Updated on 09.21.07

Starting The Thought Process Behind Buying A New Vehicle

Trent Hamm

As the months pass, it looks more and more likely that we’ll need to buy a new vehicle sometime between now and next summer. My wife’s Mercury Sable, that with almost 150,000 miles on it, is starting to show lots of little issues wrong with it – most notably, a recent severe issue with the transmission.

Before we even begin to look at this topic, my wife and I agree that we’re looking at a late model used vehicle. We don’t want to pay a huge premium for the “prestige” of owning a new vehicle, but we also want one with a long lifespan, so we’re looking for something fresh off a lease.

What are our needs? That’s the first big question for anyone considering a car purchase. For starters, we currently have a toddler and a newborn and we’ve both made offhand references in the last few days that basically implies more children to come. Thus, this new vehicle will need space for a family – we need a vehicle with adequate room for a five person family – and occasionally with more, as we live on a block with a lot of children near my son’s age that I’m sure he’ll begin to pal around with.

The second consideration is that we will likely rack up significant miles on this vehicle – it will be used in high-mileage situations. That means we are highly interested in fuel efficiency and reliability above all.

As far as my wife and I can tell, these two factors put us squarely in the minivan camp. Our recent reading of Consumer Reports points us towards either the Honda Odyssey or the Toyota Sienna for long term reliability. We’ve found late model used instances of both (2005 model year) in the $18K to $20K range (not including any trade-in value).

So what’s the plan? We’re going to accelerate our savings for a vehicle so we can make a large down payment on this van when the time comes. We’ve basically been saving what amounts to a car payment on this type of car each month – we’re going to kick it up to saving double payments until we make the move to buy it.

Until then, we’ll study both models in detail, test drive a few, and know exactly what we want – then wait until the time is right to make the move (probably early next summer or when the old car has issues).

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Elden says:

    You could find one of those minivans with a little higher mileage, and a lot less money. Compared to a Mercury, a Toyota or Honda will last quite a few miles more (250,000+).

  2. patb says:

    I recently bought a new Mazda 5 for about $17k. It’s exterior is smaller than most mini-vans, but it still seats 6. It’s great for city-living with kids. My parent bought a slightly more expensive Ford Freestyle. I think that this category is called “crossover.”
    We keep cars for 10 years and I always felt that the prestige cost of a new “economy” vehicle is a fair trade for not getting stuck with a used-lemon that was abused for the last year of its lease.
    I admit that I’m challenging this mindset because of the potential savings, but I realized that “cost of ownership” is more than the original sticker. There may be more maintenance issues with a “late model” used… Either way, by keeping a car for 10, years, I think that I “beat the system” of the continual leasers!

  3. delpantano says:

    Timely. I also have a near-150k Sable that decided to go all sickly on me during my recent cross-country move – and that was after having a pre-trip exam by my highly trusted mechanic of 6 years back in Massachusetts. It finally occurred to me that I’d been in denial about the fact that I will indeed have to purchase another car at some point. Not immediately; hopefully not even “soon”; but it’s time to start planning. Fortunately, the move was advandtageous financially as well as personally and professionally, so the realization comes at a time when I feel I’ve got breathing room.

  4. !wanda says:

    What is so appealing about children that you want more of them? I mean, what benefits do you get from three that you don’t get from two? I’m not criticizing you; I just really don’t get it.

  5. HebsFarm says:

    I was driving an 8-year old Camry when our family increased to 5. I’m also in a high-mileage situation. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the fuel mileage to gain the space a bigger vehicle would afford, so we kept the Camry and just pack them in tight. (When we go on a long trip, we borrow MIL’s van). It’s been two years now, we’re still crammed in the Camry, holding strong at 239,000+ miles… but NO PAYMENTS, woo-hoo!

