automotive recommendationings requested.

One of the drawbacks of living in Upper Cryogenica is the harshness of the winter environment, especially on vehicles that never see the inside of a garage. I just had to turn the Grand Marnier over to the local car vet for an extended stay. The road salt rusted out the emergency brake system, the spare wheel release mechanism under the floor was rusted shut, and the oil pan was leaking. It wouldn’t pass the NH state inspection with a faulty emergency brake, so it had to get fixed, and I had all the rest done as well while they had the thing up on the lift. $1,000 later, I have my sticker and state permission to drive the Grand Marnier on public roads for another year.

The Dodge is a 2005 model, with pretty low mileage for an 8-year-old car (about 110,000.) It is, however, sliding off into that territory where fixing the age-related boo-boos is getting pretty spendy. In addition, the side panels are starting to show corrosion (again, liberal use of salt up here), and I am starting to wonder about a suitable replacement.

Every time I do think about a new car, I am torn between just getting another minivan because ours is just so freaking versatile, not to mention the most comfortable vehicle for those once-a-year road trips to the family down South. But I also like the idea of a smallish, fuel-efficient car for puttering around town, since I don’t use the full cargo or passenger capacity of the Dodge 95% of the time. So right now I’m waffling between a new Grand Caravan, something from the Subaru line (an Impreza or Crosstrek), a VW with TDI engine, or maybe one of those Mazda 5 microvans. The kids are getting older and no longer require a huge supply train for trips, so I don’t need the space for strollers and high chairs anymore, but it sure is handy to be able to haul furniture or plywood sheets or six friends in a pinch.

What would be a good option for a dude like myself who drives about 1,000 miles a month, has to deal with snow and shifty roads in the winter, and occasionally takes the family on 2,000-mile round trip family visits to NC and TN? Bonus points for fuel efficiency and decent interior space. Sporty pep would be nice, but it’s a secondary concern, because let’s face it, I’m middle-aged and boring now, and getting the kids to various destinations cheaply and safely has to take precedence over being able to outrace teenagers in souped-up Civics at the stop light.

Throw your recommendations at me, Internets!

36 thoughts on “automotive recommendationings requested.

  1. My vote would be a Subaru. I lived in Anchorage, AK for a number of years and loved the Subaru Outback we had. Great versatility, solid mileage, and overall great dependability. Subarus of all makes were very popular there simply because they were a) great winter cars and b) versatile enough to throw gear in for weekend trips winter or summer.

  2. I *like* my (not souped up) Civic. On the occasional long trips – have you considered renting a larger vehicle just for those trips? If you really don’t need the capacity the rest of the time, it would make sense to get something smaller (and in theory, more efficient or fun to drive) and go with a rental for the trips.

  3. There is a good reason Subarus are popular everywhere it snows. Take one for test drive in snow. Then imagine how it drives with winter tires. Im not a huge fan o the two models you suggested. I will note though that a trailer can provide room for cargo on that once a year trip and home despot run.

  4. Marko, for me, safety and versatility are critical. As an example, 4-wheel drive could be very useful and a life saver in the NH terrain, especially when you add in snow and ice. With your other criteria of space for several people, the occasional transport of material and bulky cargo and fuel economy for potential long distances … I would have to look at an SUV. Or perhaps one of those Subaru Outback all wheel drive wagons. Now that I am living in the backwoods of south central Kentucky, my 12 year old GMC Envoy is at nearly 300,000 miles and will soon be retiring. I am looking at either a late 90’s Ford Expedition or an Extended Cab Ford pickup of the same time frame. The choice of an older vehicle is because of the rear end suspension is much more complicated in the newer models. If I am to be working on it, myself, simpler will be easier to maintain. If my business changes and I start putting more miles on the road, warm weather commutes to various client sites, will be on the motorcycle. Or I may purchase something more like a Ford Explorer Sport. Several options to choose from, while trying to balance costs and operational expenses.

  5. I love my 2013 Subaru Outback. Plenty of interior space, good ground clearance, all wheel drive, and 30 mpg highway. It accelerates and handles decently too. I use mine quite a bit for kayaking. It can carry four decent sized people and gear comfortably (five if you don’t care if they’re comfortable), and comes standard with a roof rack. Just long enough that I can fold the seats down and sleep in the back comfortably!

  6. Now, don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure that the Impreza is reserved only for use by lesbians in NH, ME and VT. Judging by the virtually 100% assurance of sighting a Moe from the 3 Stooges-style haircut by the driver, this plays in there too.

  7. I would tell you a quad cabbed Ranger… if they made such things. They don’t. Since they don’t, and I don’t think you need something quite so big as a F150 for tooling around, I’d probably lean towards a Subaru. The value of all wheel of 4 wheel drive in places like upper cryogenica can’t be understated. Front wheel drive is probably good enough most of the time… but boy do I love my 4×4 :)

    • They do make it, in South of the Border. Very popualr there. Won’t pass crash tests here, unfortunately.

