What is a good high mileage car?
March 28, 2007 8:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to have to start driving many many miles throughout the week...let's say around 500-600. What kind of car should I get?

I can afford a decent used car..BMW or Lexus, etc. Any ideas?
posted by taumeson to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honda's are known for their longevity and gas-sipping. An Accord or Camary would be a good long-haul daily driver.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:11 PM on March 28, 2007

A country friend of mine swears by the VW Golf.
posted by krisjohn at 8:14 PM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: also...i need a sedan/four-door car. i got a couple kids and whatnot and we'll all need to fit :)
posted by taumeson at 8:16 PM on March 28, 2007

If you can afford a used BMW ... get a new Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Or a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna. They're bombproof in every respect except sexiness.
posted by frogan at 8:19 PM on March 28, 2007

If you are going to drive a lot more than usual, and spend some long hours on the parkway, get a car with essential creature comforts: AC, sunroof, cruise control. And consider something that is not too small but not gas-guzzling big either.

Therefore, a BMW 3-series 4-door fits the bill. Mine is 12 years old now (bought it new) and it's been the most reliable and least expensive car (in maintenance costs) that I have ever owned.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:20 PM on March 28, 2007

That kind of mileage will make you very susceptible to gas prices. BMW and Lexus are nice, but 20mpg will get old quick when gas costs $4/gallon.
posted by letitrain at 8:20 PM on March 28, 2007

Toyota Prius.
posted by kaseijin at 8:26 PM on March 28, 2007

Your considerations are gas mileage, resale, life, interior size, and maintenance.

Separate from what specific car to buy -- because that's really personal preference -- I would think of this in a business sense instead of a "By golly, I'll drive it into the ground!" sense. I would buy a 2-year-old used car that has a 90,000 mile warranty on it. Then plan to sell it within two years. Generally, if you maintain the car (oil changes on an anal-retentive basis, following maintenance schedule), you should be able to sell it at a small profit a few years down the line. Just plan to pay it off completely in two years using either profits from the business or mileage reimbursements from your employer.

Generally, leather interiors are easier to keep clean/healthy than mowed mouse-fur interiors.

Don't lease. You do too many miles to make it worth it.

With the warranty covering it and good insurance, you're not out any money when the car breaks -- so go wild and get something that really meets your needs -- whether they're Big Engine + child transport + enough space for sample cases and three dead bodies in the trunk (i.e. Lincoln Continental, Dodge Magnum, Chrysler 300...), road-hugging performance plus the above, (Acura TSX, TL, RDX; BMW; Audi), fuel efficiency (VW TDI)... that's your decision.

Oh, and get XM radio. Whatever you do, get XM Radio. It's made Texas (I've had 1600 mile weeks...) bearable.
posted by SpecialK at 8:38 PM on March 28, 2007

Consider Diesel.

If you haven't driven one since the 1980s, go drive another one (they don't rattle and belch smoke as much as they used to).

You get much better mileage, and the engines themselves are much less complicated (specifically, they have no ignition system). A 300,000 mile trouble-free diesel engine is the norm, not the exception.
posted by toxic at 8:49 PM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

You might think about a Toyata Matrix/Pontiac Vibe. Our Vibe is very reliable, get 35 mpg on the highway, and is a well designed, roomy four-door hatchback. We've had it just over a year and been very pleased.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:49 PM on March 28, 2007

I drove my 1999 Ford Escort about 500 miles a week for three and a half years, and it held up just fine to the miles and got pretty good fuel economy. Any car with good ratings on Consumer Reports likely would -- go to your local library to look into your options.

If I had the whole experience to live over again, I would put a lot of thought into getting a car with a really comfortable driver's seat. And my back would thank me for it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:54 PM on March 28, 2007

No one has mentioned Acura. If I had to drive a lot and could afford a BMW or Lexus, I'd get an Acura instead. It's the Honda luxury brand, so you get Honda reliability with nicer creature comforts. Or, as others have suggested, save the money and buy an Accord.

Honda, Honda, Honda.
posted by autojack at 10:04 PM on March 28, 2007

A country friend of mine swears by the VW Golf.