  6. Jamie says:

    Don’t underestimate the value of safety. It just might be worth ponying up for a newer vehicle simply to get the latest and greatest in safety features.
    Having just been through this, I finally abandoned the search for a used vehicle in favor of a new civic. At the time I was looking, the ’06 and ’07 years were the only ones with standard rear-side curtain air bags. Finding a used ’06 was not easy. On many imports (especially Honda and Toyota), you’ll find that the “prestige” premium, really isn’t all that bad–and it worth it if you have family in the back seat and you get broadsided…

  7. peas says:

    A comparable car to the Camry worth considering is the Hyundai Sonata, it comes with an excellent warranty and costs of a used Camry. My wife and I recently bought one as a new family car and have been very pleased.

    Decide what car you want and send e-mails to different dealerships to request price quotes. You will be offered a significantly lower price than you would in person because the dealership is competing with a larger area and they know it. We saved $800 over the next lowest bid.

  8. mike says:

    I agree with peas. We purchased a 2005 Toyota Sienna and we did it by e-mail. We stated that we don’t want the hassle over the price and they gave us a choice of four different colors of the same model. They were all around 10-15,000 miles and had been used as loaners for service. Great savings and we purchased them for less than what you stated in the article and that was in 2006. Dealers want to move those since they are essentially used vehicles but still a newer one.

  9. Karen says:

    Once we decided on a car (purchased in 2000) we went to the AutoClub for their referral process. It was so much easier than the usual process. We dealt with a Fleet Sales group and they showed us their book with the price. It was within $200.00 of what we’d decided to pay, so we took it. None of the “let me check with my manager” stuff. We also went fed, well-rested, toward the end of the day and close to the end of the month.

  10. Gladys says:

    We went through the same set of questions when it was time to replace my husband’s car, and ended up with a Sienna instead of the Odyssey. The Sienna’s generally a few thousand dollars cheaper, and has the same reliability and safety. You just pay a premium for the Honda name. (I wanted the Honda but he’s the car buff who did the research.)

  11. We acquiesce with Karen. After searching online and getting email quotes for our second car, we finally ended up at a fleet sales of Hertz. We purchased a one year old Ford Taurus at about 60% its new price. The car was nearly new with hardly 20k miles on it! It has been serving us really well. Our first car was new, but buying this one second hand saved us thousands of dollars. It is a current model with all the safety features. So it might make sense to take a look at fleet sales as well as online deals.

  12. Barry says:

    Regarding !wanda’s comments…

    “… what benefits do you get from three that you don’t get from two? I’m not criticizing you; I just really don’t get it.”

    You’re right… you don’t. It has nothing to do with “what benefits” they can give you. If your idea of having children is about what they can do for YOU, then don’t have them.

  13. Larry says:

    Honda updated the Odyssey for 2006 with many upgrades. We bought a 2006 and love it for driving the kid around. At the time the Sienna’s had an issue with some tires reported catching fire I believe. Better deals could be had for a Sienna though, for this reason. JFWIW my neighbor bought the Toyota and is happy with it so far. You won’t go wrong with either one as minivans have evolved to be quite good these days they’re a great value.

  14. Susy says:

    We have an old Contour that we’ve been starting to have a few problems with (we think transmission might be going & needs new shocks). We’re hoping it will last at least one more year (we’ll see it have 120,000). We got our money’s worth, bought it for $4500 5 years ago with 45000 miles on it, and we’ve never paid for anything but routine maintenance. We’re sad our “sport” might leave us soon.

    We do however have the luxury of not having to buy a car for a while (we both work from home and only have to be out on Saturdays). So we’re hoping we can wait another year after that to buy a new car. We need something big though for work, for transporting equipment.

    We’re also new car buyers, since we keep them till they die, we always need a good reliable car (if we can’t make it to our venue on Sat – no income!). We just don’t feel comfortable buying used (our contour was from my parents and they bought new so not really considered used to us).

    Plus my sister & brother-in-law buy late model used and have more problems than we ever had with cars (maybe it’s brands?)

    Hope your car lasts and lasts, so you have longer to save!!!

  15. Andy says:

    Also consider a large sedan like the new Ford Taurus, formally known as the Ford Five Hundred. They are very safe.

