What car should I buy to deal better with my new commute?
January 16, 2012 6:06 AM   Subscribe

I’m a month into a wonderful new job whose only downside is the much lengthier commute. My 13-year-old Accord simply isn’t giving me the kind of mileage I need, so I’m planning on buying something new soon. And that’s where you come in.

My new drive is just over 60 miles, almost all of it highway. What do you recommend, given the following criteria:

* Fuel efficiency
* Safety
* Reliability
* Sufficient back-seat room for two booster seats

Drive me home, friends!
posted by shallowcenter to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have a standard Volkswagen TDI (diesel) that gets about 50 per gallon on the highway, and 37ish in the city. You do pay a little more for diesel gas, and you can debate about the reliability of Volkswagens long term--their electronics are infamous. It's a roomy car in the back, so I'm pretty sure your boosters would fit. But, the car is sturdy and heavy and has excellent safety ratings, and great mileage.

My dad has a Prius that seems a bit less roomy in the back, and he shelled out about $5,000 more to buy a new one. He does get excellent mileage, though,and the reliability of the Toyota brand. He drives a lot for work and has complained about the seats feeling too hard and uncomfortable on long drives.

The new Hyandi Elantras are supposed to get 40mpg on the highway, and they really have improved in quality and reliability over the years. I think it would comfortably fit the boosters, and it would be cheaper to purchase than other brands. My sister's inlaws all drive them, and they have been reliable for them.

Are you looking to buy used or new?
posted by shortyJBot at 6:21 AM on January 16, 2012

I love my 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. It's very reliable, to the point that I haven't had any problems in the year I've had it. I don't have children, but I have had adults ride in the backseat, and had a baby in a carseat, and both of those were easy fits. It's not huge, but it's reasonably roomy. The fuel efficiency is wonderful, of course. I've recently started a job that requires between 50 and 150 miles of travel a day (mostly highway), and I'm averaging 39 mpg. The only real downside that I can think of is that the trunk is smallish because of the battery. Otherwise, two enthusiastic thumbs up.
posted by epj at 6:26 AM on January 16, 2012

My spouse and I both have Nissans (I have a 2-door Altima and his is a 4-door Sentra) and we're very, very happy with the cars. The Altima is the Nissan equivalent to the Accord; the Sentra is the Civic of Nissans.

We literally have no complaints. Mine was bought used (2 years old) in 2010 with low mileage; his was bought new.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:30 AM on January 16, 2012

Thanks for the thoughts, folks, and please do keep 'em coming. To answer your question, shorty, I'm looking to buy new.
posted by shallowcenter at 6:34 AM on January 16, 2012

If mileage (and gas costs) are the prime motivator for this purchase, I'm not sure the numbers really make sense.

Assuming your Accord average 23 mpg and the new car averages 40:

Accord: 60 miles a day / 23 mpg = 2.61 gallons of gas per day.
New Car: 60 MPD/40 MPG = 1.5 gallons of gas per day.

The Accord uses 1.11 gallons of gas per day more than the new car. At a cost of (being generous to the Accord) $4.50/gallon

Money saved by driving the Accord: 1.11 gallons per day * 4.50 dollars per gallon = 5 dollars saved per day.

So, if the new car costs $25,000 it'll take 5000 days (14 years, if you drive 60 miles every day including sat + sun) to recoup the costs of the new car.