  8. It’s the depreciation that gets you. Much cheaper to spend $1500 a year on the van if it’s a good one than much much more on finance and depreciation. With a bit of TLC you sould see another 4 to 6 years out of the van.

  9. Subaru Forester. I have a 2005 that we picked up with 10k miles on it in 2006 for 15k. Not a single problem of any kind so far in 8 years. It’s done off-road, snow, desert and two coast-to-coast trips pulling a trailer without complaint. And get something like 35 MPG.

  10. Sigh. Nothing beats a minivan for ease of use / space / livability when you have kneecap punchers running around…

    Looks like the next gen Chrysler will have AWD again…

    Since I don’t have those pesky yard apes, I will stick to my 2 seat cars…

  11. My 12 years of living in Maine with the same Subaru Legacy Outback (which was used when I bought it) leads me to recommend the Subaru line without reservation. Four-wheel drive pays off in winter and mud season (spring, here) and when needed I use Hakkapellitta studded snow tires, also recommended. Approaching 200,000 miles and the only thing that doesn’t work properly is the powered radio antenna, which I could replace if I thought it was worth it. (I probably bent it driving in the woods.)The body still looks good. This larger regular station wagon body is still not too large for city driving and parking and is very useful. HTH
    == Michael Höhne

  12. A Subaru Outback would seem to fit your needs and is vaguely close to an economical and fuel efficient mini van/station wagon. I had one many moons ago and it was a safe, reliable, and capable car. My eldest son (60 yrs) just bought one for his wife and they are both happy with the results. Just a thought, since as I tell my kids and grand kids, you’ll do what you want. This from one of your fans and hopefully friend (I’m sure you have recently discovered many ).

  13. Whatever, find a shop that does rust treatment. And then, several times in the winter, take it to a car wash that washes down the undercarriage. If your shop puts the car up on a lift for oil changes, ask if you can wipe down the CV joint boots with Armor-All.

    I don’t know as you can stop rust, but you can slow it down a tad.

  14. Here’s one that might not be easy to find but is very good…the Toyota Matrix wagons are great, Corolla drivetrains so they run forever. If you want a discount version, look for the Pontiac Vibe. It’s a Matrix with a Pontiac brand rebadging. They are out of production but theres a lot out there. With the exception of the Pontiac-specific plastic parts, all the parts are cheap and easy to find, and because Pontiac is deceased you can sometimes find them screaming cheap.
    Regarding your E-brake and spare tire winch, it’s a good idea to exercise them regularly to prevent what happened. Annually drop your spare and clean the crud off the spare tire, spray some good lube in the works (Motorcycle chain lube works good here). Even though your car is an automatic, get in the habit of setting the E-brake when you park. If you use the E-brake it won’t be as likely to rust solid.

  15. Subaru Outback is a very good car. It handles well, and safely, on winter roads, has a fair amount of space for transporting people or things, and gets ok mileage. It’s not a sexy car but driving around in NW PA or W NY I never had trouble with the winter roads.

  16. I bought a Honda Pilot about a month ago and I’ve been pretty impressed with it. Sounds like it would meet most of your criteria, especially the AWD version.

  17. Toyota Venza. I have one after owning Nissan pickups for 7 years. I love it. AWD, Bluetooth and lots of room. Get one with a roof rack and sun roof. It craps all over the snow we have here AND WE ARE GETTING MORE!!!

  18. Impreza wagon for best performance in the snow. If not as concerned with that, take a look at the Honda Fit–it has a surprising amount of cargo space for its size.

  19. TDI VW and a beater pickup for any actual work. Bonus points if it has a plow already attached!

  20. I’ve had minivans, trucks, cars, and SUVs, with front-, rear-, and four-wheel drive. My favorite vehicle combination (and the one we currently have) is a 4wd SUV for The Missus and an extended-cab pickup (also 4wd) for me. The SUV (and an AWD wagon like a Subie would fall into that category, for all intents and purposes, as far as I’m concerned) is a good family vehicle for most running-around (shopping, chauffeuring rugrats hither and yon) and commuting The Missus to and from work. The pickup handles the heavy/dirty stuff (home improvement, dump runs, etc.), gets me to and from work in heavier snow (my occupation is a “rain-or-shine” affair; no snow days allowed) and still has room for all of us to fit when the whole family needs to go retrieve something we don’t want in the SUV (I have never tied a Christmas tree on top of a car, and never will) or haul something heavy, like our camper. The Missus and I are both active in our local fire department and EMS corps, so “staying in” during inclement weather isn’t an option. 4wd is therefore a must. Our current vehicles are both Chevrolets, through sheer coincidence – I’ve owned many different brands, and as long as you do your research going in, and shop intelligently, whatever you buy should serve you well. I have also never purchased a “new” vehicle, and never will. I don’t see the logic in making a purchase the size of a vehicle and watching it abruptly depreciate five to ten percent the moment you drive it off the dealer lot.

  21. The Subaru line is always a good choice but you might want to look at a Used Toyota Tundra. The Crew Max cab has astounding amounts of room in it and still sports a useful bed. The gas mileage isn’t great, a Subaru would win hands down in that category, but a 2012 Tundra can be had for the low twenties and still give you another 250,000 miles at least with upkeep.

