Friday, January 28, 2011

Open thread on cars

Yes, you read that right: cars. As in, automobiles, mini-vans, people-movers, wheeled transportation powered by internal combustion engines, whatever.

Here's the situation: after eight and counting years of loyal service, our family mini-van is starting to exhibit those charming squeaks and rattles that...cost us over $3000 to fix last year. It's a Toyota, so I expect it will be around a while longer (hey, it's only got 120,000 miles on it! It's practically a baby!)--but up to now, we've been a one-car family, so having something reliable is sort of necessary.

We theoretically have three options here:

1. Keep driving the mini-van and do nothing else. This is probably only an option for the next year or so.

2. Trade the mini-van for another biggish car. Though we are a five-person family, four of the five people are taller than my 5'2" height--and, as everyone knows, a so-called "five-passenger car" mostly means a four-passenger car with the possibility of squeezing a smallish extra person up against what is otherwise the arm-rest in the back seat, and belting him or her with a lap belt.

3. Keep the mini-van for our soon-to-be driving teens (one fifteen, one fourteen, and one who will be 13 this summer!) and buy a smallish second car that could squeeze all of us in it in the event that the mini-van dies or is in the shop.

Bearing in mind that we are a one-income family on a limited budget, which of these options would you choose? Why? Are there specific vans/cars you would recommend in the event you vote for "2" or "3"? Do you love your present car? Do you hate it? And so forth...

Looking for advice and recommendations here. All welcome!


c matt said...

our 100K+ minivan (Dodge Caravan)did the same thing this past year and we replaced it with a Camry (2007). Camrys are actually pretty roomy (able to fit all five of us when necessary - me [5'9"], wife [5'6"] son [5'10"] daughter 1 [5'9"] and daughter 2 [5'4"]). And they are actually pretty affordable, especially if you buy used and plenty of them around. I love mine.

Deirdre Mundy said...

We have a Chrysler Town and Country. We wanted a Toyota or Honda, but, well, this was a lot cheaper because there are SO MANY available used. Especially if you get the Navy Blue kind.

It's a decent car--we got one built on the sedan platform rather than a truck platform, so it gets good gas mileage and handles well.

It's really cheap to get fixed...because mechanics can do it in their sleep. We just keep up on routine maintanence (we're at 120,000) and we do fine.

Minuses-- because we're on the car platform, trunk space is minimal.

It's pretty bad on legroom. I don't think this car would work with teens.

Also, what SORT of 3,000 repairs does the Toyota need? Are they routine? The situation may not be as bad as you think.......

Anonymous said...

I vote for option three - we're five, also, and are fortunate that my FIL gave us the FIL deal in our Pilot, otherwise, we would be continuing to drive our 150K Maxima as our only vehicle. The Honda was a blessing on many levels, mostly that my children refuse to remain small and the back seat scenario, with one still in a booster, was becoming more like a sardine can scenario. We still squeeze into it the Maxima for quick trips, it's nice to have the back up.

melanie said...

I think option 3 is smart. Our second car is a prius....too small to fit us all but hopefully our Honda still has a long life. I think the camry idea is a good one. They are nice, reliable and comfortable for five as long as you don't have to do a ton of long distance, or your three teens get along really really well ;-). Plus they are quite affordable. Good idea to keep that minivan for the girls. Unless it's really going to cost too much to keep it running?

Thad Manning said...

This car has had displayed all of the brake and suspension issues common to it. At just over 60,000 Strut mounts, struts, and shocks were replaced. Rear Drums were manufactured too thin and had to be replaced around 80,000 (not covered) along with new pads and shoes. Parking brake foot pedal replaced under extended warranty. In the past 3 months, new calipers on the rear drum brakes(they were leaking) and resurfacing of drums (out of round), resurfacing of the front rotors, and, due to a parking brake cable failure that was causing the parking brake to remain partially engaged, replacement of parking brake cables, and resurfacing again of back drums and front rotors. Now getting an unusual hydraulic sound when push brake pedal in and back out. Passenger door handle and actuator replaced recently (Cost over $500). Engine Idle Control Valve replaced (over $400.)

