Top 10 Cars for Smart People

Many new readers have been asking me for car advice recently, and there have also been some useful discussions on the matter in the Money Mustache Forum.

I find myself typing out the same list of recommendations over and over again, so I thought the best strategy would be to dig in, do some up-to-date research, and lay down the law on exactly which cars are most worth owning.

There are two things that matter above all else in car selection these days: Fuel economy, and passenger/cargo space.  Depending on your personal taste, you can then sort the winners based on things like acceleration, ground clearance, color, smell, style, NHTSA safety test results, or other things. But the important thing to note is that all of these traits are available even in fuel-efficient cars, so all gas hogs can immediately be ruled out. Note that I didn’t mention “price”, because thankfully, the fuel-efficient cars are usually the less expensive ones anyway, so you automatically win by prioritizing efficiency.

“But what about reliability?” you are asking. “My uncle had a Ford F-150 that lasted him 46 years, but my cousin had a Honda Civic that was always breaking down. So I only buy Ford Trucks now”.

The key to finding a reliable car is to throw away all the anecdotal personal stories that you might have heard, and look  to a source that actually collects this data from thousands of people. The two best places to get this information are Consumer Reports magazine, and Phil Edmonston’s Lemon-Aid Used Car guide. Both of these are useful publications, and for this article I have consulted both and done my best to combine the results.

At my local library, I found a copy of the latest edition of Phil’s book. I was pleased to note that he has become even more crotchety and demanding of cars in the decade since I last read his stuff, which is exactly what you want in a car reviewer.

Lemon-aid guide collects reliability data from its millions of readers and also from government agencies. Since Phil Edmonston lives in Canada, much of his research is done there. That country is an ideal testing ground for cars, since the demanding driving conditions really bring out any reliability problems.  The book then sorts the cars into five categories: Recommended, Above Average, Average, Below Average and Not Recommended.

The vehicles are further broken into classes like “Small, Midsize, Large, SUV, Sports Cars, Pickups”. Since these are North American classifications, where even a “Small” car is big enough to fit five of me comfortably (just over 6’0″ and 180 lbs), the Small category is the only one a sane person could rationally consider except in the case of very large families, physical disabilities, or business use such as construction or delivery. (If you need more cargo space occasionally, just add it temporarily).

To add a second perspective, I bought you a subscription to the Consumer Reports website (consumerreports.org), and read all of the used car guide articles there. Consumer reports is a great organization, but they are still a bit too “Consumer” oriented for my tastes. Most notably, they only have reliability data on the most recent 10 model years of cars, while for many Mustachians, the newest car they would consider is more than 10 years old. I mean come on, it’s 2012 now, meaning a 10-year-old car is a 2003 model year. I consider that to be “almost brand new”.

They also fail to point out the fact that all but the smallest cars (and virtually all trucks) are stupid choices for the average person. A car is not a luxurious salon for you to lounge in while you flaunt yourself to the world. It’s a handy machine that helps you get to very distant places on those rare occasions that you are too much of a wussypants to bike there. Over time, these occasions will become more and more rare, meaning you will be using a car less and less as you get your life in order. If you choose wisely, your next car might be the last gas-powered vehicle you need in your life!

But boiling it all down, the following list contains the fairly recent used cars that best combine reliability, fuel efficiency, cost, and hauling and handling performance.

There are some real shockers on this list – for example, I never would have guessed that the Hyundai Elantra would score above the Honda Civic in statistical reliability, and many people don’t realize that Volkswagens are some of the most trouble-prone cars around in the pre-2006 model years likely to be considered by readers here. Read through the list and then I’ll try to calm you down and dry your tears afterwards.

Recommended

Honda Fit (2009+)
This is a jack-of-all-trades car that combines fancy style, high cargo and passenger space, and a 35MPG highway rating. The latest model is pretty new, however, so it’s one of the most expensive options here (about $12,000 for a 2009 with 36k miles).

 

Hyundai Elantra Touring (2007-2009)
The Elantra Touring is a nice choice for those who need an even bigger wagon. It delivers at least 31MPG highway, is available with a manual transmission, and a 2009 model can be had on the used market with low mileage for about $11k.

 

Mazda3 (2006-2009) Similar to the Honda Fit, but available a few years older which saves some cash. A 2006 is worth about $7900 with 60,000 miles.

 

 

Suzuki Sx4(2007-2009) Useful for those who drive mostly on steep snowy/dirt roads since this car has a cool driver-selectable all-wheel-drive system. With 24MPG city/30MPG highway, you definitely pay for the all-wheel-drive, although it’s still better than Subaru’s mileage ratings. Should be $7900 for a 2007 with about 65k miles.

 

Toyota Echo (2000-2005)  This car is a dorkier looking mechanical cousin of both the Toyota Yaris and the Scion Xa Hatchback that I own. All are solid, versatile cars (although the hatchback design available with Yaris and Scion is more useful). A 2005 with 75k miles is worth about $6400 for the Scion, $5200 for the Echo.

Toyota Yaris (all years)

 

 

 

Yeah! It’s the Mustachemobile!

Scion xA/xB/tC/xD (all years) – Scions are great cars. Designed right down to the last detail for funky usability, they are built by Toyota, but with 95% less High-Waisted-Pants-Grandma attitude. My 2005 has displayed 100% reliability for me over the past four years.. but oops, that’s another one of those anecdotal stories you should ignore.

Above Average

Honda Fit (2007-2008) – same as above, but there was an earlier model available during these years which isn’t quite as advanced. Still a great car, and the lower price makes up for the lack of bling compared to the 2009+ models.

Toyota Prius (2004-present) – a roomy and practical hybrid that is good at almost everything. For heavy commuting, the approximately 50MPG fuel economy justifies paying a bit more for this car, but the premium on the used models is surprisingly small – 2004 models with under 100k miles go for around $7500 these days.

Ford Focus (2005-2009) This one’s an interesting hack on autobuying. The Ford Focus Wagon was not a popular seller in the US, but the Focus line as a whole was the world’s best-selling car for some time including in Europe, which definitely says something. The wagon is absolutely cavernous inside – my Mum has one of these and I used it to carry a six-foot-long soaker bathtub, in its shipping crate, plus some assorted lumber and pipes home from Home Depot and I was even able to close the rear hatch. Handling is nimble and fuel economy is about 35MPG highway. Manual transmission available if you search carefully. A 2005 with 75k miles can be had for under 5k on the used market. It also comes in a smaller hatchback form (more common and thus easier to find if you don’t need the extra length of the wagon) and a sedan format (why bother, might as well get the hatchback in case you ever have to carry bikes, boxes, etc).

Hyundai Accent (2006-2009) – I had one as a rental once. A solid car, although not as useful as some of the others here. However, low resale value means it may be available at a great price.

Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe (2003-2009) – I love this car. It’s a snappy and practical tall wagon with a 37MPG highway rating. Consumer report claims the engine “drones loudly and performs poorly” but I don’t know what they are smoking. This is a quiet and fast car that is built like a swiss watch. Just avoid the automatic-transmission AWD models that are out there – slower and thirstier than the front-drivers with manual.

Honda Civic (1999-2009) – everyone loves the Civic. However, with no 5-door hatchback or wagon available in recent years, it is not as useful as other cars, unless you never need to carry large things in the back (and if you don’t, you might as well use a scooter instead!).

Mazda Protege (1999-2003) – This is a nice car, now getting very cheap on the used market due to its age. There was a Protege5 wagon available which is fairly useful.

Nissan Sentra (2007-2009)

Nissan Versa (2007+) – Another large-capacity hatchback with good all-around usefulness. A bit larger and quieter than some of the other choices.

 

Subaru Forester (2003-2009) – A tall SUV-style car with serious offroad capability. Thirsty though.

Hyundai Elantra (1999-2006)

Mazda3 (2004-2005)

Mazda5 (2006-2009) – This is actually a 6-passenger minivan (which still qualifies as a “Small car” by Lemon Aid’s standards!?). A 2006 is worth about $6800 used, and you can even get it with a manual transmission which is a great improvement on the standard American Minivan concept. At 22/27 MPG, it is not as efficient as a car, but still considerably better than the beast vans that most people get when they have kids.

Subaru Legacy, Outback (1999-2009) The MMM family owned a 2004 Impreza wagon for a few years. It was trouble-free and sporty with a good roomy cargo hatch, but it drank way too much fuel for a 4-cylinder hatchback. EPA economy rating was 22/28MPG and I rarely exceeded 30MPG even with careful driving. That’s why I ended up selling it in favor of the current Scion, which usually exceeds 40.

Suzuki Aerio (2003-2007) – Here’s an interesting choice. You can get a 2003 Aerio Wagon for about $2500 on the used market. It’s efficient, roomy, reliable, and cheap. Sure, it looks just a tad dorkier than the competition, but that’s just a way of flaunting your badassity to the world. I’d show up for Spring Break driving this yellow Aerio any day, and the volleyball game would stop and people would come running because it would be obvious that Mr. Money Mustache had arrived. Yeah baby!

Toyota Corolla (1997-2009) – this car’s name is almost synonymous with practical reliability, although surprisingly it is not at the top of the list. Still a great buy if you can find one at a reasonable price – but there’s no hatchback version available (actually there is, but it is styled differently and called the Toyota Matrix).

Average:

Mini Cooper (2008-2009), Chrysler Neon (2004-2005),  Hyundai Accent(2004-2005), Kia Rio, Spectra (2009), Nissan Cube (2009), Nissan Sentra (2001-2006), Nissan Versa (2007-2009), Subaru Forester (1999-2002), Subaru Impreza (1999-2009), Suzuki Esteem (1999-2002), Suzuki Verona (2004-2006)

Below Average:

BMW Mini Cooper (2002-2007), Chrysler Neon (2001-2003), GM Aveo (2004-2009), Hyundai Accent (2001-2003), Kia Rio and Spectra (2006-2008), Mercedes Smart Fortwo (2009), All Volkswagen Models including Diesels (1999-2006)

Not Recommended:

Dodge Caliber, Daewoo/GM Lanos and Optra, Ford Focus (2000-2004), all GM Saturn models (1999-2007), Kia Rio and Spectra  (2000-2005), Smart ForTwo (2005-2008), Subaru WRX/STI (2002-2009), Volkswagen Diesel models (2007-2009).

Surely many of us have experienced results that don’t match what is listed above. Don’t take that as an insult to your car, and even the lowest-ranking cars can deliver good results when cared for properly. These are simply the collected results of thousands of drivers telling us which cars have experienced the most failures in real life. From very reliable sources.  So if you’re shopping for a replacement car some day in the future, you should be able to use these statistics in your favor.

There are many other smart options out there, especially among older cars such as the 1992-1994 Honda Accord Wagon. But the people who shop in those older car ranges usually are experienced enough not to need an article like this one in the first place.

This list is intended a quick-and-dirty guide to help save people who might otherwise find themselves buying a $20,000+ new car on credit because they don’t know which used cars are reliable.

Shop well, and you can join the Top 10% – those of us who laugh at the other 90% of Americans who impoverish themselves daily with their tragic vehicular choices.

Further Reading:

 Carsabi – a neat utility and website made by car enthusiasts which can help you search Craigslist more efficiently.

MMM Forum discussion on efficient used cars for families.

Another one where people are considering whether 3 kids in bulky car seats can fit in the back of various vehicles (aka “3 across seating”).