  16. Connie says:

    As someone who has owned a 1999 Sienna and a 2005 Odyssey I can say that both are great vans. I personally prefer my current Odyssey. My preference is due more to aesthetic appeal, seat and button layout more than anything else. Crazy, but if you plan to drive the vehicle for a long time these things can be very important. I also spend a lot of time hauling kids to activities. I have 3 kids and this van holds a ton of kid stuff and friends. We never had any mechanical problems with our Sienna nor have we had any with the Odyssey. Good Luck!

  17. J says:

    The thing I have noticed from buying cars fresh off of a lease is you still end up paying the price for whatever the prior owner did to them, even with certified pre-owned programs. I’m not saying it’s always a bad idea. I’m just saying you never know what you’re going to get.

  18. FREMO says:

    The beauty of mini-vans and SUVs is watching some idiot drive down the road in it claiming that they bought it for their kids. In reality if they cared at all about their children, then they would have fewer children (0-1) and drive an energy efficient car.

    We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

    Why not leave them a planet free of pollution instead? Why not leave them a safe world by not funding terrorists through consumption of oil?

  19. Kelly says:

    Recently I purchased a new car and went through the whole “am I a minivan person” dilemma. I opted to get a Toyota RAV4 with the third row seating option to seat 7 passengers instead of getting a minivan. Even with a V6 engine I’m averaging right around 30 mpg, so I feel the mileage is pretty good. And I don’t have to drive a minivan.

    BTW, I traded in my vehicle which I got as a lease return from a dealership. It was extremely unreliable and pretty much a lemon. This time I was glad that I was able to buy new to keep up on all the maintenance. Plus the safety features of having all the airbags is worth it too when you are driving children around.

  20. pen.dca.mel says:

    I’ll second patb’s thoughts on the Mazda5. Unless you need it constantly, a smaller minivan is much more practical, rather than having to haul empty space around. I’ve also really liked the Toyota Wish. Unfortunately, both aren’t offered down here.

    We’ve narrowed our choice down here to a Toyota Avensis, or a Honda Odyssey (the non-US version). The Odyssey is quite pricey, so it’s looking like the Avensis for us.

  21. !wanda says:

    If having children isn’t about bringing the parents any benefit, what are children for? (Excluding religious reasons, because Trent is talking about having 3 or 4 kids, not 17.) I mean, children who are never conceived don’t miss being alive, and the world is not going to miss that third or fourth child who wasn’t born.

  22. ClickerTrainer says:

    Used is a great idea, but…what you quoted sounds like an awful deal!

    I paid 20K for my NEW 2006 Sienna, and it came with a warranty. If you do buy used, be sure to get a substantial warranty, like 100K miles. Cars these days are so complicated that one part failure can wipe out those used car savings…

    PS I love my Sienna, it drives as easy as my RAV4 did, and gets almost the same mileage.

  23. Philip says:

    In some instances is it really cheaper to buy a 2 year old car with wear and tear and a partly finished manufacturer warranty for not much less than a brand new full warrantied car by using the power of the internet? CarsDirect.com right now offers a 2007 Honda Odyssey LX Passenger Van for $21,148 brand new, zero miles, FULL warranty. This equals no need for tires, no need for brakes, no need for service, no need for anything for quite a long while.

  24. Philip says:

    I would also like to state something else I feel is important when going to a dealshership when buying new or used. If you do not read the tips/chapters on this guys site BEFORE going to a dealership you are doing yourself a disservice.This guy is clearly an insider and he tells you exactly how not to get hosed….


    I watched my father for years get hosed by dealerships mostly because he like most did not know how the game works that salesmen try to play and after buying my 2006 Honda Accord last year I felt really sophiticated and empowered when buying my car.

  25. Siena says:

    I think with gas prices on the rise again, a minivan is not the most economic vehicle for a family of 4. That being said, I drive a Honda Civic with 123,000 miles and am happy driving a small car. If I had to trade up to a larger car, I’d consider the CR-V, which I think looks good and has good mileage for a small SUV vs a minivan.

  26. Trina says:

    Our Sienna is 8 years old (we bought it new in 1999) and has 134,000 miles. We’ve found it to be very comfortable for our family of six, as well as reliable. We’ve been on many extended road trips and never had a problem. With regular maintenance, it’s still going strong and we have no plans to replace it in the near future – we love it!

