Updated on 05.18.09

Car Purchase 2: Judgment Day

Trent Hamm

A few months ago, I posted about our decision to buy a Prius after the fact. Although I’d mentioned for months that we were actively car shopping, I waited until after the purchase to discuss it.

And the flame war was mighty potent. The post currently sits at roughly 174 comments, about equally divided between positive and negative, and I’ve received at least that many emails on the subject.

Since we acquired the Prius, though, our other “old” vehicle has largely died. It’s capable of making it around town, but drives of any distance cause it to rumble so ominously that I’m scared to drive it more than a mile or two. We’ve had it checked over twice and the conclusion has been the same – it needs thousands of dollars in parts and repairs to get the truck back to any degree of stability and reliability – and that won’t fix everything.

So, for the last two months, we’ve experimented with essentially being a one-car family. And, to put it simply, it doesn’t work.

Although I work at home most days, there are many days when I have meetings or research trips outside the home (particularly with regards to my second book).

Another key problem is that we’re likely going to have a third child in the next few years, meaning that none of our current vehicles can safely seat our family.

A third problem is winter weather. While the Prius gets incredible gas mileage, it’s not adept at winter driving in Iowa. My truck is fairly adept, but it’s not reliable at all without some significant investment.

So, we’ve started the process for buying a replacement for the truck. Luckily, as we were researching the car, we were also doing research on what we might purchase for a truck replacement.

To put it in a nutshell, we’re looking for a late model used van, (strongly) preferably with all-wheel drive. Let’s walk through some of the concerns.

Our Criteria
As I mentioned recently, our primary concerns are reliability and safety. We also require seating for five, and prefer seating for another head or two. For this vehicle, since it won’t be used for a regular commute, gas mileage is still a concern but it’s a lesser concern.

So, what does that mean in terms of actually finding a good vehicle for our dollar?

As with the Prius, we expect our best deal with this criteria to be a late model used. Our research starts there – we’re looking at 2005, 2006, and 2007 model vans, but are open to looking at both newer models and older models with limited mileage.

Since reliability is a concern, one of our bigger factors is lower mileage. Although it’s not a guarantee of reliability (nothing is), lower mileage simply means that there’s fewer miles’ worth of wear and tear on the parts on the vehicle.

Since safety is a concern and we live in a winter climate, all wheel drive is practically a requirement. Add in the factor that both of our parents live in a similar climate and off the paved road (with one set of parents living at the top of a steep hill with a gravel road that becomes like a sheet of ice in the winter) and all wheel drive is very important. Recent years have seen us borrowing a four wheel drive locally in order to make it to visit many of our relatives – my very heavy but not four wheel drive truck can’t do the trick. To put it simply, our situation strongly encourages an all wheel drive vehicle.

We’re not married to any brand beyond the reliability numbers. I’ve spent time at the library looking at individual reviews and reliability data on vans in the 2004 to 2009 model years. The picture becomes pretty clear – the Toyota Sienna is clearly at the top of the heap for all wheel drive and reliability, with several other vehicles in the next tier.

The problem? The all wheel drive Toyota Sienna doesn’t depreciate much in price, so it’s significantly more expensive at the late model used stage than other options.

Our Plan
So, what’s our plan?

First, we’re trying to maximize the value of our old truck. This involves cleaning it up and detailing it, as well as getting a small amount of work done on it to make it road-worthy over the short term. We’ll likely trade the vehicle.

Second, I’ve already begun checking out the prices on such vehicles from all dealerships anywhere near us. Most dealerships have online listings so that you at least have a good sense of their inventory. I’m not ignoring new vehicles, but as of yet the prices aren’t close enough to late model used to really have them in the comparison.

Third, I have a few friends who visit bankruptcy sales keeping an eye out for me. This is a long shot (estate sales rarely have vans), but it’s worth a chance.

Fourth, we’re not going to “over-wait” like we did with the Prius. With the Prius, we sat around waiting for the “perfect” deal to arrive – but it never did. Along the way, we wasted quite a bit of money on repairs and jumping through travel hoops, negating any benefit of waiting around for the best deal. Instead, if we find a good deal, particularly towards the end of the month when salesmen are trying to hit quotas, we’re just going to jump on it. There are costs involved in waiting for a deal that’s just a bit better.

Thoughts? Comments?

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  1. radiocore says:

    We went through the exact same thing last month. We had a GMC Yukon, and it was getting awfully expensive to maintain. The final straw was the last trip to the mechanics, where he actually told us it was time to look into getting a new vechicle.

    While car shopping, we just happened to test drive a Toyota Sienna and the wife fell in love it with. We ended up purchasing it used, 2006, with approx. 40,000 miles on it. It has been working out great!

    Definitely recommend the Sienna! Yes, it cost a bit more than we initially wanted to pay, but I guess only time will tell if it was a wise investment.

    We can say that it is definitely more comfortable for our family of 4, with more planned down the road. ;)

  2. Jason says:

    Don’t forget auto auctions. When I needed to trade in my truck for a sedan we had a friend in the auto business who looked around at auto auctions for us. He found something similar to what we wanted and was able to purchase it as a pass through (with a small percentage profit) for his dealership. He was able to count the sale towards any quota he had and we got a great deal on a used car.

  3. T'Pol says:

    Ouch! Trent having to buy two vehicles within a few months must hurt your frugal soul. I just hope you were anticipating the situation and are ready to deal with it using money set aside for this.

  4. Doug says:

    I would go with the Toyota as well. I have a Honda van in MN and it works just fine without AWD. I like the Toyaota better mainly because of road noise. Look for the Toyota van without all the bells and whistles and you’ll get a better price. The van with three kids is just going to get beat up anyway. Plan to keep it for 3-4 years and buy another used one when they’re done spilling juice and mashing gold fish into the carpets…:)

  5. almost there says:

    Trent, have you seen this article on the government’s new cash for clunkers plan? It was recently on MSN. If it becomes law you may save lots of cash (proposed up to $4500).


  6. Joey says:

    This time, as before, I’d recommend buying a vehicle you can afford to buy without choosing between monthly payments or dipping into your emergency fund.

  7. karishma says:

    We bought our Sienna new last November.

    The prices for used in our area weren’t low enough to justify buying something with 50k miles on it rather than none. Especially since Toyota was running their 0% financing promotion at the time.

    Twas the end of the month, and close to the end of the year, and we didn’t have to work very hard at all for them to drop the price down to what we thought was very reasonable.

    I love this van, btw. We have 2 car seats in it, a double stroller in the trunk, and it still has more than enough room for anything else we might need to haul, or to carry the grandparents as well when they’re in town.

  8. Nick S. says:

    A four-door BMW M3 sounds perfect for your situation. All you need is a set of snow tires for the winter.

  9. Rick says:

    I question your need for 4-wheel-drive. I don’t know the exact roads you drive on. Nevertheless, I drive in Colorado, and we do get a fair bit of snow, and particularly ice. My front-wheel-drive Toyota Corolla makes it anywhere and everywhere without a problem. I personally believe it’s a function more of your ability to drive in snow and ice, as well as your tires, more than simply having a four wheel drive.

  10. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “This time, as before, I’d recommend buying a vehicle you can afford to buy without choosing between monthly payments or dipping into your emergency fund.”

    And, as before, I’ll say that the choice wasn’t between payments and our emergency fund. We had the cash saved up to buy the Prius. We chose not to use the cash for the Prius because the interest rate on the loan was so low and we felt that the opportunities lost by sinking all that cash into the Prius wasn’t worth it.

  11. Mike C says:

    Seems like you already have a good plan.

    As I mentioned before I would avoid a car loan, if you can do it. So I would go for something that you can afford with the amount of cash you can dedicate to it. However I understand other people may have other circumstances, and from your Prius post it seems that you prefer having the cash handy in your emergency fund.

    Anyhow, good luck with the buy.

