Updated on 11.16.09

What Are You Buying When You Buy a Car?

Trent Hamm

Over the last few months, I’ve been slowly shopping for a minivan to replace my truck. Since the truck will not seat three young children safely (I could jam them in there in an illegal fashion), I will have to replace the vehicle by April at the latest. That’s on top of the fact that the vehicle has a mountain of eminent repairs that are needed.

As I shop for the minivan, I keep coming back to one central question: what exactly am I buying here? On the surface, it seems obvious – I’m buying a minivan. But that’s not what I’m really buying.

First of all, I’m buying something that will get me, my wife, and all three of my children from point “A” to point “B”. The entire point of buying such a vehicle is for transportation.

That being said, I am not buying a status symbol. As long as it’s clean and safe, I really don’t care what it looks like. It doesn’t have to be shiny, new, or top of the line. I don’t really care what the opinions of the people around me are about the minivan I bought. Does it meet my needs? That’s what matters.

Is a status symbol a need for you? Probably not. Is it a want? Probably. The question you have to ask yourself is how much extra money you’re willing to pay for a status symbol whose luster will fade in a year or two.

I have three primary concerns when buying this car.

First and foremost, it must be reliable. Next April, I will have three children under the age of five. I don’t want a vehicle that has repair issues bubbling just under the surface. For me, reliability is more important with this vehicle than it was with my wife’s commuting car that we bought earlier this year, in which our priority was fuel efficiency. I’m using Consumer Reports as my primary guide for this, which is pointing me towards the Toyota Sienna or the Honda Odyssey.

Second, it must be safe. I require a vehicle with good safety ratings and a history report that shows that it’s never been in accidents. Again, my concern in this area is raised by my specific requirements – this vehicle will be used to transport myself and my children.

Third, it must have storage space. We often go visit family for a week two or three times a year. In order to accomodate two younger children, a baby, and two adults for a week, there’s going to have to be some significant storage space in the vehicle. On top of that, It’s this need for additional space which is pushing us toward a minivan instead of a large car.

Beyond that, fuel efficiency is a secondary factor, as is ergonomic seating (chairs that provide lumbar support and don’t result in numbness and back pain after a long drive).

I do not care about having a drop-down Blu-Ray player. I do not care about leather seats. I do not care about having a perfectly silent ride, nor a perfectly smooth one. If those features came for free, I would take them, but I’m not about to pay much for them at all.

I am the one buying the car. Because I’m buying early, I can wait until the right vehicle comes along. I don’t merely have to choose whatever is available on the lot. This enables me to look at other options, such as what’s being sold on Craigslist and other sources directly by individuals. Given what I want, I have the cash on hand to buy pretty much anything within those requirements.

What are you buying when you buy a car? Do you know what you want? Do you know what you don’t want and aren’t going to pay for? Have you planned ahead enough that you have the time and ability to explore lots of options to find what you want?

After all, the last thing you want to do when buying a car is to find yourself on a car lot needing to make a purchase and having no idea what you really want or need. Such a situation is delicious prey for car salesmen.

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  1. Stephan F- says:

    You have that so right, and it is more then just cars, are you buying something you need or what someone else says you need.

    I knew a family with 11 children and he wanted a SUV but not even the biggest Suburban could hold them all and it was odd to watch him fight himself over the fact that he really needed an Econovan, not an SUV, but that is what he really wanted.

    As for entertainment systems if it has one that takes external inputs great otherwise it is just going to be a pain to repair when it gets dirty.

  2. Matt says:

    Have you considered the mazda 5? You sacrifice some space and reliability, but brand new they are approximately 8,000 less.

  3. Daniel says:

    Considering that space and reliability are two out of the four things he needs, probably not. Also, 8,000 when new translates to a lot less when used.

    He could also get a motorcycle to save him money, but that’s not exactly the point.

  4. lurker carl says:

    We know exactly what we’re looking for when replacing vehicle. I start the search about a year or two before disposing of the old one. That weeds out about 99% of the vehicles for sale and makes finding the right one much easier.

    Using a long timeline avoids making compromises and hasty decisions. It’s always a buyers market as far as automobiles are concerned.

  5. Kevin says:

    I suspect that although the repairs for your truck may in fact be eminent, they’re more likely imminent.

  6. Johanna says:

    “Is a status symbol a need for you? Probably not. Is it a want? Probably.”

    Huh? Are you saying that an arbitrary person reading this “probably” wants a car as a status symbol? Even if that’s true of the population in general, I doubt that it’s true of your readership.