 

Welcome New Readers! Take a look around. Feeling Hardcore? Start at the first article and read your way through using the links at the bottom of each article. Casual Sampler? Browse the complete list of all posts since the beginning of time. Hope to see you around here more often. ~ Love, Mr. Money Mustache

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178 Responses to “Top 10 Cars for Smart People”

  1. James March 19, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Thanks for the great post! I purchased a 2001 truck in 2008 and thought I was being awesomely frugal. Then I wised up last year and realized I could live without a truck, despite being in northern WI, so I sold that and purchased a Subaru Outback wagon with 105k miles miles on it. AWD is a must, I’m on call and can’t wait for the roads to be plowed so I can get to that emergency C-section. The Subaru has handled the snow well, and the milage is much appreciate over the truck. My minivan will be next to go, but it’s 7 years old and working well, so I’m in no hurry. But I’ll come back and look through your list when it’s time to downsize that vehicle.

    • jlcollinsnh March 19, 2012 at 6:53 am #

      Hey James….

      do you use snow tires in the winter? Makes all the difference for us, even with the AWD.

  2. jlcollinsnh March 19, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    for a guy that doesn’t own a car, I love reading about them and fancy myself knowledgeable.

    That said, nice write up and spot on with your recommendations. I was a bit surprised to see my wife’s Forester make the list. It is a bit thirsty as you mention. We get around 24mpg and I measure every drop that goes in the tank. Every penny we spend on it, too.

    For us here in the wilds of NH with the snowy and hilly roads it, and its top safety ratings, are worth the fuel penalty.

    It is a 2007 we bought it new and now has 75k miles. Not a spec of trouble, except the OE tires which were good for only 20k miles. We’ll own it for as far as the eye can see or until we give it to our daughter and move from the country.

    As long as we need the AWD, we’d buy another.

    But ” but oops, that’s another one of those anecdotal stories you should ignore.”

    The best advice is to learn to live with one car. Wish I had the proverbial nickel for every time someone has told me it can’t be done. We did it even with a teenage driver. Takes some planning but the saving make that very well paid planning.

    Of course, in the finer weather, I cheat by owning my beloved Triumph Scrambler. More fun than need and the best money I spend. In fact, I’m off to take it out of winter hibernation. Drop dead gorgeous around these parts these days.

    Thanks to the cool new edit feature, a link:
    http://jlcollinsnh.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/its-better-in-the-wind-or-why-i-ride-a-motorcycle/

    in bedded you’ll find a cool video link worth your time for the soundtrack even if you don’t care about motorbikes. I’m listening to it as I type…..

  3. Jen March 19, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    Surprised that Suzuki SX4 made it to recommended. We bought it in 2008 brand new (ouch), then in 2010 switched to a brand new (another ouch!) Honda Freed seven seater (almost a minivan). So the Honda, being quite much bigger, was giving us better city mileage – not sure about absolute numbers, just that our monthly gas bill went down noticeably.

    PS – proud to say we wised up since and now are a car-less family! Enjoying our walks and savings!

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      Wow, that Honda Freed is a really neat vehicle (I had to look it up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Freed)

      A 7-8 passenger minivan with a 1.5 litre engine and a chassis based on the Honda Fit! That’s the type of mentality we need for people-hauling here in the US.

      My construction van is a 1999 Honda Odyssey with a 3.5L V6 engine at 210 horsepower. It is RIDICULOUSLY overpowered – the thing accelerates like a rocket, which is totally unnecessary in a massive cargo vehicle. One time I overloaded it with 2800 pounds of landscaping stones and while it sagged almost to the pavement from the weight, I could still barely tell I was carrying that much stuff as I drove carefully through the city. We are so spoiled with our power expectations in this country, and we pay for it heavily at the gas pump.

      • Steve D March 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

        Think that is overpowered, if you can imagine it the new Toyota Sienna V6 gets 266hp!

        Even with the weight of all that metal and plastic, it has a 0 to 60 of around 7.5 seconds, about the same as a mid-70s Porsche 911!

      • Jen March 20, 2012 at 12:23 am #

        Oh, so I see now that our Honda Freed was actually a Honda Fit with another body. No wonder it gave such a great gas mileage (or should I say kilometrage).

  4. Chris March 19, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    I do have one problem with cars being 10 years and older. I used to be a fire fighter and have been to many car accidents in my career. One thing stuck out most.
    A typical highway head on accident between 2 VW Golf. One 11 years old, one 2 years old. The cars hit each other with 50% offset in the front going about 60km/h.

    The guy in the 2 year old Golf was walking around with nothing but a very small shock syndrome, the guy in the 11 year old Gold was dead.

    The old car was never in an accident, but simply the age caused rust inside the frame and all supportive parts. The drivers door simply “popped off” since the hinges just ripped out of the post. No air bags, no additional stability. Simply way lower safety standards.

    Now this accident happened in Europa, in North America, with big trucks on the road, an old vehicle is a death trap.

    Granted, in your theory, you drive way less, so less risk of getting into an accident, but still something to consider.

    Plus air bags are considered dangerous after 8 years of age. They will explode into your face, resulting in severe burns to your facial skin if deployed in an old vehicle.

    Some food for thought.

    Like your blog, read it all the time, with a grain of salt.
    Chris

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      You’re right – I won’t argue that cars are definitely becoming safer every year. With money being no object, it may make sense to drive newer cars just for this reason.

      But I still suggest the cheaper cars for those still not financially independent. Otherwise, you are likely locking yourself into decades more unnecessary commuting, day-care-shuttling, and other driving stuff that is the byproduct of being forced to work a double-career for a living.

      And really advanced driver training courses, and no cell phone use. There are many ways to increase your safety even more than driving an expensive car – might as well do these ones FIRST, because they let you continue to solve your financial problems.

    • Bella March 19, 2012 at 10:10 am #

      Do you have any hard statistics for this airbag claim? I would be very interested, we typically drive cars that are ‘new’ – under 5 years (for most driving) or ‘very old’ over 30 years(vintage – easy to maintain – but not very many miles put on them) but in an effort to be more responsible we currently have a truck that is 10years old – putting it squarely in the new technology – but very used.

      • Chris March 19, 2012 at 10:19 am #

        In Germany (where I am originally from) cars that are older than 10 years and don’t have the airbags replaced, won’t pass the safety inspection by law and therefore be banned of the road.
        I couldn’t find the technical inspections page on the fly, but my parents 10 year old Golf model 4 might go to the dump because of the airbag and exhaust laws. It’s not worth it to replace 8 airbags at a cost of 500 a piece plus labor and adding a particular filter for 900 to a car that is only worth 2500 Euros.
        I’ll try to find some hard evidence in English if possible.
        Chris

        • Bella March 19, 2012 at 10:27 am #

          Thanks, what really bugs me about this is the exchange of safety for disposability. The airbags make us much safer no doubt, but rendering the ENTIRE vehicle disposable because of expired airbags – it’s like the prius – which honestly I think is a terribly UN-Mustachian car – when the batteries go – in about 7 yrs after purchase the car is basically scrap – and then where do the batteries and all the rest of the car go – they get scrapped – what a waste of resources!

          • Chris March 19, 2012 at 10:37 am #

            Google airbag expiration date. Gives lot’s of links to the problem.

            The Prius is a total un-mustachian car in my opinion. It’s only fuel efficient in stop and go traffic, traffic where you anyways want to walk or bike. Long distance you use gas and the batteries make the little car as heavy as a truck. Plus they have a potential to explode when in an accident. That’s why the Chevy Volt is not approved in Europe (or wasn’t until recently) either.

            Drive Diesel. Although I don’t know why the VW Diesel rate so terrible in the statistics. They rate great in Europe.
            Chris

            • Emmers March 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

              Personal anecdote time: Our Priuses (05 and 10) get about 45 and 48 mpg, respectively, in mixed driving; on long trips, the 10 gets over 50 MPG. (We don’t take the 05 on long trips because its mileage is slightly lower.)

              I have never found that my car does better in stop-and-go traffic than on the highway, with cruise control on. Probably because I don’t hypermile effectively? Maybe?

              My impression of regenerative braking is that it makes your car less inefficient than a pure-gas car. Not that it makes braking all the time a good thing.

            • April March 19, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

              I don’t know where some of you are getting your information about the Prius. It is true that it gets better mileage in stop and go traffic due mainly to awesome regenerative braking and that fact that it doesn’t idle, but it still gets over 45 MPGs on the highway! Also, it does not explode in an accident; That’s a rumor that is completely unproven. Also, the hybrid battery is warranteed for at least 10 years 100k miles, or longer if purchased in CA. If it happens to then die, you can replace it for around $2,500. You do not have to scrap the whole vehicle.

          • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 10:57 am #

            No way! Prius batteries last longer than that (warranty alone is 10 years for California Prii, and 8 years elsewhere). And replacement costs vary by who you get to do it ($3000 is what I read at a dealer – just negotiate a lower selling price to accomodate this). I believe the prius good enough to be a 20-30-year vehicle, rather than a 7-year one.

            I’d personally just replace the Ni-mh cells themselves rather than the whole battery, or have one of the independent shops that remanufacture the batteries do it for me. The actual value of the cells is quite minimal, as it’s only a 1.4kWh battery (equal capacity to about 35 cordless drill batteries).

            As for the Prius being only efficient in stop-and-go traffic: That’s totally wrong! Have you even tested one? They are fantastic, and they’ll go all day on the highway at over 50MPG -as long as you aren’t going insane at over 120 km/hr (75MPH)!

            The car weighs only 2900 pounds, has a small-displacement Atkinson cycle engine, comes with low-rolling-resistance tires, and is one of the most aerodynamic cars in production. Those things mean it will kick almost anything’s ass on the highway of a similar size. Sure, diesels can beat the Prius, but if the Prius was fitted with a diesel engine, it would again start beating Volkswagens.

            In the US, Diesel isn’t quite as exciting as it is in Canada/Europe, because our price per gallon is about 20% higher than gasoline. This wipes out a good portion of the higher MPG savings.

            • Chris March 19, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

              I have a friend who just replaced 3 of the cells in his wife’s Prius battery for $30 a piece and 4 hours of labor. Piece of cake and save them over $3000 vs having a dealer do it.

              And you are correct (MMM) about them being super efficient on the highway too. We took a friends Prius to New Mexico for a race last winter… 80mph w/ studded tires and still got 44mpg for the trip. They rock… she gets 50mpg in the summer w/ the low rolling resistance tires and more sensible driving.

              Roomy as hell too! I’m 6’2″ and it’s one of the roomiest cars I’ve ridden in!

              - Chris (G)… seems to be a few of us w/ the same name. :-)

        • turboseize March 19, 2012 at 11:09 am #

          Chris, no need to dump the Golf. There is no such law.

          Mercedes started equipping cars with airbags around 1980. BMW followed shortly later with their 7. Not ever has a Merc or a Bimmer failed TÜV because of the age of the airbags.
          When cars have failed technical inspections due to the airbags, then there was a fault – either bad contacts or an infunctional controlling box.

          You might have been lead onto the wrong trail by these two facts:
          #1 you need a special, certified training to be allowed to work with airbags (explosives law…)
          #2 When airbags first made it into cars, manufacturers recommended replacing them after ten years, as nobody knew how they would age.
          Meanwhile, a lot of testing has be
          en done, with obvious results: as long as no fault codes are displayed, airbags will work as designed. No need to worry.
          Mercedes themselves recently bought back a used 80s S-class (w126) with high mileage and crash tested it. Everything – crumple zones, belt tensioners and airbags – worked like new.
          Mercedes themselves officially dropped the advice of replacing airbags.