For the love of god, please do not get a golf. or a volkswagen, for that matter.
posted by phaedon at 10:04 PM on March 28, 2007

seriously. im not kidding.

anyway, the new bmw 3-series is a tremendous joy to drive (esp. 3.0L or above). i've never been much a fan of the lexus or mercedes line. but i can pass along a recommendation for the IS line (for lexus) and if i ever were to buy a benz, it would be most definitely the CLK.

these are all beautiful cars. in the past, i've had a honda or two, and they're great. the new civic looks excellent. can't go wrong, and if anything happens, the dealership network is strong in the US, as with most japenese carmakers.
posted by phaedon at 10:12 PM on March 28, 2007

I'm going to second the diesel. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of options in that category on the market in North America, but the fuel savings are quite significant. I drive a Jetta TDI and get 4L/100km on the highway (or 59mpg). I don't think VW makes the best cars on the market, but they aren't as bad as some make them out to be. If you decide after a few years that the car isn't for you or you no longer drive so much, VW diesels hold their value very well, while if you decide to keep the car for the long term, you'll be surprised at the longevity of the diesel engine (my father has a diesel Jetta as well, which currently has 440000km on it and will go many more).
posted by ssg at 10:37 PM on March 28, 2007

Will you mostly be doing highway driving or in-city driving? For what it's worth, my Prius gets much better mileage on highways (about 50 mpg) versus in the city (about 38 mpg) -- even though they said it'd be the opposite. I've had it almost three years; it handles very smoothly and hasn't had any major problems. YMMV (literally).
posted by lisa g at 10:47 PM on March 28, 2007

I can't point you to the car you need. I can however steer you clear of a car I know will give you trouble.

I bought a brand new Audi not long ago. When I hit about 65-70k miles things started falling apart. The car was in the shop every three months.

Also, my experience with Audi associates, in 3 different Audi dealerships, in 2 different states, is that they're not exactly customer oriented.

My advice: stay away from Audi.
posted by ASM at 10:52 PM on March 28, 2007

You might want to pick up a copy of the latest issue of Consumer Reports that has cars on the cover (most libraries have a subscription). They recently did a cost breakdown of hybrid cars that was pretty interesting. Bottom line: they don't pay off, so unless you value the "warm fuzzy feeling," you're probably better off getting a 40MPG gas car like the Civic and pocketing the difference in price/maintenance. Anyway, before people start arguing with me, I'll just recommend reading the CR article if you're thinking at all about hybrids. (And argue with them if you don't like the numbers.)

Last time I ran the numbers on diesel vs gas, it takes about 150-200k miles to pay off (and that was when diesel was less expensive than gas). I used to drive a diesel VW, and loved it, but if you typically only keep cars for a few years it may not be advantageous.

On a more philosophical note, the most important characteristic (IMO) of a car that you're going to be driving a lot, is that it's something that puts a smile on your face instead of a grimace, when you walk out into the parking lot and see it.

I spend too much time in my car to have it be something I don't like to drive, or uncomfortable, or ugly, or boring. I spend enough time sitting on uncomfortable chairs, looking at ugly decor, being bored to tears; when I get in my car, I want that all to end. If that means getting something that costs a little more at the pump or per month in payments, it's a completely justified expense as far as I'm concerned.

So anyway, economic considerations are important, but don't neglect what just "feels right." Whatever car you buy, you're going to be spending an awful lot of time in the driver's seat, so make sure it's one you really want to own.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:54 PM on March 28, 2007

I commute about 100 miles a day, and drive a lot in addition. Also have two kids, and a dog, and all that. Love my Subaru Forester. Relatively inexpensive, great safety ratings (that was really important for me with how much I drive) and it consisitently gets 30 mpg. They have great reliability ratings and are well regarded by Consumer Reports.
posted by purenitrous at 11:13 PM on March 28, 2007

I was driving that much a week. I have a BMW and a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Gas per week will cost you probably ~$50 for either as there is a trade off in premium and regular. To tell you the truth I like the Jeep better for commuting. You have to drive the BMW, the Jeep kind of goes. Sure at night I love going down the highway with the top down on the BMW and really feeling the road. Great experience.

I hate sitting in traffic for a half an hour on the freeway going 20MPH in a BMW. It differs only from a Porsche in that a Porsche isn't comfortable to just idle in. The break is incredibly sensitive, the steering will is incredibly sensitive, the accelerator is incredibly sensitive. Not fun after a long day. Also impossible to drive in the snow unless you get a four wheel drive (don't it makes the car feel heavy and takes the fun out).

Best car for long daily commutes is a BMW X5. A mom car but you get the best of both worlds. It was way too expensive in upkeep (gas was both premium at 15MPG) and I felt like I was killing baby seals when I was filling it up. Also I never, ever had trouble during rush hour on the highway with an SUV. It is like it is a secret code. In the 330i it was as if everyone was working against me and I was some sort of invisible nymph. It was as if I had no turn signals whatsoever.

