Help me choose a car

Every morning for a couple of weeks, Mr. Cheap’s car has been drooling some green iridescent solution (yes, that would be coolant … and apparently everything else under the sun) in the gutter. He drives a 14-year-old Toyota Camry with hideous paint that he bought for a song in January 2007 to shuttle him to his student teaching job.

Well, he’s about to finish school, and the Camry is sitting at the Toyota dealership (because our local mechanics wouldn’t touch it and he needed to know what’s REALLY wrong with it). They called today and read me a laundry list of issues with it. The base line is a new water pump, timing belt and something else for $950. It goes up from there … although they included a new door handle to replace the broken one at $279 (no thanks! Hey, it DOES open the door).

We don’t know for sure if the dealer is way overpriced. Like I said, two mechanics in our neighborhood have hemmed and hawed it right out of the shop. (Our only comparison is our Subaru dealer’s service area, which is comparably priced compared to the highly rated local mechanic who messed up our brakes horribly so we had to redo them … at the Subaru dealer in California, taking up a vacation day.)

But it seems Mr. Cheap’s gloomy forecast might have been correct, and we might need another vehicle. Your eco/econ input is invited.

Most of the time, we only really need one car. Sometimes, we need two. Unknown: Where Mr. Cheap will be teaching next year and whether we’ll need a second reliable car or just a once-in-a-blue-moon ride.

Mr. Cheap would like a truck, but between miles per gallon and safety per family, it’s not in the picture. I’d like a minivan (no mockery from the peanut gallery, please), but again, the gas mileage won’t let me do it.

We currently drive a not-quite-paid-off 2004 Subaru Forester. About 20-25 mpg and a not-so-great emissions record. We still have a little over a year of payments on that car.

We’re thinking about getting a newer car and giving Mr. Cheap the Subaru for his less-frequent driving. But what to choose for the new #1?

Fuel economy-wise, I would love to get a Prius. But hardly any used Priuses (Pries? Prii?) are available, or if they are, they save only $1,000 or $2,000 over a used one. The other factors are:

  • A new Prius runs $24,000ish. As we weren’t planning on buying a new car NOW, we have little to no down payment saved. Payments would push $500 a month for a 5-year loan. We probably could afford to run both loans for a year, although I’d rather not.
  • On the carbon front, we would cut our emissions in half.
  • We would get a $2,000 one-time state income tax credit.
  • We would cut our annual fuel costs by an estimated $1,200.
  • Financially, our insurance/registration costs would likely go up enough to almost eat up those fuel cost savings.
  • I haven’t driven one yet, but hear they aren’t that comfortable to drive.

Do you have any feedback, readers? Know of any terrific, great-gas-mileage-getting, people-hauling (must seat at least 5) vehicles we should look into? Or do you have any wonderful savings suggestions for those who need a car now (gulp)?

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5 thoughts on “Help me choose a car

  1. Sara says:

    Give the Honda Fit a looking at. I love mine. It is estimated to get 34/38 MPG, but I got about 40 MPG once on an out of town trip. The base model with no frills comes in at $15K new. It seats 5 and has the most safety features standard than any other subcompact I researched. AND… the nifty cargo transformations sold us on it. Might be two small for your needs, but works well for two adults and one 100-lb greyhound.

    I also looked at the Scion XB, but just didn’t like the way it drove.

    Good luck.

  2. erin says:

    i have know idea if used options are available but we have a honda civic hybrid and love it. it is very comfortable and we can fit 5 but it is a tight squeeze. we get an average of 42 mpg but have gotten as high as 51 mpg on a long highway trip. good luck! you may want to see if you can get away with one car until mr. cheap knows where he will be working and then you know what kind of car you will need.

  3. cheaplikeme says:

    @Sara – Wow, great mileage! And you inspired me to look at the Toyota Yaris too. Seems similar …

    @Erin – even greater mileage! Used hybrids are a frustrating situation indeed.

    I read that diesels are another good option because you can use “homebrew” diesel in an existing engine, and there’s a lower footprint for fuel production.

    Then again, new Subarus are at 0% financing, and they’re built in the US at a no-waste plant!

  4. Madelief says:

    Hi there,
    My personal experience with cars has brought the Honda Civic to the top of the list. I think a hybrid isn’t even necessary. I’ve had times when my 2000 civic ran 38 MPG (it is now in need of a tune up and purging of winter tires which has brought the MPG down a bit). Also, hybrids frighten me in the sense that I don’t think that many mechanics will touch them other than the dealer, and we all know what that will cost.

    Of course, ideally, no car is best, so if you can wait it out, great. But having a civic in the yard feels good. It seats 5 quite comfortable (less so if you still have kids in car seats) and I’m always surprised as to what I can still fit in my trunk.
    Good luck

  5. cheaplikeme says:

    Great points! I haven’t had a Civic since my old 1990 hatchback (that got 36 MPG all the time!), but I know people who have had more modern versions they loved.

    I love all this Honda love … Mr. Cheap is a diehard Toyota fan, even though I’ve told him I think Hondas are as good!

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