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Best car for a 'dry heat'
September 2, 2014 11:38 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend, who lives in Tempe, AZ near Phoenix, just had his 2000 Subaru Outback give up the head-gasket ghost. He's going to need another car, but neither of us know much about cars which are built to withstand heat. Please suggest cars to look at!

He is most interested in mechanical reliability, with safety, good a/c, and good gas mileage being next concerns. He doesn't really need the storage capacity of an Outback, but he would like to be able to attach his bike to the car somehow. It'd be nice if at least the driver's seat is comfortable. He will occasionally drive into the mountains to go camping so the car shouldn't freak out about that.

He hasn't decided on a budget, but I think he expects the car to cost somewhere in the 8k-20k range; if there's a totally awesome perfect Phoenix car that's more, let us know. I think he'd prefer a car that's a few years old to buying new, but would consider a new car if there's a good reason.
posted by nat to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
All cars are built to withstand the same heat. I do recommend buying white or silver with tan or grey interior, though, just to not make the human-affecting heat any worse than it has to be.

Any car made in the last 8 years is going to have roughly equal safety, A/C, and gas mileage by class (meaning size/price range). Comfort is a personal decision based on body size/shape/condition.

If buying a used car, Edmunds and Consumer Reports have some info about reliability, but again it's pretty much all the same from a factory perspective. A good mechanic you trust to tell you if the car is well cared-for is far more important than make and model.

People do seem to love the Outback and Forrester, but if those run too high for what he wants to pay he might look to a smaller car that's still a hatchback, as those tend to have the best configuration for camping and camping equipment.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:50 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Lyn Never is right, all cars of that vintage and newer (and quite a bit older, for that matter) are pretty much equal as far as withstanding environmental heat. How many miles on his Outback? A head gasket is replaceable and unless a) he really doesn't like the car anyway or b) head gasket failure is a known issue with that year/model or c) the rest of the car has been flogged to death by high miles, the most economical route is probably to fix it.
posted by bricoleur at 12:20 PM on September 2


While I agree overall with the other comments, some relatively recent cars can have rather anemic A/C systems - that is something worth checking. My otherwise beloved '05 Mazda3, with the A/C on full blast, can keep the car fairly comfortable but not actually cool in hot desert conditions. This turned out to be a well-known design issue with that generation of car.
posted by kickingtheground at 12:32 PM on September 2


I would also suggest that you check for a temp gauge on the dash. My '09 Nissan Versa doesn't have one and it makes me a little batty that I can't keep an eye on the coolant temp.
posted by workerant at 12:40 PM on September 2


If good gas mileage is a priority, I do not recommend a 4-wheel-drive car. Not to mention the whole Four Tires Thing. (You can't replace just two at a time.)

He might want to consider a used eco-diesel (I drive a 2013 Passat TDI, get ~50mpg highway, but it was out of his price range - a few years back might do it) for the combination of gas mileage and performance for driving into the mountains. My Passat does have lousy a/c, however, compared to my 2004 Forester (21 mpg/hw), although it's no worse in any terrain I've driven (unpaved hilly roads, basically).
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:02 PM on September 2


Generalization: the best AC is found in luxury cars and domestic full-sized trucks.
posted by box at 1:35 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Head gasket failure is a common problem for certain Subaru models of that vintage. It didn't fail because of the dry heat. Here's a good explanation.

I have a 1998 Impreza LS wagon (that's the compact wagon - no head gasket issues) and IMO you cannot beat it for reliability, safety, good a/c, and decent (I wouldn't say good) gas mileage.

Lots of Subarus last for 200,000 or 300,000 miles; they are among the longest-lasting cars out there. I expect to get at least another 100,000 miles from mine. It's amazing how much stuff will fit in it, too. It's a great camping car (it climbs deeply rutted and eroded steep dirt roads like a goat).

I'd go ahead and get the head gasket fixed, and while he's at it do the other repairs proactively - unless he just hates the Outback. But don't rule out another Subaru.
posted by caryatid at 2:06 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Ah, I should have been more clear: the car had a common Subaru problem (head gasket) but it was worth less than it cost to repair (it was already up there in the mileage). He is for sure getting a new car, and is not at all tied to the model he had before- he rarely used its cargo capicity or AWD. And its A/C was always a little weak. So, we are most interested in other suggestions.
posted by nat at 4:02 PM on September 2


Hondas and Toyotas are reliable and the A/C in my Honda kicks ass!

And just because I can:

Pete Ellis Dodge, Freeway 17, Camelback Exit, Phoenix!

Okay, don't go there, I just had it on my brain.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:08 PM on September 2


worth less than it cost to repair

Don't be too sure. Kelley bluebook routinely undervalues Subarus.
posted by caryatid at 7:34 PM on September 2


He is most interested in mechanical reliability, with safety, good a/c, and good gas mileage being next concerns. He doesn't really need the storage capacity of an Outback

So far you're talking about a recent Honda Civic - preferably Honda-certified (5 years / 100,000 miles powertrain warranty) after some other sucker has aired out the "new car" smell on a lease.

... but he would like to be able to attach his bike to the car somehow. It'd be nice if at least the driver's seat is comfortable. He will occasionally drive into the mountains to go camping so the car shouldn't freak out about that.

So now I have no idea. Maybe a Honda Element? Generally you want a Honda or a Toyota for reliability, but I don't know how models outside the classics (Civic/Camry/Accord/Corolla, in that order, in my opinion) hold up.
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:49 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Evidently he likes the idea of a Mazda 3, but they get terrible reviews for A/C so that seems not so good. (I would love a Honda Element but I think he would say it is too much car). Is there something sporty-ish like the Mazda3 but in the Honda or Toyota range for reliability?
posted by nat at 12:11 PM on September 3


Is there something sporty-ish like the Mazda3 but in the Honda or Toyota range for reliability?

The Civic Si, maybe?
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:21 PM on September 3


Having recently driven from Phoenix to Prescott (which is only sort of halfway up "the mountains") in the summer heat, I recommend that you rent the car you are thinking about and try it out.

I don't remember which small car we rented, but it was noticeably struggling to climb the elevation while also running the A/C. We had to turn off the A/C for a few segments of climbing because we didn't think it could do both.

I know nothing about cars, but my gut is telling me that this is probably due to 4-cylinder vs 6 or 8, and if we had rented a car with a bigger engine we might not have had that problem.

I also recommend that you post this question to a more Phoenix-centered crowd, like the Phoenix subReddit.
posted by CathyG at 6:55 AM on September 4


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