    “Needs” and “wants” are not the only two categories. There are also “don’t wants.”

  7. Kacie says:

    The built-in DVD players are silly. You can buy a separate dual-monitor DVD player for really cheap. Two monitors mount behind each headrest. It’s a good option for long trips, and WAY cheaper than finding a van that has that in there! Not worth paying more for, but if it’s already there, that’s another story indeed.

  8. Livia says:

    Could you share some of the sources you use to do your car research?

  9. Michelle says:

    One of the factors for me when we were buying our new car a year ago was that it could not be a mini-van. We were in the same boat, 3rd kid on the way, lived far away from family and needed to travel, but I could not drive a mini-van. The one time we test drove one I just started crying because I felt so… old. I just couldn’t do it. So we opted for a crossover. We didn’t pay anymore for it than we would have for the van, and the fuel economy is actually better. I can drive it without crying, which is important. In the end you have to buy the car that’s right for you!

    (I think my mini-van issues stem from being forced to drive my moms van to and from high school and being made fun of, a lot, for it. Getting behind the wheel to test drive, I could almost hear the people laughing again. It’s amazing how much high school can effect the rest of your life!)

  10. Trent, this sounds exactly like what I did a couple months ago. I ended up finding a 2001 Mazda MPV on craigslist for $3000, negotiated it down to $2500 and paid cash. No comprehensive and collision on insurance gives an additional savings over a newer vehicle. I figure it will be good for 3-5 years. It’s not glamorous, but it will meet my needs.

  11. Johanna (6)- If that’s what Trent is saying, then I think he’s right on the money. The saying in cars is “you are what you drive”. The typical buyer isn’t just buying reliable transportation at the lowest possible price, he’s more likely buying an image, a posession that makes a statement about who he is.

    I’m not saying I agree with that mentality, but it is pervasive. Certainly the point needs to be raised in a post about buying a car. It’s probably the number one reason people end up car poor–they bought an image rather than a car.

    And yes, even for readers here, it’s possible to get caught up in the image chase. That’s kind of how the car business is set up. Sad, unfortunate, but nonetheless true.

  12. Jason says:

    LOL Kevin!

  13. Zella says:

    I wanted an AWD/4WD wagon/hatchback/small SUV. I now have a 96 Subaru Outback. Surprisingly, I love the stupid thing (heated seats = win!). Except for the fact that it’s still a midsize boat compared to my previous subcompact (I’m not allowed to call it a land yacht– that’s reserved for Crown Vics and up).

    Seriously though– I listed my needs and found what matched: something that hauls stuff and can survive a WA winter when I live in the middle of nowhere.

    And having months to do it definitely helped– we found the right car at the right price (and paid cash!).

  14. CorithMalin says:

    If you find yourself a car/suv/minivan that you really like but it just doesn’t quite have the space for storing a weeks worth of stuff, you could always get a roof rack storage shell. That might be better anyways as then you’d only be taking a fuel efficiency hit when you need the extra space rather than carting it around all the time.

    The downside is you’ll need a place to store it when it’s not in use. And I know how you feel about having a lot of “stuff” in your house.

  15. Ryan says:

    The words minivan and drive in the same sentence make my 17 year old eyes bleed. :)

    best of luck on making a good decision though!

  16. annk says:

    Imminent (in this case), not eminent.

    Accommodate, not accomodate.

    These things should matter to someone who calls himself a writer!

  17. Hentrain says:

    This is relevant to us because our car died about 10 days ago. It had been reliable, but ancient, and then in one week the radiator went, one of the brakes went and the wheel bearings went. Sigh. In any case, we had just started saving for a new-to-us car 2 months ago when this happened, so we did not have everything all set up, but we did manage to make the best out of a sucky situation. We rented a car for a week for a pretty good price and spent 2 days looking at cars at dealerships and from private sellers. Maybe our timing just worked out well, but we managed to look at 7 cars in that time, and while we were looking, we got our loan paperwork from our credit union done, so we didn’t have to finance through a dealership. We saw 2-3 cars that would have worked fine, and we bought our favorite one, from a private seller. Long story short, we got 90% of what we wanted in a bad situation (the color is not my favorite, and my husband wanted a manual) just by shelling out 200 bucks and giving ourself the breathing space of a week to look and think and make a smart loan choice. Not a fun week, but I am happy with our purchase. That 200 we spent on the rental probably saved us about 3000 in actual car cost plus another 700-1000 in getting a better rate from the C.U.

  18. jreed says:

    I thought we already went through this with you…and you ignored all advice and bought (with a loan) a brand new Prius. Why even pretend you would take anyone’s advice on this subject?