  12. Sandy E. says:

    You probably should have gotten a used Honda Odyssey van, w/low miles for the family car, then a cheap-o car for you (instead of the Prius). What I observed about this van is that she had 2 car seats in the 3rd row, for her 3 yr. old and 2 yr. old and they were spaced far enough apart so that the kids could not touch one another. Her 3 month old baby was in the 2nd row, in a car seat, w/a vacant seat next to that for a passenger, that also folds down – great for a grandparent. It drives like a car, (something that surprised me, which was very nice, and has plenty of storage. She always has at least 2 strollers in the back, along w/beach paraphanalia, etc. and has the sliding doors which is priceless for getting the kids in and out of car seats when parked.

  13. Kris B. says:

    I would also echo Nick S. and Rick’s comments. I had a Prius in Northern NY and it worked really well in the bad weather. When it didn’t it turned out it was time to put on new tires. Got some awesome tires and they worked great.

    But you do mention driving off main roads and the need for seating of 5 or more. The Prius, although very roomy; it sounds like you might be hitting your limit.

    I would suggest doing a private sale rather than dealer trade on your vehicle though. Should be able to get more money out of it to put towards the new vehicle.

  14. K. B. says:

    Re: AWD and your driving “ability”.

    I’ve driven in snow in dry climates (Canadian prairies) and in humid climates (southern Ontario) – the snow is *completely* different.

    The requirement for AWD doesn’t simply depend on your driving skill – it does in a large extend depend on the type of snow/ice in your area.

    That being said, winter tires make a HUGE difference, no matter what snow type you’re driving in!

  15. Joey says:

    However, if you chose an interest rate (however low) because you were wary of sinking cash into the Prius, that does suggest the price of the Prius was prohibitive to begin with. Had your purchase cost $5000 or $10,000 (as a used vehicle, naturally), would you still have chosen financing, or would you have purchased it outright?

    I understand circumstances vary, and that you may have fewer options in a rural area, but I can’t recommend a new vehicle over a used one unless you’ve got the cash to comfortably buy new without being worried about sinking cash into your purchase (and choosing a loan instead). The first mile turns a new car into a used car; just let someone else drive that first mile, and your purchase price drops immediately.

  16. Steve says:

    I drive a 2008 Odyssey EX-L in Winnipeg (winter driving ’nuff said). I put snow tires on in the winter. It has traction control, no awd or 4wd. The van is the best, hands down. The heated seats are great, leather is easy to clean. Don’t even think about cloth with young kids. The EX-L has variable cylinder management. Took a trip past Minneapolis last summer and got 32mpg.

  17. Landon S says:


    If you were planning to have a larger family that would require a third row, why did you not buy a van instead of the Prius. Your wife could have driven the van primarily and then you could have picked up a low priced vehicle for you to drive. Just wanting to know the logic on this as we are in a similar situation.


  18. Nate says:

    Check out the Kia Rondo v6. We have 3 kids in car seats (4,2,2mo) and they fit nicely. GREAT safety features( full side-impact airbags for all three rows), best in class mileage, great warranty, elec. traction control, 4wheel ABS disc brakes… I think you will find that for the features, it is a good value. Three rows of seats of which two fold down for hauling. I got our 2008 V6 sport package (cruise control, etc) for 16,200 plus $5000 trade-in for our 8 year old corolla. Probably a bunch of dealerships trying to get rid of 2008 models. Car is also reliable, has been used as a taxi in Europe under the ‘Kia Carens’ name for years so the car has worked out most of the ‘new model’ bugs. Anyway, we love ours and the traction control is super in the winter and even on ice. Plus both seats fold down independently so you can put someone in the back and fold the other seat down for space.

  19. Javi0084 says:

    Wait for the Cash For Clunkers program and try to get $4500 for your truck.


  20. Gwen says:

    I’m usually one to critique over the over-use of tasty–I see you did not fail.

    But the fact that he recognized that there was another purchase to be had did influence the purchase type. However, I think it was a little backward in buying a car with high mileage that would not fit the entire family, though I’m not familiar with the particular car in mind. If you intend to have another child in a few years, then will you really get the money back in cost in the short term to justify the cost of buying a new Prius.

    Whatever works for your family is the best decision you can make. I’ve had friends who bought used with 16K miles and have put >$1000. I bought mine with 20K and in five years (besides routine stuff) just put in $240 over a sensor and vaccum manifold. It’s all a crap shoot.

    Good Luck!

  21. Michelle says:

    We bought a 2005 Ford Freestyle with AWD and we love it. The MPG isn’t bad, about 20 and you can find them fairly inexpensive. Just an idea.

  22. John says:

    I also question your need for 4-wheel drive in suburban Iowa. I have lived in northern New Hamphire my whole life and have rarely “needed” four wheel drive. Other than recreational off-roading, I have always maintained that4-wheel drive is only good for getting up steep roads that are snowy or ice-covered. People who think that four wheel drive is intrinsically safer in the snow and ice are kidding themselves. The only way to be safe in these conditions is to slow down, and you don’t need a pricey 4-wheel drive vehicle to do that. Except for folks who live at the top of a steep driveways, hills, or mountains (~1% of the population?), 4-wheel drive is a waste of money and energy. I think you’d be wise to reconsider your 4-wheel drive requirement.

  23. Michelle says:

    BTW- our Freestyle seats 7. It has also been renamed the “Taurus X” starting in 2007, which I don’t understand because it’s the same car with a different grill and taillights. But whatever.

  24. Vicky says:

    I would really recommend giving the one-car household a few more months, as in my experience it can take as long as 6 months to get the hang of it if you’ve always been in a 2-car household. My husband and I have bounced back and forth between one and two cars for a few years now: currently we’re back to one.

    Try the same thing you do with your budget: record your travel requirements for a month. Note which trips could have been cut, combined, delayed, or done by someone else. Note which trips could have been planned for. Does it make any sense for you to drive your wife to work one day a week and then run all your errands that day? Sometimes, yes, it requires the assistance of friends: you’ve borrowed a 4WD vehicle before, you can do it again. Once or twice when we’ve been in a tight spot I’ve even rented a car: it’s still cheaper than buying one.

    Don’t let fear of emergencies cloud your judgment. Just remember that any emergency that requires -immediate- transport is also a perfectly valid reason to call the police or your neighbors. It’s not fun to imagine your loved one being stranded without you being able to reach them, but with a cell phone and a roadside assistance program they’re really just as safe.

    You may ultimately decide to buy another car – for instance, once your wife is expecting your third child – but every month you delay is several hundred dollars in your pocket and that much less time that you’ll have left on your Prius note.

  25. Rob in Madrid says:

    What about one of the Detroit Three? Surely with all the bad news and over sales to rental outfits the resale value ought to be in the toilet. While they might not go 200,000 miles they can give 6-8 years of reliable use.

    The problem with Japanese is they tend to hold their value making buying them used not worth it.

  26. SteveJ says:

    I have no idea if this is the case anymore, but I recall dealerships running loyalty type programs, which would snag you an additional discount. Since you’re leaning Toyota, I’d definitely bring it up if you end up at the same dealership you purchased the Prius from.

  27. Mike says:

    I’ve had a Sienna AWD for 3.5 years now. I also live in Alaska which has a solid 7-8 months of winter driving every year or roughly 2-3 times that of the Lower 48. I can’t say enough good things about how the AWD van handles winter driving conditions particularly with winter tires. I much prefer it over a 4wd truck.

    I purchased mine late model used (8 mos old and 6K miles) and saved $10K off sticker. If you buy 2-3 years old you’ll likely get one for 1/2 sticker. The depreciation rate is so fearsome on a minivan I would never consider new unless I was confident I would be a 20 year owner. Even then I can fix a lot of things for $15K as these vans often cost north of $30K when new

    Be aware the Sienna with AWD is only available on two versions- the mid line ‘LE’ and the deluxe ‘XLE’. Both have a lot of equipment I don’t want but a stripped AWD is not available. The mid line ‘LE’ with AWD can be difficult to find used outside of a Toyota dealership as a lease turn in and they generally command a market premium in snow country not reflected in the NADA book.

  28. Brian Cain says:

    Trent –

    I recommend looking at consumer reports for reliability ratings. I just made my purchase of a fuel efficient, inexpensive, and reliable car based on consumer reports. The trial lasts 1 month and you just email them to cancel it.

