Suggestions for My Next Car?

I think I have put this off as long as I am able. Here is the situation. I am spending around two weeks a month in the Netherlands – and that will continue for a while. I have managed without a car for the past six months, but I think that’s about to have to come to an end. During my two weeks at home, I will have to spend some days in the office. I expect that I will make a 47-mile round trip 8-10 days a month. The reason I can no longer get by with just my wife’s car is that she will need a car at home during the day to ferry the kids back and forth to school (no bus, unfortunately) but also in case one of the kids got sick and had to be picked up.

I have entertained various alternatives. I have considered renting for two weeks a month. But that’s going to run me $300 to $500 a month. There is no public transportation between where I live and my job. I think the only real option I have is to buy a second car (unless someone has a better suggestion).

I would anticipate that I will drive at most 6,000 miles a year. I don’t think that’s enough to justify the expense of a Prius. I am looking for a combination of cheap and fuel efficient. I have gone back and reviewed previous posts on this subject, and several suggestions have been posted. A used Volkswagen TDI seems to be a popular choice. The Honda Fit has been mentioned. Various other Hondas, Nissans, and Toyotas have come up. I don’t see any Fords or GMs (except for a Saturn) that have been suggested.

So, what’s the ideal car for me? I will almost always be driving alone, and my top three priorities are safety, fuel efficiency, and price. What do you suggest, and why?

30 thoughts on “Suggestions for My Next Car?”

  1. Robert – other than mileage what are you looking for? New/used? Do you need to haul stuff or people? Would a small truck work? I get 30-32 mpg in my 4 cyl. Ranger truck on my commute and 26 mpg overall.

    What I would do if I were you is go to and look at the dealerships in DFW. You can now sort by MPG. Go to the Carmax that has the most vehicles you are interested in. (Garland or Plano) The nice thing is you can try different makes and models without driving all over town. You can say: “that’s a piece of crap”, and not offend the sales person.

    I did a search on the DFW Carmax locations. They have over 200 vehicles that get better than 30 mpg highway. Consider buying American.

    For just a commuter car you could do something like Chevy Aveo 4cyl – 5 spd For $9k, not bad.

    Good luck.

  2. Given that you’ll only be driving 6,000 miles per year, the most economical vehicle for your situation is a used SUV or full-size truck. SUV prices are undervalued right now because of the reactionary swing in demand to highly fuel efficient vehicles. What you pay extra for fuel is more than offset by the discounted purchase price.

  3. Given your heritage, I’d say an F150 is still the identity set of wheels for you. 🙂

    Csíkszentmihályi showed that driving was one of the tasks in which the highest proportion of time was in “flow”.

    But, given your current position, for public relations one of these would probably be the way to go:

    However, given your occupation, I’d say the ultimate way to go is to buy the right shell (dead engine) and a conversion kit and get your hands dirty converting it:
    (No stock, just came up at the top of Goggle “electric car conversion”)

    As Boon Pickens notes, the problem is the rate of conversion to electric.

  4. Take a look at 2001-02 Mercedes E320. It’s a reliable car, gets 30MPG highway, is comfortable and handles well at high speed. And it costs the same or less than a lot of really crappy cars (e.g. Chevy Aveo).

  5. My son got a ’96 Civic with 120,000 miles on it for $3000. You’d never know it was more than a few years old by looking at it. Runs great too. Gets 36 MPG in the city. Parts and insurance are cheap. Youngsters are really into these small cars.

  6. I am a big fan of the fit, got one in the family, also have a newer Prius and I drive 1st gen civic hybrid. Buy the new fit if you can your hands on one, tons of room for an efficient vehicle and very well designed. New Yaris comes standard with side curtain airbags (fit has them as well). There is no need to commute with an SUV or truck. Used tdi wouldn’t be that bad, though it does pollute a little more (particulates).

  7. If you can arrange for fueling, a medium-sized pickup converted to run on compressed natural gas or propane. Pricey up front, but lower per-mile fuel costs and a completely different set of risks for fuel supply disruption. A shooting war that affects the Straits of Hormuz will push gasoline prices through the ceiling; NG in the US not so much. Don’t know that it makes sense on Pickens’ large scale, but it may make sense for your situation.

    If you’re just looking for something useful and reliable, I’ll second Peter’s recommendation for the Honda Fit. I’m getting to be very fond of mine, despite the “terminally cute” look.

  8. Anon – according to Carmax a 2000-2001 E320 would set you back around $15,000. The 320’s V6 only gets 20-28 mpg.

    I’d agree that the Honda Fit is really nice. But for a car that is going to spend half its time sitting in an airport parking lot, what does it matter? Buy something cheap and save your money for buying gas.