Do you hear that? It is the sound of my environmentalist cred disappearing. Of course you care less about an inconvenient truth when you spend 30-40 minutes fighting traffic twice a day. I now drive perhaps 100 miles a month, oh so nice.
posted by geoff. at 11:14 PM on March 28, 2007

So we're talking about 25k miles per year on this car, and we'll assume gas averages $2.75.

In a gas-guzzler that gets 20 mpg, you'll spend $3438 on gas

In a Prius that gets 45 mpg, you'll spend $1528 on gas

That extra 2 grand a year isn't trivial. If a hybrid isn't an option, look into something like the Honda Fit or Kia Rio5, which get 35-40 mpg without the added cost of a hybrid engine.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:20 AM on March 29, 2007

i second the "stay away from audi" comment. and i really don't mean to rag on VW/Audi from a "public reputation" standpoint - although i have a standing theory that, if one were to start a blog that included pictures of other people's cars driving around with one headlight broken (front or rear) volkswagen would win hands down (nobody believes me though, but i know im right) - i or my family have at one pointed owned the GTI, the Passat wagon, the Cabriolet, another Passat wagon, and finally, the Audi 90S (mid 90's V6). out of all these cars, i loved the mark 4 GTI the most. but what that car did to me about 2.1 years into owning it, and what the dealership did to me after that, was totally unconscionable.

i live in california, and so i have a lot of friends that own the prius. what a cool car. its something of a statement to drive one here, and its quite popular, which means that there's actually a markup here in soCal for that car. but i don't know how good its resale value is. however, gas is so expensive in this part of the country (breaking $3.50/gallon again for premium) that i think it could be a very sensible decision.
posted by phaedon at 12:35 AM on March 29, 2007

Experiences differ. I've driven Audi and VW for years without problems. Lots of miles too. The only service I've had is scheduled maintenance [covered by warranty] . My local dealer is great I've never had problems. This is 180 degrees in contrast with my friends with BMWs in my same city. So yeah, YMMV.

Unfortunately they don't sell the A4 TDI in the US, but my A4 that runs on gasoline gets 35mpg on the highway and 26ish in town. And I drive the car like it was stolen. If fuel economy is more important, the Jetta TDI might be an option.

When I drive that many miles a week, I want a car that is comfortable and fun to drive -- in addition to reliable, of course.

[and cars with broken head/tail-lights have to be General Motors cars. Even current model years I'll see with one headlight.]
posted by birdherder at 1:05 AM on March 29, 2007

I've had good luck with the Saturn SL series (which may not exist anymore). The '97 SL (standard transmission) I had got about 35 mpg freeway, and could take 1500-2000 miles per week without blinking. When I got rid of it, it had about 150k miles on it with the only maintenance being regular oil changes, and it was still running like a charm.

The '98 SL2 I currently have (automatic) gets about 32 mpg, and I've put about 100k miles on it since I bought it used (off-lease) about five years ago.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 7:00 AM on March 29, 2007

Acura all the way. Honda quality with luxury features. No question. Go to your Acura dealership now. Now.
posted by orangemiles at 8:14 AM on March 29, 2007

If you're going to be racking up this kind of mileage for a long stretch of time, I'd skip all the Europeans, most American cars, and anything complex, such as a Prius or a Subaru.

While it's true most automobiles built today will last for about 200,000 miles without major engine repairs, only a few will do that without nickel-and-diming you to death with irritating and often expensive repairs totransmissions, AWD systems, elaborate brakes and electronics and the like.

A simple, but comfortable econobox, like the aforementioned Vibe/Matrix, Honda Civic or Fit, Toyota Corolla or Yaris, would be the kind of car to go 200k without a fuss.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:17 AM on March 29, 2007

The Camry or, if you want something fancier, the Avalon will take you there.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:24 AM on March 29, 2007

My BMW 3-series get 35 MPG on the highway. Get a certified used one, and you get a full warranty to 100,000 miles and maintenance too.

But I recommend making a list and test driving them all. For me, when I did this, I test drove the BMW first and it ruined all the other cars; I was bored in them, wanted that giddy BMW feeling back, and just kept wistfully remembering the 3-series. So you might want to drive the BMW last, just to be fair to the other cars.
posted by luckypozzo at 9:44 AM on March 29, 2007

No one has mentioned Acura.