  29. Bill says:

    Don’t trade your car in, sell it on craigslist, if priced in the NADA spread you will have no problem selling it. Will save around a ton of money (last car I sold saved me $2500 vs Trade In)

    I went through this exercise for new mini-vans and we decided against the mini-van (since I have a big crew cab silverado, that work leases from me and pays all the gas)we went with a Hyundai Sonota brand new for $16,500 and at that price included a 100K bumper to bumper warranty for 8 years. We thought mini-vans were to big, and wasted to much gas, but we also have a big truck with free gas to use as well.

  30. Wraith says:

    Are small SUVs an option at all?

    There are a number of compact SUVs with 4-cylinder engines and AWD or 4WD that get better mileage than the Sienna AWD. Subaru Outback, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, among others.

    Of these, the RAV4 is probably the most spacious (at least for MY2006 and newer), and even the V6 version gets 19/26mpg city/hwy, compared to the Sienna’s 15/21 (2006 model). Good safety ratings (http://www.iihs.org/ratings/ratingsbyseries.aspx?id=403). Side airbags optional in 05-06, standard in 07+.

    The Subaru Outback is a nice option, if you want to avoid the SUV form factor and don’t need a third row of seating. 20/26mpg city/hwy.

    (MPG figures from fueleconomy.gov.)

  31. Liko says:

    Pretty much any front wheel drive van will do. Just slap on some winter tires with studs on it. It should out perform any AWD with regular tires on. You can get one with 50k for less than $10k.

  32. Liko says:

    Oh, as for the prius… you gotta be kidding… what a waste of money. A used Ford Focus or something for $6-7k will do just fine. With the difference in price ($20k) you have “free” gas for the life of the Prius! Makes the 42mpg look like a gas hog.

  33. Yello says:

    I am also going to call bogus on the need for 4-wheel drive. It will just cost you more in the long run for maintenance and gas mileage.

    I live in Colorado and according to the following websites, our winters are more snowy, and I have never needed 4-wheel drive…



  34. Anne says:

    I myself am from Iowa, and I never had anything but FWD and had no problems (and that’s from a small town with gravel roads that don’t immediately get plowed).
    I recommend the Honda Odyssey. I can’t sing higher praises of Honda reliability. I seem to recall you recently saying something about getting the more expensive reliable model above all others.
    Also, because of Honda’s reputation, you can get a Honda that’s already some miles because you can expect the van to last into the 200,000’s.
    Good luck!

  35. KeptWench says:

    My MIL in WV has a Subaru Forester with AWD that she loves.. says she’s never once had a problem with it driving in the ice & snow in West Virginia. She’s had it for at least a year or three. And lemme tell you, they have some mountains there. Plenty of room for her grandkids too. I’ve driven it once.. it handled very well.

    I just recently bought an 05 low mileage used 4WD Jeep Liberty.. but we almost bought a Honda Odyssey instead. The Jeep was a bit cheaper and I’ve owned Jeeps before, so I went with what I know. I can drive a 4WD just fine, thanks. :)

  36. Dana the Common Cents Coach says:

    I see a few people have posted comments about snow tires. I live in Northwest Indiana where we get lots of lake effect snow. I have a front-wheel drive Altima that was scary to drive in the snow until my husband convinced me to put snow tires on the car. What a difference that $600 investment made! I bought the tires and put them on plain steel wheels–I felt like I was driving Mad Max’s car. In the spring, we just popped the old tires and wheels back on. If you don’t believe that, then let me tell you about the Blue Bomber (1996 Mazda Miata). My husband bought the Beater, I mean, Bomber from his dad for $2. This was a scary car to drive generally, but it ran great in the snow with a set of snow tires, and that car had rear-wheel drive. My husband converted me and I am now a true believer in the snow tire!

  37. Amy says:

    Have you considered a late model Ford Fusion or Explorer? Their quality is as good as Toyota these days. There’s also Subaru Outbacks, Volvos, etc.

    Fusions come in AWD and hybrid versions, in several years I plan on making that my new vehicle.

    (And don’t pay any attention to those who try to tell you that you don’t need AWD, it’s SO much better driving in snow with it!)

  38. Kelly says:

    Sounds like the beginning of so many stories I’ve heard. They start with “and then we bought two new (or nearly new) cars really close together.” Happened to a dear friend who lost her job and her husband spent a year underemployed right after THAT smart purchase.

  39. Sandy says:

    We’re right in the same decision time you are, Trent. We’ve driven a Plymouth minivan for 10 years now, and it’s time to get something else. We’ve had our share of troubles with the van, but, actually, I think part of the issue was the mechanic we were taking it to for several years…after we started taking it to a different car place, it’s been fine. So, with the deals, we’re trying to decide again…American or Japanese?
    The other part of the equation is that our daughter is soon to get her driver’s liscence, and perhaps the old beater van would be perfect for learning to drive years.
    Good luck with your decision!

  40. JessicaD says:

    We have quite a few friends who have had luck buying cars through ebay. The trick is to find a repair shop in the same town as the seller and pay that person to do a thorough inspection of the vehicle. Then have it shipped to you (likely can be arranged through the repair shop as well). Good luck! Jessica

  41. Dee says:

    Didn’t you say your wife might be moving to a job closer to home? Won’t that negate the need for two cars since you could then drop her off at work and keep the car at home with your for the trips?

  42. We bought a 2006 Toyota Sienna LE that was just under a year old with 10K miles on it and we couldn’t be happier. Ours is not the AWD version, but I’ve heard great things about them. We have 3 1/2 year old twin daughters and it’s made life SO much easier than when a 1997 GMC Yukon was the main vehicle we used to transport the family.

    Good luck with your car search.

  43. sumdog says:

    Full Sized Van Fan suggests the Express with the AWD
    they depreciate so fast you can get a 2005 with 30k for 10k. Gas economy vs. depreciation on big American Cars never wins. Depreciation always trumps. Downsides moving everyone, upside considering miles traveled before travel, since you get 15-20 – eliminating miles is much better than maximizing mpg. Love the site. Plus reliability of chevy platform with 4.3 v6 is incredible – and you get the advantage of the pickup with the enclosed bed. Huge utility.

  44. sumdog says:

    Quigley 4×4 vans are awesome but pricey. they have the low gear transfer case so are real off road vehicles -hard to find on ebay and craigslist. Ideally you could get a Japanoid diesel 4X4 van with full transfer case. Check out Japanoid.com for Canadian importable low mileage huge fuel economy vehicles.

  45. Robin Crickman says:

    Let me start by saying that you Trent seem like
    a pretty ethical guy. I am a little confused by
    the comment about “maximize the value of our old
    truck”. I read your explanation about the old
    truck to suggest it had serious and expensive
    problems that I would feel like I should not try
    to push off on someone else, at least, not by
    trying to “pretty up” the vehicle in hopes the
    problems would not be noticed. Yet, that seems
    like you are describing doing just that. I am
    missing something here, I’m sure. I just can’t
    figure out what.

    In general, I wonder about selling something
    that I consider has a problem whether it be
    a house, a car, or some other possession. I
    do understand that things I find troublesome
    might not bother another person, but how and
    where do I draw a line and simply say this
    should not be resold?

  46. lurker carl says:

    Don’t waste your time trying to spruce up the old truck, it’s value is practically zero. The dealer won’t care if it’s clean or dirty because they are will not put it on their used car lot. Since it needs more in repairs than it’s worth, get the scrap value of it from a junkyard to compare with the dealer’s offer. Trucks are always worth more in parts than whole.

    I am again questioning the reasons for purchasing a Prius. It doesn’t mesh with your expanding family plans, can’t navigate winter road conditions and cost considerably more to purchase than comparibly sized sedans. The complex systems within a Prius can not be adequately repaired by just any ole mechanic, factory trained technicians at the Toyota dealer are needed. That equates to premium prices for parts and labor for routine maintenance items.

    Sounds to me like you’ve completely succumbed to your envy of the neighbors who own a Lexus.

