How do I integrate my possible future into my current need for a new car?
January 6, 2012 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I am buying a new car. Is it silly to take into consideration what I hope my life is like 5+ years down the road when choosing a new car? Help me untangle my emotions about the future from what I need in a new car.

I am replacing my 2000 Chevy Prizm with 120,000 miles on it for a new/new-used car. I thought I was pretty sold on getting a Honda Fit. Then, I started looking at crossovers (CRV and Forester being the two main models) and everything got more complicated.

I don't drive much during the week (maybe 10 miles a day at most), I live in Colorado and hike a lot in the summer and am getting into XC skiing. My boyfriend and I have 2 dogs (mid sized dogs, both fit in the back of our current cars for long trips no problem). I have been having a lot of issues with winter driving and the higher clearance and AWD of the larger cars is attractive. Also, they would be better for getting to some of the outdoor activities I enjoy with my dogs and gear and friends.

My boyfriend is all about fuel efficiency and is a great winter driver and I feel like he thinks I am being silly to look at bigger cars. BUT, here's the thing: I want to start a family in the next 4ish years. BUT, we aren't engaged (we have been together 5+ years, he knows I want to get married and have a family but he's not ready yet) so it's not like we are going to have kids soon. I want a car I can keep for a long time and I can't imagine a car seat and 2 dogs in the back of a Fit. But, none of my planning or hoping for the future makes any of it a sure thing. We could break up, not be able to have kids, wreck the car, any number of possible future scenarios. So, should I really take what I HOPE happens into account?

My boyfriend is going car shopping with me on Saturday and he has promised to take the back seat as it were and let me make my own decision. I feel like I am being super emotional about this whole thing and I don't want to freak him out by saying BUT WHERE WILL THE BABY GO????? while we are looking at cars. Am I being irrational? I also feel like getting a car with not-optimal fuel efficiency is like slightly immoral or something. Like Al Gore will cry a single tear for the earth every time I start it up. (Hybrids are out of my price range.)

What is the best way to think about this purchasing decision? Should I just get the car I like the most? I really need to replace my car soon and I am getting into that decision-making space where I am so overwhelmed I can't think. I need some strangers to tell me what to do!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (35 answers total)
A lot can happen in four years. Trade vehicles when the time comes!
posted by meindee at 9:39 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thinking about where you might be in five years is a completely rational thing to do when you're considering making a purchase that you'll still be using in five years. Refusing to consider the future would be the irrational thing.

Look, just get the car that you think meets your needs the best. Not what you think Al Gore or your boyfriend think is best. This is your car. Get something that is reliable, will make you feel comfortable driving in the winter, and makes you feel secure about the possibility of having a family in the upcoming years.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:42 AM on January 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

Rather than get fixated on "where will babby go", why not do an Alton Brown and think multitasking? Will the car fit the sports equipment comfortably? can you bundle a bunch of friends in the car and go to the movies? If it will fit those things, it will fit a carseat.
posted by LN at 9:47 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do you really need a new car now? 120k on a used car isn't much for miles. If you only do 10 miles a week, another 5 years on it should be easy.
posted by wongcorgi at 9:50 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also look at Subaru. Perhaps they're less unique now than in the past, but they've got high-gas-mileage and PZEV all wheel drive vehicles in the inventory. Best snow car I ever drove was a pretty vanilla AWD Legacy, plenty of room for babies and dogs and skis or bikes on the roof. Speaking of roof, it's not as high as those on an SUV so you don't necessarily need a ladder to put your bike up there. Just something to think about.
posted by zomg at 9:51 AM on January 6, 2012

I'm seconding meindee's advice - when the time comes you can always get a new car. Think about whether or not the car fits your sports equipment needs right now. If you bought the big car with the expectation that there will be a baby in it, will it drive you crazy that there's not a baby in it yet whenever you drive it?

With that said, I've had a Fit for over a year and one of the most insane New England winters in the past decade and it was fine. I drove up and down over a crazy twisty hill and it handled fine. Halfway through the winter I got winter tires which I think helped. It can also "fit" a surprising amount of stuff in it. I've moved an almost full size refrigerator and some enourmous tatami mats in it. People are constantly amazed by how much I can get in there. I'm sure you could fit a baby in it too if it came to that.
posted by permiechickie at 9:53 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would buy the car you want/need now (whether the "now" considerations of winter driving and more gear/friend hauling capacity is enough to steer you toward a larger car is, of course, another issue). If/when babby is formed, there will be many alternatives if you don't think that babby will fit in a Fit with 2 dogs +2 adults, including trading in your car OR trading in your BF/hypothetical dad's car, which will presumably be the older of the two at that point.
posted by drlith at 9:55 AM on January 6, 2012

I like the hondafit a lot my mother has one and it does fit a lot, but I agree that it can not handle 2 dogs and a baby.