          What is true, however, is that any airbag related fault codes or warning lights will make the car fail german technical inspections. But so will any engine or exhaust related codes…

          Keep everything in working order, do your maintenance, rust-proof the car – most common products in the classic car scene are Fluid Film or Mike Sanders. Fluid Film should be refreshed every two years, Mike Sanders lasts longer, but is more annoying to apply.
          Then your parents should be able to drive that Golf unto eternity and back.
          And YES, I strongly advocate to ignore market value completely, at least when evaluating whether to do a costly repair or dumping the car and getting something else. All that matters is cost per Kilometer. And then, keeping your old car in good shape almost always wins.

        • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

          That’s pretty sad, forcing people to trash thousands of perfectly good cars “for their own safety”. Government safety regulation is good in a sense, because it can force changes to car design and we all pay only a small premium for the safety. But when you eliminate more than 50% of a car’s usable lifespan because of something as trivial as airbags – I’d say that is going too far. And some people say I’m not libertarian enough!

          • Emmers March 19, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

            It really seems like a better safety regulation would be to require the airbags themselves to be replaced, not the *whole car.*

          • turboseize March 20, 2012 at 2:20 am #

            As I said: the airbag has to work properly, which is defined as no airbag related warning lights or fault codes. Airbag age is irrelevant.

            If your car fails german technical inspection, you receive a fault list and get 4 weeks to repair them. Then your car get’s inspected a second time (at a great discount, approximately 8€ vs app. 75€ normal fee) and if the mentioned faults are repaired the car will be approved.
            I can’t find anything wrong with that.

        • Jürgen June 3, 2013 at 9:26 am #

          Sorry Chris, but that is utter BS.

          Here in Germany you do NOT have to replace airbags in a vehicle if it is more than 10 years old for the technical inspection (Tüv) – and this inspection is much more strict than the british MOT or most american laws.
          Only deployed airbags have to be replaced, of course.

          Some manufacturers recommend to change the airbags after 10 or 15 years, but it does not affect the inspections.

          The list of cars itself would not be practical for german readers. Asian cars are not as common and the prices for spare parts are almost always higher than usual. Even with high reliability the TCO will probably be higher because you can pick models from the Volkswagen-lineup (VW, Skoda, Seat, old Audis) with similar reliability and much lower costs for spareparts here in Germany.

  5. Steve March 19, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    Great article. I’ve consulted Consumer Reports in the past, but I’d never heard of Lemon-Aid.

    I’m trying to talk my wife into trading our SUV in to buy a Scion Xb. The gas savings alone would pay for a newer model. I also like the Hyundai Elantra Touring – though you can’t find any older models yet. Nice mpg and spacious interior.

  6. turboseize March 19, 2012 at 7:19 am #

    There is one factor so much more important than manufacturer and model: maintenance.

    A neglected Toyota or Mercedes will brake down eventually, but a properly serviced crappy Daewoo/Chevrolet might go on forever.

    Make, model, age and mileage are irrelevant. Maintenance history and good mechanical shape aren’t. Unfortunately, these are not so obvious as the aforementioned make and model.
    When you’re buying a used car and you are not into old cars always bring along
    an expert: the car nerd. He is easily found on the internet, just open a thread in a forum dedicated to the specific manufacturer or model. The common car nerd will be ready to help you – in exchange for a crate of beer or a pizza or the eqivalent local “currency”.
    This greatly reduces the risk of buying a lemon. Besides, you could learn something…

  7. Wes March 19, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    I’m curious what people with more kids do about car seats? We have a Ford Fusion that is quite big and would easily seat 3 adults in the back until you add the car seats, which make it impossible to fit any more then my 4 and 2 year old back there. It seems like it would be impossible to have 3 kids back there until they are all out of car seats, which is until at last 4 or 5 around here.

    Wes

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:33 am #

      Hey Wes – see the link at the bottom of this article regarding “3 across seating”. It can easily be done, in the worst case it just requires kid seats designed for this purpose.

    • Marcia @Frugal Healthy SImple March 19, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      Depends on the kid and the carseat. My neighbors found a very narrow booster seat that supposedly allows you to fit 3 seats in the back of any car.

      We will be testing that this year with an infant seat in the middle and 2 boosters on the side (we carpool to school or else we’d only need 2 seats).

      But my neighbors have an SUV and a minivan. They have 3 kids, all in carseats for at least 2 more years. The minivan is for trips, and has the added advantage of taking 4 kids (including mine on occasion).

    • Kimberly V January 20, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

      When I started transporting Daycare children I found the Radian line of carseats by Sunshine kids. They are pricey, but they are super sturdy (steel frame, heavy as hell) and they claim to be able to fit three across in most any vehicle. I know I wouldn’t be able to do three across in my 2000 Sienna without them! In researching I saw that there is also a pricey infant carrier that is made narrower than most of the cadillac carseats out there making it easier to fit three across. So it is definitely do-able with a little research and planning on the type of carseat you are going to use.
      My daughter is 5 and still in a 5 point harness by the way. The Radian 80 will hold her until she is well, 80 pounds cause she has little to no hope of getting too tall for it first. 5 points are just safer, plus the newest CA carseat law depends upon height or until they are 8.

  8. Chris March 19, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Dear God-

    Please help me convince my wife that she no longer needs her 16 MPG Ford Explorer, even when we have a baby.

    -Humble servant

    On a different note, I’m always intrigued by folks who only have 1 car, makes me think of the possibilities!??

    • Kevin March 19, 2012 at 7:54 am #

      Chris – I’ve seen friends buy big vehicles once they have kids. It’s almost like they have a shopping checklist – crib, changing table, SUV/minivan.

      My wife and I have a nearly 2-year-old, and I thought we’d have to at least replace her Beetle by now. I thought by now she’d have gotten tired of having only two doors and having to contort her way into placing our son into his seat. But she has not. Our “big” car is my 4-door Golf, and it has so far been big enough to get us through some multi-day road trips. We were eyeing a wagon, but now think we can get by on one of these hatchbacks with a roof rack for long trips.

      • Chris March 19, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

        Thanks Kevin. I think having a baby is a lot like getting married, there seems to be a checklist of buying things involved. I’m convinced we can easily fit a baby seat and baby into my prius, but my wife is proving to be a worthy opponent!

        • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

          Of course you can put kids in a Prius! My friends have two small children, and they regularly use the 2005 Prius to take the whole family across the continent to visit relatives. It’s a freakin’ huge car! Good safety ratings as well.

    • Marcia @Frugal Healthy SImple March 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

      good luck buddy!

  9. Tomas March 19, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    Why dissing Volkswagen diesels? I am hearing a lot of good things about them

    • Dara March 19, 2012 at 8:43 am #

      I’m wondering the same thing as well. The TDI Jetta wagon seems roomy and gets great gas mileage from what I’ve read.

      • Nick S. March 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

        I have a 2010 TDI Sportwagen. I love the car. No mechanical issues whatsoever. The only downside is the hands-free bluetooth microphone isn’t so great.

        Regarding mileage, I get about 38 combined if my foot is heavy. If I’m conscious about it, I can average low-40s no problem (42 for the sake of argument). I’ve averaged low-50s commuting a few times to and from work just by going 60-65 instead of 65-70.

        Regarding cost vs. regular unleaded, assuming the 20% price differential was true, I would have to average at least 80% the mileage of the TDI to breakeven. This means the gas vehicle would have to get at least 30 mpg and 34 with a heavy foot and conscious driving, respectively. This is a tall order to fill for any vehicle that has the same level of performance. The exact same sportwagen with the smallest gas engine has a combined 23 mpg with 30 highway. This suggests to me that all else being equal, the diesel offers better performance with better fuel economy.

        Regarding the 20% price difference, this isn’t always true. The two prices vary. Using gas buddy, I found a local Chevron that offers both diesel and regular. The price for regular? $4.37. The price for diesel? $4.45. The difference? 1.83%. This is anecdotal, but generally I have encountered a difference of less than 20% in Southern California.

        In conclusion, check out diesel and make your own conclusion!

    • scone March 19, 2012 at 8:54 am #

      And the VW GTI is widely considered one of the best small hatches ever designed. So what’s with the veedub hate?

      • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:20 am #

        Did you three Volkswageners actually read the whole article? I’m not dissing Volkwagens. In fact I love their practical layout, style, and handling.

        But the statistics say they are among the least reliable cars available in North America. It doesn’t matter what you’ve HEARD about them, what matters is the statistics reported by millions of owners.

        So you can still buy one, as long as you acknowledge that you are making an emotional rather than practical decision by trying to bet against the odds. Even I have considered a Jetta diesel wagon in the past. If diesel fuel weren’t 20% more than gasoline in the US, and once I become a good enough auto mechanic to fix ALL parts of a car, instead of just some, I might even have one someday.

        • C. Edward Chambers March 19, 2012 at 11:56 am #

          VW Nut here. Most of the negative Consumer Reports information was caused by two problems.

          1. VW was one of the first car companies to move exclusively to coil pack ignition systems on all of their gasoline cars. During the changeover one of the OEM suppliers produced hundreds of thousands of bad packs.
          The problem wasn’t realized till several model years later, when higher mileage cars started experiencing failures. Suspect cars would simply stop running in the middle of the road.
          VW of North America handled the problem TERRIBLY. Because they had so few replacements the dealerships would only replace one bad coil-pack. But there was one pack for each cylinder. So they turned a car with three impending failures back over to the owner and refused the replace the other three. Needless to say, owners weren’t very happy with the “Tow it back to us when it fails again” approach.

          Almost all of those bad parts have been sorted through now, and should you buy one they are now fairly cheap, and easy to pop in. None of the TDI (diesel) cars were affected by this.

          2. Maintenance Schedule.

          VW uses timing belts in all engines. These require replacement and it isn’t cheap. Because the interval for most cars is 80,000 miles original owners got to weigh-in on the cost to CR. However the current rash of timing CHAIN failures (a much bigger problem) on Nissans 3.5l V6 seems to have gone un-noticed because it tends to happen at 115k to 150k. If you are like me, you still expect years of life at that milage.

        • scone March 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

          Actually I did. And a quick search of the ‘net tells me that the “VW unreliability” issue is not so much an issue after all. Just for example:

          http://www.bankrate.com/financing/cars/are-volkswagen-reliability-concerns-well-founded/

          Note the small graph in particular. For a range of repairs, the Toyota Corolla seems to be in the same league as the VW, and the Toyota is supposed to be particularly “reliable.” (This is apart from the recent brake scandal.)

          That’s just one article, but there are plenty more. Personally, I’d rather look at a range of sources before making an informed decision– that’s hardly “emotional” as you characterize it.