Acura all the way.

Let me be the third to recommend Acura; we just bought our second and love it; the main competitors I looked at were Lexus and Infiniti. Also, like all Honda products they have very low emissions if you are concerned about your environmental footprint. If you will be doing a lot of city driving I have heard good things about the Accord Hybrid, but hybrids don't offer a big advantage on the highway.
posted by TedW at 10:27 AM on March 29, 2007

25k/p.a. will make leases pretty much impossible to get, which is kind of a shame, it would have allowed you to get a different ride after 2 years or so.

no matter what you get, make sure it has a good warranty. also choose your insurance carefully. talk to them about rental cars (how much do they allow for per day?) should something happen, how quickly can they help you out, etc ... do they make you pay everything out of pocket and reimburse you a few months later or do they assist you right then and there? plan for such eventualities.

bmw's and audi's are very nice sedans that should adequately seat your family and allow for you to enjoy your drive. you will be spending a lot of time in this car, don't buy something you are not totally happy with. try driving a bmw 325 or an audi a4. check edmunds.com. I also hear good things about infinity.

I would advise against ford, but that's mainly because I haven been personally less than impressed by their sedans. they just feel very cheap to me and the gas mileage on the crown vic the rental place gave me was abysmal. 19mpg/highway? are they kidding?
posted by krautland at 11:03 AM on March 29, 2007

First time I tried this I had a 99 Jetta and my life was hell. Each of those features is yet another thing to break, and thus fix. The best was when the parking brake sensor failed so I couldn't get it out of park. That's not good when you're 30 miles from home with no ride back.

A week into the second time I ditched the Jetta for an 04 Corolla (thanks to Consumer Reports) with 8,000 miles on it. It has 84,000 now, since November of 04, an overall average of about 87 miles a day (weekends + holidays I don't drive much). For a year I did 650/week. In all of that time I've yet to have *anything* go wrong with it beyond normal wear and tear. 'Extra' repairs on the Jetta were $5,000 by 45,000 miles for comparison. Sensors, shocks, sun roof *everything*... you name it. On the Corolla I've replaced the front brakes once, the 4 tires once, and the normal oil changes and inspections. That's it.

Recently I noticed my gas mileage is down ~5mpg. The coolant thermometer is the likely suspect and I am working with the shop to troubleshoot the problem. I'm still getting 35mpg (not diesel or hybrid at that). Point is -- no light on the dash, car works just fine, and we're making significant progress in resolving the issue with little to no cost to me. In the Jetta it could have been any one of a hundred problems and every one of them would have had me missing gobs of work because I couldn't get in.

Luxury takes on a different meaning in these circumstances. You need something dependable. It's a different moster entirely. The electronics of the German cars seems to go to hell no matter what brand. Start looking at the tail lights of all the Mercs and BMWs and compaure to Lexus or Acura. You'll see what I mean. Each of them could be pulled over, which means yet more time from your schedule. The list goes on and on. After that first experience my fiancee had to twist my arm into getting automatic windows. They are holding fine but I know I'll pay for it sooner or later. For non mission critical apps fine, get something nice and fun. Unless you have a backup car even a good insurance policy or warranty will still be a pain when something goes wrong due to renting the car, trips to the shop, abject fear over what is wrong and if it'll be covered. I get depressed just remembering all of it.

If you are curious, I keep a log of my mileage and gas use, learnt how to drive for mpg savings, and do a monthly inspection on my own to ensure all is good. I've never found anything wrong, but that stupid log book is going to pay for itself pretty quickly. I found out about the temp problem because I noticed my mileage was off, otherwise I wouldn't have noticed till the warning light came on. I've done 10,000 since I noticed and still no light, so I know the advance warning was pretty nice. Now THAT's luxury. :-)
posted by jwells at 11:08 AM on March 29, 2007

Your considerations are gas mileage, resale, life, interior size, and maintenance.

I'd drop resale off that list, if he's driving that many miles a week. In fact, I'd say "gas mileage, reliability, life, interior COMFORT, and low maintenance requirements/costs."

#1: whatever car you buy, make sure you're very comfortable in the seat on long drives. If that means renting one for a weekend trip, do it -- nothing worse than a car seat that always hurts you in the same place every time you drive over 50 miles.