Also you have mentioned non-baby reasons. Such as needing room for friends and skiis and other things at once. Can your honda fit do that well? If not then it is not about focusing on the future but finding something to work for you now. I would focus on that and not worry about the baby thing until that comes.
posted by Jaelma24 at 9:55 AM on January 6, 2012

it's good that you are thinking about your future needs but i think basing your decision on what might happen with your life isn't the best way to go about it. for instance, at this time last year, my boyfriend and i were shopping for engagement rings. at the present, i have no boyfriend. so you never know what will happen. you may just end up married to your boyfriend with a baby on the way. or you may end up breaking up with your boyfriend and not be in a situation to have children for years to come. at present, you aren't even engaged and your boyfriend states he isn't ready to be. base your decision on what you need your car to do for you in your present life. you can always get a different car when those needs change.
posted by violetk at 10:01 AM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

5 years is a long time away to have a bigger car for now if the ONLY reason is to fit carseats in.

But, FWIW, we do station wagons for dog to go in way back and for carseat in middle.
posted by k8t at 10:01 AM on January 6, 2012

You will do the environment a lot more good by not buying another new car in 5 years than you will by driving a slightly more fuel efficient car 10 miles a week for the next five years.

Plus, you have perfectly rational reasons for wanting a bigger car now -- fitting gear in them, being a more comfortable winter driver, room for friends, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:03 AM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

A high school lesson on problem-solving described the example of a fellow buying a car, who made an extensive list of criteria regarding fuel efficiency, performance, etc, scored several options and bought a car, and hated it, because he did not include his own desires as part of the criteria.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:03 AM on January 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

I am the owner of a 2007 Volkswagen GTI two-door. I am also now the father of a 4-month-old daughter. I wish I had gotten the four-door, but just swapping my current car for a different one is more trouble than it's worth.

So yes, I think this is worth considering.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:05 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't get the Honda Fit. It won't make sense for your life right now, pre-baby, if you're getting into cross-country skiing and generally driving into the backcountry for better hiking/skiing/snowshoeing.

When you say you have winter driving issues, it's important to consider whether you have actual snow tires. I'm in Boulder and drive a Honda Civic (no AWD, tiny little engine), and once I put snow tires on that baby I have had zero problems with traction on the most insanely icy and steep mountain roads--Brainard Lake is a breeze. The only place I'm running into problems is with ground clearance, especially when I'm trying to be the first one to a trailhead the day or two after a nice snow--my tires can handle it, but the snow pushes up under the car and it's really difficult to park.

I am now looking at SUVs with a little jealousy in my heart, but can't justify buying a new car when we only use our current one for hiking and visiting Denver. If you get a Fit and get really into cross-country skiing I can almost guarantee you'll be kicking yourself at some point. For the amount of driving you're doing I wouldn't sweat the gas mileage too much, either. I'd be more interested in a car that does what I need it to do when I need it on the weekends than with a car that gets great gas mileage (for those 10 miles a week I drive) but can't get me where I need to go for 3 or 4 weekends a month.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:08 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about a Mazda5 or the upcoming Ford C-Max? Neither have AWD, they're both FWD. But they do have room for 6 (Mazda) or 7 (Ford) and in the case of the Mazda, get high 20s highway mileage.
posted by narcoleptic at 10:25 AM on January 6, 2012

Also, since you asked about the best way to make this purchasing decision (other than just listening to the wise folk of mefi!):

I am wondering if the emotional reaction you're having to this is a bit of flag that you should sit and pay attention to. I think it's not uncommon for people in to get into relationships in their late 20s and early 30s that kind of cruise along, and hey, there's a lot that is great about being with someone you're comfortable and happy with in day-to-day life. However, that cruising can end up to be kind of a problem if one person is ready to move on (get married, buy house, make babies) and the other is happy to continue with the way things are. It's easy, *especially* for women, to not rock the boat and trust that eventually their partner will want to settle down and have kids--but maybe this car-buying experience is clueing you in to the fact that there seems to be a bit of a conflict between what you really want (marriage, kids) and where you're headed, and you're not being proactive enough about your own happiness and needs. It gives me pause, and I hope it gives you pause, that you're hesitant to bring up the kids thing in front of your boyfriend as a consideration in car shopping. He knows you want to be married and have kids; after five years together, do you really think he'll freak out if you tell him you're set on buying a car that will work once you have kids? And if he does, isn't that worth knowing *now*, rather than in five years?

