Car went crunch. Help me find a new one quick!
March 24, 2014 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Was in awful car accident yesterday. Good news - walked away without a scratch. Bad news - car is now a paperweight. Help me find a new vehicle? Details within.

I was part of a multi-car wreck yesterday and have less than a week to find a replacement. The car that went crunch was a 2003 Nissan Sentra. It blew a head gasket before 100,000 miles and failed to deploy airbags even though it was totalled in yesterday's collisions, so I'm not big on Nissans right now.

My priorities are safety, reliability and fuel economy. Price is a biggie, too. So far, I have failed in all attempts to win the lottery. I went to CarMax today and test drove a few cars. The Hyundai Sonata and its hybrid version are now on my short list, but it's only Monday and I have a few days to choose. I have bad luck but awesome credit, so I'll qualify for any special financing offers.

A complicating factor is the fact that, although I'm average height, my partner is 6'5", so a lot of economy cars just won't work. The Toyota Corolla got eliminated from consideration because he just couldn't fit. We have a pair of taller-than-average little boys, and need enough leg room to accommodate them, too.

What are your thoughts, Askme? Is CarMax the devil, as my parents would have me believe? Am I better off going with used or new? Any thoughts on Sonatas (of the car kind)? Words of wisdom?
posted by terrierhead to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe look at a used Honda Fit. Surprisingly roomy for taller folk, better finish than the Hyundai and super reliable and good on gas.

CarMax tends to run a little high... you might have better luck with a Honda dealer, especially since you have stellar credit.
posted by youcancallmeal at 8:34 PM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm your partner's height and enjoy the Ford Focus we bought recently (the seat is very adjustable). It has a good safety rating for its size. The Honda Fit is really roomy, but we found it just had too much road noise when we test drove it. YMMV.
posted by yoink at 8:43 PM on March 24, 2014

I've bought my last three cars through CarMax, and I personally think it's worth paying a bit extra for the lack of hassle and the convenience. Everything I've gotten has been reliable as I could have asked for.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:56 PM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Honda Fits are pretty roomy, though mine was totalled in a relatively minor accident.

I drove a Hyundai Sonata hybrid while looking for a replacement for the fit. That is, until it had some kind of critical error and died in an intersection. I wasn't too interested in one after that. (We wound up with a couple-year-old Prius.)

P. S. Glad you're OK, and good luck.
posted by wintersweet at 9:00 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

CarMax is all about the cost/benefit of not dicking about. If your parents object, then they can go and find you a car elsewhere. Certified used from a dealer is a good alternative option.

I wanted to like the Fit when I went for a test drive a couple of years back, and it's definitely roomy, but the interior felt plasticky and dull to me. That was at the end of its generation; the new generation may be nicer. I also got to try out a Sonata when another car was in the shop, and disliked it intensely, but that was also a handful of years ago.

This year-old previously is useful on the small car / tall person conundum; the OP ended up with a Beetle, which isn't quite as keen price-wise.

Your insurance might not give you much leeway for rentals, but it's a relatively small expense in the long run to do so out of your own pocket -- especially if you can rent the cars you're interested in buying -- and get more of a sense of whether you'll like them.
posted by holgate at 9:17 PM on March 24, 2014

If you can swing a jetta, that seems to have much more room than the other comparable cars in class. When I went car shopping in Jan, I could have gotten one for $17.5k through truecar.
posted by palionex at 9:25 PM on March 24, 2014

Guessing that "cars that might seem plausible but probably aren't really for you" might be useful, I'll unrecommend our Mazda 3.

I'm 6'1", and it's all in my torso so when I'm sitting down I'm as tall as a taller person. If that makes sense. Anyhows, I fit in the Mazda just fine, but if I am driving that means that the back seat becomes useless. Except for that its turning radius is for shit, I love it to bits otherwise.

You might look at the Mazda5, or at the weensiest of the sport utes like the CRV (which is basically a modified Civic), Forester, or Rav4.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:25 PM on March 24, 2014

I would take a look at the Consumer Reports Annual Auto issue, conveniently out now. They go over the best new cars in every class of course, but they also have an extensive list of used cars, both recommended and in the "avoid like the plague" category.

So glad you walked away from the accident that totaled your car.
posted by killy willy at 9:37 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check your Mefi Mail.
posted by axiom at 9:40 PM on March 24, 2014

Glad you're okay! Can you tell us your budget, either flat out or what you'd pay monthly and for how long? I ask, because with excellent credit you might discover a 0% financing option for a new car that ends up costing you less than a non-0% financing option for a CarMax used car. Personally, I've purchased two cars at 0% or 0.9% financing, and just paid the tax, title and license up front. Stellar credit lets you do that.