Red Cardigan said...

That's my husband above, btw. :) The brake issues have been costly with this van, and unfortunately minivans seem somewhat prone to these issues.

But if they actually fix what's wrong presently (it's in the shop now) then perhaps keeping it for a couple of years isn't so bad--so long as we have something else to drive!

Thanks for the suggestions so far! Keep them coming! :)

scotch meg said...

We have five kids, so going to a sedan full-time was not an option until this year. We have never owned a new car. We also have never been able to manage with one car, so I envy you that. On the other hand, having two cars has meant that we don't live where my husband works (this is an advantage for an MD) and that he can take a second job hundreds of miles away.

All that said, I am very much in favor of buying a good used car that will fit all of you comfortably. Since we now have three kids at home, I will say that my husband LOVES his Buick Park Avenue. This may sound like a luxury car, but it was much less expensive than a used minivan or even a Ford Taurus (my beloved Taurus wagon is slowly dying at 150,000 miles). He bought it at 80,000 miles. It now has 150,000 miles on it, and he is happy to report that it has needed NOTHING but oil changes and gas. It gets 25mpg city and 35 mpg highway. The kids love it, too, and don't even complain about the middle of the back seat very much. My husband is 6'3" and my son is 6'1" and often sits in the middle of the back seat (because he's a good kid and his little brother fusses more).

Do consider two cars if you can manage it - everyone will be happier once the kids start driving.

melanie said...

I too admire you for being a one car family, and you homeschool right? So maybe the girls don't really need a car anyway?( I'm not much help :-).)

JMB said...

I have reservations about giving a teenager a car that could break down. I know theoretically it sounds like the most practical thing to keep the minivan and pass it on to the kids, I think in the long run, it would be better to scrap the minivan and get yourselves a new car.

Then I would not worry about the teen until the teen starts driving. And then you can readdress the situation and discern if indeed she really does need a car, and if so, look into the used car market or new car market at that point.

Patrick said...

Ford Mustang woooo! It only holds two people comfortably, but man, does it go *FAST*!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

My first thought is keep the van for long distance driving, and get a Nissan Leaf for around town. You won't have the issue we have up north, how to heat the car without draining the battery.

Alternately, you could try the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, the first mid-size hybrid that really has a luxurious interior.

If none of those sound right, get a new van, but consider getting a Leaf for the short around town trips, and use the van only when you really need the capacity. It will last longer, so by the time you're ready to collect social security, you will end up a little ahead.

L. said...

In San Francisco, we had a Mazda 5, and were very happy with it. We sold it to one of the teachers at our kids' Catholic school, and he's very happy with it, too.

My son will be 16 in a few months, but I won't let him even think of getting his license until he's 20. (Of course, I'm in a city where we don't need a car to get around, so it will be no touble at all to stick to this.)

Anonymous said...

Ooh I'm a car geek! Let's see.

I like the idea of having a second smaller car. Easy on gas for dad's commute, keeps the miles off the family van, and can fit everyone in a pinch if needed.

I'm amazed how often we stuff our Suburban to the gills with just three kids. We do a lot of camping and road trips. For that reason I'd personally stay with a van or SUV of some sort. The more recent Hyundai/Kia vans are said to be quite reliable and far less expensive than the Japanese. I would not get a Dodge/Chrysler, seem to have a reputation for brake and transmission problems.

If you're comfortable with a sedan (where you gonna put those foster kids?...), and decide to remain a one car family, I might suggest a late model GM such as Buick LeSabre or Lucerne. Total grandma car, not likely to have been abused by the first owner. Or Chevy Impala. Definitely get a V6. You could put five people in a 4-cylinder Camry but the poor hamster would spin right off his wheel. GM's 3.8 liter V6 is old school tech but it's very reliable and gets surprisingly decent gas mileage. Toyota Avalon would also be nice and have a large back seat, but going to cost much more than the GMs.

A Grand Marquis or Crown Vic, or even Town Car - surprisingly poor resale value - would be very reliable. There's a reason why police and taxi fleets use them. Big, big trunk, definitely fit three teens in the back. But with a V8 the gas mileage will not be as good.