  22. Back when I was raising children, Dodge Caravan was the vehicle to have. Not too expensive, four cylinder engine reasonable on fuel (23 mpg), front wheel drive for snowy roads farther north into Upper Cyrogenica than you are, a separate seat for each child, big enough to get sheet rock home from the lumber yard or furniture home from the auction. I owned three of them over the years, bought ’em new and ran ’em up to 100,000 miles and then replaced them. Good snow car, felt really solid at 70 mph on a snow packed I93 heading north to Cannon Mt.
    Others in my family have had excellent luck with various Subaru wagons. Not as roomy as the minivan, but reliable, and 4 wheel drive.

  23. Never underestimate a good pair of snow tires. I had a house in West Dover, VT for over a decade and I used to make the 4+ hour drive from NJ every weekend to go snowboarding. When the weather was bad (read snowing like crazy) and most sane people would be staying home, my buddy and I were out driving. We had a second hand Honda Civic with 160k on it, but our Blizzak’s were new and we never had any trouble with snow.

    I think your best bet is to purchase snow tires now and leverage that as your short term solution. After you win the Hugo Award for “Lines of Departure” and the movie version wins best picture and best original screenplay (adapted by you), then you can go out and buy a fleet of Range Rovers or whatever it is you’ve decided is the best choice (as per the other posts in this thread).

    Good luck with your decision.

  24. I’ve had a VW TDI and while it was a fun and nice car to have, I cannot say I’d recommend it to you, especially in Upper Cryogenica. While the winters here (west central Missouri) are downright tropical compared to yours, it does get cold enough to cause ignition issues. Long heat-times for the glow plugs (in sub-zero temps, the wait could be ~2 minutes) are something to be prepared for. A block-heater would most-likely be a good idea in your case (and would obviously negate a lot of the wait-time). I couldn’t justify it due to the few times a year I would experience those temps usually. Also be prepared for maintenance costs and such to compromise much of your fuel savings as when things do go wrong with the TDI, they are expensive to fix. YMMV.

    They also have tons of low-end torque which must be managed carefully on slick roads (this goes back to the “fun” part). Good snow tires (previous poster recommended Blizzaks–those are great tires) are also recommended.

    Winter fuel economy was (2000 model Jetta) around 33 mpg in-town, 38 highway. Warmer weather this increased to about 40 in-town, 48 highway if I kept my speed reasonable.

    Good hunting. Looking forward to your next book.

  25. My sisters lived for a number of years in your neck of the woods – one of them on your road. They got really good work from a Honda Accord and a 1st-gen Ford Fiesta. The key was to have good snow tires in winter/mud season, and with the front-wheel-drive they were fine. Of course, both their husbands had 4×4 big pickups, but the ladies actually did more driving since one commuted to Hanover and the other to Lebanon while the boys were carpenters who worked locally for the most part. Food for thought.

    I live southeast of you and for the most part have better roads. Missus AW has a CRV and I’ve got an old F250 4×4. I get most use of 4×4 in mud season and not winter; she uses the AWD mostly in winter.

    • My current GC does very well in the snow with FWD and good snow tires. I think there’s been only one day this winter where I haven’t been able to get up the incline of our driveway, although there were several where I had to try two or three times and gather steam at the bottom of the road. I may just get another GC–this 2005 certainly served me well over the years.

  26. Driving only 1000 miles a month even if you drive a fuel hog it’ll have minimal effect on the budget. I’d look at a Subaru Forester for your use. All wheel drive, great record for reliability and longevity, very fuel efficient for an SUV and a nice amount of room for 4-5 people and their needful things. Subies and their kin rule snow country and smallish SUV’s are just so darn handy for all around use. In my mind you give up so much practicality and functionality with a car. I drive 3000 miles a month for work and pay extra to drive an SUV above and beyond what I get reimbursed from my employer just because the CRV’s I used to drive and the Pilot I now drive are so much more useful than a car.

    Regarding the TDI VW’s, I had two, a new Beetle & a Passat. Both were fun and fuel efficient cars to drive. BUT, the fuel savings were outweighed by the far higher cost of diesel fuel. They also are far harder to start in the cold, needing fuel treatment and requiring the use of a block heater. Regular maintenance is also more expensive (don’t forget to include the cost of a timing belt replacement). Realistically, you will never give any payback benefit given the relatively few miles you drive. The TDI wouldn’t make economic sense given the info you posted about your expected usage. And I say this as a diesel fan, as I earn my living working for Detroit Diesel.

  27. I’ve been a car pro for 30 years (grease ,gears and body’s)..When the urban assault vehicle moves from mobile nursery to elementary transportation a smaller, SUV or crossover vehicle does the trick.My recommendation would be a CRV(mileage),Ford Escape or Toyota RAV4 .Diesel is a thick smelly red herring in the great white north,reserved for truckers towers and haulers with mechanics on call .extension cords and additive tanks(VW,right rear behind tire).