SUV/Car Buying Help
March 17, 2011 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Have a baby on the way and need a new or slightly used car or SUV. My preference is for an SUV and I would like to spend less than $17,000 in cash (after trade in, cheaper the better). We will be trading in a 2004 Saturn Ion, black, with 135,000 miles. Good gas mileage is a definite factor since we drive several hundred miles a week. Are there any great deals out there or any car shopping sites that explain my options best? Help! Thanks.
posted by Paalen to Shopping (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think you're going to have a really hard time getting enough trade-in value on your Saturn to get a new SUV for $17,000.00. I got $2,500.00 trade-in on my 2006 Ion recently, which admittedly had a bit of wear and tear, but I think only 100,000 miles.

At any rate, the website I used for my research was Edmunds.com.
posted by amro at 9:18 AM on March 17, 2011


Have you looked into small SUV-like creatures like the Scion xB, Nissan Cube, or Kia Soul? My Scion is shockingly roomy. When I bought it *almost* new (it was a dealer rental w/under 5k miles) it was well under your max price.
posted by ferociouskitty at 9:35 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


17k is a little light for a new family car, but there are a bunch of nice options for a late-model used one - The Scion xB is very nice, as is the Mazda 5, and the Kia Rondo is an absolute steal. You may be able to find leftover new 2010 models on the dealer lot that will bring them into your price range. In terms of actual, all-wheel-drive SUVs, used, low-mileage Hyundai Santa Fe/Kia Sportages are there, and maybe a Ford Escape.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:55 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


With that many miles on it, you're going to get less than a grand for your Saturn. That won't even cover the sales tax on your new car. To get out for $17k total, you should probably be looking at cars priced at $16K or so.

According to Edmunds, the only new SUV on the market that you could buy at that price is the Jeep Patriot, which starts at $16k. But you can open up the possibilities a lot by buying a slightly used car. Get something a year old, with ~12k miles on it, and you'll save a few thousand dollars if you shop carefully.
posted by jon1270 at 10:04 AM on March 17, 2011


What do you consider good gas mileage? I consider a combined 30 mpg to be "good", so I think that unless I got a hybrid SUV, I would rate all SUVs as having bad mileage.

If you're a Costco member, give their auto purchasing plan a try. I'm sure they'd be happy to talk with you.
posted by reddot at 10:19 AM on March 17, 2011


Would you consider selling the Ion? You're going to get more cash than the trade in.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:31 AM on March 17, 2011


Mrs. Alms and I just got a Mazda 5 and we're very happy with it. It is essentially a mini minivan. It is the length and height of a car, but it has great cargo space and can seat up to six people. It also provides a very responsive drive. We weren't at all happy with the feel of the SUVs we tested, or the Subaru Outback. They felt sluggish and heavy.

Best part is that the Mazda 5 is very inexpensive. You can certainly get a low-mileage recent model for $15K or less. We got ours from a dealership, but they also seem to be a standard model from Hertz Rent 2 Buy.

Oh -- we found out about the Mazda 5 from Consumer Reports, which gives it a big thumbs up.
posted by alms at 10:39 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Edmunds.com is my go to site for general car stuff like that.

Have you considered station wagons instead of an SUV? There are some nice ones out there, and they'll probably offer better mileage. I'm somewhat partial to the VW Jetta Sportwagen. You won't get a new one in your price range, but possibly a gently used one?

Subaru also makes some nice wagons, but again new ones will probably be above your ceiling. According to Edmunds, about the only new wagon in your range would be the Kia Rio, which they don't review very highly.

Basically, I think you're looking at slightly used. For that, I'd start searching the Carmax site. If you want a Nissan Cube or a Scion XB, you're golden. These are apparently very popular cars to get rid of. But sorting through those, for example, here's an '05 Subaru wagon with 27K miles for about $16,500.
posted by Naberius at 10:48 AM on March 17, 2011


Per alms, Carmax also has a pretty good selection of recent, reasonably low mileage Mazda 5s within your range as well.
posted by Naberius at 10:51 AM on March 17, 2011


If you want good gas mileage, then I wouldn't recommend an SUV. Even the smaller crossovers pay a penalty in gas mileage because of their height and weight. Consider a used Mazda 6 wagon instead. I think they were sold from 2004-2008 in North America. With wagons, you get all the versatility of a crossover on the road, without the gas penalty (unless you buy a Subaru wagon, then you really pay the AWD gas penalty; because Subaru's system is full-time AWD, it's fantastic to drive but the gas consumption is even higher than part-time AWD systems).

For that amount of driving, I would say what you really want is a diesel. But unfortunately I can't think of any sold in North America that would be in your price range other than VW Golf/Rabbit wagons, and reliability issues and high repair costs are notorious. The diesel SUVs that have been brought out are all by luxury German brands, and they won't be in your price range, and will be costly to repair.

You might look into whether you could get a 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid in your price range. It's a solid SUV with relatively good fuel economy, and it might be possible to find one in your range - Edmunds says that a 2006 base model should go for about 16,000.
posted by Dasein at 11:06 AM on March 17, 2011


Since we're throwing out ideas for alternatives, I recently (in January) bought a leftover 2010 all-wheel drive Toyota Matrix which ended up costing about $17,000.00 after my trade-in (which, as noted above, was $2,500.00). A non-AWD Matrix would have cost less, obviously.
posted by amro at 11:10 AM on March 17, 2011


Another vote against SUVs if gas mileage is important to you. I have a Jeep Liberty and it's a guzzler.
posted by Dragonness at 11:15 AM on March 17, 2011


I'll throw another vote in for the Mazda 5 - loving it! Decent gas mileage and lots of hauling space for people and stuff. Rated highly by Consumer Reports and I was able to get a brand new top of the line one (previous year's model) with all the bells and whistles and heated leather seats for $20k (comparable minivan would have cost over $30k). So used ones should be very much in your price range.