  47. KC says:

    I live in western NC, well I’ve lived here since December and I spent the first 25 years of my life here. But anyway we seem to get a good bit of snow and to get over 5 inches at a time isn’t unusual. Many people around here drive Suburus. They seem to love them and my friends rave about their reliability. They aren’t my thing but owners of them seem to love them, and they might suit your family and weather needs. Plus they are about the safest car you can buy. Just thought I’d throw that in there if the minivan option doesn’t seem to pan out. OR you could just get the Lexus RX400H since you like hybrids…just kidding, just kidding.

  48. Anne says:

    Good luck in your search. I’m off to my first test drive tomorrow. I think I’ve decided to go new vs used because the deals right now are good and I want the peace of mind of knowing the entire maintenance/care record.

    I have to say, I really hate this process. And I didn’t think I would ever find something I hated more than shoe shopping. It’s a good incentive to keep the car until it falls to bits.

  49. Marcus says:

    I would try to sell the truck rather than trade it in. Frankly I don’t understand why anyone would ever trade a vehicle in. The only people I know that trade vehicles in either HAVE to because they are rolling in negative equity or they lose hundreds or thousands of dollars. If the vehicle is owned free of any liens, I would sell it. I have never had a problem selling a vehicle in a classified ad or online, especially a lower priced one that most people can buy with cash. I get upset when people just give their car away to a dealer for no reason.

  50. Lorax says:

    Try snow tires. Even for the Prius.

  51. Charlotte says:

    Do you really have to buy a truck/van? We have three children, and contrary to what most people seem to think, it is actually entirely feasible to install three car seats in a regular car. (One of them is a booster seat, but presumably your oldest will be ready for that before #3 is here?) We don’t own a car ourselves and use rental cars (mid-size class), and almost all of them can hold the seats.

    Obviously, there may be other reasons why you’d really need a truck/van, but you should do the math to see whether a normal car (with far superior mileage, cheaper buying costs, etc.) plus the occasional rental of truck/van might not be the more cost efficient way to do it.

  52. Jennifer says:

    I’m surprised by all the Prius haters out there. There’s more to purchases than just sticker price, but I guess not for everyone. Gas mileage has a greater impact than just the driver’s pocketbook. All that being said, I’ve heard drivers prefer the odessey to the sienna.

  53. Drew54 says:

    Of the Detroit Three, I think only the Dodge or Chrysler mini vans would be worth buying.

    WIth the bankruptcy almost over and several dealers in your area looking at losing their franchises, I would think there is a deal to be had on one of these new, with a good chuck off of the MSRP.

    As for used ones, I am sure they are out there too, and affordable. There is a reason why Ford and GM stopped competing with Chrysler and the two Japanese companies, I would steer clear.

  54. logical1 says:

    If you have cash to pay you can get a smoking deal from the government. I’m not sure on your policy for links so just Google GSA auto auctions to find the auction and list of 3-4 year old vehicles with low mileage. You can file a FOIA request to get past auction results (I’ve searched the web intense to no avail). Prices do vary depending on the area but In the last few months I’ve seen some great deals. 05 Uplanders in the $6,000 range, etc. I settled on an 05 Chevy Classic (fleet economy sedan) with 38,000 miles on it for $4,900 including tax and emissions.

    Your tax dollars already paid for these cars once!

  55. Katie says:

    Joey – Why don’t you start your own death to consumerism blog? You already spent a good deal of time berating a guy you don’t know for buying a car. It’s not like he’s broke because of it!

  56. Faculties says:

    I’m surprised that you would look at dealers for a used van (apart from the estate sale option). You don’t mention looking for a private seller. I’ve bought all my cars over the years from private sellers, and they were much cheaper than a dealer used car would be. Essentially, if you buy a used car from a private seller, you’re paying wholesale; if you buy from a dealer, you’re paying retail. Just get it checked out by your mechanic before you agree to buy. As for any idea that a used car might be more reliable bought from a dealer — it’s not as if used-car dealers have a reputation for being reliable anyway. In either case I’d get in checked out by a mechanic before buying.

  57. DC says:

    Trent, 2 recommendations that have served us well for decades.

    -Buy cars with cash. Whether it is $2,500 or $25,000, the act of saving for and writing a check creates a strong frugal aspect to your purchase.

    -With 2 cars, offset your purchases by 5 years and drive each car for 10 years. This sets you up nicely to purchase a vehicle every 5 years. Something that can be easily included in a budget, plus the plan encourages you to sell or trade a vehicle right about the time that reliability starts going down.

    In your current situation, recommend you buy something “well-used” and affordable for cash and keep it for 5 years. Then you are lined up to replace it in 2014 and followed by replacing the Prius in 2019.

  58. Heather says:

    We owned a Toyota Sienna AWD. (Actually, we leased one, which means we didn’t own it at all, and we were fortunate to get out of that lease only 1 year in b/c we made a military move overseas. Never doing that again. EVER.) At the time we had it, we lived in Colorado… where there was lots of snow. It did really well in the snow, and we liked that the rear seats folded down when we didn’t need them to create extra trunk space. It wasn’t hugely fuel-efficient for around-town driving, but we did well on a cross-country trip with it, though we kept the speed under 65 mph the entire four days. That helped.

    It’s a good car, and if we needed a big vehicle like that I’d get one again. Used, though, and with cash, of course. But it’s too much car for our family of four. Good luck!

  59. Tom H says:

    Junkyards and Craigslist and it’s helper: Search Tempest. Nuff said. Ebay, police and bank auctions, all are good ones. I didn’t think of the GSA one, and I am former military! FARM auctions even work. You ARE in IOWA for Pete’s sake!

    All of those can help you with your truck problem and your new car problem. Tis working for me. I am turning a $1100 car repair into $100 + good XP (+ six-pack for good friends helping ;) ).

    What can Interweb do for YOU? LOL

  60. Brenda W. says:

    Trent …

    You must be a glutton for punishment!! After the large number of negative remarks (references to you being hypocritical and inconsistent with what you teach on this blog, etc) about your decision (and decision making PROCESS) on the FIRST vehicle purchase, I’m amazed you are posting about your SECOND vehicle purchase!! I think I would have kept mum!!

    It is one thing for folks to offer their opinions and ideas for a purchase, but I was saddened to see folks attacking you and your values.

    Good luck!

  61. parrothead says:

    We purchased a 2007 Sienna in 2008 with 18,000 miles. We love it. It is solid and good in snow. We were considering a new one but the difference in price was over $17,000 (!) so the choice was easy. We do not have leather seats or a DVD player etc. but I am not into “bells and whistles” anyways. Good luck!

  62. michele says:

    There is a reason Toyotas don’t depreciate very much. They are excellent vehicles. I would look into buying privately since you are looking for a used car. You can get a vehicle report by having the VIN number. (Carfax) The last time we bought a new car was in 1989. Never again…we’ll stick with taking our time and finding what we want for a fair price.

  63. Tracy says:

    If you’re planning on having a third child soon, and this will alter the size of your family such that you cannot all fit into a regular car and simply *must* have a minivan in order to function – it makes the Prius buy even harder to figure out, especially because it seems unlikey the car will be paid off by then.

    To be honest, it kind of sounds a bit like more rationalization – we have to get a second care becuase none of our vehicles will safely seat our family once we have another kid. Doesn’t that pretty much invalidate the Prius as well? Will it be sold once everyone can no longer fit in it?

  64. Rose DeShaw says:

    I’ve never seen a more intelligent bunch of comments than I have on this website, particularly on the topic of the potential car buy. Those who ostensibly are ‘attacking’ Trent, seem to me merely good hearts who are reminding him of his values, something we all need from time to time. They aren’t condemning, merely helping him stick to what he believes. The other phenomena in this group of comments is real generosity – great tips, personal information, and regional tidbits. I am in Canada, this morning with the flu and reading through this lovely list from all over the northern hemisphere confirms my belief that most folks are honest, generous and inclined to help one another. I’m feeling better already. Rose

  65. Chris says:

    I wouldn’t ignore Subaru’s line of wagons either. More full efficient than a van, can carry almost as much (def five people) and AWD as well. They’re pretty reliable too

  66. Heather says:

    Subaru, Subaru, Subaru! The Outback Legacy Wagon Sport Edition AWD is almost everything you could ever ask for. Gas mileage, reliability, good backseat for a family with small kids, good resale value (yes, you will pay for it) and the best design for a driver I’ve ever seen.

