Car that can carry a bike
December 27, 2012 10:31 PM   Subscribe

I want a car where I can throw my bicycle in the back without taking it apart, and that has 4WD and higher than average clearance. What car satisfying these criteria has the lowest operating cost? (fuel + maintenance)

Don't want to use a bike rack anymore, and would appreciate the 4WD + high clearance for navigating snowy national parks (I've found my Accord with snow chains doesn't always cut it). I'm open to trucks as well, and I'd probably get some sort of cover/enclosure for the flatbed.
posted by mnemonic to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
New? Used? Seating for how many? General budget?

There are many trucks and SUVs that will meet your basic needs, but I think you need to tell us a little more before we can give you decent advice.
posted by mosk at 11:02 PM on December 27, 2012

We own a Hyundai Santa fe and with the second row of seats down I can easily toss my bike in without dismantling it. We bought a new Santa fe 2.5 years ago and have found the maintenance and gas costs to be quite reasonable.
posted by sanitycheck at 11:24 PM on December 27, 2012

I vote for a compact pickup truck. A used Ford Ranger would be perfect.
posted by twblalock at 12:45 AM on December 28, 2012

What else do you need to carry besides the bike? You might be able to slide it into the back of a Subaru outback wagon, which has AWD and higher clearance than the Accord, but there wouldn't be a lot of room for much else.

A 4WD Honda Element would be really nice for this, but the gas mileage isn't great.
posted by jon1270 at 3:27 AM on December 28, 2012

Depending upon how handy you are, a used Jeep Cherokee can do all of this; mine is a '99 that I've lifted 2.5" over stock, and replaced the entire suspension, brakes, wheels/tires, and most of the bushings on. I originally paid $3,500 for it, and have completely restored to better-than-original condition for ~$7,000 on top of that.

Fantastic 4WD, large enough to put a bike in the back, and hey: it's a Jeep.
posted by ellF at 4:12 AM on December 28, 2012

Toyota Land Cruiser

Jeep Cherokee = mechanical headaches, esp used ones.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:14 AM on December 28, 2012

Kruger5: Maintain it properly, and that's not really true. The I6 is bullet-proof, and with the exception of a head manufacturing issue in the 2000 and 2001 models, they are not known for any significant mechanical issues. (The Grand Cherokee, on the other hand...)
posted by ellF at 4:48 AM on December 28, 2012

My 2010 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport will hold my unassembled bike if I flip down the back seat, is AWD, and has 17" clearance. The newer versions of this car have even better gas mileage than mine does, and so far maintenance has been pretty cheap - just routine oil changes and things. I like the small size of my car since it lives in a parking garage and I get freaked out enough attempting to park it, anything larger would just drive me nuts. As noted above, though, if I put the bike in there is not a lot of other room for other cargo.

The Subaru Outback (both parental units have bought once since I bought my Impreza- Subaru's are like a virus infiltrating our family!) has enough cargo space that I'm fairly sure it would hold my road bike without flipping the seat. I haven't tested that theory, though, so that is just conjecture based on the amount of stuff I've seen them cram into the back for vacations.
posted by lyra4 at 5:16 AM on December 28, 2012

Older Landrover ... the big blocky aluminium types that look like military 4WD's.

I've had a small-ish motorcycle standing up in the back, roped down, when it stopped working.
posted by jannw at 5:23 AM on December 28, 2012

New or used? I am on my second* pre-2006 Honda CRV. I *just* hit 100k miles this weekend. I often throw my bike in the back, though I do have to lower the seats if I don't want to take the wheel off. Husband and I have fit both bikes in the back easily. We also have a trailer hitch bike rack.

It's a small SUV, 4 cylinders, so it gets pretty decent gas mileage (20 city/25 highway) for it's size and is rugged as hell. It is AWD, though I think 4WDs were available.

Look for the make that has the spare tire on the rear gate instead of inside. They changed designed in 2005 or 2006 to make them look more luxury, but in my version, under the trunk where the spare tire would be, there is instead a small folding card table and a large basin underneath is that you can fill with ice or whatever. It has a plug for draining the water.

