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Babies and Cars
September 16, 2004 2:29 PM   Subscribe

We already have a baby, and now we're having another. Two-part question: we need advice on upgrading to a "family vehicle" (what kind of car to buy that suits our needs); and we need to know how to safely transport two babies at once (i.e. two carseats in the backseat logistics). More inside.

We have a 13-month-old son and another baby on the way. We've been making do with my '97 two-door Toyota Tercel even though it's a hassle to haul the baby in and out of the (tiny, hard-to-access) backseat, but the idea of wrestling two babies and two carseats is making me think it's time to start saving money to upgrade to a "family" car.

So the first part of the question is: I've never bought a car before. What kind of car would be family-friendly (i.e. roomier), enviro-friendly (probably not an SUV), gets good gas mileage (important, since we make regular long trips), reliable/doesn't cost a mint to repair, and inexpensive/easy to find used?

We don't really have the money to buy something brand-new, so does it make more sense to get something that just fits the two babies for now and upgrade again in a couple years, or buy something almost-new that'll be big enough for the (very probable) kids that might come along after these two and not get another for the next five years or so?

I'm not too keen on minivans but something that is safe and not too boxy would be okay; I'm not comfortable driving really big or wide cars. I'm thinking a station wagon might be the best option. Or maybe there are cars that are roomier that aren't so-called "family" cars. I'm looking for make/model suggestions here, personal experiences and recommendations.

And the second part: what is the safest way to put two carseats in one backseat?

The safest place is in the middle, so does that mean the littler one sits there and the older baby has to sit on one of the sides - and if so, which side would be safer, behind the driver or the passenger? Is it safe to put those two carseats right up next to each other (one in the middle, one on the side), especially if one will be facing forward and the other backward? Or better to separate them so they aren't touching and put one on each side of the backseat? Is there such a thing as a two-baby carseat that would go in the middle of the backseat?
posted by Melinika to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have been quite satisfied with the stripped down Subaru Legacy L . I am on my second one, (accident!) and really its just a super car. You can find them used, (30k) for maybe 12,500.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 2:45 PM on September 16, 2004


You might look for a Jetta TDI or a Jetta Wagon. What's your budget like?

Disclaimer: They're rock solid, until they have a problem. If something is going to go wrong with one, it will go seriously wrong. But nothing will go wrong until something goes seriously wrong.

The TDI (I'm not sure if they brought the TDI Wagon to the states, but I think I remember seeing one.) gets 50mpg. It's got plenty of room in the backseat, and plenty of haulage space.

If you have money to throw around, get thyself into a Honda Oddysey of some sort. Avoid the american minivans; they suck. (The fold-down mid seats in the new chrysler is a nice feature, but they're hard as boards, completely uncomfortable for more than thirty seconds... and you've got kids, so why would you need fold-down mid seats?) The Oddysey handles like an Accord. It's really kind of freaky; I enjoy driving one, and I usually drive an acura integra or a motorcycle... Carseats can fit in the two chairs in back and give you access from both sides as well as from inside the vehicle while it's moving, in case you have a minor child emergency during one of those long trips.
posted by SpecialK at 3:05 PM on September 16, 2004


Oh yeah, and the Oddity gets very decent gas mileage in both the inline-4 and V-6 flavors. The V6 is nicknamed "Race minivan" by my family for reasons that will be obvious if you test-drive one and really step on it.
posted by SpecialK at 3:06 PM on September 16, 2004


And actually, now that I look at it, used Oddyseys aren't that expensive.
Re: Gas mileage, Dad got 40mpg once on a long I-95 trip.
Re: Handling: I hate driving big vehicles. Hate, hate, hate. I can handle an oddysey.