  27. Andrew Stevens says:


    I am going to bet that one of these two situations describes you. Either 1) you had at most one sibling and a perfectly happy childhood (most likely) or 2) you come from a large family which was very unstructured and disorganized and so you didn’t have a happy childhood. Thoughts on how many children one should have seem to be heavily influenced by one’s own childhood. (Maybe you’re the rare exception, though.) For example, my wife was one of two children (she had a younger brother) and she rarely interacted with her brother much. As a consequence, her childhood was fairly lonely. She thinks two children is probably too few. I, on the other hand, was the fourth of four children and, due to circumstances largely out of my parents’ control, had a fairly chaotic and disorganized childhood. I think four children is probably too many. I’ve met people who had very happy childhoods with as many as twelve siblings. I’ve met people with very happy childhoods who were only children. I’ve also met people who had unhappy childhoods from both small and large families. However, almost everybody thinks their family size had a significant effect on the happiness of their childhood. And it’s even possible that all of them are right.

    Anyway, the reason why you might have more children is to benefit the children you already have. If you have a strong belief that larger families are happier families for the children (and there is reason to think this – my own fairly large family, while chaotic, was rarely boring or lonely), then you will probably favor having a larger family yourself. However, as Barry said, the benefits are not for yourself, but for your children. Siblings give them a support network both while growing up and into adulthood which will outlive you and your spouse. Now that I no longer live with them, I am quite pleased that I have three older siblings. Also, my wife might take issue with the idea that the world wouldn’t miss me (the fourth of four) had I never been born, though in a literal sense, you are of course right, since the world wouldn’t know what it was missing.

  28. !wanda says:

    @Andrew: OK, your reasoning makes sense, so thanks! I admit that I have a skewed perspective on the work it takes to raise a child. I am the older of two siblings. My brother went from one medical crisis to another when he was young and had severe language and learning difficulties, so caring for him required a lot of time and resources. I was on the opposite end of the spectrum: school was always easy for me, and my mother also spent a lot of time and money making sure I was appropriately challenged. My mother says that raising us was worth it but acknowledges that she often felt overwhelmed. If there had been another child in the family, she would have made time for him or her, but it would have come at a cost for either my brother or me.

  29. Michel says:

    “the reason why you might have more children is to benefit the children you already have”
    Well, if you have two children you might work less and then have more time with them than you would if you had 3 ou 4.

  30. Andrew Stevens says:

    Wanda, well I’m not sure I won my bet (you didn’t say how happy your childhood was), but thanks for confirming my suspicion that one’s own upbringing is usually the principal factor in deciding one’s opinion on this issue. Most families do seem to stop having children once they have a special needs child (like your brother) and I suspect that’s nearly always the correct decision, for the reason you gave.

    Michel, other than college expenses (and I am firmly of the opinion that parents are not morally obligated to provide for those, though of course I applaud those parents who do), the marginal cost of an additional child is not, in my admittedly inexperienced opinion, all that great (especially if you have a stay-at-home parent and can avoid daycare costs). But you shouldn’t listen to me – I don’t have any children yet and no real opinion on what the optimal family size actually is. Most very large families I have known have had a stay-at-home parent, so it can’t necessarily be a choice between having a large family or spending more time with them, though this may very well be the case for some families. (Income of the principal breadwinner probably being the deciding factor.) The time of the parents might be stretched thin by the number of children, but I am not at all convinced that this isn’t compensated for by the presence of siblings. I have two older brothers, ten and eleven years older than I am, and I found their guidance quite valuable when an unfortunate tragedy robbed me of my father at a young age. I would have found their guidance even more valuable had I listened to it more often.

    Anyway, there tend to be two types of people who really want large families – people who grew up in large families and loved it and people who grew up in small families and hated it. (I mentioned my wife wanting more than two since she came from a fairly lonely two-child household. Her brother has expressed a desire to have nine or ten children, though I doubt they’ll follow through.) My own opinion is there probably is a “correct” answer to optimal family size, but I don’t presume to know what it is.

