Friday, January 20, 2012

I need some car advice, please

Miss D.'s car is getting on in years and mileage, and is costing us more than we can afford in repairs and maintenance. We're not flush with cash, but the time has come to replace it. The problem is deciding what to buy, and what's a reasonable amount to expect to pay. I've been looking at used car guides such as those published by Consumer Reports and Edmunds, but since many of our readers know more about cars and personal transportation than we do, I thought I'd throw the question open to all of you, and ask your advice.

We need a vehicle that's not too expensive, and mechanically sound; one that will give several years of reliable service taking Miss D. to work and back, and taking us both on occasional excursions to neighboring states (and perhaps further afield now and then). We need something that a large, partly-disabled man (i.e. yours truly) can enter and exit without too much difficulty - bending and twisting are painful for me. We also need it to be as economical as possible within the foregoing parameters, both in terms of fuel consumption and as regards maintenance and reliability.

I'm looking at alternatives such as a larger compact or mid-size car, or a small SUV (e.g. Honda CRV/Subaru Forester/Toyota RAV4/Ford Escape class), or a small van. The final decision will be Miss D.'s, of course. A four-cylinder engine is a likely choice for economy, although we'd be happy to have the extra power of a six-cylinder (if it's affordable). I'm guessing that our budget is unlikely to reach five figures.

So, readers, given those general parameters, what would you suggest as likely choices? Obviously, the specific vehicle we buy will have to be carefully checked out, but are there brands or models we should avoid on principle? Are there other brands or models that stand out as particularly good choices? Please let us know your opinion in Comments. (Feel free to recommend something outside the above parameters if you think it'd be a better choice.)

Thanks in advance for your help.



The Lost Goat said...

My father in law is also a large, partially disabled man, and he swears by his VW Beetle. Apparently it is super easy for him to get into and out of. I'd say his is about 5 years old.

Anonymous said...

My wife's car was a 97 Subaru Outback. It now belongs to our son. Runs great still. She was wanting a new car about a year ago. Looked at a Dodge Charger. I talked to a mechanic who thought the Charger's engine and transmission was great. We the Subaru (2010 6 cylinder). It was AWESOME. For trucks, go with Ford or Toyota.

trailbee said...

For gas and maintenance reasons I'd say a Honda. The gas mileage just cannot be beat. I have had only Civics because I'm so tight-fisted, but my husband is large and when we switch next year will probably get an Accord. My son has over 250,000, probably 300,000, miles on his Accord, which he bought second-hand, from an Acura dealer, with a warranty. Loves that car, but is now ready to buy another one. He is planning on replacing the Accord with another one.
I tend to think you plan to keep this "new" car for a while, and would suggest a Toyota sedan, Camry probably.
We have just traded in a Ford F150 for a Toyota Tacoma (we are downsizing) and the dealer is driving us crazy with good will! Would we like this, or that, are we ready for our oil changes and maintenance checks. Yada, yada, yada. This means that they are truly interested in the maintenance of their car and will bend over backwards in helping you keep it in great condition.
My boss at my volunteer job, has a Subaru Forester and would live in it 24/7, he loves it so much. (So does Sadie his dog. :) ) This car is roomy, is a 4Wheeler and has all sorts of neat stuff in it. Mileage is good.
I really don't like saying this, but if you look at American-made cars, I think you might love the room, but would have to pay more for a car that will begin to cause you problems a little sooner. We loved that Ford, but one week after the warranty was up, 93,000 miles, the transmission began to do strange things. The dealer said it was normal wear. NOT! At 93,000 miles?
I hope someone else can help. Good luck in your hunt.

daniels said...

When considering small SUVs, don't neglect the Jeep Cherokee Sport (not the Grand Cherokee, the older regular Cherokee).

The last model was made in 2001, so it's aged, but it's aged very well. You can find nice ones with less than 100,000 miles in great shape, or cheap beaters that will still run like a top.

This is one of those vehicles that never should have been discontinued. The 1999-2001 Jeep Cherokee with the inline 6-cylinder 4.0 liter engine is a vehicle that can be run through the wringer time and time again, drivin and abused for hundreds of thousands of miles, and still continues to run like a top.

And gas mileage is not bad either. high 20s on the highway, low 20s in town.

Diamond Mair said...

Also, if you're considering the benefits of new {warranty, etc.} take a look at Dodge Calibers.

The FodGuy is 6' 2" {1.83m ;-) }, ~ 250#, and while it isn't ..................... EASY access, he IS able to get into/out of the Caliber.