There's a huge difference between "who knows where you'll end up in 5 years, don't get too hung up on one vision of your life"--which I totally agree with--and "don't start moving towards where you know you want to be, even if that means painful conversations and decisions in the near term," which is where I suspect you might be and why this experience has become so emotionally loaded for you.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:30 AM on January 6, 2012 [20 favorites]

Makes sense to me to consider future prospects, 'specially as the CV and Subaru will do you well now in various ways you mentioned. And these are far from giant vehicles.

That aside, it's simply a helluva lot nicer to drive a new or substantially newer vehicle... and the brakes are better, the steering's better, wouldn't surprise me if the heat's better, etc.

I disagree with the thought to make the purchase in five or so years. You'll take a financial hit and it will be one more thing to deal with.

Get the CRV or the Subaru or something else in the class, take decent care of it and you're set for good motoring for 10 years.
posted by ambient2 at 10:31 AM on January 6, 2012

Subaru just built their first all-new engine and transmission in years for the Impreza. It gets remarkably good fuel economy(36 highway!) considering they are AWD. I would take a look at it.

As for the future- we (my wife and I) just had this discussion recently, and went with the car that worked for us now(Toyota Matrix) with the expectation that we would see what the future would bring. 5 years is a long ways off. In addition, there are a TON of small, family friendly van-ish-type things similar to the Mazda5 that will be coming out in the next few years for when baby comes along.
posted by rockindata at 10:31 AM on January 6, 2012

If it makes you feel any better, my parents have a Honda Fit, and my daughter's carseat fit just fine into it. (As it did in our tiny Scion Xa.) As long as there's a back seat, a carseat will fit in. I'd be more concerned about ski equipment and friends. For friends, it can help to try sitting in the back seat of cars at the dealership, and seeing if there's enough legroom, headroom and all. I don't know if it's feasible to bring along skis and see which cars they are easily loaded into, but maybe. Worth a shot.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2012

You will do the environment a lot more good by not buying another new car in 5 years than you will by driving a slightly more fuel efficient car 10 miles a week for the next five years.

Yes, this. (Though the OP said 10/day during the week.)

Guesstimating your driving at 12,000 mi/year (based on your old car), you're looking at a difference of about 465 gallons of gas over 5 years between the Fit and the CRV (2012 automatic using the mixed-mileage EPA estimate).

Environmental costs are not necessarily captured in the dollar cost of either gas or a new vehicle. But let's take the conservative (for this argument) position that ALL the environmental cost of a new car is captured in the price. A new CRV in five years would be ~$22,000. Gas costs $4/gallon. For a $22,000 new car to offset 465 gallons of gas, a gallon of gas would have to have an effective environmental cost of $47.

Maybe it does! But I really doubt the first assumption about the capture of the full environmental cost of a new car in the sticker price.

I'm sure there are lots of ways this off-the-cuff calculation can be refined (and I'd welcome those thoughts -- I can see there are points I'm probably eliding), but the TL, DR here is: while buying a car with good gas mileage is important, it's not as important as not buying a new car in the first place. Get the vehicle that's most flexible in the long run, keep it as long as possible.
posted by endless_forms at 10:53 AM on January 6, 2012

1) I have a Honda Fit. I have to ask, how huge are your dogs? I've been able to fit baby seats (and get kids in and out with the way the doors swing) so much more easily than in other cars. That being said, I have one medium sized dog.
2) I had a terrible car for a baby when I had a baby. I mean, it was awful. But because I had never had a baby before, I wasn't really aware of what was good for a baby. Leather is good because it wipes off, right? Oh, except baby seats scratched the heck out of it. A big car is better for the space, right? Oh, no, because when a binky drops while you're driving and you have to grab it at a stop light, you're totally hosed unless you have 9 foot long arms. Are you able not only to forecast the baby having, but what life will be like with the baby, how often you'll be traveling with the dogs and the baby in that car, what routine you'll have, how big of a stroller you'll haul, etc.?
3) Plans change, sometimes whether you want them to or not. If you don't really want a Honda Fit, don't get a Honda Fit, not due to phantom baby, but due to you. But if you want one, and you get something else, will you be let down, sad, resentful or even grumpy that you chose the baby friendly car you didn't want? Five years is a long time to live with something you might or might not need if it's not something you want, let alone if it doesn't happen according to plan. And if it doesn't happen according to plan, it will be a reminder of the failure of the plan in a way that sucks.
4) I think making life perfect for a baby is the perfect way to tell fate it's time to change your plans. If you really want a baby, plan like one's not coming. They're like Murphy's Law that way.
posted by Gucky at 10:54 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't sweat a few miles of MPG here or there. The numbers you see quoted don't really reflect actual driving experience, and as long as you aren't getting a MegaSUV or truck, the mileage difference between a Fit and a Forester will be negligible over the lifetime of the car, given how few miles you are driving.