  19. Sarah in Alaska says:

    We weren’t swayed by salesmen when we bought our new(er) car last winter, but now that DH has carpooled with a few coworkers, we’ve had a few second thoughts.

    We bought a car that is super comfortable for our vertically challened frames – not so comfortable for our taller and…erm…broader passengers.

    My mantra: we bought the car for us, we bought the car for us.

  20. KC says:

    Safety and reliability should always be priority #1, IMO. To me they go hand in hand. An unreliable car is not a safe one. Anytime you are stranded or unable to use your car it becomes unsafe. This is why I can’t understand why anyone would buy a small car. Now I know there are some safe ones out there. But my husband drove a Honda Civic for 10 years and I was always worried. It was a great car, awesome car, but I knew if he got in a side collision it wouldn’t be good. Now they make all these tiny cars (Honda Fit, SmartCar, Mini, etc) that make a Civic look like a boat. I really have to question why you’d buy one.

  21. KC says:

    I didn’t transition my thoughts well in the above statement. It reads as if I think small cars are unreliable. That isn’t the case, I think they are unsafe due to smallish size. Sorry, I’ll transition a little better in the future.

  22. marta says:

    @jreed: I don’t think he is asking for our advice. Is he? Actually, I feel like we are being kinda lectured to.

    Which is pointless where I am concerned, as I neither want nor need a car. :: shrugs::

  23. Kat says:

    KC, have you been to safercar.gov? Honda Civics have fabulous ratings, including side impact. A bigger car is not safer, just bigger (and a lot of the time, more likely to flip over).

  24. Ray says:

    Safety (crash impact) has nothing to do with reliablity, so I don’t understand comment 20. Although I drive a civie I love, so that’s that.

  25. Ray says:

    (Side note: I thought CR was a fan of The mazda?)

  26. Tricia says:

    As a mother of 3, I picked a mini van when we were looking because I could separate the kids. One in the way back, two in the middle–where they can’t REACH each other…
    Nothing worse than having them all in a row in the back seat fighting………

  27. Lisa says:

    I’d bump that ergonomic comfort item up on your list. Fatigue, back pain, and neck pain can be a real issue on long-distance trips. I drove my previous car for 14 years. It was a sound financial decision, but when I replaced it earlier this year I was flabbergasted at how much difference the new, higher, better lumbar support seats made in my mood and physical energy on long drives.

  28. jc says:

    Trent, if space is only a consideration twice or three times a year and of course depending on what’s available nearby, renting a minivan for those trips could be an option. That has to be weighed against the convenience of being able to just pack and go, and how much money you would really save on smaller car / less fuel, given that you just don’t put miles on a vehicle like you used to.

  29. Brian DR1665 says:

    I realize we’re looking at minivans, but if we’re looking to comfortably and safely transport five people, three of whom are small, do yourself a favor and consider a VOLVO STATION WAGON. Seriously.

    Safety: Can you think of a safer brand?

    Comfort: Volvos have some of the most comfortable front seats you will ever know. (Believe it.)

    Room: They seat five, but some wagons come with a flip up rear bench that can seat two more for a total of seven.

    Efficiency: Smaller than a minivan means smaller engine requirements, which translates into lower fuel consumption.

    Handling: It’s a car. It’s going to drive like one.

    Cost: New Volvos might be priced similarly to their European brethren, but they have a habit of depreciating like stones. Models less than 10yrs old can be found for less than $5000 in near perfect condition. BONUS: The $1000 Volvo you buy on Craigslist will not depreciate any further. You can re-sell it on Craigslist a year later for $1000.

    Storage: Beyond being a station wagon with a roof rack, Volvos typically have all kinds of storage compartments in the back. My 86 240GL had four – two under floor compartments and one behind each side panel in the back.

    Minivans can be nice, and if you need even one car seat, getting three across in the back seat of a Volvo wagon is not going to be optimal, but it’s worth mentioning to anyone looking for inexpensive transportation which is reliable, safe, and comfortable that older Volvos are brilliant machines.

    Once you’ve owned one, you’ll never want to be without one.

  30. For what it’s worth we bought a Toyota Sienna in 2006 and couldn’t be happier with it. We got the LE, not the top of the line, but it has everything we need. At least once a year we (I, my husband, and our now 4 year old twin daughters) make the trek from Virginia to Kentucky to visit my husband’s parents (a 9 hour drive) and it’s been surprisingly comfortable. There’s plenty of storage room for us and all of our gear.