We got a real deal, on a new 2011, in that they paid off the Buick Rainier, included a year of Sirius radio, included a year of their version of LoJack, for under $16,000.00, @ 1.9% - our payments are under $400.00/mo, as long as we return to the dealer or their chosen reps, for oil changes, regular maintenance, the warranty is for as long as we own the car, for power train, & all the other expensive 'things-that-go-wrong-as-soon-as-the-warranty-lapses'

Might also consider a GMC Acadia, as they have a model that {supposedly} gets ~ 35 mpg.

Semper Fi'

Lokidude said...

Mom has a Ford 500 (nee Taurus) that she loves. Dad (not exactly disabled, but uh, worn down a bit gets in and out with ease. She gets mid 20s mixed driving, not as good as an econobox, but a worthy trade for comfort and space. We've actually had 5 grown adults in it for hour-plus rides and done well, and none of us are exactly slim.

You could also look at a Ranger. Probably easier for you to get into, but the stiffer ride may not be pleasant for either of you, considering injuries/disabilities.

Grace Bridges said...

I don't know very much, but I'm very fond of my Toyota Corona diesel stationwagon. It's 22 years old now and aside from being a little bit susceptible to rust, I wouldn't change a thing! Runs forever on diesel, has some grunt too, and plenty of space. If I had to replace it I'd definitely make sure I got a Toyota diesel again.

Anonymous said...

Try these for pricing a car: and You might get a better deal through an auto broker. Here's some info:

It's difficult to go wrong with either Honda, Toyota or Subaru. FYI, check if the model you're interested in has an engine timing belt or a timing chain. Belts need to be replaced every 100K, chains last the life of the engine; belt replacement isn't cheap. They can be replaced for $250-400, but if you replace all the wear items that come off because they're in the way of getting to the belt (water pump, belt idler and tension pulleys, radiator hoses, seals, etc.) figure about $900-1200.

Although newer used cars are getting hard to find it might pay to look at vehicles 1-3 years old; someone else has suffered the steep first 1-2 year depreciation and there's consumer info on how that model holds up. Don't rule out bank repossessions.

If you buy used I recommend having your trusted mechanic inspect the car thoroughly before finalizing the deal, and sending a sample of engine and transmission oil to a lab for analysis. Google "engine oil analysis" to find a lab. If you buy a used vehicle, I'd suggest having every fluid in it flushed and replaced ASAP, even if the analysis shows no problems.

AJ said...

Very happy with my 2001 CR-V. We bought a really comfortable pair of seats with a 2 litre medium station wagon around them...
Key point - it is not a true 4WD.
Rather it is a FWD which auto-engages the rear axle when it senses wheel slip at the front. i.e. just -after- you get bogged!!
That said, mine is over 100,000miles & is tight & sweet, unlike any previous heap of rubbish I've owned.

Subaru owners seem to show a high degree of brand loyalty too. Probably can't go far wrong there either.

Anonymous said...

Honda and Toyota are good, but I am a Subaru believer. They're good in the snow and ice, handle well, hold up nicely, and get decent mileage. My aunt and uncle have gotten a new one every couple years for the last 20 or so - they're now in their mid-80s and she's oversized with bad knees.
Don't know about your neighborhood, but up here in the frozen wasteland you can usually find one with 100K or so on it for about 5 or 6 grand.
Good luck!

Stranger said...

There is a lot of good advice in the comments. The fact is that almost ANY reasonably well cared for modern vehicle will last longer than cars of just 25 years ago, and I used to regularly get 250 to 300,000 miles on the vans I drove. Lived in would be a better term.

Look at what suits you. If the mileage is not exceptionally high, the engine and drive train is clean and has not been steam cleaned, and the tires, including the spare, belts, and hoses are in good condition, and the oil is up to level and not obviously freshly changed, it is time to take it to a mechanic for evaluation.


ZerCool said...

The limiting factor, as in so many of our lives, is probably going to be budget.

A Honda Accord or Toyota Camry would be an excellent bet, but one that's only 4-5 years old is probably going to exceed your budget. Older than that and they tend to be on their second or third owner already and that owner either won't part with it or is eager to ditch a money pit.

The VW Beetle, as mentioned above, is actually not a bad suggestion. You'd be looking at an 05-06, probably. The trunk is small but functional, the back seat can hold plenty of luggage - but not adults for more than cross-town - and the 2.0L motor is "enough". There is also a diesel Beetle out there if you look...

I'd also take a close look at a Nissan Altima. Think of it as the poor cousin to the Accord and Camry. Nissan doesn't have the fit/finish of either Toyota or Honda, but the mechanical reliability is on par if not better.

