New England Car Needed
July 17, 2009 6:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving to the Upper Valley of New Hampshire in a month and need to buy a car for the first time. Help me choose the right one.

We've narrowed it down basically to two general options: something resembling a 2 year old Subaru Outback and something resembling a new Prius. Our choice will depend on the availability of options, incentives at the time of purchase, and the necessity of getting an all-wheel drive vehicle for the harsh winters versus the fuel efficiency of getting a hybrid for our monthly trips to NYC. What, o great metahivemind, do you suggest we do?
posted by billtron to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1) Buy it once you get to NH; no sales tax.
2) Lots of people drive both around here. I'd recommend the Subaru if you're living in the country, the Prius if you're living in town.
posted by B-squared at 6:25 AM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Four-wheel drive would be a big, big plus. I have an old Volvo that's usually great, but come wintertime I get stuck in the snow constantly. It sucks, and that's just in more or less urbanized parts of Massachusetts. I'm all for Priuses replacing every single other car in cities and in warmer areas, but in northern New England you'll really grow to hate getting stuck in your driveway whenever it snows (which is often).

If you do get a Prius, park it inside all winter and invest in a good snow plow guy and some rock salt.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:38 AM on July 17, 2009

When I lived on the other side of NH (Portsmouth), it seemed like every other car on the road was a Subaru. There must be a good reason for that.
posted by lunasol at 6:59 AM on July 17, 2009

If you have a long driveway I'd invest in the driveway snow-clearing in any case. I drive a BMW all year 'round up here and I find some good Scandanavian studded snow tires like Nokian Hakkapeliittas to be efficacious.
posted by XMLicious at 7:05 AM on July 17, 2009

I don't know if they do this in New Hampshire, but in Maine there is a tradition of buying a nice car to drive around in summer and fall and an old shitbox with massive snow tires and chains for winter and spring. You can probably acquire the latter from the local swap ad paper once you're relocated.
posted by briank at 7:16 AM on July 17, 2009

I have 15 year-old Subaru wagon, 125 thousand miles. Would never own anything but 4 wheel drive even though we don't get that much snow where I live. Feel much safer driving in light snow, wet roads.Thee are now any number of 4 wheel drive cars on the market. But the Subaru seems a good value and hold up.
posted by Postroad at 7:19 AM on July 17, 2009

A non-turbo Subaru will get pretty decent gas mileage.
You could also get a VW Touareg TDI. It's a little big, but it's clean diesel and all-wheel drive.
posted by Jon-o at 7:21 AM on July 17, 2009


Our trusted Volvo mechanic (my wife has a Volvo with 225,000 miles on it) refers to them as the "japanese volvo".

I've owned a number of them, good cars!
posted by HuronBob at 7:23 AM on July 17, 2009

Subaru plus a set of (four) studded snows.
posted by RichardS at 7:34 AM on July 17, 2009

I lived in NH for five years, during which my wife and I both drove Subarus (Impreza Outback and Forester). There were many days when it would have been all but impossible to get out of the driveway without all-wheel drive. I spent a lot of time driving in the Whites in winter, and I was always very glad to be driving a Subaru. Fuel efficiency wasn't all that bad, considering both were not exactly small cars.

Remember that, on the highway, hybrids don't get much better gas mileage than any other car -- it's city driving where having a hybrid makes a difference. Since most of the trip from NH to NYC is highway driving and you probably won't drive all that much in the city, you're not gaining all that much by having a Prius, but you're losing a lot. Not having all-wheel drive/4WD could affect you almost every day during the winter.
posted by dseaton at 7:50 AM on July 17, 2009

I didn't drive a lot when I lived there ever, but even my front-wheel-drive civic worked just fine -- I didn't even get snow tires. I commuted from White River Junction to Hanover, and stayed on mostly flat roads when it snowed, and never had even a little issue. If you can keep to relatively flat, well-traveled roads during the storms, and if you know how to drive in snow (which I didn't before getting there, but if you can learn), frankly anything works.

If you live out further or have to travel on hills or poorly plowed areas, however, get the best thing you can. I definitely had friends who just couldn't come into work some days because of the snow. And make a flat driveway a priority!
posted by brainmouse at 8:21 AM on July 17, 2009

Subarus are good vehicles. However, I also recommend a Honda CRV or Element. They are available in all wheel drive or front wheel drive and both have good MPG.
Having lived in New England all of my life, I can say that while all wheel drive is handy, a good front wheel drive vehicle will take you through most rough situations.
posted by pentagoet at 8:22 AM on July 17, 2009

