Help us re-car the household.
December 4, 2016 7:17 PM   Subscribe

We've never been a 2 car family. But we might need to be. How do non-car-folks pick out cars?

We're not car people. We're fairly agnostic towards cars (although, we both dislike go-kart-type vehicles like Honda Fits). I have a job offer on the table that would be a nightmare by both bike and by transit, but would pay more than enough to cover the cost of a 2nd vehicle. One car purchase needs to happen very soon, and the other needs to happen later this summer.

-We live in Portland, Or (so, no real snow driving...we're not go-to-the-mountain people)
-My commute is 17mi r/t, mostly city driving.
-Her commute is 34mi r/t, mostly freeway driving.
-Both cars need a space for the kid and his car-seat: She takes him to daycare in the AM, and I pick him up in the PM.
-If for some reason I'm unable to pick kid up, it adds 4 miles to her commute.
-We need at least 1 wagon/van/truck for hauling around people and large things (this happens frequently)
-We currently have a lease on a Jetta. It ends this next summer. Our lease terms are favorable if we continue in some fashion with a VW vehicle. We're not tied to this.
-Her job offers free-charging stations for EV.
-Our house does not have a charging station for an EV, and would be a giant pain in the ass to set up (in terms of placement, and parking).
-We need to purchase 1 vehicle now-ish (in the next month), and 1 vehicle in the summer when the lease ends.

Car No. 1
For our first purchase, we're looking at the more traditional wagon/van/truck. We were originally thinking of going with a VW wagon, because we know a really good independent VW mechanic, but after the whole diesel-gate thing, we're a bit hesitant. Being from the NW, we see a pretty large swath of Subaru wagons out there, and are inclined that way too. We're really open to other makes and models though...we don't really know what we want, or what will work well for us. We just know that it has to hold 3 humans and a medium-sized dog on a regular basis, and have the ability to haul around cargo (not necessarily at the same time). If there was something out there that had the form-factor of a Doka, I would be all over that, I'm just not interested in the maintenance and upkeep of a gray market 25 year old vehicle. I'm looking for a short list of vehicles to compare to try and hash out what would work best. The kid is getting older, and we're hoping to do more camping during summer and the fall. Flexibility would be pretty key here.

Car No. 2
Since my wife has free charging stations at work (only 10% of the stations are ever in use), we're considering having 1 car be an EV. We know nothing about EV, other than they exist. If we were to purchase an EV, it would be at the end of our current lease. We're not even sure the pros and cons of getting into that world. Do we lease? Do we buy? Based on that mileage, we wouldn't need a charging station of our own would we? This is by far the biggest question mark in the car buying equation, because it seems to add a whole other category to the mix. Plug-In EV's add another layer of questions for us. We'd like to capitalize on this benefit my wife is offered, but we're not sure how to. We're also unsure if it's a good choice or if we should just stick with a traditional, but much smaller car than our other vehicle.
posted by furnace.heart to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How much do you want to spend?

I live in Seattle and I wanted to spend under $10k, so I went and bought the newest/best condition Suburu I could last year. It isn't fancy, but it hauls kids and groceries with ease. I don't worry about it getting scratched or bumped because it was a fairly cheap car. One issue with Subarus is rust and some particular engine parts. If you buy used, try to get one that didn't live in a winter climate.
posted by k8t at 7:25 PM on December 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would suggest a subscription (or a trip to the nearest library) that has Consumer Reports, and especially their car issue. They are a pretty good non biased group from whom you can read through and pick a selection of cars that sound like they might work. They also have lots of good advice about negotiating.

Then go drive the top 3-5 on your list. Take a car seat and try to place it. Don't let the dealers force you into anything, walk away. They will fall over trying to contact you.

You can then either dive into negotiations, or look for a car buying service. Your Bank or Credit Union might have (or know of) a good one.

New cars will lose like 15% of their value the minute they drive off the lot. If you can wait it out a bit find the car you like, with low miles, it can be a fantastic deal.