Oh, and congratulations on the new baby on the way. :)
posted by SpecialK at 3:09 PM on September 16, 2004


Legacys are awesomely reliable. Their fuel mileage is a bit lower than I'd like ( '91 Legacy ~ 26-28 on ther highway depending on speed ). They seem to need regular differential adjustment but overall an exceptionally reliable, superb car. The Volvo 240 series - terminated in '93 or '94 - is another, somewhat bigger and beefier - all around exceptional vehicle with another legendary motor to perhaps rival the Legacy motor ( the B230F ) but perhaps you want a newer car (plus, the 240's were rear wheel drive, a minus for safety overall though awesomely durable - cheap that is). The 240's can be had very cheaply and - as with the Legacys - seem to generally run into the low to mid 200K miles before they conk out or their owners get annoyed with increasing quirks and nuisance problems.

Toyota has some more recent minivans that are highly rated. Honda used to make some superb wagons - Civics if I recall - that combined excellent fuel economy with decent size. There are a few highly rated American minivans - I know that but I can't cite models.
posted by troutfishing at 3:10 PM on September 16, 2004


I hear the Honda Oddessy is the best minivan out there but runs about $30k. I know a lot of people are raving about the new Toyota Scion xB for its interior space (it's that boxy sorta SUV thing) and it's only like $16k-20k.
posted by mathowie at 3:15 PM on September 16, 2004


To bank off the Legacy, you may want to try an Outback Sport, which is based on the Legacy frame but is a convert to a small, sporty wagon - which will give you a bit more room to stash stuff in the back or on top (via a roof rack) while having two carseats in the backseat. Mine gets about 33mpg on the highway with the A/C turned off. And Subarus tend to last forever so long as you can keep from smashing 'em up.
posted by Ufez Jones at 3:23 PM on September 16, 2004


I second the Oddity or Toyota Sienna. They both spend time as top-rated vehicles from year-to-year. The Sienna has great gas mileage, great handling (it feels like a damn car!), and is very comfortable. You can pick up lightly-used ones for quite cheap if you're persistant and patient. Plus they come with killer warranties, so you are unlikely to end up with a complete dud that drains your wallet dry.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:59 PM on September 16, 2004


In addition to the Odyssey, check out the Element. Shagoth may shortly tell you how much he loves the one he and his wife recently bought, if he happens across this Q. For him, it captures what he loved about the original VW vans: lots of room and eminently practical. Every bit of the interior of that vehicle is fully prepared to be hosed down, which has got to be handy with kids. Once they get a bit older, kids will also appreciate the fact that the back seats are raised a little so they can better see out. And fully loaded, the Element costs just a shade over $20K.

However, if you're going to have any more kids, this is probably not the vehicle for you, as it only seats four. It's also not the fastest thing on the road (again, shades of the original VW bus).
posted by kindall at 4:05 PM on September 16, 2004


We have a Jetta wagon and two babies. I am five-four and my husband is six foot, and we are comfortable so long as he drives and I ride shotgun when we are both in the car. We have the 1.8 Turbo and get 30+ on the highway, low 20s in the city.

The safest place is in the middle, so does that mean the littler one sits there and the older baby has to sit on one of the sides - and if so, which side would be safer, behind the driver or the passenger? Is it safe to put those two carseats right up next to each other (one in the middle, one on the side), especially if one will be facing forward and the other backward? Or better to separate them so they aren't touching and put one on each side of the backseat? Is there such a thing as a two-baby carseat that would go in the middle of the backseat?

Assuming your older child is or will be front-facing by the time the baby is born:

Ideally you put the older child front-facing on the passenger side and the infant rear-facing in the center. The older the child, the better the spinal development, so the baby really needs to be in the center if possible.

This is easily done, particularly if you spend a little dough and get Britax Roundabout seats, which seem to have a smaller footprint than many other convertible carseats (and also the highest safety ratings of any seat on the market).

We have the much bulkier Cosco Alpha-Omega seats, and it's still doable, but a little more of a challenge. I really wish I'd been more bossy with the husband when we were buying carseats.

A friend with a similar family configuration has a Jetta sedan and the Britax seats, and a whole lot more leg room leftover than we've got. They recently turned their younger child, so now they've got them both front-facing and still center and passenger side.