  31. xshanex says:

    “Recently I purchased a new car and went through the whole “am I a minivan person” dilemma. I opted to get a Toyota RAV4 with the third row seating option to seat 7 passengers instead of getting a minivan. Even with a V6 engine I’m averaging right around 30 mpg, so I feel the mileage is pretty good. And I don’t have to drive a minivan.”

    excellent choice. My girlfriend has one and it is just great and a much better alternative to a minivan. I also had one for a 2 week rental and it was great for hauling people around

    recommend the costco auto buying program as well. Gets you really close to invoice price in 5 seconds on more desirable vehicles

    beware of false economies with used hondas and toyotas. Minimal depreciation and high resale value mean that you are often better off working a good deal on a new one then settling on a slightly used one. When I bought the difference between a 3 year old 35-40k mile used model and the new improved model was about $3-4k. Being able to pick extra safety options, customize everything, extra warranty, have a more fuel efficient vehicle, and get an extra 3+ years out of it(based on mileage) was easily worth the small premium.

  32. mama j says:

    check out the tire size before you buy — some of those mini vans have some very odd sized (expensive!) tires. it’s very disconcerting when you have to replace them and are told tires will cost you a lot of money.

  33. Liz says:

    I agree with you, xshanex. Plus if you finance, the interest rates are lower on new cars, and at the end of 4-5 years of financing you have a car that is 4-5 years old instead of 7+.

  34. Spig says:

    Last March we made the plunge to the minivan crowd and bought a Toyota Sienna. We found it very hard to find leased and used that weren’t fleet or rentals due to the popularity of buying and holding in our area.

    I found the “Car Buyer’s and Leaser’s Negotiating Bible” (http://www.fightingchance.com/book.php?js=y) to be invaluable in navigating the market. We ended up going new and using the fax-attack method were able to get the car far below the FMV price listed on Edmunds.com.

    Good luck!

  35. Mariette says:

    xshanex has a good point w/r/t used Hondas and Toyotas – especially if you are buying through a dealer. I found much better deals buying directly from the owner and having a mechanic take a look at it and getting a Carfax report then I did from dealers when I bought my new used Honda recently. I’ve been very happy with it.

    As far as kids, it’s a personal decision. I’m another one who doesn’t really get why people still have large families. I understand the emotional pull there and why it might be desired, but given how overpopulated we’re becoming as a country and as a planet, I keep hoping that people will make different choices. I’m probably tilting at windmills.

  36. H says:

    Have you thought about a Toyota Highlander hybrid? We’re looking at buying a larger family car in a year or two, and that one’s high on my list.

    I’m a big Subaru fan — in the past 14 years I’ve owned two, both purchased used, and I’ll keep the 2nd one until it’s 10 years old just as I did the first (which I then passed along to my brother, who still drives it). But I don’t like their 7-seater, and am thinking more and more about gas mileage/fuel consumption.

  37. Andrew Stevens says:

    Mariette, now here I have to flat-out disagree. The planet isn’t seriously overpopulated (moreover, world fertility peaked some time ago) and the United States certainly isn’t overpopulated. (The United States has a very low population density and produces vastly more food than it consumes.) This is just a hold-over from 1970s thinking when people believed (with some justification) that we were overpopulating our food supplies. But the Green Revolution had already more or less solved that problem, or at least substantially alleviated it. (There are still food problems in the world, but these are problems of distribution and infrastructure or man-made political famines, not problems of production.) Now, energy consumption and the threat of global warming is another matter entirely, but that’s an engineering problem which will either be solved by clean, efficient technologies (in which case, population won’t matter) or it won’t (in which case, extra population won’t make a lot of difference).

    Right now, most Western economies face serious threats from under-population (though the United States, due to a decent birth rate and healthy immigration is in less danger than most). Many countries, like Italy, are in very real danger of having every worker supporting his own personal retiree in the next thirty years or so.