        • shanendoah@the dog ate my wallet March 20, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

          Another happy VW TDI driver here. We have a 2006 Jetta, and we do love it. But I can see how it would be downgraded by Consumer Reports, at least. First, the TDIs are not inexpensive cars to begin with. We can’t get the oil changed anywhere but a VW dealer. In fact, we can’t even buy the oil, if we wanted to change it ourselves, anywhere but the VW dealer. An simple oil change for us costs $100. At the same time, we only get our oil changed every 10k miles (instead of 3k).
          Electrical issues are very expensive to fix, and some they can’t find. We have a minor issue with our car stereo. We think it’s related to another wiring issue that sometimes causes an airbag fault (when we have a laptop bag in the front seat, or something else heavy but not quite heavy enough to engage the passenger air bag) and go over a bump, it causes an airbag fault. It appears related to our stereo issue, but neither is major enough for us to spend the dollars to get it fixed.
          The engine should last us forever. That’s the point of getting a diesel, but who knows if the rest of the car will hold up.
          We run B99 bio-diesel. It’s nice because the price fluctuations are much less than with petroleum products. We’ve been paying $4/gallon for a long time now, but since regular diesel has gone up to over $4/gallon, we’re currently saving money.
          Running bio-d does supposedly lower our MPGs by about 5%. We still get an average of over 40mpg combined.
          We would never own a non-diesel VW. Their average MPGs just don’t cut it for us.
          I also want to emphasize that for us, choosing a diesel, and choosing to run B99 (because they are both very much choices) was more personal politics than it was a financial decision. (We also pay more for our electricity to “gaurantee” it comes from renewable sources.) We love our car, but that doesn’t make it perfect, or even the right choice for others.

          And as a side note, in the US, there is no such thing as a 2007 VW diesel model. 2007 was the first year for which the US had the newest diesel regulations in place, and VW was not able to meet those requirements with their 2007 model year. (We made the mistake of buying our TDI summer 2007 when there was a shortage of TDIs to be had.)
          Given that, it doesn’t surprise me that the 2008 & 2009 diesel models are on the “not recommended” list because the diesel tech was new, and perhaps hastily added/improperly tested in order to not miss another model year of diesels in the US.

        • Kat September 14, 2012 at 11:21 am #

          My significant other and I have been carpooling in an 2006 Jetta TDI for 6 years now, 130k miles, and it has been highly reliable and gets approx 40mpg on average (during long trips a tank can average 45mpg).

          Issues it has had:
          the dual mass flywheel had to be replaced-this is an issue with this particular model. My boyfriend being quite handy did it himself for just the cost of parts.

          Timing belt: has to be changed every 80k miles, again the boyfriend bought the fancy tools, replaced it himself for the cost of the parts and specialized tools (timing belts replacement can cost $3k at the dealer)

          Interior upholstery is showing wear back near the rear window, seam has come a little loose. Leatherette seating has cracks in driver seat.

          As for oil changes every 10k miles, it is by far cheaper to do it yourself and you can make sure it’s done right in the first place (just imagine if some trainee at the dealership put the gas engine oil into your diesel car, and let you drive off).

          The brake pads only now need their first replacement.

          Additionally if you fold all the seats flat, you can fit 10ft boards into the car. Or bikes in the back. The sportwagen wasn’t available when this car was purchased, but I image the sportwagen is quite useful for hauling.

      • Amanda March 19, 2012 at 11:34 am #

        They’re hellaciously prone to major mechanical breakdowns (electrical in particular) and even more hellaciously expensive to fix. Great design and super fun to drive, but low marks in the reliability category, and they don’t age well at all. I’d really only recommend them to someone who has money to burn when something goes wrong.

        • Bob January 12, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

          You’re so right Amanda!!!! VW are fun to drive but very costly to repair. That’s why I got rid of mine. A muffler and tailpipe on the vw cost about $220 and on my Toyota $90

  10. kyle March 19, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    Good article. There is nothing I hate more than when people use their own personal experiences to disprove statistics.

  11. Adrienne March 19, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    Great article though the prices listed here a bit high for me. I for one would love a follow-up titled “best cars you can get for $5,000″. Since car buying is a very rare occasion I don’t keep up with all the info. Another follow-up suggestion “When to pay for the expensive repair and when to get a different car” I fear I may be coming up against that one soon and I’m never really sure where the tipping point should be….

    • Meg June 3, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      I, too, would love a post on dirt-cheap cars.

  12. Stavros March 19, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    This is perfect timing! Just got my annual bonus and am going to pick up an expensive hatchback (thanks to being addicted to reading through every article on this site) and sell my expensive Sedan that is just burning miles. Been looking at the Focus, and glad to get some direction away from the pre-05 years with the recommendations. Interesting note about the wagon! I’m really looking for a compact little ride that I can park in front of my driveway and let my kids basketball hit it over and over and don’t sweat taking a dirt road in. The only thing I’m NOT looking forward to is the buying/selling experience on craigslist. Not sure how I’m going to let a complete stranger test drive my 15k car.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:24 am #

      I just ride along with the strangers when they test drive a car I’m selling. It’s not too big a deal, and if you pre-screen the buyers by making a very detailed ad and only inviting over non-flakey people, you usually sell it to the first person that drives it anyway.

      After all, they should already know they like that model of car, and thus they are evaluating for defects rather than the inherent properties of the actual car model you are selling. Potential buyers who aren’t even that far along in their car shopping should be referred to the local used car dealer for some tire kicking.

      • Stavros March 19, 2012 at 11:03 am #

        Ahh, that makes perfect sense. In fact, I should probably head to my local used car lot to do my own tire kicking… Everything I’m seeing is around the 100k mile mark, my emotional reaction is to be very scared of that. Am I being reasonable? I am not scared of maintenance, or repairs. But I do have a demanding job (about 16 miles away in a non-bike friendly path) that may be a problem if I am unable to make it in with a side-on-road breakdown. Is the answer just to be super-on-top of routine maintenance and car? What’s the max mileage I should be willing to accept?

        • turboseize October 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

          That’s exactly how you do it: take maintenance extremely seriously. Most things won’t break suddenly, but give you some notice. You can then replace them before the catastrophic failure occurs.

          If repairs take longer, rent a car for a day or two – that’s still much cheaper than depreciation of a newer car. A lot of mechanics will lend you a car for the duration of the repair, sometimes for free, often cheaper than a rental company.

          Join a motorist association. I can’t speak for the US, but here in Germany the ADAC, for example, will tow members’ cars to the nearest mechanic, if you have the more costly “plus” membership they even tow your mechanic of choice, even if that’s 600km away – and you get a rental car for up to a week without any additional costs.
          You can also buy comparable services from your car insurance. At my insurance company, I’d pay 8€ annually for that! (But that’s a great rebate for public service personnel and armed forces members).

          You see, even IF your car breaks down that will not be the end of the world. It might be a little bit inconvenient, but it’s totally manageable.

      • Chris March 19, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

        I just let them drive it alone and hope they’ll steal it. Problem solved. :-)

        Most of my cars finally leave my house hooked to a tow-truck, so it’s rarely an issue. We tend to marry cars around here.

        • Bella March 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

          HAHA, that’s like my parents – I remember learning to drive in the car that I can’t remember them buying it was so long ago. And it’s not like it was a great car – Chrysler Horizon Hatchback. But it rolled over the odometer – that has to say something.

        • Stavros March 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

          Looking to get into that habit myself, but need to expunge myself of this quasi-luxury Sedan first!

  13. madge March 19, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    my man and i share a 2000 ford focus, getting close to 150,000 miles. i swear that thing is immortal. we’ve taken it on cross-country road trips, and back and forth between pittsburgh and new york several dozen times, and it just keeps on ticking. helps that we have a great mechanic and keep up on maintenance. doesn’t get the most awesome gas mileage but it’s not bad, either. if we don’t take any road trips we typically only have to gas up once or twice a month.

    when and if this car dies, though, i want a scion! my buddy has one and i think it is perfect — a little bit elevated for visibility, but not too much, and a good combination of cargo space and comfort. it kind of feels like driving a kid’s tank or something, i like it. :)

    • Esteban December 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

      the original Scion xB gets better mileage than the updated version and a smaller blind spot.

      my sister almost got the updated one but the blind spot issue was her deal breaker.

  14. BDub March 19, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    I was really hoping to see the Bugatti Veyron on the list.

    Oh well, I guess I finally have a reason not to buy one…

  15. et March 19, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    First you say
    “The key to finding a reliable car is to throw away all the anecdotal personal stories that you might have heard, and look to a source that actually collects this data from thousands of people”
    then
    “I love this car. It’s a snappy and practical tall wagon with a 37MPG highway rating. Consumer report claims the engine “drones loudly and performs poorly” but I don’t know what they are smoking. ”

    Which one is it – data from thousands of people or anecdotal story from you?

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:30 am #

      Haha – good point. You should ignore both Consumer Reports and Mr. Money Mustache on that point, since it is talking about a nitpicky detail.

      The important part is that the car holds a lot of people and stuff, and is one of the most reliable ones on the market. You can then read the car’s specifications to get the acceleration figures and the interior noise level in dBa, and compare that to other cars.

      My point in that criticism is that Consumer reports is very Consumery and they waste time talking about irrelevant crap like acceleration time and cupholders. ALL of the cars available in the US since the mid 90s have been ridiculously fast and luxurious – plenty for our needs. When people care about boundary cases like “how fast does the car pass when full of people, going up a steep hill at high altitude”, I feel like dishing out some face punches. What percentage of the time are you doing this exact activity?? You buy a car that excels at what you do 95% of the time, not what you do 5% of the time.

  16. JP March 19, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    I drive a Honda Civic, and absolutely love it. The fuel economy was great, they’re cheap to buy used, and they are super reliable.

  17. The Dude March 19, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Good article.

    Anecdotal alert: I’ve been driving a 2003 Honda Accord since 2004 and it hasn’t given me any significant trouble – just routine maintenance and one small electrical issue that was a cheap/easy wiring fix by the mechanic. I’ve put 125k miles on it and have driven it both halfway and all the way across the country multiple times. It gets OK gas mileage (mid-high 20s, depending on situation), so of course I wish I had a Fit/Yaris/whatever. I don’t commute in it, so it isn’t much of an issue for me.

    My major consideration now is whether I want to just drop the car, period. I use public transit or bike to work, but I might make a career change next year, which could include a move to anywhere in the country or world. Should I keep my older, paid off and well maintained car to buffet against this uncertainty?

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:42 am #

      That’s a happy story, Dude! Keeping the car depends on how wealthy you are and how much your insurance is. If you have any debt, obviously the car should go. If the insurance is more than $400/year, think about the amount you drive and how much it costs you per mile and per month. Remember, it is very easy to pick up a used car any time you need it in the future, so there’s no need to keep cash tied up in one if you can benefit from putting that cash to work elsewhere.

      • The Dude March 19, 2012 at 10:04 am #

        I’m 28 and my stash is about 1/6 of where it needs to be to cover yearly expenses. Insurance is $800/year (DC metro area) when renter’s insurance is included (so it is $700/year).

        I’d like to be FI sometime between 35-40, but may not ever really “stop working”, so I could be willing to take a pay cut sooner and just be willing to live off less, save less & give less.

        I’ve never really been through the car buying process before (bought this from my parents for around market value), so it naturally scares me a little. Is it that easy to find a cheap, reliable used car?

        • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 10:40 am #

          Yeah! I find it pretty easy, which is why I write about it so often. I could get a car bought in a single day using only the local Craigslist, although you definitely save $1-2k if you are willing to watch the listings for about a month and wait for a good deal.

  18. Alice March 19, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    I think I’m older than most your readers so our needs are a bit different. We travel cross country a lot to see the states and visit with family and we don’t haul rug rats. We have a Matrix but find it a little small for driving distances and are looking to trade in for a higher clearance AWD vehicle with greater visibility. Emotionally, I love the Honda CRV but will take a close look at the Subaru Forester you pointed out. Another note, after 4 years we’ve never gotten better than 33 miles per gallon. I believe the ratings are “ideal” conditions.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      The CRV is also near the top of the list in reliability. It’s also pretty much the safest vehicle on the market for crash testing – regardless of size!