    We had done some research and decided we would buy either a Sienna or a Honda Odyssey. It turned out that we were able to get the best deal on this particular Sienna, so we got it.

    Best of luck with your van search.

  31. Hope D says:

    I have a portable DVD player with two screens. We have set it up on long trips, but for short trips it is a hassle. We don’t leave it in the vehicle, because it screams steal me. It also has all these cables. I am glad we have it, and I am not wanting to install a system. But . . . a built in one would be so much nicer.

    I used to own a van, but with the birth of our last child we needed something bigger. We bought a used suburban. Being a gas hog wasn’t a huge problem for us. We only drive around 50 miles a week. What I love about the SUV is the cargo space. The van had vertical space which is pretty unusable with groceries. If I was looking for a “new” vehicle with the perimeters Trent has set, I would look for a SUV with three row seating and as energy efficient as possible.

  32. momof4 says:

    I was surprised to find out how well the Kia and Huyndai mini vans were rated. We’re also shopping for a new vehicle to replace a 13 year old ford aerostar that I loved. Honda and toyota are also in the running as I’m having trouble finding both reliable and affordable from the big 3 : (

  33. beth says:

    @ BrianDR1665 (#29)- Many of those are the reasons we’re actually looking at 10-15 year old Volvos for our teenager who will be getting her license in the next 6 months. They’re definitely not as sexy as some other starter-car options out there, but for a teenage driver facing the dreadful traffic we have here, I think the safety of driving a sedan-sized tank wins.

  34. Dave says:

    How about a mid-sized car and a small trailer or a hitch-box, I got rid of a pick-up and got a small car and a trailer, I can haul anything you can in a truck and get close to 40mpg, I don’t feel the trailer until I load it up more the 500lbs, will pull 1000Lb easily, and I only have 89 HP.
    How offen do you need to haul lots of stuff?

  35. Ken says:

    I agree with knowing the purpose of the vehicle. I also agree with buying quality used vehicles. The greatest accidents happen on the showroom floor. Can you say depreciation?

  36. Go with the station wagon or rent the minivan of you’re only going to use it for capacity a few times a year and waste the extra capacity the rest of the time.

    For what it’s worth, Europeans almost unanimously do not “need” the storage space and 6 passenger capacity of a minivan. You see very few of them on the streets. A minivan is simply a want—but if you want it very much, no problem.

  37. Patty says:

    I want dependable transportation.

    Therefore I sold my 17 year old car to buy an eight year old car with only 50K miles on it. Still looking new (toyota camry)and since I continue to search out estate sales – purchased it from an estate for $7,000 – done deal! I’ve got 98K on it now and I’m sure it will take another decade to get to the 200k mark! As long as it only need usual and rountine mainteance, then it is a keeper!

  38. Bookaunt says:

    Wanted to add to the discussion that you might choose leather seats for reasons other than that of status symbol. Just this last week, a mother of young children told me how much she loved the leather seats in her vehicle because they were so easy to clean. If you anticipate your kids eating in the car that might be a consideration for you as well.

  39. KC says:

    You have to be careful when looking at crash tests. The ratings involve crashes between similar classed vehicles. If a SmartCar hits a SmartCar they are deemed “safe” and are given good ratings. But if a semi (or even a Cadillac) hits a SmartCar – look out. JD Power just released their safety reports a month ago – once again they’ve said the safest cars, in general, are large sedans and minivans. Bigger = safer, with one exception – SUVs – their tendency to roll over makes them less safe than large sedans or minivans.

    As for reliability and safety they go hand in hand. Ever been stranded by an unreliable car on the side of the road? Did you (would you) feel safe? I had an Acura with transmission problems. The car had airbags all over the place and 5 star safety ratings. But when my transition went out on the interstate I didn’t feel real safe.

  40. JerryB says:

    I’d opt for a smaller station wagon.

    What ever you decide on, one thing to insist on is a Carfax Report. If you’re looking at a car from a dealer and they wont give you one, WALK.

  41. Courtney says:

    I don’t think those who are recommending a mid-size car or station wagon have ever had the experience of trying to fit three carseats into a vehicle before…

  42. “The question you have to ask yourself is how much extra money you’re willing to pay for a status symbol whose luster will fade in a year or two.”

    Well, now you can’t always assume that a “flashy” car (to you) was bought as a status symbol for the owner… That isn’t always the case, and it’s not fair to lump everyone who owns a “better” car into this category. Our eight year old Honda *still* gets plenty of comments, and yes, she’s a 2001 model. Paid off, too.