(I bought it specifically for hauling two adults, two kids, a big dog and stuff.)

Good luck!
posted by jillithd at 12:28 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


My Subaru Forester gets about 30 mPg, has been insanely reliable, and is great in rain and snow. They are relatively inexpensive.
posted by purenitrous at 1:20 PM on March 17, 2011


The 5 might be a good option if you like it after a test drive. As others have indicated, it was a popular fleet vehicle so used 5s are plentiful. I was a little turned off by the reliability history but it does hit the spot of economy/storage.

The Mazda6 actually didn't get very good gas mileage (edmunds has 17 city/25 hwy mpg) and you could certainly get a compact SUV with better mileage, like a RAV4 or CRV. Those generally do about 21/28 with the Hyundais and others not quite getting there. For reference, the Mazda5 is 22/28. That said, are you going to get a "slightly" used SUV for that cash amt? Depends on your definition.

The Jeep Patriot is the only compact SUV I know of that gets even slightly better mileage, but I'm not a fan of it.

I too would consider the xB but look at the newer emfattened version; the original has some questionable safety scores on side impacts IIRC.
posted by selfnoise at 1:24 PM on March 17, 2011


Subaru Forester. Consistently chosen as a top safety pick. Above average reliability for all years according to Consumer Reports. Great in any weather condition. Tons of cargo space. Good mpg for an AWD wagon/SUV (I get around 26 mpg with mixed driving). High resale value. Fits your price range.
posted by smokingmonkey at 1:34 PM on March 17, 2011


We just purchased a used car in MA.
If you are familiar with excel - what I am about to tell you will hopefully make some sense.

I made a column down with a unique identifier for each car. I recorded its price, mileage, its year, and a note on its accessory package.

I grouped the cars by year and accessory package

I did a scatterplot of mileage vs. price, and drew a straight trendline through cars with the same year and options package. Dealers diverged off this line by +/- $100 - which was insignificant comparative to the price. Any large outliers either were cars by year that I had missed, or I didn't notice something about their options package and had to regroup them. When all was said and done, I effectively knew the depreciation by mileage for each car, as well as the "dealer added value" of any accessory package. For one, I was able to spot an accident on a particular vehicle before actually looking at the carfax.

Why this worked the way that it did was this:
Almost all dealers in Massachusetts have a "no haggling" clause on any used car sales. They'll haggle for your trade in here - but not for your used purchase. (Useless to us, as we had an insurance check). Even though almost every car I examined was listed slightly below MSRP, what this basically meant was that the dealers are/were fixing their price. (More likely, the manufacturers were fixing the price and depreciation and the dealers were following suit).

As such, we looked to see what manufacturers met our saftey requirements, what optional packages we wanted, and what mileage we could live with. From that - we knew the price we would pay. I picked the dealer based on the fact that out of all the dealers he was actually enguaged in the sale with not only me, but my wife as well... in essence he recognized our purchase as a partnership - not just "talk to Mr. Man" like we experienced at a few other dealers while we were testdriving. (Once again, test driving became, testdrive the ride of any car - and then test drive the car we decided on - not testdrive every car we see.)

If you have the option of haggling, do it - but I'd still do this ahead of time. Its nice to go in with an informed idea of whether the dealer you are working with is planning on letting you bargain, and how much of a discount you can actually get from them.

Also, plan on "extended warranties" being offered for anywhere from $1.5K to $2.5K after you've agreed on what you think is the final price of the vehicle.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:25 PM on March 17, 2011


I'm a pretty big fan of the Mazda5 so far, although we just got ours. Ours is a 2009, 32k miles, which was under $14k. We get 27-28MPG with it so far - for a van, that's not bad. It's got more room than my mom's Honda CRV and better mileage. And the third row seating (even though I'd never put an adult in the third row) makes it really versatile, I can actually drive kids places in the future! I don't need a gigantic minivan, it's just enough for a person who is used to smaller cars and I LOVE driving it, it's soo sporty.

Our other car is a Scion xB, the older boxier smaller engine type (newer one gets much worse gas mileage). It's an awesome commuting car at 35+ MPG, and fits both of our kids, but my husband is 6 foot 5. This meant the baby bucket carseat that takes up the most room went behind the passenger seat and the toddler behind the driver, and he could never be a passenger while the entire family was in the car.
posted by kpht at 5:08 PM on March 17, 2011


Companies like Honda and Toyota have really good Certified Pre Owned programs whereby they select the best used cars that get traded in, fix them up, and then resell them with a factory extended warranty, usually up to 100,000 for drivetrain items.

The Toyota Rav4s that I see in the shop don't generally have catastrophic or expensive problems, for what it's worth. Neither to the Honda CRVs.
You can even get a Toyota Highlander with a four cylinder, if you want something bigger.


I would avoid the Jeep Patriot. The build quality is really poor and I recently saw one with very low mileage suffering from horrifying and unsafe deterioration of the front suspension. A car with 30,000 miles should absolutely not have excessive play in the tie rod, ball joints, and control arms. But this Patriot did. I put it on my "Do Not Recommend" list.

posted by Jon-o at 6:55 PM on March 17, 2011


Mazda5
posted by tiburon at 7:29 PM on March 17, 2011


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