I think the Prius C is a great little car for commuting, and fits two car seats splendidly. But it would fail your go-kart rule. Our other car is a "haul-all" Mazda 5. Both were bought used and work great.

For EV's, each of the major ones (Tesla, Nissan Leaf, Prius Prime, Chevy Volt) have great user communities, and all have experience that can give a rough estimate of if you drive X miles per year, in Y mile groups, your battery will last this long.
posted by nickggully at 7:29 PM on December 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

what is the distribution of free charging stations in the neighborhood where you live? Having one at your spouses work is fine but you need some options at home too
posted by calgirl at 7:46 PM on December 4, 2016

I bought a Kia Soul this summer and I love it as a city car. It is somehow both really roomy inside (I rode in the backseat for a few several-hour chunks of time over the course of a road trip and was actually able to stretch out!) and yet short enough to be easy to park in Seattle (I think Portland parking is a bit better, but still, it's nice). The interior is really comfortable and the materials seem sturdy, which is nice with a little kid and dog (it's holding up well to my dog). Not quite as luxury as a VW, but nice.

I have been able to haul some pretty big things by putting the back seats down, so if you only need to haul things once in a while, it's a good option. But even the back area without the seats down is enough for quite a bit.

For me though, the selling point was the 10-year powertrain warranty. The nice thing about living in the Northwest is that the climate is mild enough to keep a car on the road in good shape for a long time, so I like the idea that unless I total it, I can just drive this one for over 10 years, at which point I guess I'll get an electric self-driving car or something!

Even if you're not into the Soul, both Kia and Hyundai are worth a look because they are quite a bit cheaper than their Japanese counterparts - especially when you consider the features that come standard - without a significant dip in quality. I looked at a Subaru model (the Impreza) and I liked it, but it didn't really seem worth the additional cost.
posted by lunasol at 7:57 PM on December 4, 2016

Funny, I was also wondering whether or not I should recommend the Soul here. I also came from a series of VWs, but switched to a Soul in '13 because I could get all the features I wanted for much less money. So far, I've been pretty happy with it. Roomy as heck, drives decently well, and I haven't had a mechanical (or electrical... looking at you VW!) problem with it yet. It doesn't quite have the interior fit and finish quality the VWs do, but it's not bad. I can fit all sorts of crap in the back with the seats down, but be aware the "trunk" is pretty tiny. I'd definitely consider looking at the Soul EV however if I was in the market for an electric vehicle.
posted by cgg at 8:12 PM on December 4, 2016

Vehicle #1: maybe a Toyota Tacoma? Not great on gas, but is practical, reliable, and holds its value extremely well...almost too well. There is also the Honda Ridgeline, which is as car-like as such a vehicle can get (it is literally a Pilot with a truncated roof and no third row).
posted by Seeking Direction at 8:23 PM on December 4, 2016

If you wish to go the EV route, a used Leaf can be extremely inexpensive.

For the second car, if you really want to have hauling capability, a Mini-van is extremely practical. I would recommend a Toyota Sienna.
posted by coberh at 9:19 PM on December 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Then go drive the top 3-5 on your list. Take a car seat and try to place it. Don't let the dealers force you into anything, walk away. They will fall over trying to contact you."

Parent-driving pro-tip: When you narrow it down to a top 1 or 2, rent it for a few days from a rental-car place. There is absolutely no substitute for living with the car-seat in the car and hauling the kid in and out of it for a few days. Since you don't need it on any particular date you can look for a deal. A $70 rental is a small price in comparison to a $10k (or $30k, or $50k) car. (I actually rented to test drive with the kids and discovered there's rent-to-buy used rental cars programs and I did that ... you rent it for 3 days and if you like it you just keep it and click a button on a website to then conduct the purchase of the car by mail and the rental fee is credited against your purchase price, and it was about 25% off bluebook, A+++ would do again.)

"a kid, a dog, and camping" screams "Subaru Outback" to me ... around here, liberals with just kids drive Mazda 5s and liberals with kids and dogs drive Outbacks.