You don't have to have either in the center. Some kids don't take kindly to babies all up in their grills, and you can't very well turn around and handle that when it comes up. If you find that you need to separate them, the younger child should be on the passenger side.

My info comes from the CHP--they installed my seats for me, and taught me to do it myself. Most communities have this service available through the police, fire, or highway patrol departments. They might even come to you--we had the CHP community outreach officer come to our mom's group. I really recommend having a pro check your seats out when the time comes.

I would love a Sienna or Odyssey, but for the fact that I just can't make the jump into minivan-mommyland, and that I can't see the price without crying.
posted by padraigin at 4:58 PM on September 16, 2004


To bank off the Legacy, you may want to try an Outback Sport, which is based on the Legacy frame but is a convert to a small, sporty wagon

Jeez, I realized my brainfart on the train home. The regular Outback is based off the Legacy, the Outback Sport is based off of the Impreza. I really shouldn't post while listening to a baseball game at work.

Anyways, the OBS fit myself (at 6'3") and three grown friends comfortably, fwiw. Should be a bit cheaper than a Legacy or regular Outback.
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:03 PM on September 16, 2004


I should add, along with congratulations, that you have made a really, really nutty decision. I haven't slept in about five months.

But, I have a shiny station wagon!
posted by padraigin at 5:10 PM on September 16, 2004


... I can't see the price without crying.

My friend picked up her Odditty for ~C$18k plus taxes &c, in like-new interior/exterior condition, four years old with high mileage but almost all highway kilometers, at a time new ones cost ~$36k.

IMO it was a helluva steal.

I believe if you keep your eyes open, you can find many similar deals.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:19 PM on September 16, 2004


In addition to the Odyssey, check out the Element. Shagoth may shortly tell you how much he loves the one he and his wife recently bought, if he happens across this Q. For him, it captures what he loved about the original VW vans: lots of room and eminently practical.

We looked at the Element as well. While everything Kindall said is true, a couple of things to consider: The "suicide" rear doors mean the front door has to open anytime a rear one opens. We did a few "trials" whilst holding my 6-month old daughter, and decided the extra step would be something of a pain. The Element also had some trouble on the side impact crash test.

We also looked at the VW Passat wagon (my Dad and stepmom each have a sedan version, and dealers around us are giving over $6500 cash back on remaining '04s) but decided on the Mazda 6 Sportwagon. More passenger room (and more reliable) than the Passat, a 220hp V6, tons of standard equipment (tilt/telescope leather wheel, ABS, traction control, power everything, AC, fold-flat rear seats, etc.) and we're getting an '04 for a tick under $20K (the sedan is a few grand cheaper). They also have a smaller and cheaper Mazda 3 wagon that looks pretty neat. I have a ton of friends with Outbacks - half love them and half have more trouble than a cat at a dog show, so proceed with caution. And I much as I love 4-wheel drive, it's just more to break down as the car gets older. I'd second looking at the Jetta wagon. VWs (while not quite as reliable as say, Honda or Toyota) have a bank-vault solidity about them I admire.

And speaking of Toyota, you might want to check out the Scion. I don't know much about them, but the kooky/cool xB van thingy starts at under $15K.
posted by jalexei at 5:35 PM on September 16, 2004


We have a 2000 VW golf, and prior to looking into getting a mortgage for an Odyssey...Oops, I mean a loan, we looked at the Element. Had I been starting from scratch, with no cars, the Element would have been our choice. We planned on, and so far, have, two little girls. The Element has more room than the Golf, but we bought the Golf and wanted to keep it...

So, we ended up with a Caravan in addition to the Golf. I felt that if you can't afford the Odyssey (or the Sienna, although we did not like the Sienna as much) it really didn't matter. I have a friend who worked in Quality Control for Lear, who makes seats etc. for most major car companies, and her opinion was that the domestics were really all the same, i.e. not that great.