I don't have kids, but I live in Houston and my husband and I go camping and to the beach a lot. We have a dog and it's sooooo convenient to let him hang out in the back when he's muddy or covered in sand (we got the sport package that includes rubber tire mats and a "tray" mat thingy for the back with a 2 inch lip on it to contain dirt and spills). We have taken many, many road trips in that thing, often times while hauling a trailer carrying vintage Vespas. We've also loaded up the top a number of times with a 17-foot aluminum canoe.

I basically love this car. It's the only car we have between the two of us in a very car-centric city.

*The only reason I got rid of my first CR-V was because I moved overseas for 3 years. We loved it so much that when we came back we bought this one, used.
posted by Brittanie at 6:04 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a 2005 Subaru forester. It gets decent gas mileage and has great clearance, which is the main reason I bought it over a used impreza. It's got a good mount of cargo space, especially when you flip down the back seats. I'm going to have to replace the head gasket this year. it's a little work horse, I love this car and highly recommend it.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:23 AM on December 28, 2012

What Mosk said.

Absent that - my second gen (05+) Tacoma with the long bed (6') will carry my mountain bike with the 29" tires and the tailgate up. With the short bed (5'), I had to strap the bike down. My wife's smaller bike fit in both easily.

The 4x4 Tacoma will go anywhere you'll want to go pretty much stock, and even further with some modifications.

They are spendy though - they hold value really well, so even well used ones are hard to come by cheap.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:51 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

What car satisfying these criteria has the lowest operating cost? (fuel + maintenance)

I doubt that there's a single-vehicle answer to this question, but researching likely models is exactly what Consumer Reports and are useful for.

Consumer Reports requires a paid subscription to get most of their info, but it's worth asking friends & family if they're subscribers and borrowing the appropriate issues of the magazine, or the year-end digest issues that have extensive charts & comparisons. Consumer Reports is also often available at your local library. doesn't have quite the same level of charts and comparisons, but it's free and good for digging into details about specific models.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:54 AM on December 28, 2012

Volvo XC70. Holds a bike, at least 18" clearance, AWD, legendary reliability, and since they started making them in 1998 there are plenty to be had for song.
posted by sourwookie at 7:09 AM on December 28, 2012

Ugh. I meant 28"clearance (tailgate opening height, not off-the-ground).
posted by sourwookie at 7:16 AM on December 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions guys. I'll be processing them as my vacation goes on...

mosk, new/used doesn't matter to me, just seeking the best value so I suppose used is preferable (I currently drive a used Accord). Looking to stay under $35,000 purchase price, so a Land Cruiser is out. Seating: 2 seats in a compact pickup would be fine.
posted by mnemonic at 7:39 AM on December 28, 2012

I would look into a used Toyota pickup with true 4 wheel drive and a 4 cyl. motor (the smaller Tacoma) this should provide decent mileage and pretty low operating cost. Keep up with the maintenance and deal with any rust right away and it will last forever. I would add a a taller cap (something like Leer's 122 Model). Also spend the money to get a spay in bed liner done professionally. Don't use one of the plastic inserts they can trap moisture and cause the bed to rust.
posted by empty vessel at 10:37 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had an older RAV4 that got 26 mpg, needed few repairs, and would fit a bike with the seats down. Higher clearance than a regular passenger car. Sadly, it met an untimely end, but the person in it was safe, which is the main thing. I really enjoyed it, and kind of miss it.
posted by theora55 at 11:49 AM on December 28, 2012

Almost any 4wd Toyota truck will do what you want. The first generation Tacomas (1996-2004) have held their value extremely well, get good mileage, and have had very low maintenance costs. I own a 2002 V6 double cab and love it, even with the double cab's shorter bed, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend one similar to it. Since you don't need the extra seating of the double cab, the standard and extra cab trucks are much cheaper and more widely available. The newer Tacomas (2005+) are also very good, I just don't have any personal experience with them.

That said, there are many, many vehicles in this category that will do what you want. The Tacoma is one option, but there are many others that will work as well.
posted by mosk at 1:37 PM on December 28, 2012

My Honda CR/V does the trick with my mountain bike in the back, rear seats down.
posted by dwbrant at 1:55 PM on January 3, 2013

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