If there are other reasons to get the car, it may still make sense. And, if you expect the Accord to experience mechanical issues that may also impact the decision making process. But, looking from the purely gas related financial perspective, it may not.
posted by jeffch at 6:50 AM on January 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree with Jeffch. The gas mileage is a false economy. If there's nothing actually wrong with the Accord, keep driving it until it falls apart. The cost savings from not having a car payment and being able to skip the higher insurance brackets is much greater than the few dollars extra you spend on gas. Even if you look at it from an environmental standpoint, the environmental impact of those few gallons of fuel is less than the impact of the manufacturing process for an entirely new car.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:09 AM on January 16, 2012

Came in here to post what jeffch did, unless you're getting a new car for around $10k and doubling your gas mileage in the process while keeping all other costs (insurance!) the same, you're not actually going to save money.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:18 AM on January 16, 2012

Thanks, jeffch, cosmicbandito, and Brian. If it matters, it's 60 miles one way, 120 miles round trip. I should have been clearer in my original post.
posted by shallowcenter at 7:22 AM on January 16, 2012

I have a 35 mile commute (each way) and am very happy doing it in my Honda Fit. Mileage is quite good - I've gotten as high as 38mpg, and with a new model costing about $16K, it is, in my opinion, one of the most fuel-efficient, cost-effective vehicles out there. I did the math to see if a hybrid would be worth it, in terms of fuel cost savings, and calculated that the Honda Fit was still going to work out to be less expensive.

Mine is a manual transmission (extra cost savings on the vehicle) and has an iPod jack for podcasts/audiobooks during the long drive. It easily holds two carseats and I'm comfortable enough with it to tote my child around.
posted by scblackman at 7:26 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that the Hyundai Elantra would be your choice, here, but only do that if you were already going to buy a new car, anyway.

The most money you will ever save on a car is the money you don't spend.
posted by deanc at 7:26 AM on January 16, 2012

If it matters, it's 60 miles one way, 120 miles round trip.

It matters because the payback time halves.
posted by Mitheral at 7:28 AM on January 16, 2012

As documented in this post, MeFites consider 13 years on a Honda early middle-age.
posted by Runes at 7:34 AM on January 16, 2012

Spend some money on a performance tune-up rather than a new/used car. Your tires may also be costing you mileage, so have them checked as well.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:46 AM on January 16, 2012

The gas mileage is a false economy.

Well... kind of. There's no way of making up the difference between not having a car payment and having one by getting a fuel efficient vehicle. Just doesn't work. But getting an efficient vehicle can make up the difference between buying a regular vehicle v. a fuel efficient one. Sometimes more than make it up. For example, my Prius (which has averaged about 45.7 MPG over the last 24,000 miles) has saved me, on average, a little more than $100 a month in gas expenses compared to my last car. Of course, I'm now paying $315 a month for my car payment, and I wasn't paying that before, so on net, I'm worse off.

But it was time to get rid of my old car for other reasons, so the fact that my effective payment is only $215 does matter. I would have had to settle for far less car if I could only spend $215 a month. Put another way, I'm saving the equivalent of three payments a year. The efficiency isn't paying for the car, but it's not nothing either.

So, if you need to buy a car, period--and sometimes you just do--then getting a fuel efficient vehicle really can save you money, and in only a few years. Say a Prius costs $4,000 more than an equivalent sedan. At $100 a month in gas savings, that's only 40 months, or about three and a half years. If you own the car for longer than that, you're definitely saving money in comparison to buying a different car, just not in comparison to not having a car payment at all.

So if you're going to get rid of your Accord anyway, I'd definitely recommend you look into a Prius. But don't think that getting a new car, any new car, is going to be cheaper than just hanging on to the beater. Because it isn't.
posted by valkyryn at 8:10 AM on January 16, 2012

If you're interested in a supermini with good mileage, the Citroen C3 gets between 60 and 70 mpg in the diesel, and is supposed to be very good as a family hatchback.
posted by danteGideon at 9:17 AM on January 16, 2012

There's no way of making up the difference between not having a car payment and having one by getting a fuel efficient vehicle. ... don't think that getting a new car, any new car, is going to be cheaper than just hanging on to the beater. Because it isn't.

I had a car whose annual maintenance bill started to approach a car payment.