  67. Dennis says:

    A little late I know but I’d like to add my 2 cents on hybrids. We own a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid with 105,000 miles on it. It has been a very reliable car until recently. In the last year we have had to replace the catalytic converter. For a regular Civic that would have been $400. For the hybrid, it cost us $1300. The oxygen sensor was the last problem. $800 versus 350$.

    The moral is that while we saved money on gasoline along the way, we are now having to pay the devil his due. I’m not a numbers cruncher but the $1250 difference in repair costs probably more than wipes out what we have saved in gas.

    I’d probably buy another hybrid, but because it is the right thing to do (reduced emissions). Not because it is less expensive.

  68. McKenna says:

    We are in the same boat: Three kids in carseats, snowy winters, need reliable and safe. We got a used 2006 Sienna LX and LOVE it. I highly recommend it!

  69. KC says:

    One more thing. My Mother-in-law bought an Odyssey back in 04. She needed a “truck” and considers this her flower hauling truck. Anyway she waited til the new models were out and negotiated a price for the previous year’s model. She also chose a color that wasn’t selling (dark green) and discounted for that. She drove a pretty good bargain. I’m not sure if carfax’s show this, but if you can get an idea of how long something has been sitting on the lot you can certainly gain an edge. Also find out what colors aren’t selling – if they have 3 colors of the same car on the lot chances are those won’t sell quickly.

  70. Leisureguy says:

    You’ve hit the same thing I did: when you look at a model that has high reliability and low mileage, you find that it doesn’t depreciate much at all. IMO, those kinds of cars one might as well buy new, especially if the manufacturer is offering rebates or low-interest loans to build sales. Buying last year’s model might help a little.

  71. littlepitcher says:

    Subarus are thrifty and reliable, but if a part goes out, you are stuck with dealer parts. Almost no independent aftermarket parts are made for them, and generally you are hogtied to the dealer for any repairs.

    My experience with recent model Fords is that they have an insatiable appetite for expensive Chinese-junk sensors, and that if one is going bad, the system will give you false error codes or another sensor will.

    If the truck has any usable body parts left, sell them first, then junk the critter to either a parts yard or scrap metal yard–call for estimates. If you sell it to your worst enemy, they may kill someone when the thing malfunctions again.

  72. KJ says:

    I echo the comments about the Subaru- mine (93 Legacy Wagon) looks like death warmed over, but we’ll take that every time over the Prius if the snows fall (we live in E central Il, where the winds can make even insignficant snow fall/moisture into drifts/ice).

    Good luck finding one used at a good price, however- I looked for 6 months and found exactly THREE Subaru FSBOs advertised in our local paper in that time interval- and the ads only ran ONE day (which is how I snagged mine!).

    If you knew you were thinking of child #3- I can’t imagine considering the Prius in the first place, even without baby seat/grand parent considerations…..but then again, I couldn’t see how a person of your stature/height would be comfortable with it either…. so to each their own.

  73. Beatriz Newns says:

    Hi Trent, love your newsletters. Try finding a wheelchair accessible van under $10,000 that isn’t a piece of junk. Even the the 18 yr. models are running over $15,000. and new ones are $40,000-$60,000. I won’t mind getting in debt but according to what I’ve been told my husband won’t outlive the van (1-5 yrs. tops). My current van is unsafe, and is on its last legs. Been looking for over 2 months. I wish you better luck then I’ve been having.

  74. julie says:

    Dear Trent,
    I would look into fleet sales and check with a car broker, I was able to get a 2008 Toyota double cab last year for 24000, with leather put in and 0% financing for three years with a $500 gas card thrown in with it and this was the truck I had wanted for years and plan to keep for at least 200,000 miles. This was alot less than I would have paid go straight to the dealers, who though I just a dumb blond.

  75. CindyC says:

    Wait. You’re buying a used car from a dealer? The best deals will be from a private party.

  76. Bill in Houston says:

    Even though we own three Nissans, if I wanted a truck I’d only buy a Ford. Trucks are the only thing Ford does well. Don’t get the fancy bells and whistles, but do get a 4X4. I like the Nissan Pathfinder (it comes in AWD) but it is 10K more than the Ford.

  77. "Charles says:

    Tires are important but chains make the car.. Many are not comfortable putting them on and taking them off.. But, once able, the safety factor goes up considerably. I have lived in the Rockies and other cold places. Chains are your friend..

  78. CM says:

    This brought back some car shopping memories. Our first family car was a Pontiac Pariesienne with the 3rd seat in the back. We eventually evolved to 2 minivans, as a family of 7. I can remember buying one of them in a snow storm and being suprised to find built in car seats when we got home. Next we moved to a car and an 8 passenger club wagon with about 6 feet of cargo space behind the last seat, great for vacation in NY and beach trips. Now the kids are getting older and the oldest 3 have their own cars, we are back down to 2 Dodge Intrepids, one of these seats 6 and the other 5, and have great trunk capacity. Someday maybe I will get to drive something that’s just a 2 seater, LOL. A lot of good memories driving down the road together over the years! Be sure to get something you like! Happy shopping and enjoy that growing family….

  79. dream says:

    Personally I’ve usually been in “The High Poverty Bracket”, aka poor. While I don’t recommend poverty, it has taught me a couple of things about buying vehicles on a budget. My best deals have all come from eBay and Auto Trader, with the exception of family members. That may also be an option. If both sets of parents live where 4 wheel drive is mandatory, perhaps selling you their current vehicle would benefit both parties, IF they are considering a change.

  80. Jenna says:

    When you have three kids the issue is not so much fitting in your kids, but fitting your kids, their stuff and at some point in time- a friend or two and their stuff. This is the point we are at as well and are trying to decide between the Sienna and the Odyssey. We own a Honda CRV and a Subaru right now, like them both, but I have historically driven and LOVED Toyota trucks.

    As to why have the Prius when it doesn’t fit everyone in the family- I don’t see the big deal as that’s what we have going on right now. We have a Subaru Legacy and can’t get our particular three car seats in the back. So we also have a recently purchased (albeit) used car that does not fit our entire family but since my husband drives it solo to work everyday, the mileage is a bigger concern then fitting all of us in. So I don’t get a lot of the negativity here. Very infrequently are we all in the same car anyhow or that all three kids are with one parent due to differing schedules.

    And a big AMEN to Jennifer and her “There’s more to purchases than just sticker price” comment. When are people going to get a grip on the connection between mileage, environmental cost, and their overall cost of ownership??

  81. Chris says:

    Since you like the versatility of a truck, why not look at another truck? A friend of mine has a Toyota Tundra and frankly that thing is beautiful. It is the full cab and the back seat is humungous. It has 4 wheel drive, drives like a charm and has the versatility to load things in the back. They are a tad pricey but I never realized how expensive mini-vans were.

  82. Amy B. says:

    Hi, Trent-

    I laughed heartily when I read your post, because as you were going through your earlier process when buying your Prius, we were doing the same thing with our car hunt. I was envious of your choice of the Prius, but what we were looking for was the AWD Sienna, for many of the same reasons you settled mentioned above.

    I finally found one on a dealer’s lot that was about $1K more than I wanted to pay. I test drove it, and as I was driving away the salesman called me to say that his manager had come down on the price by $1K. The price of the vehicle was a lot, but we hope that long-term we will come out ahead.

    As for the storage, we like the stowable rear seat – makes it very versatile when we need to transport something large.

    My only suggestion for you is to maybe look for a slightly older version, so that your replacement point for your van doesn’t coincide with your replacement point for your Prius. Our two cars are about 5 years different in age (and have been that way for a while). That way we can stagger any financing that we might need. Plus, I know that Toyota has been working on a hybrid version of the Sienna (originally, this was to be released in 2008, but I haven’t heard an update to that).

  83. Paul says:

    I’d like to make a suggestion, but it’s not a van. I had lived in Michigan for many years (similar climate to Iowa), though I don’t currently. I think your requirement for AWD might be an overkill. Please consider 4WD. This has the advantage of being on/off at the drivers convenience, saving you money in the summer when you are driving on dry pavement.