      I like to think of the CRV as the ideal choice for people with infinite money and who rarely commute alone. It does make a good road trip vehicle, if you need to carry a month’s worth of living supplies and travel on extremely unmaintained roads, i.e. to access remote cottages and backcountry campsites.

      It just doesn’t show up here because for some reason CR and Edmunds don’t put it in the “Small” category even while they put the Forrester and the Mazda5 minivan in there.

      Regarding mileage – yes, most people without the Mustachian habit of fuel efficent driving techniques tend to get lower than the EPA readings. On the other hand, most of us who use them tend to get higher. I’ve never had a tank that reads as low the EPA highway figure, even when I use a car for city driving. Here’s an article on that topic: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/07/26/hypermiling-expert-driving-to-save-25-50-on-gas/

  19. Angela March 19, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    You just made my day! I’ve been regretting my Mazda3 purchase ever since I started reading your blog. Nice to see it’s at the top of the list! Granted, mine is a 2008 so I spent a bit more to get it ($12,500, ouch)… but I did pay cash, so that’s gotta count for something.

  20. No Name Guy March 19, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    I like your take on the Focus Wagon. I’ve been eying one of those, but for slightly different reasons. Yes, yes, yes….low cost and high mileage, large interior volume. BUT, what the wagon brings to the party that a typical car doesn’t is a long roof line – perfect for plunking a 21′ long 2 seat touring kayak on with well spaced roof rack bars for a nice stable, safe haul while not sacrificing economy. My GF thinks it would be a dorky looking car compared to the VW TDI wagon, but given the relative reliability numbers, she’ll come around to the practical answer in due time.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:52 am #

      Yeah, the long roof line is indeed great for carrying stuff. I have also used my Mum’s focus wagon to carry stacks of 4′x8′ building material (plywood, drywall, etc) as well as 12 foot 2x4s and plumbing pipes, by simply strapping them to the stock roof rack!

      So, it replaces most of what you’d use a pickup truck for.

  21. kiwano March 19, 2012 at 9:52 am #

    One option, not on the list (on account of it not being a small car) that a particularly clever friend of mine decided to drive is a Crown Victoria. If you’re comfortable doing your own maintenance and repairs, and driving like an old man (needless stopping and starting burns gas and brake pads, and excessive highway speed isn’t any kinder on the wallet), then an ex-fleet panther (what my clever friend picked up) can be bought cheaply, and maintained pretty much indefinitely (their long-running popularity as a fleet vehicle, and minimal design changes over the decades-long production run means that there are absolutely enormous quantities of replacement parts available cheaply from scrapyards).

    (In my own case, I just plain don’t own a car. I found that all my car-needing activities can be covered by rentals that, over the course of a year, cost less than I’d pay even for liability-only insurance. I just admire my friend’s badassity at factoring in to his optimizations that he can fix his own car, and typically only uses it for substantial cargo runs.)

  22. Bella March 19, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Ah well, this is the just gonna have to the one area of our lives that we will NEVER be Mustachian. What really gets me is how people who advocate buying cheap beaters swear that they ‘don’t think a car says anything about who they are’ are the first ones to judge how someone must live their lives based on the car they drive!

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 10:44 am #

      Actually, I think driving an efficient car says a LOT about who you are. It says you are Fancy: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/03/07/frugality-the-new-fanciness/

      Even more fancy is to be seen riding a Bike.

      If you think driving an expensive car is an important part of portraying the image of being a good person, you’ve got your entire head screwed on backwards, courtesy of the Sukka Consumer Marketing Machine.

      Also note that this article doesn’t even talk about cheap beaters. It lists only very recent-model high quality cars which should be viewed as decadent luxury purchases only for people who can really afford them. A beater would be a 1979 Chevrolet Caprice, or the 1984 Nissan Pickup I drove for five years.

      • Bella March 19, 2012 at 10:56 am #

        Oh, I defintly think that what kind of car you drive says a lot about you – and I defintly think that ‘driving an expensive car’ is for suckers. But, I feel like we drive the cheapest car that suites our needs (okay, our wants) but I and my husband the two dogs (yes, those nonconsumable animals) etc. would be miserably uncomfortable in even the largest of the ‘small’ cars you rave about. Maybe it’s because we’re ‘big’ people – code for not unreasonably overweight – but not Mustachian yet either. Maybe we like comfort to much, maybe we like to go places off the beaten track too much. Maybe we like carpooling with friends for day trips – and yes we actually do that quite often – more miles are spent that way than on work commutes. I’m sure once we’ve jettisoned the carseats, we can reasonably think about downsizing but my parents had a station wagon that sat eight and they took all our friends everywhere – it was awesome. When we bought our last car the only thing that sat eight (or anything more than 5) was minivans and huge SUVs.

        • Jimbo March 19, 2012 at 11:03 am #

          For the record, I once took my overweight stepdad on a car ride in my Yaris and he mentioned he was more confortable and had more legroom than in my mom’s very, very, very anti-mustachian BMW SUV.

          Small car does not mean small space. Efficiency is key, just as in anything.

        • Amanda March 19, 2012 at 11:29 am #

          Sorry, but interior space and exterior size are two different things. Interior space depends more on design than anything, and many SUVs are cramped and horrible to ride in. I’ve ridden in a Yaris (very small) and a VW Toureg (huge) and I’ll be the first one to tell you I’d take the Yaris in a hearbeat. Hummers are huge but most of them have shitty interior sitting space, while a G6 or an Impala (biggish cars, but still more efficient than an SUV) have a ton of leg room in them. Americans tend to make a lot of silly excuses to buy big, and the interior space thing is definitely one of them.

        • Marcia @Frugal Healthy SImple March 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

          I’ve noticed though that small cars aren’t as small anymore. My inlaws used to visit and be uncomfortable in our smaller cars – they needed more leg room and more space to get in and out of the cars at their age.

          But that’s not the case anymore. The Civic I drive is the size of an older Accord. Same with the Matrix.

          Now my parents are very overweight, and we just about couldn’t fit one of them in the backseat with the carseat in the middle. It’s darned near impossible to have 3 people in the back seat, if one or two are in carseats, unless the third is a skinny child or adult.

  23. The Masked Investor March 19, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    I get the appeal of fuel efficient boxes on wheels (I drove a Ford Escort wagon for many years), but you seem to be ignoring something important: the laws of physics. Almost all of the cars you recommend weigh less than 3,000 pounds. You can have as many airbags as you like, but when you get T-boned by an F150 which weighs double what your econo-box does (before adding in the weight of the truck’s drunk driver, the boxes of tools he lugs around, and the 300 pounds of sand he keeps in the back of the bed to improve traction in the winter), it isn’t going to be pretty. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Everyone should be aware of the trade-offs and make their choices accordingly. If you don’t drive much, gas mileage may be largely irrelevant.

    Love your blog and you have even inspired my own feeble efforts.

    • Amanda March 19, 2012 at 11:09 am #

      If you drive smart, you wouldn’t be sitting there thinking of the unlikely event that some huge F-150 is going to hit you. A large number of accidents could be avoided if more people just paid attention when they drove and weren’t pulling dangerous moves to get to their destination 30 seconds faster. And just to be clear, most SUVs and large cars aren’t really considerably safer than small cars. Safety depends MOSTLY on how the interior box of the car (where the people sit) is reinforced and designed. Crumple zones and reinforced metals can make a small car just as safe as a bigass car. The idea that you need to buy big to be safe is just a stupid American excuse to keep driving gas guzzlers. I can see the argument for buying newer if you can afford it (safety features improve every year) but not the argument for buying big.
      And if you drive so little that gas isn’t an issue at all, then why not get rid of the car entirely?

      • The Masked Investor March 19, 2012 at 11:27 am #

        Like I said, everyone whould make their own choices based on their situation, preferences and as much data as possible.

        If you want an example of data, take a look at the claims incidence data here: http://www.iihs.org/research/hldi/fact_sheets/MedPayLoss_0911.pdf Notice how in just about every vehicle class the smaller the vehicle the higher the incidence of the insurer having to pay out to cover the occupants’ medical expenses after a crash? An increase in safety may not be worth the extra expens of a larger vehicle for some people. No biggie; the US is a (mostly) free country outside of the airport.

        I don’t drive a whole lot on a daily basis, as most of my commute is on the train. But I still use my vehicle regularly and my wife needs hers. When I recently chose a new vehicle gas mileage was not in my top 5 considerations because I don’t put a lot of miles on and other considerations (safety, payload capacity, comfort, etc.) were more important. Others will make different choices. As always, YMMV.

  24. Mr. Dahlin March 19, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    MMM,

    Any comments with these cars and average cost to ensure? I know some cars can be more expensive to ensure, etc. I need to downgrade my car as well. I own it but it is time to sell it, plus it does use too much gas.

    Anyways, great article again.

    • Amanda March 19, 2012 at 11:22 am #

      A quick call to an insurance agent will tell you most of what you need to know. But as a general rule of thumb, practical cheaper cars are cheap to insure. SUVs tend to be more expensive, as well as sports cars (or any regular-ish car with a turbo). If you have a large family, a van is generally cheaper to insure than an SUV. Not sure about trucks. Of course from my experience insurance depends more on your driving record than the vehicle, so if you have a nice clean record then there may not be a massive difference. But that’s just what I’ve experienced and seen from selling cars.

  25. Amanda March 19, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Nice recommendations, you hit a lot of my favorite cars on there. Of course, needs vary but I think most people could get by with what you suggest. The thing I like about some older models of cars is that they’ve been around long enough for all the reliability data to be Google-able. If anything ever goes wrong with my 12 year old Civic I’m just a couple clicks away from figuring out what it is and how to fix it. Of course I wouldn’t mind a newer car with a hatchback but this largely does the job for now, and if it doesn’t work for a particular purpose (like hauling something) chances are I know someone who owns a car that does, or I can rent a truck for pretty cheap. I wish more people thought of cars in terms of what they absolutely need vs. what they could do without, instead of buying something huge because they need it for hauling purposes once a year. I sold cars for awhile and the stupidity amazed me.

  26. David Galloway March 19, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    As the owner of a 2006 Scion xB I approve this post. ;)

  27. Erik Y March 19, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Great article once again. How about a post regarding The high Mustachian aspect of a motorcycle or scooter instead of a car? When I was a single man and first moved to California in the early nineties my only mode of transport was my motorcycle. It’s a 1975 BMW 900cc model which got about 45-50 MPG. Not that great for a bike, but way better than any of the cars you’ve mentioned. One could do quite well on mileage with a smaller, more efficient engine. I always found motorcycle maintenance to be much easier and cheaper than car maintenance. My thought is that if someone’s primary function for motorized tranportation is to get one or two people around, a bike can be a fantastic option, especially in warm dry climates like the southwest and California. Parking is easier, in CA you can “lane share” and avoid sitting in traffic, you can even attach a trailer for carrying larger loads if needed. I’ve never ridden a side car, but I’ve heard of folks using them when the family expands.

  28. Rita March 19, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    I have an 05 Honda Civic. I used to have an 86 Toyota pickup, but sold it to save money, and because I can use the Civic like a truck by putting down the back seats and spreading tarps out. I haul lumber, furniture, horse manure, firewood, mulch, whatever. In fact, my goal is to not own anything I cannot haul in the Civic. Actually, I think I am already there since I got a wooden futon sofa that neatly unbolts and fits well.