I feel like he thinks I am being silly to look at bigger cars.

Have you talked to him about it?

I don't want to freak him out by saying BUT WHERE WILL THE BABY GO????? while we are looking at cars.

I am really struck by the lack of communication between you and your boyfriend evidenced in this question. I'm just going to say this: If your boyfriend of 5+ years freaks out due to discussion of how future children will fit in your new car, he will never have children with you.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:15 AM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get the car you want and can afford. You shouldn't get a car to satisfy someone else's needs.

I can't see why two (gentle) dogs and a baby wouldn't fit in a Fit. If I remember correctly, you can fold one of the rear seats down and leave the other up. Car seat in one and dogs in the other and in the back. I think you can even fold the passenger seat down, so the dogs would have even more room. I personally wouldn't buy a car for the relatively rare occurrence that I am going to take cross country skis, the baby, my significant other and the dogs all at once and all inside the car. But again, figure out what *you* want and get that.
posted by cnc at 11:29 AM on January 6, 2012

Get a car you like. I think you've made a good case for a CRV or Forester. Have a look at a Rav4/Venza while you're at it just to be sure.

One of the worst things in the world is paying money on car you don't like.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:31 AM on January 6, 2012

I understand your quandary - I'd probably feel the same way. I do want to chime and say that I have a Fit and have 2 children (one a baby who paradoxically requires the largest car seat), no dogs, and an extremely tall husband (6'8") and we all fit in there just fine, no pun intended. I wouldn't want to do a road trip that way, but I'd think you could get you, your guy, a baby and 2 dogs in there ok if you needed to (if your dogs could be trusted to sit next to a baby, that is). We also drive very little, in town or otherwise, and figure if we need to take a longer trip, we'll just rent a car.
posted by kirst27 at 11:32 AM on January 6, 2012

For a moment, let's set aside the issue of fitting a baby seat into the car (for a start, it will fit into a Fit and an SUV or crossover!).

You should spend your money on the car YOU want, that fits YOUR lifestyle, not the car your boyfriend thinks you should buy. If he wants a small fuel efficient city car, then he can go and buy one for himself. Right now he's not willing to fully commit to you, so you shouldn't be buying cars based on his desires, because that would be a one-way commitment that costs you money as well as emotion.

I think that a Honda Fit is a great fuel-efficient city driving car. I think it is not a great choice for winter driving in the mountains with friends, ski equipment and two dogs. As others have suggested, maybe something like a Subaru Wagon or a Honda Element would carry all this stuff very well, without being a giant gas hog. The question you need to ask yourself is how much of your driving is city roads versus snowy mountains. If you only drive into snowy areas 4 times a year, then maybe a Fit will be fine. If you go every weekend in the winter, then it makes total sense.

Also, it sounds like you need to talk to someone about your desires for the future. Maybe you need to talk to someone else first, so you can get past the emotional turmoil, then go to your boyfriend and make it clear that you are ready to settle down, and want to discuss the idea.
posted by Joh at 11:45 AM on January 6, 2012

nthing "you never know what's going to happen". My wife and I bought a nice new mazda 3 hatchback a couple of years was going to be the perfect "one baby fits just right" car, and would be easy to take shopping, etc. Then we had twins, and now we roll with an SUV :) Buy what you need, and maybe do it again 5 years from now
posted by um_maverick at 11:55 AM on January 6, 2012

Delegate: Let your boyfriend make the choice.

Your situation cannot be more perfect for this. You will get a car, plus some indications about your future life.
posted by Kruger5 at 11:57 AM on January 6, 2012

Is your boyfriend paying for the car? Buy the car you want, for whatever reason you like. Cars are expensive. OF COURSE you should get the car you like the most. You want to get into it every day and think, "I love this car," not, "I can't believe I let Boyfriend talk me into this stupid thing," ESPECIALLY on the off-chance that the car sticks around longer than the boyfriend.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:08 PM on January 6, 2012

Since it seems somewhat uncertain what your future holds, buy a car you like and, more importantly, one that you --alone-- can afford.
posted by Flamingo at 12:08 PM on January 6, 2012

We bought a car before we were in the kids having mode (but were married). It did affect whether we got the compact or the mid-sized sedan. But, given my husband is really tall, he couldn't sit in the front seat and comfortably put a passenger in the backseat in the compact either, and the car still hit my gas mpg wants.