#2: let consumer reports -- not anecdotal evidence -- be your guide to reliability, and the number of those cars you see on the road that are old, old old be your guide to expected life. Someone earlier said their friend "swears by the VW Golf", but they're actually remarkably unreliable (although awesome in many other ways.) Similarly, post-2000 Hondas and Nissans have surprisingly lousy reliability compared to the earlier cars, but their reputations haven't caught up to that fact yet.

#3: consider stickshift, as they last a long time compared to expensive-to-repair automatics. Consider diesels for the same reason. If you can get a stickshift diesel, you're good to go for a long time. Hard to find, though, and probably limited to Mercedes and VW (both unreliable compared with alternatives.)

#4: if you want long life, don't go for a Prius; go for an xB. A simple, proven design with easy and predictable maintenance requirements is a much better fit than something with better mileage, but unproven long-term reliability and unknown maintenance costs.

#5: considering the amount of driving you're going to do, don't be afraid to buy a new car and suck up the depreciation -- after all, this car is going to be your partner for a lot of long drives and for a long time, so you'll want it to have been well taken care of from the beginning.

#6: make sure you LIKE it. I mean, if you hate looking at it, or driving it, but it saves you some money up front...don't do it. If you drove eight miles a day (as I do) I'd say it doesn't matter, but if you don't like that car you'll be miserable; it'll put a damper on your day, every day you drive it.

The good news is that cars today are quite reliable and comfortable, so you'll have lots of choices at relatively low price points. Just make sure you can afford it, you enjoy it, you're comfortable, and you're not getting a money trap.
posted by davejay at 5:29 PM on March 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Davejay makes some good points but also some I disagree with.
Definitely drop resale off the list of any cay you buy unless you plan to store it in a garage and sell it at the Barrett-Jackson auction to Jay Leno. Buy a cheaper car and put the money you save in stocks if you want to invest.

#1 Comfort is key, and it sounds like not just for you but your passengers as well. If you plan on keeping the car for a while leave room for the kids to grow

#2 Agree wholeheartedly; I went with Acura based in large part upon their consistenly high ratings in Consumer Reports, and used their online car-buying guide ($) to help me get the pricing info I needed to negotiate a good deal. They are not perfect, however and their priorities might be different from yours.

#3 A stickshift is great for some people and horrible for others. Modern automatic transmissions are very reliable, and even the most delicately driven stick will need a new clutch from time to time. A big car with a bunch of people in it will need a new clutch that much sooner, and sooner still if you are not experienced with a manual tranny and/or ever need to pull a trailer or otherwise stress the drivetrain.

#4 Simple is good, but you didn't say how long you intend to keep your car while driving roughly twice as far as the average USian, so longevity may or may not be a big concern to you. If you want something to last 5 years at that kind of mileage that is one thing; to last 2-3 years is another.

#5 New and undamaged has been my philosophy for a while; a new Toyota will be far less hassle than a used BMW for the same price. Just remember that new cars have factory defects but at least they are covered by warranties and lemon laws.

#6 Definitely yes; and would add that satellite radio is a big plus in terms of liveability if you like listening to the radio on the road. In fact, XM has me listening to music on the radio in my new car, something I haven't done in years due to the crappy, advertising-saturated stations in my town.
posted by TedW at 7:47 PM on March 29, 2007

A word to counter some of the myths here regarding the Prius, from somebody who owns one:

#1 "The extra cost of buying the hybrid negates any savings in fuel" False. You pay about 3k more on the sticker price and....well...i got 2.5k of that back at tax time in the form of a nice tax credit. Not a deduction - a credit. Granted, if you are looking at just gas savings, then you need to drive a lot to make it worth it from that standpoint alone. However, if you are a high mileage driver, it can definitely be worth it.

#2 "Maintenance will be a beast, because OMG the batteries are expensive, etc." False. The battery and all hybrid components come with a standard warrantee of...hmm.... off the top of my head, I want to say it was 150,000 miles, but it may be 100,000. Within that, any work done to those components is free. Additionally, since Toyota wants to boost consumer confidence in the Prius, you can get an extra bumper to bumper warrantee for 100k miles for a *very* reasonable price. So reasonable, in fact, that it doesn't even impact your payments by more than about two dollars.

#3 "No creature comforts"... I have hands-free bluetooth, an iPod connector, GPS, 6-disc MP3 CD changer, touchscreen interface for audio and climate control, etc. In fact, the only thing I can really think that they *need* to add to the Prius is a way to pop the trunk open from inside. It baffles me that they didn't think to include that.
posted by kaseijin at 7:13 AM on March 30, 2007

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