Commuting 120 miles/day does put you in the category of one of the few people for whom paying the extra money for a Prius vs. buying an inexpensive car with good mileage becomes worthwhile.
posted by deanc at 9:19 AM on January 16, 2012

I'm very happy with my Prius, fwiw. Excellent mileage and it's been very reliable. If you really want to buy new (which I wouldn't advocate) you could get the new plug-in hybrid to reduce fuel consumption further, assuming you have somewhere to plug it in at work.

the Citroen C3 gets between 60 and 70 mpg in the diesel

I'm going to guess that OP is in N. America since he mentions "highways". If that's the case then I don't believe Citroens (or other French cars for that matter) are sold here. And just so we're comparing apples to apples, 60 mpg in Imperial gallons is ~50 mpg US gallons.
posted by NailsTheCat at 10:22 AM on January 16, 2012

Wife has the 2011 Elantra, I have the 2012 Sonata. We love them. Great mileage, large and smooth ride.
posted by tra at 10:38 AM on January 16, 2012

Definitely recommend the performance tune up and tire evaluation first. Just running correct tire pressure can save you serious mileage AND wear on your suspension.

Running correct tire pressure in my Jeep has been a major boon.
posted by Thistledown at 10:47 AM on January 16, 2012

I'm going to guess that OP is in N. America

In which case I won't recommend the Fiesta Econetic either! Perhaps seconding the Golf TDI then, they get great mileage with pretty good performance and reliability. They're a bit pricey over here though.
posted by danteGideon at 12:05 PM on January 16, 2012

Since you say that most of the miles you drive are on the highway, I'd doubt that a hybrid would worth the difference in price and complexity vs. regular gas-only (or diesel) car.

As for specific cars, Ford has come out with a new Focus that seems to tick most if not all of the boxes for you.
posted by Sir Cholmondeley at 12:37 PM on January 16, 2012

My commute is 50 miles each way - all freeway. I just traded in my 2003 Accord for a 2008 Accord. MUCH better gas mileage (29-30mpg)...
posted by twinA at 1:39 PM on January 16, 2012

My husband has the same kind of commute, and we have 2 kids. We bought a Prius and quite like it. He averages 48-52 mpg through the week (95% of his commute is highway).

Another car we looked seriously at was the Fusion hybrid. Went with the Prius because the savings in gas over the course of a month made up for about half the car payment, and the Fusion's numbers weren't as good.

Good luck!
posted by hms71 at 4:30 PM on January 16, 2012

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful counsel. Yep, I'm in the States, and, yep, you've given me a lot to think about, for which I'm grateful. If any latecomers to the thread want to chime in, by all means please do so.
posted by shallowcenter at 2:50 AM on January 17, 2012

Just an alternative thought....

Are there any mass transit options for you? Something along the lines of a train/bus/bike combination that would work out?

Since moving to a city with major mass transit capabilities, it has been a real game to see if I can avoid driving entirely.
posted by Thistledown at 5:43 AM on January 17, 2012

And, for that matter, I don't know how comfortable you are with THIS idea, but motorcycles are quite fuel-efficient and fun, even this time of year.
posted by Thistledown at 5:44 AM on January 17, 2012

Alas, Thistledown, no such luck--I'm commuting from an inner-ring Philadelphia suburb to Reading. There have been rumblings over the years about extending a train line out that way, but current economics conditions have all but buried those plans.

As for a cycle, I'm a bit too risk-averse, especially with a couple of kids, to give that a whack. Appreciate the thought, though!
posted by shallowcenter at 6:43 AM on January 17, 2012

Since you say that most of the miles you drive are on the highway, I'd doubt that a hybrid would worth the difference in price and complexity vs. regular gas-only

I totally understand how you would arrive at this conclusion and I would have done so also if I didn't have a Prius. However, as a Prius driver, I would say that the Prius kicks more mpg ass on the highway than in town. If I drove city solidly I would expect 40-45 mpg. Highway only: 50-55. (Yup--contrary to stats you might read.)
posted by NailsTheCat at 5:06 PM on January 17, 2012

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