    My reccomendation is this: a Toyota Tacoma V6 4 door pickup truck, the prerunner model. It seems to me that it would fit all your requirements nicely, save for AWD, as the prerunner model has larger tires for the snow/mud in Iowa. It will also have enough room for you, the DW, and all 3 kiddos. As an added bonus, you won’t be foregoing your pickup bed hauling space. Now you may be thinking, “well, I can just fold/remove the seats in my van for the cargo space of a pickup bed..” Well, what about a trip to home depot for large/bulky items and you have the kids w/you? That’s just an example, but you get my point. You can have the kiddos with you and still have cargo space.

    Hope that gives you something else to consider, and good luck with your search.

  84. Wow, I wonder if you even read all those preachy posts you wrote earlier about buying a car. The basics are so obvious that it’s painful that they have to be repeated in comments to you.

    Sell your car yourself, that’s especially easy since you work at home. Buy your used car from an individual, and not a marked-up dealership. Heck, buy on eBay. That’s very common now — it’s cheap to ship used cars. Pay cash. But you don’t have enough saved to do that, right? At least not for both new cars.

    Or you can just do it like you did last time and pay the dealer’s BMW payment. Heck, why not just buy anther new Toyota and take on two payments? Your investments are (miraculously?) making more than car loan interest, right? It’s opportunity cost.

  85. almost there says:

    The price of gas will go back up, give it a year. Then the new/used Tundra crew cab mentioned earlier will be that much cheaper. Remember how at $4/gal dealers couldn’t give trucks away? Then you will have a truck for hauling the growing family, room for hauling in bed and since it will be the secondary car it will stay home most times and save gas that way. As a retired mechanic myself, I think it would pay to take some automotive maintenance classes at the local comm. college. It will pay off 100 fold in the cost of tuition and will give you another skill set and I think deliver you lots of satisfaction. I lothe paying dealers to do work that I can easily do. It makes my guts knot up to see the money wasted that didn’t have to be.

  86. Anne says:

    Both of our cars had to be replaced in the past year. We gave the ’94 Sidekick to a grandson just getting his license and replaced it with a ’06 Chevy Colorado crew cab with 4,000 miles on it–the owner had passed away and his wife didn’t want to drive it. Our ’97 Chrysler LHS needed expensive repairs so we gave it to the American Lung Association and got a ’08 AWD Suzuki XL7 with 7,777 miles on it. I wanted a Vitara but they are now holding their price and the XL7 was the same price and gets about the same mileage. My husband ‘shops’ online to find cars we might be interested in. We go in knowing what we are willing to pay. The Suzuki seats seven with the fold down rear third seat which also gives cargo space. It was a dealer rental (as was the Chrysler). Both of our old cars did fine in the snow–we live at about 6,000 feet on the side of a mountain in Utah. The truck also does fine and I am expecting the Suzuki to do very well. Define your needs (not wants) and price range and start looking. For me the heated front seats in the Suzuki were just a bonus, not a need.

  87. Kacie says:

    Wait a few weeks to see what will happen with the Big 3 and possible government incentives. Might be worth a look.

    There are dozens of car lots going out of business here and I’m pretty sure you can get a great deal from them, especially as time passes.

  88. Sandra Dee says:

    Wow! Good luck with your search. The Toyota Prius is my DREAM car. However, being from Detroit, I know all about driving in the wintery conditions. Good luck with your new purchase, whatever you decide…

  89. Michelle says:

    As a mother of 3 kids in car seats (one in a booster, the other two in full size), you can not fit 3 car seats in the back of any midsize car. We looked. The third row is a MUST. That includes Subarus.

  90. * * * IMPORTANT * * *

    Chrysler just shut down a thousand dealers and GM will soon do the same. Some project *new* cars to sell at a half of MSRP.

    The used car market is going to get kicked in the nuts as well.

    Watch those two developments closely.

    And as others have said Front Wheel Drive w/snow tires as as good as any civilian needs for dailiny driving in the lower 48 (extenuating circumstances notwithstanding)

    GOOD LUCK!!!


  91. J says:

    First off, you should get snow tires for the Prius. It may hurt your MPG a little but they can provide a lot more peace of mind.

    We have a AWD Sienna. It’s great. We bought it new (and it’s paid for now :) ), it does very well in the winter with snow and ice, and gas mileage is OK for a vehicle of it’s size. You won’t find a SUV that can match it for people hauling capacity and fuel economy. You can also fit a lot of stuff in there, and the interior is very easy to reconfigure as you need to.

    The only “odd” thing about the AWD Sienna is the use of run-flat tires. In the first generations, they would wear out quickly and are quite expensive to replace. Toyota (or the tire maker) claims to have fixed this problem, and we are at about 36K and they look OK right now. There’s no option to get standard tires, or any place to hold a spare.

    Our other car is a Subaru Impreza wagon. It’s definitely OK for two adults and two kids, but it’s not really all that well suited to long family trips without adding something like a cargo carrier. The Legacy (or the new Forester) might be somewhat better for trying to fit in three kids, but I think you’ll end up spending as much as you would on the Sienna as you would the Legacy or Forester — you are likely looking at somewhere in the 20K’s out the door for new, and the Sienna is going to hold up to seven (with stuff) without breaking a sweat.

    The Subaru has been very reliable and it’s definitely the easiest car to work on that I’d ever had — with the small exception of the spark plugs — and even those aren’t obscenely bad, and only need to be changed every couple of years.

  92. Nikki W says:

    Read daily but comment rarely. Make the decision you are comfortable with. That being said – cars are something we know about here. (DH’s best friend manages the service depts for chain of dealerships – primarily Toyota & Honda). DH’s company as well as our family personally have driven all of our Toyotas (some of them service trucks, but everything from Camry’s to Tercels as well) to 300,000+ miles…. all but one of them bought used.

    My mom got the Sienna based on our recommendation – but wishes she had gotten the Odyssey, just for ease of entrance and hauling more of her friends around! Feel free to email us w/ questions… but I can wholeheartedly say “Toyota or Honda (or Hyundai Sonata class).” If you go with a lesser car, don’t count on that 300K we go for. (And that’s where only you know your family’s needs… I won’t bother you with my business school blather, but everything is a tradeoff…)

    Note that we did have a Dodge Caravan for almost 5 years, acquired when “the price was right” to haul his workers and run errands. It just did NOT hold up on the quality, but the road noise and other issues were offset by the cheap price, and it was not one of our family vehicles. In fact, it worked out BECAUSE it was not a great car, and he could let one of his workers go for part runs in it and not CARE about door dings… it was the equivalent of a farm truck for us.

    We DO know high mileage, and there is a reason why Toyotas & Honda’s hold their values. Our Tercel was still within manufacturer’s tolerances on when we pulled the head off of it at 275,000 miles… No need to rebuild it! Our Camry (bought with 10K on it) has 320,000 on it – we just dropped a new engine in it (it is the one with the double-wishbone suspension and is in fabulous condition) and are letting a close relative use it to drive their grandchildren to school.

    Note also that Honda does NOT have any autos in the car rental fleets (Budget, etc) so it reduces the number of used ones… part of Honda’s strategy to maintain high resale value. Toyota does have rentals at (some of) their dealerships, in addition to some in the regular rental fleet (Hertz, perhaps?). We recently rented a Sienna Minivan for a 900 mile road trip (more comfy for 6 adults, 5 of them either >6 feet or over 250#).

    FINAL HINT: I highly recommend that you go RENT one and try it for a week to see how you like it. We have three times tried different brands by renting for a “major road test” before we consider purchasing. (Sorry, but we did rule out Jeep and Ford on trips to Iowa and Kansas in the past). And don’t just road test the “brand new” ones – if you do decide to go with the more used, or “not Toyota-Honda” low-cost alternative (an AWD Dodge or even Subaru – and yes, I’ve driven an elderly one of both, so I’m not just biased about Toyotas); ask the owners you know who have one that is 4-5 years old to let you drive it for a road test, so you know what to expect. The difference between the brands become more obvious (IMHO) at 60-75,000…. that’s when we still consider (at our house) a Toyota as “relatively new” and the Dodge Caravan as “really used.” Again, YMMV…

  93. Jason says:

    One of our neighbors (we live in Colorado) just purchased a late-model Subaru Outback. In Denver, these sell for a premium. However, he was able to locate one online through a dealer in a climate where the AWD wasn’t necessary and negotiate a price that was several thousand dollars less than he would have spent in our fair city. He purchased a one way ticket and drove his car home. Even with the flight and the gas on the way home he wound up saving a good deal of money on the purchase.

