Best family vehicle for $4K?
January 13, 2004 6:40 PM   Subscribe

My hardworking but strapped bro. needs to buy a family vehicle for about $4k. Reliability is really important, and it has to carry him, spouse, and four kids (ages 3-13). I know about the online reliabilty ratings but wanted to get your insight about how to find the best vehicle, and what your experiences have been. It'll mostly be used about town, with occasional 60+ mile trips to relatives. Thanks.
posted by mecran01 to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
An early nineties Volvo wagon would be in that price range.
posted by machaus at 6:50 PM on January 13, 2004

saturn wagon - my buddy swears by his.
posted by specialk420 at 7:13 PM on January 13, 2004

Yeah, everyone you ask will probably tell you that Volvo is top-of-the-line when it comes to safety and reliability. Saturn is also up there in the safety ratings. What about an older model Honda Odessey?
posted by tomorama at 7:34 PM on January 13, 2004

We test drove a Saturn wagon in a price range a little above that -- actually, three of them and an L300 sedan as well. They were really obnoxiously noisy in the cabin, both road and engine noises, to the point where we dropped them from consideration. But as a family wagon it seemed OK apart from that. If such things don't bother you it does seem like the Saturn wagon can take plenty of abuse and appears designed as an everyday driver. The kids liked it but I felt cramped in the cabin of both the wagon and the sedan. Not so sure about shoehorning four kids into one of those things, either. The days when it was okay to let the older ones play around in the cargo area are long past.
posted by majick at 7:39 PM on January 13, 2004

i beat the piss out of a saturn, drove it all over the woods, up nasty rutted 2-tracks, and through mudholes. i had the car 6 years and only changed the oil 4 or 5 times, and when the engine finally ground itself to dust it had 168,000 miles on it. it's made of plastic or something, so you can literally kick in the side of the door and it just springs back into shape. ditto sliding into trees and sideswiping boulders. if he's nice to it, a saturn would last your brother a long long time.
posted by quonsar at 7:56 PM on January 13, 2004

Would you buy a used man from this car?
posted by anathema at 8:01 PM on January 13, 2004

A 1995 Honda Odyssey costs about $10k.

Volvo's really aren't that reliable, by most definitions.

My brother has a Saturn sedan with 200k miles on it. Just paid it off, and now it stalls mysteriously on long trips.

Thinking out loud:

The only station wagon that'll hold six would have to have a flip-up seat in the cargo area, and I'm not sure there's a minivan I'd wanna drive for $4k, maybe a conversion van with a rebuilt engine. Or a 1990 Chevy Suburban. The previous two vehicles probably reside outside the mefi demographic.
posted by mecran01 at 8:30 PM on January 13, 2004

If you're looking for a low mileage relatively new car, I recomment a 1999 Ford Escort. It rates well in Consumer Reports for reliability, gets decent mileage, and doesn't require lots or repair.
I got an automatic transmission Escort with about 30,000 for $5,000 in Oct. 2002, and the price of the car has gone down. My boyfriend got a stationwagon Escort for a bit more at the same time.
Normally I don't endorse Fords, but the secret of Escorts built 1996-1999 is that they're really Mazdas.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:47 PM on January 13, 2004 [1 favorite]

My brother picked up a late '90s Dodge Caravan this summer for under 5k, I think, and has been quite pleased with it. V6 engine and seats 7.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:22 PM on January 13, 2004

Thanks for the suggestions. An Escort wagon is probably too small, but that's a great factoid about the Mazda thing. A Dodge Caravan makes a lot of sense.
posted by mecran01 at 9:44 PM on January 13, 2004

Stay away from the Odyssey- transmission problems (expensive!) are legendary...
posted by gen at 1:52 AM on January 14, 2004

Safe seating for 6 puts you squarely in the minivan camp. Your bro can probably find one of the ubiquitous Chrysler vans in his price range.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:54 AM on January 14, 2004

I'm on my second Kia Sportage (second, because the first, a '99, had a recall on the fuel injection wiring harness that the dealership never managed to fix properly, so I traded it in), a 2001 2WD.

I beat the crap out of this truck, take it to 500-1K miles over regularly scheduled oil changes, and generally treat it like a shitty disposable vehicle - and its never failed me, had problems, or left me stranded anywhere. My wife's former '97 Kia Sephia was the same way. They just KEPT GOING.

The Sportage has been discontinued (last year) so you should be able to find one relatively cheaply. Avoid the '98s and '99s, for the aforementioned recall on the fuel injection harness.
posted by mrbill at 9:52 AM on January 14, 2004

I'm a full-size van fan. (See my pitch in this AskMeFi thread.) They're pretty simple, proven designs with not a whole lot of unexpected problems. For $4000 you'll get one with high miles that'll need the occasional part replaced, but at least it's nothing exotic. With 4 kids and all their stuff, the interior space would be unbeatable.
posted by Tubes at 12:27 PM on January 14, 2004

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