Anonymous said...

BTW, many of those cars I mentioned have a front bench seat, so you can bring a 6th person (friend, grandma) if needed.

Anonymous said...

Ha, and hmmph. When I began my marriage at 21 (husband taught me to drive), we had Toyota Corolla. (Wish we still had it.) Over the years, the only new car was a Datsun in 1980. What a sweetie.

Past 15 years have been a nightmare after someone crumpled our Subaru Legacy going wrong way on a one-way.

Since the Legacy, we've had nothing but used Fords (except for a Dodge piece of junk ~ 10 months); mini-vans, Tauruses, Crown Vics, as they're the only ones we can afford to pay for with cash. Eight plus vehicles and counting.

I can't pretend to know anything about automobiles (my husband does all the work such as engine check, change oil, check brakes, etc. to ensure we've a running vehicle leave the driveway), but with work-travel experience (locum tenens and 30 mile commutes)...I can firmly say that those Fords only last a few years before major repair bills e.g. transmission, rear axles, brakes, engine, etc. I am an expert at calling a car rental agency on a minutes notice to get to a job when a Ford breaks down on the highway. All the used Fords we've bought (8) have been notable for early built-in obsolescence.

The Crown Vic was a used cop car. I was shocked that our police force drive such a poorly designed car and dangerous vehicle.

We lived close enough to city that sons can use bikes, feet, and bus.
If they get scholarships, they're going to get new (or used)Nissans, unless the scholarships are of enough significant to help finance Subarus.

Geoff G. said...

I like option 3 as well. We recently bought a used Ford Focus, which has the virtue of excellent fuel efficiency without the perils of being an early adopter (for electric vehicles) or paying a premium for a hybrid, especially considering that the expensive batteries hybrids use will need replacement if you tend to buy vehicles for the long haul.

For anyone on a budget, used is just about always the way to go.

With a Focus, you can probably cram five people in (we actually fit four adults and one largish dog in our Focus last night reasonably comfortably; bear in mind I'm 6'4"). I wouldn't recommend it for a road trip, but for taking kids to school, commuting to work, running errands, it's a good deal.

Then you can save the minivan for those times when you do have a lot of kids and/or stuff to haul around and perhaps even squeeze more than a year or two out of it.

Depending on your neighborhood, distance to work, etc. you might also consider other alternatives to driving. Can your husband commute to work by public transit or bicycle reasonably? Can your kids bike or bus it to school? Does every trip to the grocery require driving (in my case, it seems at least half my trips to the grocery are to pick up odds and ends that I forgot on the main trip...bicycling is perfect for errands like that).

Finally, do teenagers really need to have a car to get around? While I got my license at 16, I didn't have my own car until I paid for it with my own money after I enlisted in the Army. IIRC, I was something like 23 or 24 at the time.

I was, of course, allowed to drive the family minivan as a teenager, but only to run errands for my parents :) On the other hand, I was also living in fairly large and dense Canadian cities with good transit available, both as a teenager with my parents and after I moved out.

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks for all the advice so far--we're mulling over it all and trying to decide what to do.

Just want to say, quickly--we're not worried about having a car for the teens to *drive* as much as we are about having something for beginning drivers to learn on, preferably something that's paid for or mostly paid for, that *isn't* our only car. Since we've been a one-car family up to now, we have to think about that.

BF Wilson said...

Rc I'am firends with a home school fmaily with four kids, two can drive right now. They opted for a larger van, for family stuff and a used camry for the father to drive to work. For two years they kept this going, until the oldest started college this year and gave her the choice of working towards a car or not having one. She's working and going to school. She also likes her used compact. The van is a 11 passenger Ford. Just a thought. Hope it helps.

m.z. said...

A second vehicle will cost at least $3K per year, either in payments or repairs. A rental vehicle is $25 per day typically. That translates into 120 days worth of rental-time in the shop if you need it. As far as a reliable backup goes, you are better off with a rental car.

I sold Toyotas. They have the same quality as everyone else. You haven't had any engine problems up until this point other than Idle Control Valve. That is pretty minor. All the rest is pretty much maintenance and should be treated as such.