    That said, the internet provides numerous ways of purchasing vehicles. Different climates require different cars, yet the dealers get similar stocks of vehicles. If you can find a place where your car of choice isn’t as popular then you might be able to work a deal that can save you some money in the end. You can always use the flight/airport time to write/read/research if need be in order to maintain a level of productivity.

  94. Shevy says:

    Michelle is right. If you have 3 kids in car and/or booster seats you almost certainly need 3 rows of seats. What full size vehicle will take 3 car seats side by side? I used to get 3 kids in the back of a Buick Century but that was before they had to stay in booster seats until they’re 9 years old or taller than 4’9″! I don’t think I ever had more than 2 seats and the 3rd child was old enough to ride without one (based on legislation that was current then).

    In fact, people do sometimes end up with 3 kids in car seats at the same time, depending on your spacing and on how petite your kids are. You can’t legally use a booster for a child under 40 lbs. no matter how old they are (in BC at least).

    And, even if they would somehow fit, would a full-size sedan like a Buick Century be a good bet for driving in winter weather in Iowa?

    Yes, winter tires are essential. If studded winter tires are legal in your area they might be the best bet, but front wheel or AWD will also help. Also keep a set of chains in the trunk at all times, along with a small shovel.

    What I do here is have my 6 year old daughter’s and my 4 year old granddaughter’s old car seats in the back of my PT Cruiser. If I just have the 2 of them it’s great. On days when I’ll have my 2 year old granddaughter as well I switch cars with my son-in-law and use the Windstar with one car seat and 2 boosters. Both boosters come with removable full backs. We use one with and one without the back. Both vehicles have winter tires all winter and I can drive to our rural home in either vehicle (through 2 mountain passes and lots of snow).

    Are you planning on paying cash for this vehicle? Unless you can get 0% financing, I’d pay cash in your place. You don’t want 2 car payments at once.

    Oh, and renting first? Excellent idea.

  95. Laura says:

    If you can fit everything in a used AWD wagon, you might find they’re cheaper just because wagons have a “mommy car” reputation–not cool. Good luck!

  96. Jason says:

    Remember, it’s not a mini-van, it’s a man van. And be sure to get a cool decal on the side, and maybe some flames….


  97. Georgia says:

    I guess I’ve had good luck with American made or maybe things have changed in the last few years. I had a 1979 Buick Electra Ltd. (next to lgst size) and it had 363k miles on it when it died and got 28-30 mpg. in warm weather and 25-28 in cold weather. I had one remanufactured engine dropped in, but it averaged out in the time we owned the car to about $16 per month. I always keep a car as long as repairs and maintenance is $100-110 a month or less. Can’t buy another car for that amount.

    I also had a 1991 Chev Lumina which had 316k on it at death and again, less than $100 repairs & maint. per month. It also got 28-30 mpg in summer and 25-28 in winter.

    Basically the high mileage was added quickly as, on the Buick I was averaging over 40k miles a yr. In fact, the warranty on the engine ($1400 cost & labor) was for 24 mos. or 24k miles & cost me $50. That warranty ran out in 9 months & 1 week.

    My current car is a 2000 Taurus SE wagon and has 167k miles on it. I don’t drive as much now, so it may not last as long. We have had it for 4 years and the gas mileage isn’t as good sometimes (23-26 mpg). However, last year I took a longer trip and tried some of the gas saving tips I read of on MSN. The first 2 fill ups I made 33.2 mpg.
    Wow!! I averaged about 29-30 mpg on the whole trip. The last half was through mountainous country (for the midwest) and lowered my mileage some.

    But, I must admit, my husband had a Toyota pickup and it lasted and lasted and lasted. Got good mileage at first, but gradually dropped. I don’t know if it is still running or not. I should check. I gave it to a friend’s grandson to work on when my husband died.

  98. Courtney says:

    We ended up in this situation last summer, when we got rear-ended by an 18-wheeler – ouch!!

    I really wanted a minivan, but in our area, they hold their value unbelieveably, especially Toyota and Honda. We could not find one for what we thought was a reasonable price.

    We also needed a 4WD about 6 weeks out of the year and for visiting the in-laws. By the time we found a barebones, used AWD minivan, the price was comparable to a comfortably equipped, large SUV.

    So, for the price of a well-used minivan, we bought a brand-new Honda Pilot, which seats 8 comfortably.

    We routinely put all five members of our family in it, and haul the grandparents as well. Because it’s my primary car, and I work from home/mind my toddler, we don’t drive it much and thus the gas mileage isn’t an issue.

    We considered a CR-V, but it didn’t hold five comfortably. We also reviewed Subaru’s offerings, as we like Subaru, but again, the space was an issue.

    One final thing – we routinely review Consumer Reports & Edmonds.com before car purchases. We’ve never had a “problem” car, and we don’t intend to start now!

  99. Aussie Karen says:

    @Robin Crickman, I’m surprised that you are the only person to mention the question of morals re: selling the old truck. It was the first thing I thought of, I can’t believe that Trent is prepared to sell something that is unsafe.

    That’s just cheap, not frugal, cheap.

  100. Bill in NC says:

    A minivan is what you need, but insisting on AWD will make it much more expensive.

    See if your local conditions are driveable with snow tires (preferably studded) on a FWD minivan – ask your friends & neighbors what they use in snow.

  101. John (Denver) says:

    You didn’t mention specifics (year, model, etc) of your old truck, but maybe you can wait till the “Cash for Clunkers” program passes thru Congress? We’re waiting to trade in our old 95 Isuzu Trooper on a new vehicle that gets great gas mileage. Google the phrase and check out the specifics of the bills working thru the House and Senate – looks like a great option for us to upgrade our old guzzler….might be for you as well?

  102. Theresa Lemire says:

    We just went through this process and decided to buy the Sienna for the same reasons you listed. There are not a lot of the all-wheel drive versions out there. We found ours by speaking with a salesman at the local dealership. They hunted down the van for us. We got a great deal and we love the van. Now we just need to sell our 91 Previa!

  103. Dottie says:

    I believe a mini van is what you need also.We purchased a new 1994 Astro Van when our children were very young and it was perfect. If needed you can move easily from the front seat to the middle row seats to care for the children and it can haul just about anything with the seats removed/stowed. Seating for 8 is great when the grandparents are with you.
    We just traded our Astro(261,000 miles and still ran great) for a new Ford Expedition. We needed a bigger vehicle to pull a large travel trailer that we inherited. The Astro was the first American car we owned and we were very pleased with it.
    I know many believe that you should not purchase new, however as you can tell we keep a vehicle a very long time. It is great to have the warranty and dependablity of a new vehicle( my husband is NOT by any means mechanically inclined. We do perform routine maintenance religiously and I believe this adds to the longevity. I have a few friends that always buy late model, however I stand by our decision to buy new as the best fit for our family. Good luck with you car search. May you find a wonderful van that is just perfect for you and your family!

  104. Fred says:

    I think it is worth waiting a bit Trent. First, the “Cash for clunkers” bill that’s working it’s way through congress can affect you in one of two ways. First way – if your current (worthless) clunker is rated 18 mpg or less, it’s worth $3,500 as a trade in on a more fuel efficient vehicle. Check your current vehicle’s (overall) rating at http://www.fueleconomy.gov . Even if you don’t qualify or choose not to take advantage of this, the program itself will have the consequence of reducing values on used cars. Since the “clunker” bill only applies to new cars, the demand for used cars should fall dramatically, bringing values down with them.