    I know I’ll be ruffling some people’s feathers when I bring home the M3 that I want to, whether it’s a newer model or the E36 that I’m looking at. People already give me looks when I mention it (and being able to afford it) or my husband contemplating trading in our Honda to get a Porsche Cayman.

    As for the point at hand, I’m with others who said station wagon… But I like Subaru WRX’s, so I’m partial in that category. (Now there’s an excellent vehicle, IMO.) I’d avoid Kia & Hyundai, unless you like cars that won’t stand up. Some do, more don’t.

    Also, unless you REALLY care about how many cup holders are in your vehicle, I would take Consumer Reports with a pinch of salt. They honestly don’t know as much about cars as you’d like to think… I’d talk to the people who know cars instead. (Because safety reports only show you a small fraction of the story, and as far as I’m concerned, are impractical for showing safety in the real world.)

  43. Shevy says:

    My recommendation with the vehicle is that you take the 3 car seats/booster seats *with* you to the dealership and make sure they all fit into the vehicle and that you can do them up and undo them again with all 3 in there. Don’t be in the situation where they technically all fit but you can’t get your hand in between them to click the seat belt.

    I have a small hand (and presume you *don’t*) but I had to get the 4 year old to get her hand in there once when I had all 3 seats on a long bench seat.

  44. melissa says:

    Two notes: My mother has driven Toyota Minivans since 1985 (yes, far before they were prevalent)and they’ve been reliable the entire time.

    Also, don’t be so fast to discount leather seats. On NPR years ago, I heard an interesting story; a mother did research on what aspects in car buying were most important in real life. Leather seats ranked almost as high as 4-doors (for cars). Leather is easier to clean up – most spills wipe right off – so it saves in cleaning supplies & keeps the car clean in the long run. So no, probably not something to throw down tons of cash for. But probably not something to completely discount either.

  45. T'Pol says:

    Congratulations on the new baby Trent! 3 kids under 5… What is appropriate to say? Good Luck? Have Fun? Oh my?:))

  46. Along says:

    I’m in the same situation; 3 kids plus a maid. I REALLY need an MPV ASAP but just can’t make up my mind which one. Price is an issue for me whereas DH wants something that does not look like a minivan. We are still looking eventho our baby is now 6 months old. It’s been a nitemare!!

  47. Mrs Embers says:

    We’re going to be in this same situation soon. Our car (which we bought used) has enough room for the four of us, but we can’t wait to get rid of it. It’s unreliable for sure, and is currently sitting in the driveway waiting to go down and get 2 bearings and a ball joint replaced. FUN!

    We’ll keep this car going until it’s paid off and then save “payments” to put toward the next one for as long as it makes sense to nurse this one along. We’re looking for safety, reliability and 4WD… last winter our car got stuck in a storm and couldn’t make it up the hill we live on. :S

    I’m very interested in the comments here. All I know so far is that it’s not going to be another… one of this particular maker.

  48. Megan says:

    I recommend the Honda Odyssey, although I know the Toyota Sienna is a good car. The first car I drove was a ’99 Honda Odyssey “sports van” which is slightly smaller than a regular mini-van and has doors that open like a car. My dad, who works at Honda, has had almost every iteration of Odyssey since that first one, and loves them all. And he’s big into lumbar support because he’s 6’3″.

    If I could find one, I would buy a ’99 Odyssey right now, just to have it for when I have kids.

    I wish you the best of luck on your car search, and will be very curious to see what you end up getting.

    On a tangential note: if I were to buy a car with a loan (yes, I realize that’s a bad idea), and the car originally were to cost 16,000, is it normal to have $4000 in finance charges tacked on? I’ve only ever bought one car before the one we’re looking at, and while I bought it using a loan, I don’t remember a 25% finance charge. *frowns*

  49. Annah says:

    Thank you Kevin!
    Trent, I’m curious, will you be trading in your old car?

  50. getagrip says:


    Words of advice:

    Roof rack
    Luggage Carrier
    Video System

    You will run out of storage, particularly when a well meaning in-law provides your child with a fisher price garage, six foot stuffed flamingo, or other such unweilding item for you to “fit in” because you have so much room in that minivan they didn’t think it would be a problem. Not to mention the kids will not want to sit near each other as they get older, so to protect your nerves while driving the roof rack and luggage carrier allow you to use all the rows easier, especially when you take the dog. (You will be getting, and taking, a dog, at least once). You can technically forgo the roof rack, but it makes it easier and safer IMHO to secure the carrier to the vehicle roof.

