Over the years I’ve had a variety of different vehicles. The first on the list was my mom’s old 1998 Chrysler Intrepid. The car held together well and ran for a good 17 years but in the winter of 2015 it bit the dust.
My personal vehicle, a 2000 BMW 323i is presently my Southern Ontario chase vehicle. It’s getting up there in age, wear and the body is starting to slowly go. I would never dream of taking this car down south into the central plains of the U.S as it would likely get “hurt” by the large hail stones that those storms can produce. Unlike the great plains, hail is a far lesser risk in Southern Ontario and it’s extremely difficult to find anything that can really start to threaten your vehicles body.
As far as rental vehicles go, I’ve used a 2010 Honda Civic, 2011 Chevy Impala, 2014 Chevy Cruze and more recently a 2014 Toyota Corolla. The “joy” with all these vehicles is that my installs need to be sturdy yet completely temporary without any trace once the car is returned. Whether it’s a rental car or not, I treat all vehicles as if they are my own and really take care of them.
No matter which vehicle I’m using, whether it’s my own or another there are a few basic items that always go.
The first thing is my HAM radio, I’ll always take my Icom V8000 with a 5/8th whip antenna that’s trunk lip mounted. If there’s space I’ll also take my quad band Yaesu FT-9800. I like the V8000 becuase it has a whopping 75 watts of power and when you couple that with a high gain whip antenna you can go the distance. It’s also very efficient for simplex transmissions maximizing the efficieny of low power transmissions. The FT-9800 gives me flexibility to use any repeaters that are in the area no matter what the frequency so I can always get into or listen in on any skywarn or canwarn nets.
The second item I always bring is my manfrotto magic arm / Sony CX700V combo. This ensures I always have a good working dashcam that I can pan/tilt/zoom. I’ve also recently become a big fan of just using my GoPro inside for super wide shots through the windshield. The GoPro is a Hero3 Black unit and shoots beautiful 2k video. Between the two cameras I can get a wide and tight shot of the same or different subject matter which is great. It also minimizes windshield clutter.
The third item or items I should say are my tablets/mobile computers. Currently I have a Nexus 7, iPad Air 2 and Dell Venue 8 running a full Windows 8 desktop environment. The Nexus 7 is great for PYKL3 while the iPad Air 2 hosts a cellular chipset and not only provides me with a mobile hotspot but runs Radar Scope beautifully. Lastly, the Dell Venue 8 can run windows native programs like GREarth, Level 3 and Level 2 Analyst without any issue in addition to a host of other programs such as Digital Atmsophere and Unidata IDV. These three devices I can power from two Anker chargers, and there’s very little draw on the vehicles electrical system plus the batteries last forever and they occupy very little space unlike a clunky laptop.
My essential non-optional items are my cell phone, camera gear, GPS and a road atlas. I also carry basic emergency gear with me at all times which includes some pylons, flares, a safety vest, first aid kit, bottled water, electric tire pump, automotive tool kit, full gas canister and jumper cables. In theory, I should be able to handle most any emergency with my basic emergency gear. The biggest threat all chasers or anyone doing a lengthy road trip in a relatively rural area faces is a flat tire. Depending on the severity of a flat, a canister of run-flat tire filler can prolong your drive when coupled with a good electrical tire pump. The other option is changing the tire then and there at the side of the road which is where the cones, tools, vest and even potentially flares come in handy. The gas canister is also a good idea. I’ve been in situations before where storms have knocked out power and suddenly I have to drive 200km on a quarter tank of gas. A 10 or 20 litre can will get you an additional 150 – 300 kilometers and more importantly gives you peace of mind that you’re okay.
The GPS is a no-brainer, when used correctly it does all the hard thinking for you or at least the majority of it. Plus, it keeps you on track, when your chasing and busy thinking about so many other things it’s easy to miss a turn but the GPS will at least remind you that your turn is coming up. Plus you can see all the roads around you and it’ll help with your judgement calls. There is one major problem though with anything electronic, and that’s the possibility of failure. As such, I always keep a road atlas with me, the atlas never fails, does not need batteries or a power cable and works in any weather. I also like to use the atlas to see rest stops, nearby towns, primary roads and it gives me a quick refrence of what’s around.
You might be wondering why I seem to choose smaller 4 door sedans over midsize vehicles? The answer is simple, for me, chasing does not have to be about having the biggest or baddest vehicle on the road. I choose my vehicles based on the volume of space I need. Smaller vehicles also have better gas milage and better overall range. Larger SUV’s are certainly more capable off road but I find choosing to go off road can be a disasterous idea at times, especially since these roads can have my uknowns such as obstancles, flooding and hazards like potholes. No matter what vehicle your in, attempting to cross a flooded roadway with an uknown water depth is dangerous, and no SUV can drive beyond a dead-end road in time to escape a tornado or hail core bearing down. So with these things in mind, I realise that I don’t really require the added benefits of all-wheel drive or higher wheel bases that suv’s provide. Instead I choose to stick to paved roads, or only venture short distances with plenty of escape time on unpaved roads.