  9. buy an old diesel, and convert it to a veggie-mobile. In Texas, plenty of greasy restaurants. Just have fun with it, don’t count every penny…..

  10. I don’t think that the premium for Toyota or Honda is worth it, especially for 6000 miles per year.

    If you look at small cheap sub-compacts like the Aveo or Kia Rio, also check out the next larger car, like the Cobalt and Spectra, they are a few thousand more, but offer a little more size with virtually the same mileage.

    You could also look into a scooter or motorcycle, but that depends on where you commute and how you would feel about driving one.

    Personally, I bought an electric assist bicycle for $350 from walmart, google the e zip electric bike and you will find it. It performs as advertised, and makes my commute a breeze. It really flattens the hills and goes 0 to 15MPH in a few seconds. Your commute would require a second battery pack and would take over an hour.

    So my out of the box solution for you, is to buy a ford ranger or a deeply discounted full size pick-up and the electric bike. Throw the bike in the back, drive about half way, then park and ride the rest of the way. As a bonus, you will get some first hand experience with an electric vehicles, even though it is a very small one.

    My final advice is don’t spend thousands to save hundreds.

  11. I love my 08 Honda Fit. I traded in my 2004 WRX so I could get an automatic (my knees are problematic for the foreseeable future), great in-town gas mileage (as high as 30.9 with A/C on full time) and can hold my mountain bike. I still can’t get over the recliner I fit easily into it along with the other crap it can hold. Very cool car.

    However, if I had to commute with a car out here (a fair amount of altitude change here in SE AZ) I would wait for the 09 Fit (more horsepower) or go for a Mazda 3. If I wanted something even nicer, I’d look at the Saturn Astra (looks cool, but haven’t seen it up close) or a MINI Clubman.

  12. Couple of thoughts.

    1. It’s a tough time to try to buy a fuel efficient vehicle in the US. Dealers will practically give you an SUV, but Honda Fits are hard to find. We were at a Honda dealer on Thursday. There were dozens of Odysseys and Pilots, but only 2 Fits and three Civics. Same goes for used.

    2. IIRC, the Pontiac Vibe is built on the same line as, and is essentially identical to, the Toyota Matrix. Both are 5 door versions of the last generation Corolla. The Pontiac is devalued by its association with GM, and may be a better deal than the Toyota.

    3. I would shun used Mercedes like the plague. They are not reliable, and when the do break, which they will frequently, they are very expensive to fix. The same goes for other German cars. Trust me on this one, I have lived the dream.

    4. 1.2.2. what was I thinking?

  13. Honda Civic (used).

    My ’98 gets 35 highway miles, more if I’m not using ethanol blends, and that’s with the a/c on full-time. I don’t do city driving in it, so I don’t know what it gets in traffic, but my ’95 Civic used to get about 30 in city.

    You might pay a premium for the Honda name, but the resale value on them remains significantly higher even on 15 year old cars, and their reliability can be matched only by Toyota. Based on my parents’ experience, my Civics have gotten better mileage than their Corollas, with the same driving conditions.

    Good luck…I hate car hunting.

  14. Isn’t “home” for you right now in the UK? All these suggestions for a “Ford Ranger” etc seem misplaced, as they are suggesting cars and SUVs not available in Scotland/England.

    If you wish to minimize costs, get a used vehicle. Between Honda and Toyota, find which has the closest local service, both at home and close to work. Next, for safety, get a car with the best visibility out the windows. That is why I chose the Ford Ranger for my 65-mile-each-way commute for six months in 2001…my biggest expense would have been an auto accident! And for freeway driving, I needed maximum “see/be seen”.

    Tires, fuel mileage, oil changes, these all point to any car with four cylinders/MT that has been depreciated, but still worry-free for breakdowns.

  15. Since your not driving it much, I recomend something really cheap and use the difference to get an improvement on your house, like passive solar water heating. So that would point to a used car, possibly a Hyundai or Kia or the Chevy Aveo. You also live in a climate where you could have a scooter year round, if your ok with the safety risk.

  16. How far does your wife drive shuttling the kids? 15 miles? If so I’d recommend a used SUV. Drive her car on those 100-120 days per year you need to go into the office and let her use the SUV. When you’re out of the country or working from home she can use her current car.

    120 days * 15 miles = 1800 miles per year. Even at 12 mpg that’s only 150 gallons or $500-600 per year. Considering the massive discounts available on used SUVs right now you’ll come out way ahead.

  17. I’m surprised no one has suggested a home-built conversion EV. Even a fairly cheap one should be able to handle a 47-mile round trip, particularly if you have a charging opportunity at your work and it’s a fun project.

