're doing and when you're coming out. And make arrangements for them to look at a couple of cars for you.

TOM: If they specialize in old VWs, they may even know of a good one for sale. Once you find the Bug for you, and it's approved by your mechanic (or approved once X, Y and Z are fixed), then you're ready for your cross-country trip.

RAY: In your case, we're going to strongly recommend that you drive the "back roads." Spend some time planning a route that doesn't involve major interstate highways. Sure, it'll take you longer, but the back roads will give you several advantages.

TOM: First, they'll be a lot safer. The car you're buying won't have air bags, stability control, side-impact protection, crumple zones, anti-lock brakes. Heck, it might not even have seat belts! So a major highway is the last place you want to be.

RAY: Plus, by taking the "old routes," you'll really get to see the country, meet the locals and eat food that's not advertised on TV. This isn't just about getting the car back home, it's about seeing the country and having some unexpected adventures.

TOM: And driving at a slower pace will be easier on the car, too. That car was never designed to do 75 mph for eight hours a day.

RAY: Finally, we'd suggest that you bring a tow-club membership card and a healthy credit card. Even after being checked out by a mechanic, you easily could experience mechanical difficulties along the way. But as long as you have money for a motel room and time to spare, you can just consider that part of the adventure.

TOM: Right. And if worse comes to worst (let's say the engine and transmission fall out on Route 66, and while you're walking back to collect them, a Ford Expedition crushes the rest of the car), you abandon the car at a local junkyard, buy a bus ticket home and start planning your next car-buying adventure trip.

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