Good family car for under $4K - Mothering Forums

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Old 12-07-2010, 04:46 PM - Thread Starter
 
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So as I mentioned in another thread a lady high on drugs crashed into our parked beloved 96 Volvo 850 wagon last week. I am pretty sure the car is totaled and am on the hunt for a new car.  We would love to get another Volvo 850 but good ones are hard to come by and I cannot be without a car for a very long time. 

 

It's tricky because I don't know how much the payout on our Volvo will be but I am assuming between $3K-$4K.  So I am just curius other options for good older cars for us.  A list of must haves:

 

-Must be a station wagon or minivan.  Do not want a sedan or SUV.

-Must be able to install my 3 radians, two rear facing, one FF.

-Must be generally reliable and not notorious for tons of mechanical problems.  Obviously with an older car we expect to have a repair here and there that is a few hundred bucks plus regular matainence.

-If it is minivan must have a sliding door.

-Must be a safe car (duh)

 

Just curious what other Mamas out there are driving.  Oh and I would like this car to be pretty solid for the next 5 years, if we have to replace after that, ok but would be great if it lasted longer as well.  Thanks!


Jenna in love with my DH Jon, loving our 2.5 year old, Caroline Tulip, and expecting another little one in August!
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Old 12-07-2010, 06:04 PM
 
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As to what 3-4k will buy you, that varies from area to area.I would recommend checking out Kelly's Blue Book to see what various types of cars are fetching in your neck of the woods. I had a Subaru Legacy wagon that I really, really liked (a  '99, paid 5k in a part of the world that LOVES its subaru wagons, which drives up the market value). They are the lower end of the wagon line, less expensive than Outbacks. I don't know what car seat configuration would fit in the back, but I can attest to its safety.  My little subey, while traveling probably 80 mph, took a minivan going a similar speed broadside, then bounced off the median. It didn't survive, but my husband walked away with nothing but soft tissue damage. I am going to replace it. If I can afford another one (probably not), I will get one. I'm also considering the Ford Focus, and I like the Vibe as well, but don't think they have enough cargo space.

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Old 12-08-2010, 11:45 AM
 
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I'd check Craigslist. You'll get more for your money buying from a private party. My hubby's VW Passat (piece of crap car) is about to die, so I was looking around on CL to see what was available in the $4,000 range recently to replace his car. I found lots of Volvo V70 Wagons for sale...most of them 1998-99 year models. 

 

Whatever you end up buying, I highly suggest that you Google the make, model and year of that car for problems. Don't just do a general search. A quick "2002 VW Passat Problems, Complaints"  search will give you insight into what kind of issues the particular year model of the car you are considering is known for. 

 

I'd also get a Carfax of any car I was considering purchasing.

 

Honestly, you are probably not going to find a decent minivan in that price range. If you do, it will be old and/or have tons of miles on it. Minivans and other larger vehicles have a shorter life span than sedans and wagons. So if you need it to last 5 more years, a 12 year old minivan with 150,000 miles will probably not make it that long without significant work, but a good wagon like a Volvo probably will. If you do look for a minivan, I'd look for Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna only. They are the most reliable in that category. 

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Old 12-08-2010, 03:49 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for the replies.  Yes, we are searching CL and are likely to buy private party and will research any vehcile before we buy it.  Also we will not buy a vehcile without our mechanic doing a thorough mechanical check on it and getting a car check.  Guess I should have said all that, those are all givens for us.

 

I guess this is part of my research, seeing if there is some great car out there that I have overlooked.  We would love another Volvo wagon, preferebly an 850 because the V70's are more prone to problems, especially after 1999.  The problem is finding one that has been well maintained, for a good price, in the years and model we want.  Another Volvo 850 is my number one pick but I can't sit around waiting for the magic one to appear for months so I was just wondering what else I might look into.


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Old 12-08-2010, 04:00 PM
 
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If you don't find the Volvo you are looking for, I also recommend a Subaru.  I have a '98 Legacy Outback that has $224K miles and still driving (soon to be replaced, but it has worked for my 45 min commute twice a week).  I think the hard thing with only spending $4-5K on a vehicle is that it is obviously going to be older and have high mileage - which is okay for certain cars/brands - but it's really a crap-shoot, even if you have a mechanic look at it.  Something big very well could go out soon after you start driving it, and could cost you half of what the car is worth - or more - to fix.  I wouldn't expect at all for it to last you 5 more years; if it does last more than a couple years, you'll be pleasantly surprised. 

 

Hope you find something you are happy with. 


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Old 12-08-2010, 09:56 PM
 
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I would not count on being able to install 3 radians in a subaru.  They are really hard to get good seatbelt installs with radians in.  And there are issues with car seat installs in the middle due to the hump of the seat and the seatbelt configuration in some model years.


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Old 12-09-2010, 11:17 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DahliaRW View Post

I would not count on being able to install 3 radians in a subaru.  They are really hard to get good seatbelt installs with radians in.  And there are issues with car seat installs in the middle due to the hump of the seat and the seatbelt configuration in some model years.



I agree in general.  I have, however, done it in a 2001 Legacy L wagon, which might be at the top of the OP's price range depending on condition and mileage.


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Old 12-09-2010, 01:45 PM
 
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I LOVE Subarus, but they are tiny inside. If you decide to look further into that route, test the install first.