I think you're about to find out what MrsZ and I did when we bought her last car: the reasonably-priced used-car market has a big damn hole in it between five and fifteen thousand. Best of luck!

(Oh, and side note: carfax any used car. You're going to be right smack-dab in the middle of the Katrina Car age range.)

Anonymous said...

Obama recommends:

A Chevrolet VOLT

along with,

Triple fire insurance.


Anonymous said...

I'd suggest a gently used Subaru Legacy. It sits high enough that easing in and out of the seats is not a problem, it can carry a lot of stuff in the back, and it gets decent mileage. Like I said on Marko's blog, if the local dealer hadn't gotten bad, I would be driving one today. I love my Tacoma but there are times I miss the stability and cornering of the 'Baru.


Anonymous said...

I second the Jeep Cherokee, easy to get parts, decent mileage and the inline 4 or 6 engines have a long life and they are pretty inexpensive. Downside is the closed loop cooling system and the air conditioning system could be designed better. But in the end they are a great mid sized SUV.

Shrimp said...

I've owned a Jeep Cherokee (classic, not the sport--trivial differences except that transmission on the classic can run full time 4wd, whereas the sport is not meant to) and still miss it. Never should have sold it. I highly recommend one if you can find one within your budget.

I've owned several Subarus (subarii?) and loved all of them except the first one (an old Legacy Loyala). The Foresters are solid cars (although the 98 and 99 models generally start to have engine problems after 150K), as are the Outbacks/Legacies.

We currently own a Hyundai (it's a minivan, so....) but my bro-in-law has a Santa Fe. Excellent vehicle with a really great warranty. If you can pick up a used Hyundai/Kia from a H/K dealer, you'll get the remainder of the factory warranty--which is a really good one.

My sister-in-law has a Honda Accord, and loves it. It's been a great car.

My other sister-in-law has a VW diesel Passat, and it is an excellent car. Pricey, but you never know what you'll find in the used market.

Do lots of research on your own car before you sell it/trade it in. Kelly Blue Book ( and other sites like it ( will give you an idea of what your vehicle is worth as a trade-in/private sale.

When you go to buy, the first thing they'll want to know is if you are trading in (assuming you buy at a dealership). Tell them no, and that you intend to sell it privately later. This keeps the focus on the car you are buying. You can always let them talk you into trading in afterwards, and don't take less than $2K for your trade, regardless of what they tell you (they can auction it for scrap for more than that). If they won't give you at least $2K, tell them you intend to sell it privately.

Obviously, if your car is worth more, stick to you guns on a reasonable trade-in value. If they won't meet it, don't trade it in.

Lastly, if you intend to finance, go through your credit union or bank of choice and arrange your own. Do not get into a "what can you afford each month" game on payments. The price of the car is the price of the car, and your financing will determine for you what you can afford. If you are paying cash, this doesn't matter. I read an article somewhere (can't find it) where the person recommended not mentioning that you had cash--let the dealership believe you will finance. The dealership will make more on financing and will try to talk you into using theirs. Plopping down a checkbook when it comes time to pay ends all that.

Always be ready and willing to walk away if the dealership isn't playing ball. There will be another car.

Good luck.

raven said...

if you buy from a private party, expect and accept you may look at a lot of junk-but there are some gems out there. Some tips-
A car advertised at an enthusiast site will usually be a better vehicle, or at least honestly advertized-people don't like to cheat their tribe members.

Quick check items- oil leaks, coolant free of oil,(oily scum floating on the top ) oil clean and free of coolant(foamy white/tan on cream on dip stick)
look under the oil fill cap, the engine internals should be oily and clean , not crusted with black sludge, and look down the length of the body for creases from a poorly done repaint. A small flash light is your best tool here.

If possible look for a one owner car, usually they will have maintenance records, and you can get a very good idea of how well they have maintained it by looking at the owners- is the garage clean and organized? Is the lawn mowed? Etc.

Thornharp said...

For ease of entry and exit, the Scion xB beats anything else I've tried. You don't have to fold yourself down into it, you just rotate your caboose across onto the seat. Think "Checker Marathon."

My experience is with my daughter's xB. It's an earlier model with manual transmission. She used it to get from the Public Affairs office where she was stationed in West Virginia to events in all the neighboring states, and to visit friends from New York to South Carolina. After she got out, she's driven it cross-country twice, and for most of one trip the xB was dragging a U-Haul trailer bigger than itself. The fuel economy is good, and that boxy little thing has an amazing amount of usable space inside.

Silver the Evil Chao said...