Now that we're having a kid, we'll make the other car (ford mustang) work as much as possible for the time being (going to be a hassle to find a car seat, but it will likely just be for the first year until we pay off my slightly more practical car).

So I'd make it a consideration, but also know that you'll make do when the time comes.

ps. if you really want the family/marriarge, what may be more important is taking on the 3-year payment if you can swing it.
posted by ejaned8 at 4:00 PM on January 6, 2012

Where are you in Colorado? Does the Fit have a fairly good engine? I've driven in the mountains there, and it sucked with a tiny car, three people, and sports equipment. And it didnt feel all that safe to me; sure, we were doing OK with a few inches of snow, but conditions can change really quickly and I was not confident that the car would have been able to safely handle even a small snowstorm. If possible, talk to other Fit-owners in your area of Colorado; comparisons to wintry weather in most of New England isn't quite the same because of the mountains.

It's one thing if you live in Denver and go cross-country skiing twice a year, but if you're getting more active in the mountains, and want to be able to take your equipment and eventually a stroller, get a larger car.

If I was you, I'd get a Forester with the winter package in a heartbeat. And then I'd have a series of conversations with my boyfriend about our ideas about the future, and ask myself how long I'm willing to wait.
posted by barnone at 4:21 PM on January 6, 2012

Thanks everyone for great answers. iminurmefi gets the prize for somehow knowing 1) exactly what kind of car I should get and 2) why this decision is getting emotional for me. Ultimately, it is my car, my money and my decision. I sometimes need to be reminded that it is good and appropriate for me to do what works for me and not be completely consumed with making decisions as a team. I appreciate the gentle suggestions to talk to someone :) I have and I have supportive friends who listen when I need. BF and I talk about the future too. Usually works best when I am not all worked up in OMG! THE FUTURE!! IT MUST BE SOLVED!! mode.

Thank you all for clarifying some decision making points. I am looking forward to being cool, calm and collected while looking at cars tomorrow. Honestly, my car is in such bad shape that all the cars I'm considering are going to seem ridiculously luxurious and I will get the one that makes ME happy. And we will roll with the future as it happens.

Thanks all for being so helpful!
posted by rachums at 5:13 PM on January 6, 2012

Last spring I traded in my fuel-efficient yet winter-worthy Outback wagon for a big, heavy, 3-row Mazda CUV. I'm 40 and I've owned 2 cars as an adult - both Subarus, both retired after having them for 10 yrs. So - no, I don't think you're weird. I buy cars for the long haul and expect to have them for 10 yrs.

I LOVE the Mazda. So does my 7 yr old son, who, in 10 yrs, will probably be over 6 feet tall and complained about leg room every time we took a road trip in the Prius. I'm 5'10", my husband is 6'+, and we have a 3 yr old who's breaking height/weight records as she grows. Theoretically I could still be driving an Outback, but - we're gonna need leg room, room for sporting gear, and eventually room again for a dog (I'm the opposite of you right now - 2 kids, no dog, and I'm plotting to get one this coming summer).

And for me, financially, the LAST thing I wanted to do when I had a baby was buy another car and have a new car payment to deal with. When we had kid #2, the only way we could afford child care was for me to keep driving my paid-off Subaru, which I did happily for another 3 years. Baby or a new car? No contest.

If I were you, I'd get the car you like and feel most comfortable in. You don't drive a lot during the week so the cost/environmental impact of having a higher-mileage car isn't going to be that big of a deal. I live in MI and won't go back to front-wheel drive cars, either, now that I'm used to AWD -- it does give me a lot more confidence in winter.

And there's a part of me that thinks it wouldn't be so bad for you to have a breakdown in the car sales lot about where the baby will go... :) Good luck.
posted by hms71 at 5:05 AM on January 7, 2012

To follow up: we went shopping today and I bought a 2012 CRV. It ended up being the perfect car for me, for us. The whole process went really well. The car won't be in for a couple of weeks but I feel great about my decision and really happy that my boyfriend ended up thinking it was the perfect car for me. I even mentioned something about the car being able to accommodate a growing family and the world didn't end :) Thanks for the advice everyone!
posted by rachums at 8:40 PM on January 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

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