    Video system, whether aftermarket, hooked on the back of the seat, etc. can be a real boon for very long trips, kids can watch a movie or favorite shows, you can get them headphones so you can listen to the radio, etc. Later they can play video games. What they watch can be a point of contention as they get older, but pluses in my mind outweigh the negatives.

    Finally, I have friends who also have three kids and swear by the smaller van put out by Mazda, (Mazda 5?). They use the roof rack and carrier for the long trips, but for around town it provides all the room they need and since it’s a smaller vehicle, the four cylinder is practical and they get better gas milage than the Odyssey or Sierra. Just some food for thought.

  51. Ray says:

    Sure, waiting on the side of the road isn’t safe. But that has nothing to do with how you’ll do in a crash.

  52. Treva says:

    I don’t get it. I’ve looked at minivans and they seemed cramped on space to me. Whoever sits in the back has very limited leg room, even for a little kid. And the storage area seems meager at best if you’re toting 2 adults and 3 young children’s worth of stuff. Just my opinion, though.

  53. doug says:


    As posted above, if you really want bang for your buck go for a USED VOLVO station wagon. Very safe, reliable, and COMFORTABLE! Some even have all wheel drive for those rough Iowa winters.

    I have been driving Volvo’s since I was in college. My current Volvo is a 1998 S70. I purchased it for $8900 over 5 years ago with 88k miles. I just turned 192,000 miles and its running strong. 200,000 miles is NOTHING for these cars!!

    Whatever you do, dont buy new! Buy a used Volvo and let someone else take the depreciation of buying new!

  54. Completely agree with #50 getagrip on the video system. When you have small kids it isn’t a option, especially on long trips.

    It can be the difference between a comfortable trip and complete madness. Helps to take their minds off the car seats they’re annoyingly strapped into ;-)

  55. Vicky says:

    Wow, I’ll be in this boat soon. I’m driving a 2004 Caviler – and it just is too small with it’s 2 doors and TINY backseat!

    I have three dogs who BARELY fit in the car as it is – and taking them to shows with a crate just doesn’t work in my car. My other vehicle is a small motorcycle, so it can’t exactly accommodate us either.

    I’m really looking to getting a Honda Fit within the next year or two to give us more space!

  56. Jen says:

    Aw, show the minivan some love! :-)

    My parents had one (Ford Aerostar, probably ’95-ish) when my brother and I were kids, and it definitely preserved the peace on road trips because my brother and I could each have our own row. At 16 I took my road test in that beast, in backwoods Wisconsin, in February, and aced everything except the parallel parking (nerves–I’d been able to do it perfectly on either side of the street until the minute the examiner got in the vehicle). I still brag about that. My brother hauled all sorts of sound equipment in it when the band was gigging around town. Only thing I didn’t like was that the center of gravity felt a little high, which is a bit scary when you’re spinning around on an icy street, but I suspect that today’s models sit a little lower.

    Oh, and the dog liked the van, too. :-)

  57. CreditShout says:

    Unlike most of you, I went ahead and bought a 330i BMW. Yes it has leather, Yes it has heated seats, Yes it goes 0-60 in 5 seconds and yes I’m loving every single minute of driving it. A $5000 used Toyota just wouldn’t do that for me. Sure you can be cheap when it comes to a car, but your stuck with it for the next 5 years so my philosophy is you might as well buy something you are going to enjoy, even if you may have a little less in the bank.

  58. Rebecca says:

    At the risk of playing devil’s advocate …

    I currently drive a minivan. It is old, paid-off, and (more or less) reliable, and has been a good and faithful car for me. For what Trent needs, I think a minivan is a good choice.

    But when this car dies, I will not be getting a new(er) minivan. As handy as it is, it’s overkill for a single person. And more to the point, after 10+ years of driving one, I want a car that is attractive; one that I like looking at and will be proud to own for the next 10+ years. So yes–after reliability/good gas mileage, looks are *definitely* a factor. Any good car should get me from point A to point B, obviously. But if I have the option (and obviously not everyone does), I don’t see anything wrong in considering something that’s beautiful (or at the very least, good-looking), as well as functional.

  59. Tammy says:

    Just don’t let your wife car shop alone while she’s pregnant. Pregnant women can go temporarily insane and buy the totally wrong car, as I know from personal experience :-) I traded in a sweet little Chevy Cavalier with low miles for a bigger Chevy Impala that turned out to be the biggest lemon we ever owned, with a whopper of an interest rate to boot. But I was 8 months pregnant and couldn’t care less. I could lift the car seat in, and that was the deciding factor. The car salesman was probably turning cartwheels.