    • Drewski March 19, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

      I’m in the market for a wooden futon. Where did you pick yours up?

      • Emmers March 20, 2012 at 8:52 am #

        We fit our wooden Ikea futon (re-disassembled) in our Prius — I’ve also fit flat-packed tall (6′) bookcases in there, as well as fully-assembled short (41″) bookcases. Ikea’s got some issues, for sure, but it sure does transport well.

  29. Marcia @Frugal Healthy SImple March 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    This was a great article. We always look at Consumer Reports first, so our two cars now are the Honda Civic and the Toyota Matrix (and the last was a Prizm/Corolla). The Civic is less useful because it doesn’t have a hatchback, but we figure it’s good enough that we have a hatchback in the Matrix.

    When we bought the Civic, we test drove the Elantra too – it was very nice and I have to say I was quite surprised at its great rating. The *only* reason I bought the Civic instead of the Elantra is because they hold their value better. Normally, I wouldn’t care because we drive cars into the dirt – but since the Civic replaced the Prizm that was totaled in an accident, I decided to hedge my bets.

    You’ve given lots of great tips here. We have a car carrier (Thule) thanks to your recommendation, and it’s served us well on camping trips. Everyone says “you’ll need a minivan now that you’re having a second kid!” and I say “not with our Thule!”.

  30. Shanna March 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    So glad with the fourth child I resisted going bigger (like suburban). It was a close call with 3 carseats and a 5 point booster seat causing us to be Absolutely. Shoe. Horned. into our 2004 Pilot. On one of our family trips with a 7 hour drive I nearly bailed out at 75 mph from the need to have some SPACE. But, we survived and actually did the trip five times last year in all weather (family illness).

    Now I breathe a sigh of relief that I didn’t trade for a very used Suburban when the Pilot has been paid off for 5 years and I only fill the tank every 2 weeks. I think having a paid for for 9 years 1999 Honda Civic as the other car taught us we hate car payments. Prior to having our first child we shared a car for 14 years! I gladly pick up my daughters to vertically place them feet first through the back of the dinged up, well used Pilot.

    I would add for “safety”, a big SUV with improperly installed carseats is not safe. Neither is a $300 car seat safe if you don’t know how to buckle your child properly. I don’t think I have seen hardly any children with correctly installed carseats or children correctly installed in the carseat. It drives me nuts. When we were rear ended the officer said I had the most perfectly installed carseats he had ever seen. Sad.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      I believe the Honda Odyssey van has more room than the Pilot with a lower cost and fuel consumption as well. Vans are a better choice than SUVs if you live in an area with paved roads.

      • Shanna March 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

        Out of curiosity I spent a few minutes checking and for city driving it is only 1mpg city, 2mpg highway. A straight across trade for the same year with the same low miles would probably cost me a little more (if I could sell my abused by many children Pilot for the most money). Also, having been rear ended to the tune of $3000 would definitely put a mark against me.

        Since my Pilot is just a baby by Honda standards (64,000 miles) I think we will stay squished and eventually the kids will grow out of carseats and have a thinner buttprint in the car. It has worked perfectly in some bad snowstorms on our mountain pass and the unplowed roads where we live, I don’t know how the van handles that stuff.

        • Shanna March 20, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

          PS Cut our non bill spending by 60% this month. Thanks!

  31. da55id March 19, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    My favorite car is the internet. I telework so my cost of capital is the iPad version 1 I was gifted, and my company pays for my internet. it gets amazing mileage – I drive it approximately 2,000,000 miles a week, at a cost of around 2500 watts. Maintenance is minimal and mostly automatic. No insurance, no gas, no accident risk, no pollution, no cost. My wife’s car is a 2009 Hyundai Sonata bought on ebay during the financial crash for 8k under market. Timing, liquidity and patience are the greatest paymasters.

  32. Lucas Smith March 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    1998 Nissan Sentra baby!! Paid $2000 for it 6 years ago and still running great. I do find myself wishing for about 1 in more in leg room (wife and I both 6ft), but when the farthest you have to drive is 40 miles (before you hit the ocean) I can’t complain. I am continually impressed by the amount of stuff I can cram in the trunk along with my 2 surf boards on top of the car. Listed at 30-39 highway, but in HI island driving i usually get around 35.

    But to save more (and save me 45 min a day due to commute and parking issues) I bought a 96 Honda Nighthawk motorcycle for $1000 (also super reliable). Unfortunatly I like driving it too much, so I only get spec fuel economy of 50MPG. Still trying to figure out how to best attach a surf board to it though :-)

  33. TT March 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    What’s your thought on the new 2012 toyota prius c? it’s ~19k – 21k and it reaches 53~ mpg. My current situation right now won’t allow me to live close to work (recent college grad, willing to travel far for job experience) but in the future I will move closer to work which is 29 miles away (58 miles total commute back and forth). I will travel an estimated 1412 miles per month (due to 2 jobs and volunteer obligations). Will this car be worth it? (rent is 430~ per month, current car is an automatic toyota matrix, ~27mpg). Is it better to save up money right now or invest in a car that will help me save gas? This current situation will extend for 6 months.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

      Sounds like you’d save $100 per month by switching to a 54MPG car. But you’d lose WAY more than that due to the greater expense of the new car.

      Prescription: Sell your automatic tranny Matrix, and buy a 2004-2005 Prius as noted in this list for about $8000. Then you still get to save almost the whole $100 per month, without losing $20,000 in new vehicle costs. You could also drive a bit slower to increase your mileage, since I get better than 27MPG in my 4200 pound 1999 Honda Minivan (28MPG average highway) :-)

  34. Matt March 19, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Maybe it’s just me, but I have this feeling that car ownership and driving is somehow baked into the DNA of Americans. I was talking about this with my wife: I take public transportation to work. But I often think about driving, and the thought is definitely appealing to me. In my rational mind, I fully realize that driving is inefficient on so many levels, and walking/biking/public transportation is so much better on my wallet and the environment. But there’s something about getting behind the wheel that triggers these “romantic” (for lack of better word) feelings.

    And when thinking about buying a new car (no plans to, but cars are fun to read about), I overstate my “needs” as you suggest many Americans do. I think back to this one time I went to a multi-day outdoor music/camping festival with a couple friends. Based on that *one* experience, years ago, I start thinking, “Gee I really need a big, off-road capable SUV!” Or the time my wife and I toured Rocky Mountain National Park in a rental car. The rental was the cheapest car we could get, and it’s engine was almost too wimpy to make it up some of the hills (speed decreased despite being floored on a couple occasions). Again, this is an isolated incident (when we rented a car!) but still my gut reaction is to think I need a massive engine for my next car.

    I’m certain my rational mind will triumph whenever we need to buy our next car. But I’m not afraid to admit that I *want* to drive a big, over-powered vehicle. :)

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

      That’s a healthy thing to admit!

      Note that the “rocky mountain national park” problem is a common one. Because you’re driving up at around 12,000 feet, the oxygen level in the air is down to about half that of sea level. This takes away about 50% of the engine power (unless you have a turbo, which can partially compensate by compressing the air more). When you combine that with an automatic transmission where you can’t control RPMs or shifting, you get a very soggy driving experience. But if you try to get out and go for a jog at 12,000 feet, you’ll gain a new appreciation for what your car is accomplishing.

    • Emmers March 20, 2012 at 8:41 am #

      Based on that experience…and probably also based on *marketing.* It’s insidious.

    • Bella March 20, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

      I suspect a LOT of those romantic feelings of freedom associated with driving are a direct result of the poor public transportation available in this country. When we were kids, the only way to ‘go somewhere’ was to bike or drive. Now, maybe our parents discouraged public transportation as a way to limit our freedom till we were ‘of age’, but nonetheless when we got our licences it opened a huge amount of places to go.

  35. Ryan March 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    What about a 1929 Ford Model A? It gets about 18 mpg and is a bit suspect in the safety department, but selling price would most likely be equal to or greater than purchase price depending on ownership period. This would make it a store of value requiring only fuel, maintenance (parts are dirt cheap and widely available) and insurance. Drive a savings account? I’ve done it before successfully and since I get severely motion sick riding or driving I avoid it like the plague anyway. The Model A looks cool just sitting there storing value :).

    • jlcollinsnh March 19, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

      this is a cool idea I’ve often thought about but never tried. Not sure I’d want a Model A though. something from the ’60s maybe, like the 1960 Ford Falcon I drove in High School. Trouble is they’ve gotten pricey…

  36. Joe @ Retire By 40 March 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    We have a Mazda 5! Glad to see it on the list. It’s our only car and it’s really useful because we need to occasionally haul 4 adults + child. It’s just the right size for us. Their reliability rating isn’t that great and I hope this one holds up for a long time.

  37. bogart March 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    Another option aspiring Mustachians with young children may want to consider is the Safe Rider travel vest — a quick search will pop it up at e.g. Amazon. It is something a child (at least 3 years old, weight 30 – 60 lb, and height 34 – 52 Inches for the small size) can wear and then use a regular seatbelt provided it includes a shoulder strap or can be secured — I forget details — to an anchor. I am told it is as good as car seat when used appropriately; it makes your kid no bigger than — well, the size of the kid (as opposed to carseat sized) and it is very portable. I own one and have used it for my 3-4 year old on trips though I prefer our 5-point carseat for around-town use. Obviously you should consult with whatever safety experts you would consult with in making such decisions; I’m just a parent and have no particular qualifications to recommend this product, other than liking it.

    Parents who don’t own cars or who otherwise need occasional kid-safe car travel arrangements, e.g. for a taxi, might also find these helpful.

  38. PNW March 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    As an avid snowboarder living in a snowy climate I often hear comments about someone “needing awd/4×4/SUV”. I just don’t agree with this.

    I am a firm believer that a rwd/fwd with snow tires and a good driver is better than an SUV with all season tires and an average driver.

    I’m not sure I have anything more than anecdotal evidence to support that a car with snow tires is less likely to get stuck/slide than a SUV without, however of the dozen vehicles I have passed that have slid off the road/or gotten stuck, only one of them was a car, the others were SUV’s or trucks.

    • jlcollinsnh March 19, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

      +1 PNW…

      …snow tires are far more important than the number of drive wheels. Our AWD Forester is only so/so on snow and ice without them. With them our old accord was better.

      This is why, I believe, during snow storms the vehicles in the ditch tend to be overwhelmingly SUVs.

      Of course, AWD and snow tires is the cat’s nuts especially going up hills. (going up hill shifts the weight to the rear wheels, not good in a front drive car)

      • JCamasto September 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

        +2 on 2WD cars w/ dedicated snow tires. They’re paid for when they save you from one minor bump or curb bash (~$400).

        4Wdrive does not also improve 4Wsteer or 4Wstop (like 4 snow tires will), 4WD only gets you into trouble quicker – and often in more trouble (too fast for conditions).

  39. Jill March 19, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    I have a 2007 Honda Fit, the basic one, not the FIt Sport, that I bought new. I bought it to commute to a major city, and for a couple of years I put 80+ miles a day on it! I now drive two small kids around in it all the time. You don’t need a big car for kids at all. One might argue that what if their friends wanted to drive with them? Well, nowadays most parents are so paranoid that they all drive their own kids anyway, so it’s not a big issue.