Get a ride you can afford, the Element is pretty inexpensive and very rugged (car sickeness? You can hose out the back!) and invest in really good quality car seats (we favour the Britax car seats)

Whew...there's my 30 or 40 cents!
posted by Richat at 5:39 PM on September 16, 2004


We seriously considered an Element, but it failed the "getting a rear facing child out of a convertible (non-removable) carseat" test. Miserably.

As does the Subaru WRX, which I believe is the same as the Outback Sport. The doors are cut funny, it's a pain to get the niblet in and out.
posted by padraigin at 6:29 PM on September 16, 2004


Whatever you buy make sure both carseats fit in the back, with the front seats how they would be for you to be comfortable. My Dad can not carry both of his grandkids at once because he has to have his seat back to drive. That stops a carseat from being seated properly behind him.

And, I've had friends have to purchase another car because their old car would not work for any type of car seat, at all.

I drive an older Ford Taurus (1994) and I can fit 3 car seats in the back with no fit problems at all. The youngest kid gets the middle in the rear facing seat. My nephew is 13 months but, still rear facing as he's short kid. He's in a toddler convertible carseat and it takes a lot of space to be put in backwards.
posted by SuzySmith at 6:40 PM on September 16, 2004


As does the Subaru WRX, which I believe is the same as the Outback Sport. The doors are cut funny, it's a pain to get the niblet in and out.

Yes (as in the doors would be the same, I can't vouch for the niblet factor).
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:42 PM on September 16, 2004


Wow, thanks for all the advice so far! I truly appreciate it and this thread is going to be very useful, researching all these recommendations. padraigin, in particular, that info on the carseats is so helpful and just what I needed to know - awesome.

Just to clarify: I think our budget is a lot lower than some of you all are assuming.... an almost-new car would have to be an insanely crazy deal for us to buy it over a used one, or be so worth taking on the loan payment that we'd be using it for the next, like, seven years. We're young and po', and trying to save money for a house, so the more thrown at a car is the longer it will take to get a house.... I don't have a problem buying used but since it's more for the critters than us, I want to be really sure what we choose will be safe and reliable and not a constant headache rather than an asset. It will also be our only car.

By the way the carseat we got for our son is an Evenflo Titan 5; Britax is way too expensive. Nice, though! The Evenflo appears to be good quality for the price so far, and had very good safety ratings, but it does seem like it has a big footprint; I was looking at it in my teeny backseat today thinking "there is no way I will fit another car seat in there if I don't put them both on the sides", and that is what led to me posting this question.
posted by Melinika at 7:34 PM on September 16, 2004


I hesitate to suggest an american minivan but, here goes nothing. The 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan Sport/AWD can be had for about 9-13k. It has good consumer reviews, features dual sliding doors, all-wheel-drive plus it's pretty plush with a lot of bells and whistles for that kind of money. A friend has one, it's got back of the seat LCD/DVD's that were pretty trick back then. If I only had two kids, this would probably be what I hauled them with. As a longtime GM consumer, I've finally crossed the threshold where I can't reccommend any of them.

If you do wish an import, look closely at the Toyota Sienna XLE 1999-2001. They are very similar to the Caravan and probably a bit more reliable and thoughfully built. The newest Siennas are AWD so, perhaps in a few years?

Regardless, I'm a strong advocate of 2-4 year old used vehicles. Let someone else eat that new car price...

Anyway, if a minivan is straight out for the family (I would understand if it was) please look at a gently used Volvo station wagon. A 15 year old Volvo is far safer and more reliable than a 2004 anything. I doubt much else will give you the backseat expanse that you're going to need.

Back in the day, when we were running two carseats, we had a couple of station wagons. Now, for all eight (one carseat) of us, we can only fit into a full-sized van. When they get spouses and their own kids (not long now) I'll probably get a damn bus....
posted by Dean_Paxton at 8:54 PM on September 16, 2004


I second the Volvo station wagon. You can drive a Volvo off a 35-foot cliff and walk away unscratched.
posted by gokart4xmas at 10:02 PM on September 16, 2004


Safety-wise, I drove a '97 VW Jetta (bought used at 13k, and we paid more than we should have - sold it 18 months ago for ~$8k) and an '85 Volvo sedan, and never felt safer - I have this crazy idea that European cars are safer than any other. The Jetta was the car my baby would have been driven around in had we stayed in the US, so we had it set up with the baby capsule (Graco travel system) and everything and there was tons of room to spare.