A note on economy cars: because they have an upright stance compared to larger cars, a lot of economy cars actually work quite well for taller drivers. I'm 6'1" on a good day, and I can fit in Nissan Versas, Volkswagen Golfs and Ford Focuses, but I can't fit in a midsize Ford Fusion without tilting my head to the side. This doesn't apply to all such cars, of course -- a Fiat 500 just isn't going to happen for me, much less you folks -- but you might be surprised. For example, the Fiat 500L, which has an EPIC amount of room (although a terrible driving position for tall drivers, so I'd actually recommend you skip that particular model.) Just don't expect to get a sunroof, since that eats away at headroom.
posted by davejay at 9:46 PM on March 24, 2014

Response by poster: I'm working with a modest budget - prefer $20K or less, a down payment of $3000 to $4000, no trade-in unless the dealership is interested in a work of modern art, and a tremendous amount of gratitude toward Ask.MeFi.
posted by terrierhead at 9:49 PM on March 24, 2014

My boyfriend is 6'6. While he fit in the Honda fit, he didn't fit in the Mazda 3. We ended up getting a Toyota Camry, which is of course incredibly boring but fits your criteria. We also considered a Honda accord (we couldn't find the Fit used).
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 10:07 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can definitely buy new if you are so inclined with that budget. The consumer reports guide (linked above) is going to be your friend here; other than the need to accommodate height, nothing special is in play and you have lots of options.
posted by davejay at 11:12 PM on March 24, 2014

Toyota Camry, you could almost buy an acceptable one for your down payment alone. Pay your mechanic to inspect it before you buy it, regardless of who you are buying from.

Avoid VW unless you like spending money on your car.
posted by flimflam at 11:24 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would consider the Honda Civic. They are larger than the Honda Fit and get great gas mileage (39 mpg on highway), and you can get a new one for 20K or a bit less depending on trim level. Also, I believe the 2013 civics were 1st in their class for crash test/safety. The 2013 models also have much less road noise than earlier years. And just as an anecdote, last summer I was in a horrific freeway crash in my 2011 civic. I was struck by an 18-wheeler and my car spun out of control doing 360's on a crowded freeway. Long story short-I walked away and was very impressed with how it performed. It was totaled of course. So I bought the 2013 civic and IMO it is a nicer vehicle and as I said above very safe for its class.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:50 AM on March 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Our Hyundai didn't deploy its airbags this weekend either. Fwiw. So there's that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:03 AM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a new Honda Civic and I LOVE this car! It feels as roomy as my old Accord and it is HELLA fun to drive. Great gas milage and a back up camera. So freaking great!

Husbunny at over 6 feet LOVES his Honda Fit. Also good gas milage, a bit more spartan than I like, but he's nuts about it.

You can buy either of them new for under $20,000.

Look for deals on 2013 models, there will be incentives for selling them.

Husbunny classes cars for an after-market warranty company, Hondas and Toyotas are Class 1 vehicles, reliable and cheap to repair.

Hyundais and Nissans are typically Class 7.

Volvos and Land Rovers are Class 14.

Glad you are OK!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:29 AM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for a Civic. Great cars.
My wife has a Fit and, while it certainly can haul an amazing amount of stuff, I find the seats and the ride far too stiff for long drives. Plus, being relatively tall, it gets pushed around on the highway when there's strong winds.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:47 AM on March 25, 2014

I'm only a tad shorter than your partner. As you note, the Corolla is a non-starter. Personally I find the Camry a bit short on headroom, but not unlivable; for about the same money, the Accord is much more comfortable. I've only been a passenger in a Fit, but found it pretty tight, and it also didn't do so well in recent crash tests as I recall. I'd spend a bit more and get the Civic if you are leaning that way.

The VWs (Golf, Jetta, and Passat) are much better for tall drivers than the Toyotas, though they've had some reliability issues with some models that you'll want to investigate. A Honda is probably going to be cheaper over time, though it might cost more to buy depending on the model. I haven't even been a passenger in any Hyundai models, so can't speak to how they fit or drive.

If back seat leg room is key, I'd look full size (Accord, Camry, Passat, etc) rather than compact or tiny. And if your partner is big as well as tall, that will impact sizing as well. A base model Accord starts at an asking price of about $22k and the Passat is under $21k, so as suggested above you should have new as well as used options in your price range. As mentioned, financing deals can be better for new, so make sure to build that into your calculations.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:31 AM on March 25, 2014

Definitely sign up for a month of consumer reports. It's a great resource and easy to cancel as soon as you buy the car!