    It has about 80k miles on it now and I haven’t had a single problem so far.

    • acorn April 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      We have a 2007 Honda Fit too- and we also drive our two kids around in it. It’s actually quite roomy inside. The fact that you can completely fold down the seats also means you can haul a lot of cargo.

  40. Eliot March 19, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    The archetypal car review (in NZ & Aus at least) is the Dog and Lemon guide http://www.dogandlemon.com/articles

    The articles are worth a read, and some at least tend towards Mustachian e.g.
    http://www.dogandlemon.com/articles/yuppie-four-wheel-drives

  41. Co March 19, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    I continue to drive my second Honda Accord (both cash deals) past 200,000 miles with few problems but I really don’t like to drive long distances with it at this point unless my husband is with me who fixes cars as one of his hobbies. This weekend I rented a Ford Escort for a long trip alone and thought it rattled and was not really comfortable-for shorter distances it would probably be OK. As a one old car family who bikes everywhere the old beater we normally drive is not much of an issue. Heck, we could call a taxi if need be and still not have the millstone of a car payment and insurance payment around our neck.
    I mentioned this because an option we often forget about is to rent a larger or more dependable vehicle the few times we need one. Even home depot rents trucks if you need to bring a bunch of materials home. The short term price tag is much less than owning a vehicle year after year.

  42. Dragan March 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    Pimpin’ a ’99 Pontiac Sunfire bought for $1700.

  43. dot_com_vet March 19, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

    Honda Fit here, awesome car. I like the assortment of hatchbacks, you can get near the versatility of a truck.

  44. Fritzescu March 20, 2012 at 3:28 am #

    Great article.
    Also, I’m from Europe, and it’s interesting to see the differences compared to the auto market over here.

    Japanese cars are considered reliable around here as well, in automotive studies.
    But there seems to be a different perspective on VW group cars, and german cars in general. They are statistically quite reliable.
    http://armtek.de/3221.html

    And they can be equipped with very efficient gasoline engines (if you choose the right one).
    For example, a compact hatchback (like a Golf), can have a 1.4 l gasoline engine, with 120 – 140 BHP, and very good fuel economy.
    True, these engines are on relatively new cars (from 2007 on).

    Also, there are some car makers here that simply aren’t present on the US market:
    - Skoda (also VW group) is always ranked in the top of reliability, and they’re cheaper than VW.
    - Seat (also VW group), make a great hatchback – the Leon, based on the Golf. Hey, i think that one is sold in Mexico – i could be wrong though.
    Anecdotal: I have a Leon, and so far it’s great. Aerodynamic, handles like a dream, even looks nice. And you can find them on the cheap, with very good engines and trim levels.

  45. $lowmotion March 20, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    I second your 1999 honda civic choice! Ive got one with 330,000 miles, original engine and it gets 35mpg all day. Plus I race a 99 civic and even after a 25 hour endurance race, all I need is brakes, tires, and an oil change.

  46. Debbie M March 21, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    I’m VERY surprised about which cars are on which lists. I bought a car recently and my priorities were 1) reliability, 2) low pollution (estimated via gas mileage, then double-checked where possible), 3) affordability (to buy, maintain, insure). So I should have one of the cars in your recommended list. Not even close.

    Originally I was looking at about 7 models which I had read had great reliability. I didn’t want to be stupid about dissing Hyundais and small Fords just because of how things used to be. But then I learned that those cars were just amazingly reliable compared to how they used to be. That’s great, but I only wanted to consider cars that were extremely reliable. Yet there’s the Elantra on your good list. How? And the Mazda3? I know Mazda 323′s used to be good, but I read that Mazda3′s aren’t.

    Then the mileage. I was spoiled by my 1984 Nissan Sentra (sadly newer models are no longer super reliable) with its 38 mpg city (the way I drove it–my city has a lot of highways). All current cars suck compared to that car. And the reliable tiny cars have the same mileage as the reliable small cars. Why would I get a Honda Fit when the Civic is bigger (but still easy to park) and gets the same mileage? Same with the Toyota Matrix/Corolla? (The Echo is pretty polluting.)

    The best I could do was a 2003-2008 Toyota Corolla (much better mileage than the 2009+–turns out to be 29 city the way I drive). Yet somehow that model is on your below average list. How did I not notice such shittiness? I looked at Consumer Reports, Edmunds, and anything I could find online. Who is this lemonaid guy? Maybe in Canada the numbers are completely different than in the southern US (where we don’t have rust)?

    Really I don’t get it at all. I have been too flabbergasted to even comment for all these days.

    Fortunately my car has been perfect so far, which is good since I’ve lent it to my boyfriend about six different times as he’s found new issues on his new-to-him older vehicle. But then it’s super new, so maybe that’s all about to end. (I couldn’t find a ten-year-old car like I like–every time I saw one, it was some “never wrecked” car with badly aligned parts sold by a collision repair place, or the “dealership” turned out to be an apartment with a person who never heard of the car or some other weirdness. So I settled for a three-year-old car (??) with 70K miles on it. The mileage brought the price down and is perfect for me since I hardly ever drive.)

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 21, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

      Good point about the Corolla. The Lemon Aid had it as below average, but Consumer reports had a much higher rating. So I moved it up to the “Above Average” section.

      As for “why would I get a Fit when the Civic is bigger?”.. the Fit has a bigger and more useful INTERIOR, just a smaller exterior. Likewise for the Corolla: the Matrix has the same passenger space, just a much better cargo space.

      Not everyone cares about cargo space, since they think of a car as a thing to transport their own body around. My hatchback evangelism comes from the fact that I’d never use a car to carry just myself. So when the car rolls, it’s because something big needs to be carried. This is the mentality towards cars that I’m trying to spread with this article.

      • Debbie M March 22, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

        All my other cars have been hatchbacks or wagons. I decided to go for the hidden storage version this time. The trunk is much bigger than I expected. I bet it could hold suitcases for five people, though it’s not so great with the awkwardly long loads. Admittedly, I don’t carry things often. I do drive just myself around–I live in a mid-sized city with extremely mediocre mass transit and ALL my friends but one moved to the suburbs or worse. And my boyfriend has a pick-up truck, so it works out for me.

        When I tried sitting in the smaller cars, they actually felt more cramped inside to me. Man, I wish I still had my old notes–I swear the interior really is smaller on those cars. Maybe I got different answers because I really wanted a ten-year-old car. But I’m pretty sure I re-did the research when I was looking at newer stuffy, hoping that some cheaper model with a no-longer deserved mediocre reputation would be the car for me.

        I still wonder why Lemon Aid has the Corolla as below average? And truly, if the Hyundai Elantra was as reliable as a Toyota Corolla, let alone more reliable, I probably would have bought that car, since I ended up getting such a new thing anyway.

        Thanks for answering. Still flummoxed.

  47. saoili March 26, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    Very surprised to see the Kia Rio in the ‘Average’ list. This is my car and one of the main reasons I bought it was my impression that it had both great fuel efficiency (in the diesel model at any rate) and really high reliability. Can you share some data on why it scores so low?

  48. Julia K. March 30, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    How do you feel about buying electric cars in an area like San Francisco where there’s some infrastructure?

    They’re an exception to your rule: “Note that I didn’t mention ‘price’, because thankfully, the fuel-efficient cars are usually the less expensive ones anyway, so you automatically win by prioritizing efficiency.”

    They have much better gas mileage than any of the cars you feature here, but boy are they expensive.

  49. Stephen April 9, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Why is the Nissan Versa in both the Average and Above Average categories?

  50. Alberto April 26, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    You might be interested in this car running costs comparison by the Australian RACQ, detailing yearly costs for things like depreciation (they only consider new cars), finance interest, servicing and fuel costs (for 15000K/year).

    http://www.racq.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/69205/RACQ-Private-Vehicle-Running-Costs-2011.pdf

    Apart from how interesting it could be to see which cars are cheap and which ones expensive it shows how massive is the economical impact of buying a new car on credit against a 5 year-old car on cash.

    For example, for a Ford WT Fiesta CL 1.6L, it costs something above AUD7000 per year to run, of which AUD2000 is depreciation and AUD1000 is financing. Another AUD500 is a one off payment to get the car registered. That is every year for 5 years according to the study, for a total of a AUD15000 bigger expense that if you would have bought an equally reliable Fiesta from 2007 with 50K km on the clock.

  51. andrew April 30, 2012 at 1:05 am #

    I always buy near new cars with high milage and look after them. So far its been a great way to go. I get them at half price, they are often less than two years old and well serviced as the warrantee requires it. I then get 6 years of great motoring and pass them on to my children.

    • jlcollinsnh April 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

      that’s an approach I’ve wondered about but never tried, Andrew. I guess the idea is time is as harmful as milage?

      How many miles is “high milage?”

      How many miles do you add in your 6 years?

      anything special to consider in doing this?

      thanks,

      JC

      • andrew April 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

        I look for anything around the 65k miles. The last car had done that in 18 months. I got 6 air bags, abs and stability control for half the new price. Its just clocked 260,000 miles all I’ve done is new tires and brake pads. I think most Japanese cars can do this. I always change oil and filter every 6,000 miles and it pays. I do all the rest of the maintenance by the book. I wouldn’t try this in an American made car as my friends tell me they fall apart too soon.

        • andrew May 1, 2012 at 12:01 am #

          I think this is the way to go, you get all the new features and I like to feel my family is safe, its unusual for cars only two years old to give trouble as most of the running is warm running, to do those kind of miles you have to be literally living in the thing. People shy away from high milage cars but its saved me thousands and I normally get 8 years out of them. Thats 8 years in a decent car, with all the mod-cons, and reliability i can hardly believe which I put down to servicing often Good luck with giving it ago.

  52. JK May 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    In taking a new job with 110miles a day in commuting I am faced with replacing my car.

    The job is worth the commute so that is a non issue however living in NE and commuting early morning or late night during the winter with poor road maintenence I have to concider an awd car. MPG is important as is not spending money on it. Here are my questions:

    Purchasing a 3-5 year old car does not appear to save much money at all vs chancing possible repairs and maintenece cost which may not be needed on a new vehicle. It appears a used newer car goes for 1-4K less then a new one.

    Buying a car for 5-6K seems to put me in the 10 year old class which puts the car in the risk zone for repairs and breakdown which I really want to avoid. Missing a few days work coupled with repairs could peg my losses at 1000+ and in the end the car still won’t be worth more and other parts of the car will still be old and risky.

    So to purchase transportation that will be safe, fuel efficient, last for 10years plus while putting on 25k miles per year how does a brand new car sound?

    I was concidering the Honda Fit and Hyunday Elantra in the 16-17K class but am now leaning to Suburu Impreza in about the same price class with AWD and since the 2012 model it gets 35mpg HWY.
    Thanks

    • Mr. Money Mustache May 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

      I think you might just be getting fooled by dealers asking ridiculously high prices for used cars. Look at the Edmunds used car appraiser online, and you’ll see that you save MUCH more than $1-4k on a car that’s 3-5 years old.

      Secondly, I think you’ve been fooled by all-wheel-drive marketing. That won’t make you safer – it just helps you accelerate faster in snow. It’s good for people who live in snowy areas and have steep or unplowed driveways and roads – that’s about it. Snow tires are what you want. Electronic stability and traction control can help prevent snow-related crashes too.

      But the Impreza is now a reasonable car too, now that they’ve fixed the highway fuel economy.