    I say it’s worth waiting a month or two to see how this bill works out. As far as recommendations – look into the Honda Pilot. It is an excellent vehicle, and as a used car, it doesn’t hold it’s value as well as most Hondas. Down side is that real world fuel economy is around 16 mpg.

  105. CathyG says:

    I have a Toyota Sienna, and I want to give you something to look at in the test drive:
    It happends when you are driving along and then you coast for a bit – for example, you might be on the highway when traffic is slightly slowing but picks back up in a half minute, or on a residential street when you want to slow just a bit maybe to watch for some kids on the sidewalk, or maybe as you approach a red light which is about to turn green; then you want to resume speed. In those cases, when you press on the gas to continue driving, the Sienna takes a full second or two before the mechanism engages to move you forward.

    So the effect is like this: you’re driving along, foot off the gas to slow slightly, then press on the gas to get back up to speed, wait 1 – 2, car suddently lurches forward. For me, when I first noticed the car not responding, I think I might have thought that I wasn’t pressing the gas hard enough at first, so I pressed a bit harder, then suddenly the engine would engage and the car would jerk forward. But even after studying it for a while, it still happens no matter how gently I press the gas. And I’ve noticed it happens when my husband drives too, and he is the most cautious driver, compared to my lead foot.

    I talked to the dealer service guy about it and he says that the Sienna’s computer was programmed like that and there was nothing they could do to fix it unless Toyota was to reprogram it.

    YMMV, but I always mention this when people ask me about my Sienna. Other than that, I love it.

  106. Mary says:

    Look at the Taurus X (or Freestyle), not quite a minivan, but close. Excellent safety ratings. My brother loves his. I want to get one next year after we have our baby, but I don’t think we will be able to afford any new vehicle for a year or 2. (Mainly because I got pregnant a lot quicker than expected).

  107. CathyG says:

    And a comment to Sandy #24 – while it is an economically great idea to use your old beater van for a new driver to learn on, you need to think about your daughter (and her friends) and how much more “fun” they would be able to have in a van with fully reclinable seats compared to “the back seat” of a standard car, if you know what I mean :-) If the van’s a-rockin’…

  108. Dave C says:

    We have 3 kids and went through the same thing a year back. Consumer reports has Toyota Sienna and Honda Oddyssey at the top of the list. If you look through their used lists, there are several models of Mazda’s MPV that are also highly rated. We went with an ’05 MPV with few miles and saved a mint compared to Toyota and Honda’s pricing. We love the slightly smaller size and the middle row configuration (I originally wanted a bench seat there but don’t miss it). We don’t have to deal with snow so I can’t comment on icy condition performance.

  109. Russ says:


    Unless you specifically need a truck, you should look at a Subaru. They are very well made, extremely reliable, run problem free for years, handle great in snow/icy conditions and also hold their resale value. I drove my Subaru for years without a single problem and only reluctantly sold it when I moved to a city where a car was no longer needed.

  110. Craig says:

    I am surprised no one has mentioned this – but what about fixing your current truck up? youdidnt mention what exactly was wrong with it, but a few thousand in repairs sure beats the cost of buying any of the new ones being talked about here. It will then last you the 2 years or so until the third little one comes. by then the prius will be paid off too!

  111. adam says:

    My toyota truck is 17 years old and works great. 2wd 4 cylinder. Drives OK in the snow weighted. I would buy another one. Credit where credit is due, my bicycle is even more reliable and keeps miles off the truck.

  112. Alex says:

    I strongly disagree that you need all wheel drive. Your weather conditions are no worse than those in North West Indiana where we get phenominal lake-effect snow. All wheel drive leads to poor fuel economy. Just look at Subaru’s line-up (they will have to produe 2wd vehicles if they want to meet the new mpg requirements). I’ve driven RWD sports cars, with snow tires, through our brutal winters and have had no issues. A good set of snow tires, beyond the up front cost of purchasing them, will not cost more in the long run. Shops like Discount Tire will do free wheels swaps if you don’t want to swap your tires on your own. With a FWD van, and snow tires, you’ll do just as well as any AWD vehicle and reap the benefits of better fuel economy not to mention the lower maintenance cost as well as a lower up-front cost.

  113. Dean says:

    I see a few recommendations for the Ford Freestyle/Taurus X above and would like to add another comment about them.

    I started looking around early last year as the sedan I was driving was about to give up the ghost (bought it used, it had been a rental early in its life, and was starting to lose oil pressure at idle – not good). The plan was to keep our paid-for 2000 Mazda MPV minivan for me and look for another used vehicle for my wife to drive. We actually didn’t want another minivan this time. We have 3 kids, currently 10, 7, and 4 years old, so we needed 3 rows. I’m on a buy-American kick these days, as I feel the current generation of domestics are now equal in quality to forgien makes. Top on my list was the GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook and the Ford Freestyle.

    The Acadia/Outlook was too new at the time, so there were no good deals on the used market. Best I could find was an Outlook for $30K, way out of my price range. Freestyle was looking better, as they had already renamed it the Taurus X at that point, and there were good values on the market. I wound up buying a 2006 Freestyle Limited, with a year of factory warranty left, 20,000 miles, for $19K from a CarMax. An excellent deal IMO, and it has been an excellent vehicle. I have a friend that is a tech at a Ford dealer, and he says the Freestyles and Fusions have been excellent, rarely in the shop for anything but oil changes.

    On 2WD vs. AWD – I was specifically looking for a 2WD model, which I purchased. We live in WI so we see nasty weather here too, it has snowed quite a bit the last 2 winters. The reason I wanted 2WD was mainly for fuel mileage. Because of the lower weight of the 2WD model, plus the reduction in drivetrain losses, I figure I pick up 2-4 MPG depending on usage. I would rather pick up a set of good winter tires and change them as part of regular maintenance (easy for me, as I do my own oil changes), instead of hauling around 300 lbs of AWD hardware around all the time. By the way, we get 18-21 MPG in my wife’s mixed driving during the week and have seen 26 MPG on longer highway trips. If I watch the tach I can get 22 around town without any problem. You may want to reconsider the winter tires, as I find I get excellent traction with them. It would open up more potential possibilites on your search. Good luck.

    Also – one more point – Freestyle has 5-star safety ratings all around with side curtain airbags. Side curtain airbags were standard on Limiteds, I belive they were optional on SE and SEL.

  114. TJ says:

    I live in Northern New Hampshire. I also work at a ski resort part time in the winter and am an avid snowboarder. READ: I drive in snow, lots of it, the more the better! Anyhow I have a mini-van and a Toyota Yaris (similar to the Prius). I have NO trouble. It’s about good tires and driving slow. Now I did live in SE Iowa for a few years and you get more ice. What about studded tires? 4wd doesn’t help on ice. 4WD is less fuel efficent. I do not have the Siena but a friend is on her third. She loves it and I would do that next as they now have the fold down seats. I drive A LOT and in all kids of weather and do not see a need for 4wd.

  115. Gabe says:

    Subaru Forester. It’s a no-brainer. Good reliability. The beauty of AWD. I’ve had two Subarus already, and will likely have a third when my current Forester finally gives way. Although, I doubt it will happen any time soon, even though it’s got around 210K miles and is a ’98.

  116. J says:

    Hey Trent/

    I love your blog and recently added to my RSS instead of getting hits from digg and such.

    2 points I would suggest (with admittedly not reading all of the other ones…sorry).

    I drive a subaru. . .and it is the first car I love, Reviews are high. They are the orig AWD and all of their cars come with it. They ARE NOT THE CHEAPEST. . .but I believe that a car, being a long term investment, should not be the cheapest always. Reviews are steller and after seeing mine and my love for it I have had 3 friends all buy subaru’s and love them. I drive an Impreza WRX wagon, have no kids but 120 lbs dog.

    When buying the car I saw the guy use this awesome device that measures the thickness of paint on a vehicle I just looked into what these are called and found they are pretty pricy. The following has some accounts of good use and accuracy compared to more expensive devices. This could be something that saves you with every used car you buy. Here are the ones I saw (at 225 USD): http://www.highlinemeter.com/

    close to the same results on all metal implies that the car has never been repainted. . .and therefore never in an accident.

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