Quick Stats: Lucas Grabeel, actor
Daily Driver: 2009 Infiniti G37 S (Lucas' rating: 10 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: Los Angeles to Salt Lake City
Car he learned to drive in: 1984 Toyota 4Runner
First car bought: 1989 Nissan Maxima
The first of the three hit Disney Channel "High School Musical" movies was seen by more than 200 million people. But despite appearing in this major franchise, actor Lucas Grabeel still maintains a practical view when it comes to his car choices.
After the movie's success, Grabeel treated himself to a used 2004 Acura TL. "I had no idea that one movie was going to turn into three movies and two tours and this worldwide phenomenon," he says. "I was always skeptical in thinking every job could be my last job for any given amount of time, so I have to always live within my means and not go crazy and buy a Porsche or something, because you never know when it's all going to stop."
He's now on the ABC Family show "Switched At Birth," and his splurge was the 2009 Infiniti G37 S convertible. It's the first new car he has bought, and he gives a perfect 10. For Grabeel, the Infiniti is a "more bang for your buck luxury car," and it's his favorite car of those he's owned.
"The same car in a BMW or Audi would be $20,000 more," he says. "I get all the same amenities and options. It's a great car. I love it and I get it for a much less amount of money. It'll last forever. I'm not going to have any problems with it. Knock on wood."
Grabeel says he plans to drive it for as long as he can. "I bought it and I don't owe any money on it," he says. "It's nice not having any car payments. I was always big on not having credit cards when I was younger, so that I could never buy anything that I can't afford right at that moment."
When he was shopping for a car, Grabeel wanted a convertible, and test-drove Audis, BMWs, and Lexus. "I like the Asian steering style, slightly looser steering, comparatively to the European style, like BMW, or Mercedes with tighter steering, built more for European roads. I really like the feel of the Infiniti more than anything. It's a G37 S, so it hugs the road a little bit more, so it's a little rougher ride than the normal G37."
Many L.A. roads are far from smooth, and can be a bumpy ride in the GS27 S. That's Grabeel's only complaint with the Infiniti, but when the top comes down, he forgets about the rough ride. The G37 S convertible also gives Grabeel a feeling of freedom.
"I love driving to the beach in it, going through the canyons to Malibu and up and down PCH, but I've also driven it to Utah, which is a beautiful drive," he says. "It's a great shorter road-trip car. It's not very comfortable; it's meant for the driver mainly. For the passenger, it's not as a good."
2005 Honda Element
While he has driven the 11-hour road trip to his home in Utah in the Infiniti, with the top down much of the way, Grabeel says the Element is better for road trips. "You don't have to worry about filling it up with stuff," he says. "There's not much room in the trunk in the Infiniti because it's a hardtop convertible. You can set a briefcase in there and that's about it when the top's down."
Grabeel loves this perfect practical SUV for different reasons than his Infiniti. "It's the complete opposite vehicle from the small, fast sports car," he says. "It's very rugged. It's comfortable. You sit high above the road; you can see everything; it's got great visibility. I'm very picky when it comes to buying a car. I searched a lot of SUV's because I wanted something that could run through the snow and I could move things, and the Element was by far the best."
The price point was good, and the SUV has the storage room he needs. "I've never had any problems with it. I don't have to worry as much about getting a ding or a scratch or going over a bump in the road. It's a freedom in a slightly different way than having the top down. It's a Honda and it's going to run forever," he says. "It's a utility vehicle in the sense that there's no carpet or anything in the car. You can rinse it out with the hose if you want to and it's got an enormous amount of space for hauling things."
Grabeel also likes the seats. "With the suicide doors and sitting in the back seat it is really cool. It sits up significantly higher than the front seat, so you feel like you have stadium seating in a movie theater. You can really see the road and everything that passes by."
Car he learned to drive in
Grabeel grew up outside of Springfield, Missouri, in a small town called Rogersville. He learned to drive in his dad's 1984 Toyota 4Runner on old gravel farm roads.
"We lived way out in the country, and if I wasn't driving my dad's 4Runner, I would be driving his friend's pickup truck while he and his friend were throwing hay out the back feeding the cows," he says.