 

 

We have a 1998 Chevy Venture, and frankly the problems have been very few and far between.  We bought it exactly 3 years ago this week (after I totaled our old Plymouth van by spinning out on ice and crashing into a hillside) and the cost was $3800 and it was at 84,000 miles.  The starter went bad in the first week, but that might have been a reflection of how long it was on the lot, or the fact that I made key copies at Walmart because I did not realize that Chevys have a special starter that requires a chip in the key.  It was not an expensive fix, and since then there have been no large repairs out side of wreck damage paid for by insurance, though several small ones.

 

It's now going on 140,000 miles, and has been in 3 fender benders, 2 with big trucks (but has never spun out on ice like the Plymouth did).  One was strong enough to have bent in our entire back hatch, and another was strong enough to smash in the whole corner of the van and destroy the light.  The kids were in the vehicle in each and were fine, though transported to the ER in an ambulance in one case because the crash LOOKED so ugly.  It has duel sliding doors so I can pick which side to get out of, and plenty of room.  I have the duel bench version (center captains chairs are the other option), and each bench is split into two parts, unlike other vans of that age that have one giant bench to take out in each location.  This gives me a LOT of leeway in seat arrangement (which is good because we have the short wheel base van with less storage in the back hatch).  Each side of each bench can be removed separately, and when the seats are left in the van, each side can fold down independently, and there are cup holders on the back of the seat, so the kid sitting next to the folded seat has a table and cup holders.  

 

The biggest annoyances are that the front windows seem prone to getting stuck, requiring us to open the door at drive-throughs until it's fixed, though the jarring of the car wrecks surely didn't help that.  Ventures are also prone to the rocker panels rusting out, which is a big issue here where we have lots of snow and road salt, but could have been prevented with attention from the start.  The key issue also requires that you buy keys directly from Chevy for 40 bucks each, but as long as you don't lose them constantly, it's not such a big deal.  I LOVE that it has daytime running lights that turn off an on automatically, because we have many tunnels here that require lights and I never have to remember to turn them on and off.  Plus I never have to worry about draining my battery by forgetting to turn them off when I leave the van.

 

After so many wrecks, and with some of the rust damage we let get out of control, we're going to start looking for a new Venture this spring when we get our tax return, but plan on running our current one into the ground as a back up vehicle so we can use it for parts when it's finally done.  According to our inspection last year, the guts are strong...we just don't want to be stuck scrambling later in the year if that assessment is wrong because the mileage IS getting up there.  We'll be getting the long wheel-base version to fit more stuff on long road trips, and will be paying more attention to rust proofing the rocker panels.  For the 4,000 range you should have no problem whatsoever finding a lower mileage Venture with all the features you talked about, though for us it took a few days of looking around (3 years ago).  The vans that come up on auto-trader are priced higher, but we took down the info of vans with no pictures that were priced more cheaply and went lot to lot until we found ours.  We did the Craigslist thing and found one that LOOKED great under the hood, but thank god we had it put up on a lift because the whole bottom was rust as if the people kept it parked in a yard or something.  We'll probably try both methods again this time, but I wouldn't dare buy off of craigslist without getting a carfax and having the car inspected in the air.  

 

I do love Ventures now though...at this point we wouldn't go with anything elsethumb.gif

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Old 12-09-2010, 01:59 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks again for more replies.  I just found out yesterday that I'm pregnant and the day before that I am getting a substantial raise at work.  DH and I are in discussions of taking on a car payment in order to get a nice minivan or Mazda 5.  We would want the car to cost $15K or less. So any thoughts on that would be appreciated too.


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Old 12-09-2010, 02:16 PM
 
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With the new parameters, I'd look for a used Honda Odyssey.  Ours is an 8-passenger 2007 in great condition that we bought for $16000.  The same dealership had similar 7-passenger versions (the base model) for $14000.   Reliable, great crash test ratings, long-lasting, etc...  We've been very happy with ours.  


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Old 12-09-2010, 02:17 PM
 
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What about one of these?;

A friend has one, and they seem pretty roomy inside. I htink they get decent mileage, and Hondas are supposed to be like a Toyota or Nissan in the sense you can put a lot of miles on a maintained engine, like 300k. Maybe you could find one with low mileage, that would be a good deal. Good luck. PS try crazedlist if you want to search a bunch of craigslist in your area all at the same time.

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Old 12-09-2010, 02:19 PM
 
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One here too.

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Old 12-09-2010, 05:20 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JennaW View Post

Thanks again for more replies.  I just found out yesterday that I'm pregnant and the day before that I am getting a substantial raise at work.  DH and I are in discussions of taking on a car payment in order to get a nice minivan or Mazda 5.  We would want the car to cost $15K or less. So any thoughts on that would be appreciated too.



Congratulations on both accounts!  I really love Mazda 5's, and you could get a nice one for your new budget.  Would you need to fit four car seats in it, though?  I ask b/c you mentioned needing 3 radians to fit before (and I totally missed that previously; I couldn't get a good install with only one in my subaru, so I wouldn't attempt 3 in one).  The only thing about the Mazda 5's is they are small in the back, and the third row would be pretty hard to get to easily to buckle/unbuckle a small child.  I like the suggestion for a used Odyssey - you could probably get a 2005-2007 (depending on model and mileage) for $15k and it would last you for a while. 


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Old 12-10-2010, 08:33 PM
 
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I have a Mazda 5 and we are a family of six.  I hatch load my 21 month old rf in the back then have the other two carseat in the captain chairs.  My oldest is almost 16 and she sit in the back with ds when we all need to ride somewhere.  I like it, its got awesome mileage but it isn't the quietest car...I bought it brand new a 2010...


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