When I was recently looking for a car I spent some time on looking up how much headroom and legroom various cars had. Can help a ton for ruling out cars that your partner and boys just won't fit in. Here's a link to your Nissan, for example.
posted by beep-bop-robot at 6:40 AM on March 25, 2014

I'm 6'6. I haven't found a car that is more spacious than the VW. I have inches of headroom in my Golf and plenty of leg room. Two door Civics have also worked well for me in the past, but they're much tighter, to the point that a sunroof lowers the ceiling to much. None of the Toyotas that Ive tried have been even close to working and the Mazda 3 is also a non-starter. A Mini might even work, but that's a silly car.

I haven't tried the Fit, but a friend of mine was in a pretty ugly T-bone collision, where the car ended up about 40 feet from the point of impact. While there was quite a bit of bruising, my friend and his wife walked away from that one as well.
posted by wotsac at 8:49 AM on March 25, 2014

Tall boys? I'm thinking that the Civic isn't going to be great. Actually, I rented a Ford Escape SUV last fall, expecting to hate it. It was actually pretty charming, gave me plenty of leg room (not as much as my Golf though), and the base price and MPG were both surprisingly good when I looked those up. And I bet that Ford has some great incentives.
posted by wotsac at 8:57 AM on March 25, 2014

I'm 6'2" and I drive a Toyota Echo without feeling cramped. However, I'll note that I drive it with the seat pushed all the way back, with the incline all the way forward. I'm somewhat long limbed. The echo is a really tall car, so I don't have problems with head height, but limb length might be a limiting factor for you. One can't get much more economy than an Echo :)

The back seat might be an issue. I've fit my 3 boys in the car, but never all three in the back seat. They're 5'-6'. The 6' one sits behind me (remember, my seat is pushed all the way back) and hasn't bugged the back seat companion to switch.

I've somewhat abused my echo with only yearly oil changes but she's been dependable for 7+ years for me now (she's a 2002 and we got her in mid 2006). I put about 150km/week on her just for my work commute and use her for my errand running on the weekend. I needed to get a the front linkages replaced, and a hole in the muffler fixed. Beyond that it's just been standard maintenance stuff.

I'll note that as the Echo is both tall and light, wind is something you definitely become more aware of while driving it. A co-worker got rid of his because he'd get blown out of the lane. For a bit I regularly commuted over the skyway and was never once blown out of my lane, but I learned to drive in a light car. Driving in wind is the biggest complaint I've heard of the Echo (however I'm not really a "car guy" (I did say I drive an Echo, right?)).
posted by nobeagle at 9:42 AM on March 25, 2014

I drove around in my Ford Focus with my 6'2" best friend all through my senior year of high school, and didn't have any problems with her height in the passenger seat. The back seat isn't super roomy but fitting two kids shouldn't be too bad (three would probably get annoying fast).

I always felt very safe in the car, and had a pretty bad highway crash back on 2009 (because deer, not any issue with the car itself). The car was totaled but, similar to you, I walked away with literally one scratch on my hand and whiplash. I'd absolutely recommend a Focus as a great value for its safety and reliability.
posted by augustimagination at 10:28 AM on March 25, 2014

Just jumped in to say that I recently bought a Honda fit and love it. Great mileage, spacious, versital with the hatch back and fold down seats. Plus with new models I have traction control and anti lock breaks so it has drove amazing in the snow for me.
posted by Jaelma24 at 12:12 PM on March 25, 2014

I don't know if they're available nationwide or only in my region, but Toyota has been sending me rather attractive lease offers lately. I'm generally not a fan of leasing, but sometimes a heavily subsidized new car lease can be the best deal available.
posted by wierdo at 12:59 PM on March 25, 2014

The backseat space might be an issue for those VW recommendations. I'm only 5'4" and hate riding in the back of every VW that I've encountered.
posted by youcancallmeal at 4:53 PM on March 25, 2014

Response by poster: Today I put a deposit down to hold a 2014 Honda Accord. I need to consider the option at least overnight, however. Thank you for all of the help! I'm still looking for more advice, so please feel free to contribute.
posted by terrierhead at 6:34 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And I'm back in the game. I still can't decide whether to go new or used.
posted by terrierhead at 8:36 PM on March 26, 2014

Response by poster: Posting just in case it helps anyone - I ended up with a Pruis. So far, am pleased with it, and giant of a husband fits wonderfully in it.
posted by terrierhead at 8:53 PM on May 17, 2014

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