    If you’re in a bit of a hurry I would suggest a kit. There’s one for the S-10, which should be a dime a dozen these days and can hold plenty of battery weight. Ford Ranger is another popular option.

  18. Frank – they did suggest a conversion kit August 16, 2008 5:15 PM about 4 from the top. 🙂

  19. My manual transmission 1996 Saturn SL1 gets about 40mpg on the highway, cost about 3 grand four years ago, has the same blue book value now with 40K more miles on it, so they retain their value pretty nicely if you plan to dump it later on, without costing much upfront. E.g.:

  20. Not to be flippant, but do the kids really need to be ‘ferried back and forth’ to school by car? Can they walk or ride their bikes?

    In 1969 about 50% of schoolkids walked or rode bikes to school in the US. Today about 12%. Moving about under their own power is something they’d do well to learn and understand.


  21. While I wouldn’t buy a used VW TDI myself, it does seem to be just the thing for you. Good fuel efficiency, and perhaps easier to get for a good price than a used fuel efficient gasoline car that other people are competing for. It also goes well with you wanting to teach your children self=sufficiency. You can teach them to make biodiesel or run it on used vegetable oil. Even if you run it on regular diesel, with the new low-sulfur diesel, it should run cleaner than the running on the diesel of a couple of years ago, right?

    (re: SUV, even if you do ferry the kids to school, you don’t need an SUV for 2 school kids plus a driver. My sister is looking to replace her SUV because it gets poor mpg and the kids no longer need child car seats.)

  22. DO NOT buy a used Volkswagen.

    The J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study is one of the premier resources on build quality and VW consistently ranks near the bottom. Volkswagen is rated 32nd in the most recent Study and has been hanging around down in the 30s for 6 straight years. You are much more likely to have expensive repairs and time in the shop.

    Toyota cars are the consistently the best built and they offer several efficient options.

  23. My wife and I each drive VW Passats. Mine is an ’06 sedan my wife has an ’07 wagon. We can achieve 32-37 mpg on the highway easily; around town expect 24-25 depending on how you drive. Overall averages is about 26-28mpg.

    I only drive 10k per year so like you a Prius doesn’t make financial sense; but when I do go to the office pulling in to the parking garage and seeing an average of 37.5 MPG on the display after 55 miles makes me smile


  24. Heh, do people dis the Prius because they think they missed the bus?

    For middle class Americans the Prius costs chump change, but initial cost is not the whole picture:

    I bought mine in 2005, and have driven it 30K miles. Checking craigslist right now, I see that if I were to sell it, I could ask a little more than I paid new.

    When you think costs, be sure to work through your TCO.

    (Robert might have firm ideas about future gasoline prices, and the resale value of various choices above.)

  25. Interesting. I looked at Edmund’s estimates of True Cost to Own
    Comparing a 2005 VW Jetta TDI with a 2005 Prius. Despite the Prius having a higher price tag, the Jetta TDI had a 5-year TCO about $4500 more than the Prius. That was mostly attributable to the $5000 more maintenance and repair costs that the TDI had over the Prius.

    That’s reason enough why I wouldn’t buy one, but I was getting the impression that RR was more handy with car repairs. (More lessons in self-sufficiency for the kids?)

    It’s curious that they didn’t include any battery replacement costs for the Prius. Is this an indication that Edmunds believes the batteries will last at least 8 years?

  26. Hi Clee, I’ve done that Edmunds calc too. It can be second-guessed a bit, as you say, depending on whether you are going to do work yourself, or if you are going to finance.

    The Prius are coming up with low actual maintenance costs though, and to my knowledge they still have not had to replace any batteries. Pretty good, given how long the Prius I has been out there.

    Toyota says its out-of-warranty battery replacement rate is 0.003 percent on the second generation Prius that debuted in the 2004 model year. That equals about one out of 40,000 Priuses sold, says Toyota spokesman John Hanson. That’s a vast improvement over the first generation Prius, which had about 1 percent of the batteries fail after the warranty expired. Hanson says today’s Prius batteries are designed to last “the life of the car,” which Toyota defines as 180,000 miles

    Sounds great, and I do tend to believe they will last 10 years and 180,000 miles. But then I realized that the statistic doesn’t mean much. How many of the 2004 and later Priuses are out of their 8 year/100,000 mile (which ever is less) warranty after just 4.5 years? And since they are out of warranty, how many batteries were replaced by cheaper options than Toyota?

    Then again, when they say, “Since last year eBay has seen an 850 percent increase in Prius batteries changing hands.” I figure that means it went from 2 batteries to 17 batteries. No cause for alarm.

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