After those, I'd go for anything Honda for economy and ease-of-maintenance, although as soon as you get anything with a ton of electrics -- like all American cars -- it gets more time-consuming and hence more costly to repair.

Thirdly I'd choose Toyota for price, decent but not great economy and ease of maintenance.

I don't remember any North American car models any more, but a station wagon seems like a good bet, all right. My warning as far as Subarus goes is that the two we owned or drove in the US, both autos, both blew the transmissions and the one we actually owned cost a heck of a lot to fix. But maybe that was just the voodoo curse.

(As far as the transporting two babies, I can't offer anything useful there but I will be bookmarking this page. :)
posted by tracicle at 3:21 AM on September 17, 2004


We just bought a Honda CRV and we love it. We probably paid more for it than you want to spend, but one thing to consider about the current crop of Hondas is that they have no scheduled maintenance for something like the first 100,000 miles. Change the oil, put gas in it and make sure the tires are in good shape, and you are good to go.

One nice thing is that is has much more room inside than you would expect, and the mileage is as good as the Volvo V-70 station wagon that I traded in on it.
posted by Irontom at 5:09 AM on September 17, 2004


This might sound stupid, but what about an old four door Nova or Cadillac that is in good shape? It will cost $3k, and has those wide rear seats. When it needs a big repair in three years, you go out and buy another one, and it's only cost you $80, plus all the gasoline of course. I don't think anyone that has posted really understands the "inexpensive" concept.

Use the extra money to put in a dvd player! And get some phat rims. I'm only half-joking.

[/mourning his old 79 Nova]
posted by mecran01 at 12:25 PM on September 17, 2004


I had the same criteria (one now planning for another soon) when I went looking to replace my Dakota 4x4 that got stolen this summer. I bought a 96 Caravan for C$2000 with 175Kms.

A minivan is by far the interior space leader. Regardless of your domestic/import bias in the used market the Caravan is a good bet. Chrysler owns 40-50% of the minivan market with good reason. And that huge market share means parts are readily available. The stowable seats are a gimmick in my opinion. Like SpecialK said you need the seat all the time anyways. And when you don't your hauling around all that extra weight.

Email me if you consider a Caravan. I can send you recommendations on which to be looking for and a great multipage write up of the improvements and reasearch that went into the 96 minivans.
posted by Mitheral at 1:06 PM on September 17, 2004


This might sound stupid, but what about an old four door Nova or Cadillac that is in good shape? It will cost $3k, and has those wide rear seats. When it needs a big repair in three years, you go out and buy another one, and it's only cost you $80, plus all the gasoline of course. I don't think anyone that has posted really understands the "inexpensive" concept.


This isn't a terrible idea, and I'd have offered a similar idea myself, but for one thing: Melinika's profile shows her in Ontario, and that's not an ideal nurturing ground for older cars. It's hard to find one that isn't a rustbucket, and a rustbucket is not a safe car in which to transport children.

Also, the cost of maintaining an older car is virtually nothing if you're handy with a wrench, but if you aren't, you could very well be screwed.

That said, we were about to continue on our own vintage-car adventure and get an old sedan or wagon, but decided that we travel enough by car that a new, reliable vehicle was worth our money. And we drove old rattletraps while we saved up the money for one. But we're in California where old cars in fabulous condition are the rule.
posted by padraigin at 2:04 PM on September 17, 2004


Left this out 96 was the first year for a new body style, both engineering and sheet metal. However power train modules carried over from 95 and transmission problems were mostly eliminated by 93 if people used the correct fluid.
posted by Mitheral at 2:20 PM on September 17, 2004


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