  60. AJ says:

    Megan #48 – does that include tax/title/license? The car I bought roughly two years ago cost $12,000, and I had about $1,000 in TTL to go along with $2,000 in finance charges, so 25% sounds pretty close if it all gets rolled together (and it’s a 5-year loan…woo-hoo).

  61. Michelle says:

    @ #53, doug – Have you ever tried putting 3 car seats in the back of a Volvo? I have, it don’t work. And that 3rd row? It’s rear facing, which isn’t safe, at all. Now, I love Volvo wagons, and when my kids are out of car seats I fully intend to get one, but it’s really not a viable option for someone with more than 1 kid in a car seat.

  62. Jill says:

    I think my mini-van issues stem from being forced to drive my moms van to and from high school and being made fun of, a lot, for it.


    Same here. Though once in a blue moon, there would be eight people who all suddenly needed a ride to one place and I was instantly everyone’s best friend for the duration of the trip. Also worth noting was that it was one of the old vastly underpowered 4 cylinder Caravans which was scary enough that I’d end up praying I wouldn’t get hit most of the time when I had to make a left turn in even moderate traffic.

    If you don’t need space for three care seats, station wagons really are a good SUV alternative- as much useful storage space, safer, and frequently significantly better gas mileage than the big beasts. I love my ’06 Outback. Comfy for people in the front seats on long car trips, crashes most excellently, and I’ve come to really appreciate the all wheel drive capabilities during Florida’s monsoon-like thunderstorms. Even the heated seats, which I originally mocked for being useless down here are great- I can use them instead of the heater in winter, and I no longer have to deal with hot air blasting into my eyes and drying them out on cold days.

    I seriously think they’re the new, though slightly less fancy, Volvo wagon and it was easy to discover why so many Subie buyers drive them into the ground instead of selling them after a couple of years.

    Financially, it was a stupid move to buy the car. We offered up a perfectly nice, largely paid for Toyota Corolla in trade for a down payment on it. But we’re normally buy and hold car buyers, and I’m seriously going to enjoy 10-12 years driving the Subie when the Corolla was the car I always just kind of tolerated.

  63. Ryan says:


    I’ve become everyone’s best friend too…

    I drive a Ford Explorer.

    It technically only seats 5, but those 5 are really comfortable. And there’s a ton of room in the back for book bags, shoes, etc.

  64. Noel says:

    I second Livia. I would also like to see a post, rather soon, on the resources you are using to buy your vehicle. I am a newbie and out in the market to but my first ever car.
    Thanks in advance.

  65. Sharon L says:

    I think my mini-van issues stem from being forced to drive my moms van to and from high school and being made fun of, a lot, for it.

    And you cared, why? So much that you let it affect you as an adult? Just who are these people that you are letting influence you? Where are they in life? Do you have any respect for them, for people who are so petty that they would make fun you for the vehicle you drove?

    I learned long ago that petty people of any age are not people I care to let influence me.

  66. katie says:

    Ha, we’ve spent over 5k repairing our volvo wagon, even though it’s never been in an accident. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

  67. If more people thought more about the “point A to point B” concept instead of worrying about the bells and whistles and everything else, they might find themselves with a little more cash in their wallets at the end of the day.

    I focus on sensibility and sensibility only when buying a new car.

  68. Mayo says:


    Best wishes on your detective hunt for a safe, reliable family vehicle. After you choose one, I’ll be interested in your recommendations. Not only as a car owner, but also as an occasional rental-car customer.

    Those of us who sometimes rent vehicles for large groups are as concerned about safety, reliability and customer service as buyers. Your research may serve as a guide for a large population.

  69. joan says:

    First of all, I will say that I haven’t read the other comments YET. I will do so in the next couple of days. I just want to say that in my opinion buying new instead of used seems to me to be a good idea. You will have the car for several years, and the newer cars have higher milage warranties. I have a honda odyssey; and the resale value on this particular car is really great. I researched it online before I bought. Had to get rid of my well-loved pickup because of the low gas mailage; but wanted a vehicle that also had plenty of room. I researched other cars also. The honda salesman was not pushy. He listened and got me what I wanted. He was also the one salesman who was always busy when I visited the showroom while the other salesmen were just running around. I didn’t get all the fancy extras, just the items that I felt were necessary. The odyssey is 20 months old and I feel that it was a great buy. I have sent several people to the salesman who sold me the car. The odyssey seats seven and has plenty of room for packages, groceries; etc. when all five back seats are sitting up. Three of the seats fold into the trunk when not needed and two are easy to take out of the car. However; as much as I like my odyssey, (I still miss my pickup.