Yeah, agreeing with pentagoet and brainmouse I forgot to say that my car is not four wheel drive or all wheel drive. General precautions for driving in snow are probably more valuable than all wheel drive; it's not too uncommon to see those kinds of vehicles off the road and sometimes it seems as though they're more likely to end up off the road because people drive them overconfidently.
posted by XMLicious at 8:33 AM on July 17, 2009

Subaru. As mentioned, the Prius only makes sense for people with annoying commutes (my dad, for example, for his 45-minutes-in-NJ-suburban-hell trip). That being said, I live in a snowy place with a front-wheel drive sedan (a 12-yr. old Camry), never bought snow tires in my life, and have never had a problem because I live on roads that get plowed fairly promptly. YMMV.
posted by chowflap at 8:36 AM on July 17, 2009

I'll go ahead and go against the grain a little bit here. Front-wheel drive is generally just fine for New Hampshire winters. Sure, AWD is amazing, but FWD suffices 98% of the time. The Prius should—should—be even better in this regard, because of a. the added weight of the second engine in the front, and b. pretty low torque.

There was an old Car Talk puzzler that went something like this: A VW bus is having trouble making it up an icy hill. The driver got out, did one thing to the engine, and suddenly, the bus made it up the hill. What did the driver do? He pulled out all the spark plugs but one, thereby killing the torque.

Anyways, if you like the Prius, it should be just fine. But, there is a good reason why folks have Subarus: they're really good cars, pretty spacey, get reasonable mileage, and AWD is pretty much a dream. If you decide to go with the Subaru, there's a Subaru dealership just south of Claremont on Route 11 that I can definitely recommend. That's where my parents have bought their cars for years, and they've always been really great.

I don't live in New England anymore, but I was raised and lived in Vermont until I was 25.
posted by General Malaise at 9:08 AM on July 17, 2009

May I suggest a 4wd Ford Escape HYBRID? I had one until recently (unemployment forced sale, as the saying goes). I live in the Appalachians, and it handled so well in the snow that most of the time I was able to forget I was driving in snow! Seriously. Keep in mind that your hybrid mileage will suffer the harder your car has to work: that is, driving in snow and up and down a lot of hills. That said, I loved the car, loved that it was a hybrid, and wish I still had it!

(Also, I think Subarus are overvalued and overpriced, although everyone seems to love them and therefore I hold an extreme minority view.)
posted by scratch at 10:09 AM on July 17, 2009

In my 12-year driving career I've driven only in northern Vermont (save a few trips to Boston or Maine). I've had a Subaru Outback, a Toyota Corolla, and now a Saab 9-3.

If you live on back roads, have a steep driveway, or plan on regularly driving on back roads or steep driveways, get a Subaru. It is totally and completely worth the price. I felt very comfortable driving on the highway, in the city before the plow came through, in the country before the plow came through, and up crappily-plowed driveways.

If you're driving outside of a city, on dirt roads, or have a steep driveway, don't consider a Corolla-type car. They tend to depreciate in value very quickly because the snow and mud tear up the underside. Every winter, more than once, my dad had to strap on the chains and tow me up our hill because I got stuck. Sure, there was the time I drove home from Maine on 89 during a killer snow storm and made it back safely, but there was also the time I glided into the guardrail at 20 mph on the interstate. It's just too lightweight for serious winter driving.

My advice: If you want the ultimate in winter and spring driving, get a huge-ass truck. If you want awesome gas mileage and low fuel emissions, get a prius. If you want the best of both worlds in northern New England, get a Subaru.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:59 AM on July 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the guidance, everyone. It looks like youse are leaning toward a Subaru, if not something meatier, although there are plenty of votes for the Prius too. We are ruling out the Ford Escape, the Tuareg, and other cars for cost reasons. 30K+ is too much for our coffers. Would we have to pay sales tax if we bought a car in New Hamphire and lived across the river in Vermont? Because that might be the case next year. Finally, what are the most important things to look for when buying a slightly used Subaru Outback?
posted by billtron at 4:58 AM on July 18, 2009

Would we have to pay sales tax if we bought a car in New Hamphire and lived across the river in Vermont?

Yes. You'll pay the sales tax the first time you register the car. I think it's still 5% of the value of the car, but I'm not 100% sure. Keep in mind also that if you live in New Hampshire, your car will be taxed as property tax, so there's no free lunch there either. In Vermont, you can deduct any tax already paid on the car, but I don't know if that includes the NH property tax (which is substantial).

Finally, what are the most important things to look for when buying a slightly used Subaru Outback?

Other than the basic physical shape of the car (check for hidden rust spots: Japanese cars tend to rust in salty conditions more quickly than other manufacturers), just make sure basic maintenance was performed regularly (hope they have a log of maintenance). Probably run a Carfax report (if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is).
posted by General Malaise at 8:49 AM on July 20, 2009

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