If you want something like that Doka picture, the word you want is "extended cab" truck, here's some smaller models discussed. (I would also say Tacoma and Ridgeline and maybe the Frontier? Am not a truck person, just know lots of truck people, this is just visual observation of child-hauling capacities of smaller models from school parking lot chatter.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:15 PM on December 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

furnace.heart: "Being from the NW, we see a pretty large swath of Subaru wagons out there, and are inclined that way too. "

You see lots of Subie wagons around because lots of your neighbours are go to the mountain types. If you buy a Subaru you will be investing a lot (both in purchase and maintenance costs) for AWD that you have no need for.
posted by Mitheral at 10:16 PM on December 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a Mazda5 and bought it explicitly to carry two adults, two kids, a 60lb dog and stuff. Our family changed, but it totally fits those needs. We've gone camping and the third row of seats is convenient for impromptu hauling of extra people, but folds down so I can fit a whole bicycle in the back (minus the carseat). It isn't AWD, but I live in MN with snow and have had this car for 8 years and only one or two days a winter do I wish I had AWD. It is 5 star crash rated, too.
posted by jillithd at 4:37 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just to throw a weird option on the table, depending on the reasons why your commute would suck by bike, an electric cargo bike would be cheaper and easier to purchase and maintain than a car, would still allow you to pick up your kid, and in city traffic will probably provide a similar commute time.
posted by metasarah at 6:09 AM on December 5, 2016

I respectfully disagree with the idea above that AWD is unnecessary unless you're mountain types. In the rainy PNW, there's added peace of mind to know all four tires are engaged. Subaru wagons are great cars for the PNW, for kids and dogs, and for camping.

So...just throwing this out there since you didn't name your price. You like Doka? How about a vanagon? The ones you see that are $20k+ have (or better have) new engines (usually Subaru or Ford Focus). And you have a good VW mechanic, so there's that. Need a little more security for when the van is in the shop? Take metasarah's advice and add an electric cargo bike to the mix. Vans are fun.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 6:48 AM on December 5, 2016

I did heaps of research this spring on the best car choice for my family. I put on my nerdy engineer hat and put together a list of criteria and a spreadsheet.

Helpful sources of information:
IIHS Safety ratings
Edmunds Total Cost of Ownership
Reliability ratings from Consumer Reports (I bought an online subscription and canceled after 1 month, it worked out really well and I highly recommend it).
Going to Carmax one day and sitting in a bunch of vehicles. It was nice because the sales guy was available if we had questions but he let us wander the lot and sit in everything without hassling us.
Autotrader for actual car prices. Once you know what you want, you can set up alerts to let you know when something becomes available.

The EV's in my price range did not have the range I needed. I ended up with a 2012 certified Prius, which I am loving, but which might be too small for your taste.
posted by beandip at 10:32 AM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

From a financial standpoint, I believe you can get a much lower total cost of ownership by purchasing a used vehicle, more than 50k miles and ~4-5 years old. I feel like this age on a car maximizes the value, i.e. your cost of ownership will be the lowest. You do have to be comfortable with appraising the vehicles components that are subject to wear, i.e. brakes, tires, etc.

I know some people are more comfortable with having everything taken care of, and having the whole thing under warranty. Take into account the distance to the car dealership / repair shop, and how much of an impact it has on your daily life if you car is in the shop. If your repair shop is next to work, that might make you sway towards trying a used car. If, on the other hand, there is a dealership next to your work, you might be OK with buying new. Certified used is another possible route...
posted by joecacti at 11:53 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd like to Nth the Soul. I have a 2014 model and love it to death. It's amazingly roomy for its size, and even the Basic model has a nice stereo system (aux and USB, no CD player) and Bluetooth. They have a new EV model, which would be perfect for at least one of your commutes.
posted by lhauser at 4:15 PM on December 5, 2016

I have both an extended cab Tacoma and an old Outback, both ca. 2003. So, nthing both of those - the Tacoma has 176k miles and the Outback has over 200k, and both still going strong.
posted by concertedchaos at 4:52 PM on January 11

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