Grabeel actually learned to drive informally on a 1979 Ford F-150 a year or two earlier, at around age 7. The Ford belonged to his dad's friend, who was a caretaker of a dude ranch, so they would often help feed cattle.
"It wasn't really on roads. It was in fields and going through rivers and forested areas, so all kinds of off-road stuff," says of his earlier driving experience on the F-150, which had a manual transmission. "My dad was a farm boy when he was a kid and he learned to drive tractors when he was really little, so he was always anxious to teach me how to drive."
Some of his views about cars might have come from his dad. "We never bought new cars in my family. My dad was always buying used cars and being as cheap as possible.
My dad doesn't really like convertibles because he's going off a convertible from the '60s. That's probably the last convertible that he drove. He's like, 'Well, they always leak and always having problems,'" Grabeel imitates his dad's voice. "I'm like, 'Well, Dad, I think they probably figured out all that stuff out by 2009, hopefully.' He was always very practical with his cars and I think that's why I have the Honda Element, because it's so practical."
First Car Bought and a Tale of Car Karma
When Grabeel was 16, his dad bought him a 1989 Nissan Maxima for $5000 and he'd only had it for three months when he parked it outside a friend's house and someone drove into it.
"So then I drove the family van, the Toyota Previa," he says. "Which made me really popular at school and I drove that until later in high school. When I was a senior I got a 2008 Corolla and I drove that out to Los Angeles and a year or two after I had it parked on the side of the road and someone ran into that and totaled it."
And he owned a third car that got plowed into as well, on another L.A. street.
Grabeel had a used 1997 Acura CL, but when he got booked on "High School Musical" he had some more money and bought a newer car, the 2004 Acura TL. "I really liked that and that was parked on the side on the road on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks and someone ran into it and totaled that."
"So it's happened to me three times and I loved all three of those cars. The Maxima, it's your first car, so you love it. The Corolla was the car I moved out to Los Angeles with and the Acura was the first nice car I bought for myself. All three of them unexpectedly destroyed," he says.
Two of the cars were hit by drunk drivers, and the third incident was a taxi cab driver who fell asleep at the wheel at 3 in the morning.
Favorite road trip
Grabeel's favorite road trip is Los Angeles to Salt Lake City on I-15.
"It's so peaceful and you get 11 hours to just vacate your mind a little bit. It's just you and the road," he says. "You're not here, you're not there; you're in between. You get to think about things and relax. That's what I love about road trips."
In Los Angeles, Grabeel's favorite strip of road when driving his Infiniti is Kanan Road from the 101 Freeway to Pacific Coast Highway.
"You see the mountains and eventually you turn the corner and see the beach and the ocean. It's just beautiful," he says. "Every time I drive that drive, I can't believe this is California, this is L.A. You get so used to driving the streets and the freeways and the traffic. You have this open road that's full of nature. It's pretty cool."
ABC Family's "Switched At Birth"
Grabeel appears on ABC Family's "Switched at Birth," which also stars Katie LeClerc, Vanessa Marano, Lea Thompson, Marlee Matlin, and Gilles Marini. Season 2 premiered on Jan. 7.
"I think our show has increasingly gotten better. I thought the pilot was amazing and I've been continually surprised at the level of creativeness and all of the things involved with the show," Grabeel says. "It's always surprising me and it just keeps getting better and I'm really, really proud to be a part of it."
A large part of the show highlights deaf culture and educates people about what it's like being deaf. "That's something that's never been on television. It's a fantastic show to be a part of," he says. "We have several deaf characters and hard-of-hearing characters."
While the main character is hard of hearing, everybody else who is portrayed as deaf on the show is deaf in real life, he says. Sign language is used on the show quite often.
"There are a lot of scenes that are completely silent and just subtitled and all in sign, which is another thing I've never seen on a TV show," Grabeel says. "It's really amazing because you'll be watching the show and suddenly it'll just get quiet and you'll hear the sound of the birds and passing cars and you really listen. It's funny, you listen to a deaf conversation and it forces you to pay more attention to their facial expressions and how they express what they're saying. Sign language is a really beautiful language so it's very interesting to watch those scenes."