  70. J says:

    Today’s minivan is yesterday’s station wagon. Today’s station wagon comes in pretty much two categories: a Subaru and something really expensive from Europe. I drive a Subaru wagon and love it, but there’s no way it compares to the full size wagons I grew up with — it’s basically a compact with a taller trunk area. The Mazda5 is an interesting mini-minivan, too — a co-worker has one and it’s a very well-designed and thought out car. I really DO wish that more real station wagon choices did exist here at decent price points (e.g. Accord wagon, Camry wagon), instead of tepid “crossovers” that lose all the fun of driving a car (low center of gravity, better handling) and all the utility of a minivan (space and seating).

    As for Volvo, manufacturers have largely caught up on the “safety” thing — especially in the minivan space, where the market they are selling to puts safety as one of the most important reasons for choosing the vehicle they do. The 240 was a great car, ahead of it’s time in terms of safety (I had a ’83). I will agree that the seats are amazingly comfortable — even from back then. Now there are plenty of choices out there that cost far less money than the Volvo brand does — that also deliver the goods when it comes to safety. Volvo is much more Ford’s European luxury brand than it is their safety brand anymore.

    All that said, we have the Sienna with AWD as our other car. It is an amazing vehicle at accomplishing it’s mission. Ours can hold 7 (2wd models can hold 8), the interior is very spacious, the ride is quiet, the engine is powerful, the AWD system works very well, and you can likely get a decently equipped LE model for $25K, new, with some negotiation (IMHO the CE is too stripped down and the XLE has too much crap). The fuel economy is also quite good for a vehicle of this class, as well — around 20 MPG. A Subaru wagon is going to get you maybe 25 (and not hold as much), and if you go SUV/Crossover it’s going to be the same (or worse). Going up the scale for something like a Mercedes diesel will get you into somewhere like $50K, which is pretty insane.

    The only reason the Odyssey wasn’t considered was that it did not offer AWD. This was a non-negotiable point.

  71. almost there says:

    J #70, we traded in our first generation, 96 Honda Odyssey on an 04 Saturn VUE just because we wanted AWD and still got the v6 honda engine and transmission in the deal. win win.

  72. craig says:

    @36 – who cares what europeans want in a car? Iowa is in the usa.

  73. craig says:

    you are right on with how the cars are tested – they are compared to vehicles their own size. i own a suburban and a civic – and if those 2 cars were to get in an accident there is no doubt in my mind which vehicle I would rather be in…
    and with a family of 3 kids, I know saftey would be the most important feature for me.

  74. J says:

    @71 — we traded from a CR-V to the minivan to get the extra space and sacrificed very little in terms of operating economy. Also our auto insurance premiums dropped off for the minivan, as well. Most SUV’s fall short versus a minivan in some objective category — be it fuel economy, storage space, seating, cost, or ride quality. Where the SUV “wins” is in mostly image areas, or for the very small percentage of people who actually use the thing as a truck — pulling trailers, going off-road (or otherwise using low-range 4wd). But most SUV’s never leave the road unless it’s parking at the ball field.

    @36 — Europeans also typically don’t have three children. Their birth rate is less than the US, so yeah, with high fuel costs, more crowded streets, higher taxes to own a vehicle, better public transit, more expensive licensing fees and so on, of course they would buy a smaller car. Look at how the demand for small cars went up when gas ran up to $4 here. But in the US, the financial difference between 20 and 25 MPG isn’t as large.

    @73 — I learned to drive in a Suburban, so they always hold a special place in my heart. Physics does play a part in a collision between a small and large vehicle, to be sure, but the Civic also stops faster, corners better and has far less of a chance of a roll-over taking place. It’s also highly likely a minivan is “safer” than the Suburban, as well, since minivans are aimed squarely at the family segment, where safely is a big sell. I do like it when I get an occasion to drive a Suburban, though, I feel like I’m in “24”.

  75. ~megan says:

    We recently shopped for (and ended up buying) a new Honda CR-V. The depreciation on the car made it worth buying new over used.

    The #1 most important thing to us was that the carseat would fit rear-facing. The American Association of Pediatrics just released a recommendation to keep children rear-facing until the age of 2. (Though this is not the law where I live.) My daughter will be 2 in March and we could not fit the carseat in the rear-facing position in my faithful (and paid for) Ford Focus. Yes, we could have bought a new carseat for less money, but we chose to add a second vehicle to our fleet.

    Number two was a desire for leather. Trent–trust me here–baby vomit, juice, raisins, etc are MUCH, MUCH, MUCH easier to clean off leather than cloth.

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