My mom and I have a really old Hyundai Accent that has been with us through thick and thin. Any problems we've had with it have been entirely through outside forces (hitting a small animal at 90 mph smashed up the front driver's side wheel well, for instance), with the exception of the air conditioning giving out last summer. It's been a very reliable car with 100k miles on it. :3 So I would recommend getting a Hyundai.

Anonymous said...

check out the Kia Sorrento

meets all your criteria and then some

Chasing Freedom said...

Personally, I'd avoid the Honda CRV. My mom's has been plagued with little, but oddly expensive, issues. Also, I don't find it not user friendly IE. the speedometer goes from 0 - 160 mph - yes miles- with number markers every 20 miles (real pain when you're trying to go 35). For all the other options out there, I wouldn't seek out the CRV. My B-I-L has a Subaru that's been passed down through 4 siblings and still goes cross country with ease.

joewarrant said...

Let me follow up on both the Subaru and the older Cherokee....both are among the vehicles of choice for rural mail carriers, and both were popular second cars when I lived in Alaska.
I am on my second Subaru, and only traded my first at 120,000 miles because I find the hatchback Imprezza more user friendly than the version with the trunk

Anonymous said...

Honda Civic GX Natural Gas Vehicle Review - Kelley Blue Book

They are made in Greensburg Indiana!

trailbee said...

Chasing Freedom reminded me of something on my Honda Civic, and is that the speedometer goes haywire at the worst times. It does go back to normal, but I never know when that could be. While on warranty the dealer changed it, but after that they balked. So, I ride it out and make sure I don't pass anyone in the 25 zone!
What great advice you got. I'm bookmarking this post!

shooter said...

I'm partial to Toyota and Honda for longevity. Don't think you can go wrong with either. Not familiar with Subaru, so I can't comment. Owned a 96 4runner and finally sold it in 2010. Kicking myself for doing so because it ran better when I sold it than this Jeep Grand Cherokee I bought to replace does now.

perlhaqr said...

As a fellow BGWABB (big guy with a bad back) I find that it's hard to beat something truck-like for ease of entry and exit. Of course, the fuel economy tends to correspondingly suck.

I have a '93 Legacy. It's a bit low, and the door openings aren't really large enough to get in without some squeezing, especially in tight parking lots.

It's probably worthwhile going out and test-fitting yourself into a bunch of different things to see what works best in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I had a late model RAV4 that I really liked. But, I needed a little more room for the rugrats. The thing that may not work for you is ease of entry and exit. While it was not bad, it can feel like the front seat was made for a very small person, if the seat is forward.

Take a look at the Venza. All the goodness of the Camry but on steroids. It sits higher, is easy to get in and out of and offers AWD.

Anonymous said...

I'm 6'1", 250lb with a bad back, fiancee is recovering from a lumbar fusion. I have a 2005 ford 500 (now Taurus)It's very comfortable, OK on maintenance. Cant realy speak to other brands as I've mainly owned fords, I'm a Detroiter and like to buy the home grown product.
Joe McDermott

Anonymous said...

Nobody has mentioned the now discontinued Kia Rondo. It is what I suggested for my elderly parents; engineered (by Hyundai) to last 250k miles (it shares major components with the Sonata), tall, comfortable, but with the somewhat low resale value of a Kia (still more suspect to most buyers than Hyundai which is now nearing world-class), so perfect as a used vehicle. FWD only, but easy to get in and out of, and relatively economical plus good luggage room.

Pastor Glenn

hydrogeek said...

I would HIGHLY recommend a Toyota Avalon. I've bought 2 that had about 100k on them and drove them another 100k plus with no problems. When my family outgrew a sedan I got a Toyota minivan and doubt I will ever drive anything else. I know I got both of my Avalons at about 5-ish years old for under the $10k mark. Good luck!

DOuglas2 said...

There is some great advice above, and I hesitate to add mine, but:...

We've a 1st generation CRV in the household. At pushing 13 years old it is more solid and tight than many far-newer cars I've driven and cared for over the years. This car has made me a Honda convert.
Silly things have gone wrong, but they were not expensive unless I had the Honda main dealer service them. I ditched the dealer when they didn't happen to notice at regular service time that the timing-belt was due for replacement, but did think I needed an induction flush...
The consumer reports reliability survey has a response bias that I won't get into, but it also has a strong bias on the prices of CR's highly rated cars. This is because people do exactly what you might -- they restrict their search to the top rated CR models, so demand for those used models is high.
In my view the key to a used car bargain is to find something that is just as reliable, but not yet on the CR radar, or else something where most people don't know what it is.
The Kia models mentioned above are an example of the former. As examples of the latter, if cars from the last century are your bag:
the Isuzu Oasis is a Honda Odyssey
the Mercury Villager is a Nissan Quest.