What's the best, sleep-able, road-trip car I can buy for under $3k?
September 15, 2010 9:05 AM   Subscribe

What's the best, sleep-able, road-trip car I can buy for under $3k?

I need suggestions for buying a second car for a 3 week roadtrip next summer and looking to save lodging money by sleeping in the car. My criteria:
--Fold down seats (for a car or wagon) OR space in the back (SUV)
--Decent gas mileage
--Reliable for driving 10,000+ miles with no problem

Examples of suitable cars I've researched that seem to be sleep-able and cheap:
1st/2nd gen Toyota 4runners
Subaru Outback

I figured a second car is required because the alternative was to drive my S2000 (2dr roadster might not be as safe when vagabonding) and to sleep for free using couchsurfing.com.
posted by rolex928 to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I recently bought a Subaru Legacy for <$1000 and was thinking just last night, "Hey, I could sleep in this wherever I wanted!" This car has 171,000 miles on it, and gets 25+ mpg, and it runs great.
posted by not_on_display at 9:08 AM on September 15, 2010

This may be too close to your S2000, but my old CRX had seats that were, frankly more comfortable tipped all the way back than they were sitting, on long drives. Not counting daily lunch naps, I probably slept 30-40 nights in the driver's seat in that thing.
posted by notsnot at 9:09 AM on September 15, 2010

Your height is a big big consideration in this. I'm 5'6" - and I can sleep comfortably in the back of my 1999 Hyundai Accent (which has been ridiculously reliable for the 8 years I've had it.) I fold down the seats and roll a sleeping bag out diagonally across the resulting space.
posted by ansate at 9:13 AM on September 15, 2010

This will sound strange, but my first car was a shit-kicker 1990 Ford Escort. I took road trips in it all the time; it was a hatchback and you could fold the back seats down, remove the trunk cover thing, stretch out and fall asleep under the stars.

Excellent gas mileage and the car was both extremely easy to work on and fairly bulletproof. I put 300,000+ miles on it and traded it to my mechanic father. In that time the only issues were an exhaust system that rusted off (replaced by friend for beers) and one time in -15 or so degrees when I managed to melt the spark plugs to the engine (engine was fine after we chiseled them off).

Car was ugly as sin and therefore its own theft deterrent, had cruise control and was a fairly comfortable ride (resonate frequency maintained at about 65 mph, at which it felt like I was sitting in a massage chair). Small and easy to park, also easy to accidentally drive down a bike path and down some pedestrian stairs in an unfamiliar, snowy city. Managed to pack all my worldly possessions in it a few times for the move to and from college (including dorm fridge, microwave, and giant desktop tower with CRT monitor).

Only thing I didn't like about it was that it had no acceleration to speak of and joining traffic going 60+ out of a "Michigan left" was always a little exciting.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 9:19 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Minivan. I'm partial to the Caravan but the most recent Toyotas are pretty good too. Remove/fold down the rear seats and you have enough space for a super single mattress. The mattress can lay on top of a sheet of plywood laid on top of a dozen or so rubbermaid containers which can hold your stuff. If you are by yourself you can use a single mattress and have enough space along the side/end for a few suitcases, a cooler, even a bike. Black poster paint applied to the inside of the rear windows and a improvised curtain behind the front seats will ensure privacy. The rear windows on a Caravan can be cracked open for ventilation yet will still keep the rain out.
posted by Mitheral at 9:42 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

volvo 240 wagon!
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 9:49 AM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Damnit. There I was researching the mileage on Volvo 240 wagons (not the best, but not too bad either), and Bohemia Mountain beat me to it!
posted by Ahab at 10:08 AM on September 15, 2010

+1 on the Volvo (240, 740 or 940) wagon. As a bonus, print or save this and fix almost anything that goes wrong yourself.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:21 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of people can rattle off good cars for you to buy, except for one thing: your price point is only $3000. Remember Cash for Clunkers last year, where people could trade in any old piece of crap for a $3500-4500 credit towards a new car? Lots of really good, well-maintained used cars went to the crusher, wisely sold by owners who had the money for a new car.

What does that leave on the ground for you? All the sub-$3500 cars owned by people who couldn't afford a new car. That means, on average, cars owned by people who may not have had the money to maintain them properly back then, or who weren't organized enough to recognize the opportunity last year and leverage it. That doesn't bode well for the kind of car you're going to find.

So, what to do? This: whatever you choose to buy, buy it long enough before your trip that you can put tons of miles on it, shake it down, get maintenance items taken care of, and find out if it's going to leave you stranded.
posted by davejay at 10:48 AM on September 15, 2010

A Subaru wagon. Depending if you want to go off-road-ish, the AWD and ground clearance are pretty good for a wagon.

You could buy a cheap tent, sleeping mat, and camp out of the tailgate. For minimal investment this will increase your enjoyment and memories by quite a bit.

Don't forget to get an AAA membership.
posted by carter at 11:12 AM on September 15, 2010

A Subaru is probably a pretty good bet. You might also look for the Honda Accord wagon. They discontinued the wagon in North America in the sixth generation (1998 model year), so the age is probably right at your price point.

My parents had a '93 wagon just like this, and it was great. Here's a 1995 wagon (5th generation), too.

Looks like the Toyota Sienna minivan is also available for that price.
posted by Madamina at 1:17 PM on September 15, 2010

We have a blast with our RAV4. We keep blanketrs and pillows in the bottom compartment, and since the backseats bend to form a completely flat platform, we can have a wonderful bed in it!

The mileage is good. 25mpg average, and it's a toyota, so you know it will last for ages.

We sleep in it all the time. Tinted windows help, too.
posted by Tarumba at 8:52 AM on October 12, 2010

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