    I think there’s also an awful lot of zero-sum thinking from those who follow the Zero Population Growth ideology. They seem to think that people are liabilities (more consumers), and never think of them as assets (more producers). By the way, I am certain that there is some optimal population size for the planet, but I have seen absolutely zero evidence, just assumptions, that we are at or even close to that number. Moreover, the number clearly must be constantly changing with each technological advance and advances in production, distribution, infrastructure, etc.

    Never fear, though, if the doomsayers are right and we eventually do overpopulate the planet, you can be certain we’ll know it almost instantly since it’s a self-correcting problem. (This is why I have to sigh when I’m told that we have already overpopulated the planet. If that were true, the global population would be declining, not rising.)

  38. Steven says:

    Since when did you all become your parents? Mini-vans? Ugh.

  39. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I became much more like a parent when I had children.

  40. Heather says:

    Just a little food for thought…I recently became a Subaru Outback driver and am very pleased. Since buying this car I am been impressed with reliability, safety, and gas mileage. For anyone purchasing a car, I would say that Subaru is definitely a name to consider…in your case…the Tribeca. Driving cross country from San Diego to Richmond, VA, with two passengers and loaded with stuff, I only spent $325 in gas.

  41. Bill says:

    I love our minivan and have found it easier to configure for 7 people or for pure cargo hauling than a sport utility (many of those limited to hauling 5 people, some have odd center consoles that prevent the second row folding flat)

    BUT, don’t expect great mileage from any recent model minivan.

    Newest models of full-sized minivans are all pretty much rated @17 city.

  42. Leslie M-B says:

    I can’t believe your Mercury Sable’s transmission lasted to 150,000 miles. My husband’s 1992 Sable needed its FOURTH transmission by 40,000 miles. Needless to say, we sold it at that point. It was a lesson for him (he bought the car before I met him) in using the Consumer Reports car-buying guide to check out used car performance.

    Also, I don’t know much about minivans, but I can’t say enough nice things about Toyota, Subaru, and Honda. And my sister bought a Hyundai Santa Fe that she adores because it’s been very low-maintenance and a pleasure to drive.

  43. Cindy says:

    Replying to Jamie who said that it might be better to spend money on a newer vehicle d/t better safety. Nearly three years ago, my four children and I were in a T-bone collision (the other vehicle hit ours in the side of the passenger compartment) in my 1997 Dodge Grand Caravan. The van was totaled but none of us were injured and I feel the van held up very well to the impact,all things considered. You do not have to buy brand new and have all the bells and whistles to be safe, not that newer features do not have their value, I just wouldn’t base my entire decision on that.

  44. Macinac says:

    In August 2006 we had a monumental hailstorm. They were the size of baseballs! Most of the houses in town wound up with roof replacements. (My own roof had over 200 holes that I temporarily patched with goo until I could get the insurance adjuster and then a roofer.) Cars all over town were totaled. The hail smashed out both the front and rear glasses and dinged the body surfaces and broke lights. Heavy rain followed the hail and got the cars all wet inside.

    So! Two local car dealers suffered extensive damage to their outdoor inventory. And there was a feeding frenzy over the next few days as people smelled deals and sought them out. I was slow to move, however, because I was able to get my car dried out and get the glass replaced with money left over from the insurance settlement — I bought the totaled car back, and left the body as it was. Five months later I noticed that one of the dealers still had a few hail damaged cars; and the prices were low! I watched as they went even lower! In February 2007 I bought a new (but hail damaged) car for 40% off the sticker price. This car was somewhat bigger than I might have considered otherwise, but it had a suite of safety features that was very important to me (side air bags, abs, high gov’t rating, etc). I sold my old car privately and never looked back.

    So it has obvious damage, but to me those dings are valuable. The car is in every way the same as others except for the superficial body damage. And except for the thousands of dollars I didn’t have to pay.

  45. pthomas says:

    I have a ’92 Dodge caravan. The thing just keeps on running and I love it. I could have saved a bundle in the short term by purchasing a used one but i’m not sure it would have lasted as long and may have had a lot more repair bills. I did make sure to get a 6 Cylinder Mitsubishi engine instead of the 4 or 8 cylinder Detroit ones. It’s got almost 200K miles on it now and no signs of slowing down.

    Good Luck with your search.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *