Jeep or pickup truck or...?
August 26, 2013 2:09 PM   Subscribe

We need to replace our Subaru, and my wife and I both want to have something rough and tumble and fun to bounce down the road in. Help us find the right car, please!

Several factors are involved:

1) Price -- we don't have our financing lined up yet. We're going to go to the credit union for a car loan, but I don't think we can swing a payment of much more than $120/month. Assuming a trade-in value of ~$2500 for the Subaru (is that too optimistic, by the way? Kelly Blue Book has it at $2748), that puts the purchase price at around $10,000 max.

2) Size -- we have a small garage, and the Subaru Legacy wagon fits snugly. The next car will have to be around the same size, and certainly not more than ~6" additional length or width.

3) Reliability -- we don't drive very much, and neither of us commutes by car, we just go to the beach and the mountains and the grocery store and occasionally New York City. Nevertheless we want a car that won't break down on us every month. The Subaru, though supposedly built by a reliable manufacturer, has been in the shop constantly, which is part of why we have so little money right now. We want to be done with that, if possible.

4) Fun -- This might conflict with item 3 above, but to me "fun" means a rickety old 3-speed rustbucket with a hole in the passenger seat floorboards through which the road can be seen. I'm willing to compromise and get something that has airbags and antilock brakes. For what it's worth, the Subaru was never "fun." It was more like, "oatmeal."

Given the criteria, my two first choices would be a Jeep Wrangler or a Toyota Tacoma (maybe a Toyota FJ Cruiser, but it's a bit too bulbous.) I'd be fine with an older model year on any of those, but if we go back to a year we can afford, are we just asking for more repair woes? I'm hoping for reconsideration, confirmation, affirmation, creative financing ideas, or make/model/year alternatives which I have not yet considered. Thanks for any and all help.
posted by sleevener to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure you've already seen this, but Jeeps are a lot more expensive than Tacomas. (We've been looking for something similar.) Basically, used car values seem to be almost wholly based on mileage, and used Jeeps are *really* expensive per mile. On the flip side, that means they hold their value. AND they're really fun!

In short, I don't know, I'm wondering the same thing, and I'll be watching this thread with interest. :)
posted by nosila at 2:16 PM on August 26, 2013

Pickup truck with a cap on it! So you can remove it if you need to carry big huge stuff but can go shopping at costco in the rain. And you can sleep in it if you go camping. For purposes of anecdata, I have a 1996 chevy S-10 that's got well over 100K and it's still holding on. I don't think they make them new any more, but it was in production for a long time and there's plenty of used parts out there to be had.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:17 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A Jeep Wrangler is basically the most awful car ever for driving *on* the road. I would never buy one unless it was strictly a weekend four-wheeler, which I'm not that interested in. If I had to use it as a regular car much of the time, I'd much rather have the Tacoma. Or a Grand Cherokee.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:17 PM on August 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have a 2003 Tacoma King Cab (i.e. jump seats in a small area behind the driver instead of the full four-door thing), about 120K miles, and I see TONS of them on the road (either that model year or the year before it, just judging by body style and license plate numbers) so they're evidently pretty reliable in general even at 10+ years old. I think mine might be on the low side for mileage for a model from that year by now, but not by much. I have regular maintenance done, and have never had a major issue - I've had it for 90K miles now, and I've never even had to change the brake pads or clutch. It has airbags and ABS, and I have a 5-speed manual, which may be difficult to find. Looks like models from around then are around $12K at CarMax.

I don't know that I'd call it fun to drive. Maybe if you didn't get the 4x4 and it was a little lower to the ground, but it's not the best at cornering when you've got a lift. Plenty of power, although with rear-wheel drive on a pickup you can't really start off quickly with an empty bed. It's always felt pretty solid to me, so I can't really say whether a model you look at will meet your rickety-centric definition of fun.
posted by LionIndex at 2:32 PM on August 26, 2013

I loved my Grand Cherokee so much. It could go ANYWHERE and it was also a wonderful comfy ride. And yes, totally reliable. If that would fit in your garage, that would be my recommendation.

Also, Subaru's Outback is a great off road or onroad car.
posted by bearwife at 2:32 PM on August 26, 2013

Best answer: Please get a toyota. Please. Somehow they're less money, and they're some of the best made cars ever. Those trucks specifically.

Everyone i've known who's had a jeep has gotten like 10mpg. And this isn't a sample size of two or anything. I've driven a Cherokee on a 120ish +/- mile round trip several times and it always got abysmal gas mileage. It's actually the only vehicle i've ever driven that weighed less than 10,000lbs that got worse mileage than my 60s plymouth(which is carbureted! with a 5.3 V8!).

That jeep despite always being kept on maintenance wise always has some dumb thing broken too. It's had weird hard to track down issues with overheating, and many other things. My uncles Grand Cherokee is a similar story.

I'll also second tylerkaraszewski in them being the most terrible cars to drive on the road. I'd seriously prefer a super tiny cardboard-feeling econobox like an aveo, or driving my old decommissioned city bus to a jeep. Highway driving especially. It's one of the only cars i've driven that felt like i couldn't just relax a bit, it required constant tiresome input even with the cruise on. And was just really tiresome in the city.

On the toyota side of the ring, many people i know own them. The older vans, at least one person has a truck, and plenty of corollas/camrys. My friend is still driving his dads van with a kabillion miles on it that his dad used in the 90s as a grunge sound guy and beat to shit. I used to drive my grandpas old tercel he get as a retirement gift from the phone company that the technicians had beat to shit. I think i spent less than a grand running that car for 10 years while my entire family put something like 80k more miles on it. I don't think i've owned a single other object that was as reliable as that car. It outlasted even my original gameboy. It survived abuse like driving it with a dead radiator fan, overloading it until it was almost dragging on the ground, my mom trying to learn to drive stick and crashing it into a light pole in reverse at like 15mph and snapping half the bumper off, being sideswiped on BOTH sides, being hit on both ends, being run out of oil a few times. Still started up nearly instantly and got about 40mpg.

And looking at what i've seen from people driving the toyota trucks/SUVs Vs jeeps you're looking at the very lowest end of the MPG spectrum for that type of vehicle, Vs the very highest end. Subarus aren't that great, my dad owns a forester and it gets about 25-30. My friends rav4 on the other hand which was almost exactly the same size got high 30s even when you were flooring it and doing 80 on the highway all day with a bunch of morons and sound gear packed in.

I will say that i've never driven a toyota that was all that fun to drive(ok, the tercel was kinda fun in the "it's like a little go cart!" sense, but it was still not a sports car), none of them have that "This drives the way a mom would want her 16 year olds car to drive" feeling that the non ZOMGperformance subarus have.

Oh, and as a warning on the FJ cruiser specifically, that also fails on the "Getting 10mpg regardless of what the sticker says" front.

If you buy a tacoma you'll probably still have it in 20 years if you don't trash it. My old toyota and my best friends current toyota van are from 1986-7 and are still going strong(in the case of mine, somewhere else with someone else). Another friend is still running a 4wd 86 toyota. Many other people i know are still driving early 90s models, and several are running 13-15 year old ones as well.

I have never, ever heard someone go "man, what a piece of shit it's always breaking". Just groovin on it, or "wow i can't believe this thing is still working after XYZ". Some of the most abusive car owners i know happily drive toyotas that just will not quit.

Meanwhile that jeep i hated is in the shop again.

Oh, and as a quick epilogue, the same family who had the cherokee briefly owned a liberty. Inherited it from someones grandparents. Sold it super fucking fast because a couple things nearly instantly broke on it and it was awful to drive. And had reverse-tardis syndrome where somehow the inside was way smaller than the outside made it look.
posted by emptythought at 2:58 PM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've had two Tacomas and loved both.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 3:42 PM on August 26, 2013

I'd look around for a slightly older Land Cruiser, the skinny/boxy design. Finding something with low-ish mileage on it and no rust (although you seem to want rust?) that's been regularly maintained for under $10,000 shouldn't be too hard, and you're likely to get a lot of life from it before it starts to breakdown.

Just from a quick look at my own local Craigslist, something like this.
posted by mannequito at 3:43 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the size of your garage might be a major limiting factor. You might also consider the height in your garage--a Jeep or pickup is already taller than your Subaru, and that's before you add the possibility of larger tires or a lift kit.

And, speaking as someone who has owned both a Jeep and a bunch of pickups: two of the key things that make these vehicles fun to drive are a torquey engine and a manual transmission.

Will you be doing any actual off-road driving?
posted by box at 3:55 PM on August 26, 2013

Honda Elements are quirky and very outdoorsy, a Ford Ranger will do the job without a lot of style, and the Jeep Cherokee XJ will get you anywhere you need to go.

All can be had in various condition and at various prices. All can be had in interesting trim levels and all will fit in your garage. And outside of late model high optioned Elements, all will be affordable. But reliable? Well, it's never too late to learn how to turn a socket wrench.......

For alternatives not yet considered, go a bit outside the box. If you want something that is "fun" without all the modern safety accoutrements, you should try to rock something prior to 1985. It's not a perfect measuring date but that is just about the time where cars started to get a little complicated under the hood, so post mid-1980s eliminates your ability to make some simple repairs yourself. And going mid-80s or earlier with a budget of $10,000 you will be able to get something rebuilt that might spare you some headaches. And clearly the answer to this question is a 1980s AMC Eagle Wagon or a SJ Series Suzuki Samurai! Be proud. Be committed. Be a bit daring....... because to me, nothing is more fun than getting the thumbs up from strangers because you have a silly old car.

Plus, if you drive a little as you say perhaps you can get a classic vehicle registration which, depending on your state, may mean a one time registration fee and reduced insurance but with a condition of limited miles. Check your state DMV for details.
posted by lstanley at 4:40 PM on August 26, 2013

If you're not going to use it in places that require a high ground clearance or 4x4, a recent-ish Mazda3 with a manual transmission and the large engine.

Small pickups have gotten bigger and bigger over the years (you could say that the models left on the market are actually medium pickups), so you'll want to check that they actually fit your garage. If you stick with a 2x4 pickup, you'll have a very simple vehicule that's easy to maintain.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:33 PM on August 26, 2013

Best answer: If you want a reliable vehicle that doesn't require constant futzing and little repairs don't get a jeep. I have owned several and at least once a month I was fixing something or adjusting something or greasing something on all of them. That being said, if you want a jeep, get a 98-2002 Jeep Cherokee (xj). NOT the grand cherokee, the little boxy one.

It gets decent mileage, fairly reliable (on the Jeep scale of things) and everyone with a wrench in the world knows how to work on them. They are good offroad, reasonable roomy and not expensive for things like tires and such. You want the 98-02 models because they are the end of the run and usually the best made with the best interior-which is the BIG weak spot on jeeps. The engine and transmission on the XJ's is very reliable and works great. The door locks, doors, shifter, electric windows, so on are not so much. They had the engine all figured out by then on cooling and fuel injection and such (the engine actually dates back to an old american motors straight 6 first designed in the 1950's-it required some tweaking to work to modern standards-once they did that it is the best engine EVER in a jeep). On this and all 4WD vehicles, Avoid ones with a lift kit or other modifications. Most are done poorly, make the vehicle less reliable and handle poorly. If you aren't a mechanic just steer clear of modified vehicles.

FJ cruisers look cool, but are heavy, large with poor visibility and are WAY out of your price range. Older land cruisers in your price range are going to be vehicles that require constant maintenance. They are also going to be too large for anything that isn't the original FJ40, and you don't want one of those that are going to be in your price range unless you are ready for a frame up restoration (I am currently restoring a 1969 RUST FREE (very rare) FJ40 land cruiser. It is not for the inexperienced or faint of heart or the financially challenged. IF you really want one of the best off road vehicles ever made and sold in the US buy a FJ80 series land cruiser(but the above warnings and drawbacks apply to this model).

The tacomas are awesome. I am going to buy a (probably new) 4X4 TRD model next year as a reward for paying off my student loans. Great vehicle. One in your price range is likely to be 10+ years old and lots of miles (150,000 plus). This is ok, if it has been maintained well. Get it checked out by a good mechanic and the same advice on lift kits and modifications here as the jeep paragraph. Some also rust out really, really bad in the frame were you can't see it, so definately make sure the mechanic gets it on a lift and checks that out (best way is with a hammer and magnet by somebody who knows what they are looking for). And if you get one (and good advice for any car) make sure you wash it off during the winter on a regular basis if you live somewhere that uses salt on the close enough to drive to NYC.

Take a look at Ford Rangers, also good vehicles. Here in the US Ford sold the ranger as the same basic vehicle for about 15 years. This has made the 1997 on models very common and inexpensive and about the best buy in the small 4x4 pickup category. They are easy to work on, fairly reliable (not as reliable as a Tacoma, but close) and parts are cheap (and readily available in junk yards for even less). The pre-97 models have a twin I beam suspension that is...problematic. Bushings wear out A LOT and are very expensive to repair. If not repaired (and most aren't) the handling will get squirrelly and the ride gets worse and worse as the bushing and alignment go even farther south, the repair is usually 500$ plus and in my experience is needed every 40-50k or sooner if off roaded a lot.

There are other vehicles also to look at like a Nissan Frontier (really close in all ways to the Tacoma-including the rust). and Mazda B series pickup, identical to the rangers (off the same assembly line identical).

First generation Honda CRV's are also AWESOME. Bought my niece a (immaculate) 97 model with 200k on it and no problems at all for two years now. They even come with a picnic table. NOT really an off road vehicle but they handle snow and dirt roads much better than most cars and are about equal to a modern Subaru outback in off road capability. If you are going to be happy with a Cross over this is, without a doubt, my recommendation. First gen was from 97-2002 or so btw. Later ones are heavier, more complicated and not nearly as fun to drive, and probably out of your price range.
posted by bartonlong at 6:02 PM on August 26, 2013

If you're into dangerous rustbuckets, you might also want to look at the Lada Niva; you could get a recent-ish one and restore it to its spartan Soviet glory.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:30 PM on August 26, 2013

Best answer: OMG if you want a reliable and fun car, please do not get a Jeep! They are hilariously terrible!
posted by barnone at 7:56 PM on August 26, 2013

I drive a 1994 4Runner with about 200,000 miles on it and it is built like a fucking tank. It's got five seats, but they fold down flat to give you a truck-with-a-cap-like cargo area (except better, because it also has a roof rack) and it has a proper tailgate like a truck (much better than the back door on most SUVs). It's very easygoing and surprisingly small and parkable despite its trucklike qualities.

It's fun to drive in the sense that it's super comfy and just feels like it will go anywhere and do anything forever without a hint of complaint, plus it's all old-school with horizontal guages and nice chunky mechanical controls. It's basically a Toyota Hilux with a more passenger-oriented body on top of it, and the Hilux is probably the single most legendarily reliable and durable vehicle ever made. (There's a reason why they're the vehicle of choice in most of the developing world.)

The best part? I paid $2100 for it, cash, and I fully expect to see another ten years of use out of it, minimum.

The gas mileage is pretty shit and it's not the safest ride around, but in every other respect I cannot recommend it enough. 2nd generation 4runners are the bomb.
posted by Scientist at 8:00 PM on August 26, 2013

Best answer: Don't buy a jeep if you want something that will last you 200,000 miles without spending enough money to buy fifty more fucking jeeps.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:14 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm also on Tacoma #2. Toyota recalled the first one and gave me way more money for it than it was worth. They're good like that. Neither truck has ever, ever let me down. Super reliable. Neither has ever needed anything besides consumables (tires, brakes, etc.).
posted by Camofrog at 10:04 PM on August 26, 2013

Response by poster: This is all very helpful. The chorus says "don't get a Jeep what are you thinking!" so that's probably what I won't do.

Camofrog, that's my exact situation, and I'll probably be looking for Tacoma #2 my own self henceforward.

If anybody has other data points or suggestions please don't hesitate. Otherwise, thanks again!
posted by sleevener at 6:44 AM on August 27, 2013

I'll stick up for the Jeep Wrangler a bit. Yes, they are unreliable. Yes, they have horrible gas mileage. But my old Jeep was the most fun I've ever had with a car tooling around town or especially on trails or unpaved old roads. Just ridiculously fun.

I sold it because of the above bad points, and because it was absolutely terrifying to drive on the highway. I lost my love when I very nearly died after ending up facing the wrong way on the 405 because a semi cut me off and I had to hit the brakes too hard.

If you can afford to pay for nickel and dime repairs and only drive around local roads, totally pick one up. Some day I'll have a cabin by a lake somewhere with a Jeep parked out back.
posted by Eddie Mars at 9:55 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll join Eddie Mars in sticking up for the Wrangler. Mr jshort and I bought one last year (2000 TJ, manual, V6, 33" BFG mud tires, 100k miles), so we could have a extra car if we couldn't ride to work together and because I've always wanted one. We drive it about as much as it sounds like you drive. We've gotten about 14 MPG on average.

I LOVE driving it! I wouldn't have it as my daily driver, but it is so much fun to drive in the summer with the top down. Not so much fun when it's not raining or snowing/icy, but usually it stays parked during bad weather.

The last owner used it for off-roading a lot, so it had a pretty rough life before we bought it. In the 14 months we've had it, it's been in the shop twice - the throwout bearing seized right after I bought it (I think replaced the clutch, as well as something with the rear axle that was broken) and a control arm needed to be replaced a couple of months ago.

When we were searching for the Jeep, we found that most YJs and TJs were in the $6k - $8k range, unless they had a lot of work done, so you could certainly find one within your price range. We searched on Craigslist, though... assume a dealer would be quite a bit more, if that's your plan. If you get one, don't even consider a 4 cylinder.
posted by jshort at 1:58 PM on August 27, 2013

Response by poster: So, we're picking up our almost-brand-new 2009 Suzuki SX4 tomorrow. It's not what I was looking for, but it meets our needs and I'm actually really excited about it. Thanks again to everyone for your thoughtful comments!
posted by sleevener at 6:33 AM on September 27, 2013

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