    • andrew May 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

      I had a hunt around the bay area Craigslist. Found this Acura 2008 fully loaded, its 16k but I would offer him 14k and tell him if it doesn’t sell ring me back.
      http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sby/cto/2997956205.html

      a nice Camry
      http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sby/cto/2962003604.html
      a Hyundai
      http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sby/cto/2993817955.html

      I only live in the States for 6 months a year, I retired at 46 and avoid winters. I found once I had some capital behind me I had lots of choices and one of them was to work on my terms. If you dont build up some capital you become a victim, thats a very high price to pay for poor spending habits.
      Im sure the big guy with the mustache knows much more than me, we drive a 2004 maxima 3.1 v6 in the States, its now done 140kmiles never had a problem, purchased the vehicle at 85k for $4.5k.
      If you want to get away from a love affair with cars, buy a German car like an Audi, or a french car,if you want to go for glory get an Italian one, after 6 months believe me any idea about the romance of cars fades from your mind as the bills keep on piling up and the parts take forever, the mechanics take one look and always say ‘it won’t be cheap’.

  53. JK May 6, 2012 at 4:42 am #

    Thanks for the replies and I have yet another question and thought.
    As a car ages certain things need to be replaced such as breaks, tires, exhaust, shocks, etc. Sometimes it’s the age but often it is related to miles driven.
    As I looked at the post about the Hyundai 2008 for $7999, I noticed that it does have over 100K miles and would seem to be due for many wear and tear parts to be replaced in addition to a good going ove and a tune up and that is not taking into account if you end up with some major problems in the first few years.
    My current car has been great for $1000 it had 100K miles (VW Jetta) and in 6 years I have racked up another 80K but not without having to spend some money on repairs. One trannie, shocks, struts, breaks, exhaust, tires, starter. Not all at once but things do wear out.

    So in factoring in a cars milage and age my thought was that figuring out what a car would cost per year/miles driven on average if you are planning for 10 years.
    Consequently I do have several secondary roads with major hills near home which often do not get attention for a day or two during bad storms
    This car needs to get me to work and financial independence 25-30K miles a year every single day without fail for the next 6-10years.

  54. Hibryd May 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    I’m starting to wonder if our area (south SF bay) just has ridiculously high used car prices.

    We’ve been looking for a replacement car (our ’92 is nearly dead), and I’ve heard my whole life (and here on MMM) that buying used is, hands down, always a better deal, but whenever I look around dealer lots or craigslist I think, damn, why not pay a few thousand more for a new one?

    Take the 2006 Mazda listed above. “A 2006 is worth about $7900 with 60,000 miles.” Yeah, I’d take that deal. Here’s what’s listed on SF Bay Area Craigslist right now, for 2006 Mazda3s: 1) 90k miles for $11,000, 2) 78k miles for $13,000, 3) 86k miles for $11,000. Oh, yeah, there’s a 4th for $6,500… with 158k miles on it. Meanwhile a new loaded Mazda3, which gets WAY better gas mileage than its predecessors, can be had for $20,000.

    (Note: numbers are rounded to the nearest K. Ads without listed miles, prices, or locations were omitted. And in the interest of fairness, some of these models had trim packages bells and whistles on them, but still, WTF?)

    And that was just the first car from the list above that I decided to plug in. I’ve done similar searches for family-friendly wagons and hatchbacks, and found the same thing: in my area, you’re lucky if a car’s price has depreciated linearly with mileage. For “reliable” cars, they often do worse than that.

    We’re still looking at used cars, and we’ve never bought a new one before, but used cars don’t seem like such a great deal right now.

    • JK May 7, 2012 at 1:01 am #

      Hibryd, I am with you when it comes to the options package. If I can get a brand new small, no frills car with good gas milage why should I spend the extra on a used one just because it has all sorts of buttons on the steering wheel, electronics, stereo features, climate control or GPS which I do not want. My mechanic (whom I have been with for over 20 years) said it best: there has been a shortage on used cars due to the economic downturn and people holding on to their cars longer so the price has been pushed up.
      I guess my mind is pretty much made up but I just wanted to see if someone had radically different ideas that would make sense or if I was way off base in my thinking.
      Thanks

  55. Mike Long July 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    I find myself in an interesting conundrum…

    I currently drive a 2006 Hyundai Sonata (which probably should have made the list, as I average 26.3 MPG in mixed driving, and it has been trouble-free over the course of its 140,000 miles).

    I recently acquired a 2002 Mazda B2300 pickup with 114,000 miles on it – a base model 4 cylinder, 5 speed, with no options except AC (104 here in Sacramento today). It even has roll up windows…gads!!

    It averages about 24 MPG in mixed driving – not as good as the Sonata – but infinitely more practical. It’s a simple, honest truck with no electrics to foul up as it continues to age.

    The downside? It’s a “penalty box” compared to the Sonata. After a day in the truck, I go back to the Hyundai and it might as well be a Lexus. It’s so quiet and luxurious compared to the truck.

    So which one stays and while one goes? (Both are paid off.) The Hyundai is worth about $1,000 more than the truck right now. I have a hellish commute that makes the Truck miserable, but that will end in 6 months, at which time I’ll either be working from home, or towing a little hot dog cart downtown to make a living.

    I think the truck needs to stay and the Hyundai needs to go. I just need to hear it from someone that doesn’t live inside my head. :)

  56. Sarah August 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    Hello.

    I’m a car newb and am looking to buy my first one.

    I’ve been searching craigslist for a car that is

    1. Reliable
    2. Fuel efficient
    3. Not horribly unattractive
    4. under 5k

    Anyone have any suggestions?

    I’d love to search and do more research/get a great deal, but I doubt I’ll have enough time to become a car expert within the next week.

  57. Annie G September 5, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    I’ve finally “seen the light”! I live in Eastern Oregon where winters and mountain conditions can be brutal, I had made $378.00 a month car payments, horrendous insurance premiums, and 17 MPG fuel expenses on a 2007 Jeep Wrangler which was bought new) to drive 90 miles round trip to work every day because I have to be at work before the snowplows…. Finally decided to “change it up” and sell the Jeep and have bought a 2000 Subaru Outback with 114K miles on it. (I also put some cash in the bank with the sale) Now…. no payments, much better gas milage, and much, much lower insurance premiums….. I calculated the cost savings and it is AMAZING! I can now afford to fix my “old” car if and when it breaks down – now every “ping” or “funny sound” doesn’t send a chill down my spine in anticipation of how many more $$$ I’m throwning down the drain but rather I think “okay, I’ll take it in and have it fixed and I’m still ahead” – Thanks for the great advice!

  58. Dwight Gingrich September 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    First, many thanks for directing me to the Lemon-Aid books. I bought the latest one for used books and am getting an education.

    I’m in the market for a used minivan, since our 3rd child is almost here and I pretty often haul substantial luggage. I wonder if you have advice.

    Some particulars:
    * I have a modest budget. I originally was hoping to spend no more than about $7000, but I’m open to spending more if it pays off long-term.

    * I plan to pay the total up front.

    * I plan to run the van until it isn’t safe to do so–pretty much into the ground. We currently drive a battered Chevy Lumina with almost 195,000 miles.

    * I’ve been looking at minivans from 2005 or newer (better seating/luggage options) with about 100,000 miles. I shouldn’t be hard to get a Dodge Caravan for about $6000, a Toyota Sienna for about $8000, or a Honda Odyssey for about $9000. Gas mileage on each appears similar, or at least unpredictable as to which will be better (I’ve scoured multiple websites with conflicting claims).

    * I’m also considering the Mazda5. I could probably get a 2008 (the older ones don’t appear as reliable) with about 80,000 miles for about $9500. I’d probably save over $400/year on gas with this little van. As for reliability, Lemon-Aid likes it a lot, but it hasn’t been around as long as the other minivans (there are few for sale with over 100,000 miles), so that might be more of a gamble?

    Questions:
    * Any general advice about narrowing my field?
    * Should I consider paying more for a Dodge/Toyota/Honda with fewer miles?
    * Does the Mazda5 sound like a wiser choice in the long run?

    Thanks in advance for any advice!

    • Mr 1500 January 13, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

      Probably way too late, but we have a Mazda 5 and love it. Although the rearmost seats are cramped, we love that it can hold 6 people, gets better mileage than other minivans and can be had with a stick shift (I’m one of 3 people in the US who buys autos with manuals).

      • Dwight Gingrich January 20, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

        Thanks for sharing even if it’s late. We looked at the Mazda5 and decided it’s too small for us. We bought a 2005 Sienna and love it!

  59. Ashley September 9, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Love my Vibe!

    I had to replace my car (which was totaled) back in 2006, and I had one day to find a car. The last one I looked at was my ’03 Vibe GT (6-speed, and I had only driven a stick once before). It now has about 110k and I still love it. The seats fold flat in the back, and I’ve been able to haul an astonishing amount of stuff. (couches!) So it’s been great for moving, climbing and ski trips (4 people + gear = easy) and it gets great mileage. And it’s fun to drive, though it is a tough shifter compared to other cars I’ve driven.

  60. Billy September 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    Those of you touting TDI’s, Prius’, Volt’s, etc. Don’t get fooled by mpg’s, or equivalent mpgs. Look at $/mile. Go to Edmunds and check out their TCO (True Cost of Ownership) calculator. They estimate costs based on: selling price, fuel mileage, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, taxes, financing (even if you don’t finance, there is an almost equivalent cost associated with the loss of opportunity in having assets tied up in a vehicle). The results are not always what you expect. For example, a Prius costs more, over a 5 yr span, driving 15000 mi/yr, than a Corolla.

    That said, I think MMM’s recommendations all do very well in overall ownership costs.

  61. Diedra B September 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    I don’t have a mustache but I love that my echo showed up on this list. . . if I wanted a mustache though, I would sell it.
    I’m going to sell it.
    I swear.

  62. sherri October 12, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Hi MMM,
    I’m yet another new addict of your site! So to show my great appreciation, I’ll start by asking something from you;-) Your advice. We have a 2011 Honda Odyssey Touring elite (I know), with 24,000 miles (I know), payment $875. Making the payments is not an issue, other than than enormous waste of money. So the question is what to do? At this point we owe more than it’s currently worth (~ 6500 more), so do with stick it out until that changes? Or take the hit plus the cost of a used car?

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 12, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      Hi Sherri,

      As noted elsewhere, the relationship of current value to debt doesn’t matter (whether you owe $0 or $50,000). What matters is if it’s the right vehicle for you. In your case, probably not, because that is an EXTREMELY expensive van. Unless your family is deep into multimillionaire status, you should be driving something far less costly! Keep reading, and figure out how to get out of your debt emergency ASAP! :-)

      • sherri October 12, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

        Thanks MMM!
        I definitely think the best decision is to down grade, (I was thinking 2004 Prius). I’m just unsure of the best way to do so. I’m in S. California, the Craigslist/Auto trader ’04 Prius’ are running around 10,000. Pair that with the 6500, we’re now at 16,500. What do you think? Sounds like this may be an already answered question, I just couldn’t find it.
        Thanks-Sherri

    • JohnNTx February 10, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

      “Vehicle size and weight matter. Smaller, lighter vehicles generally offer less protection than larger, heavier ones. There is less structure to absorb crash energy, so deaths and injuries are more likely. People in lighter vehicles also experience higher crash forces when struck by heavier vehicles. If safety is a major consid- eration, pass up very small, light vehicles.”
      http://www.iihs.org/brochures/pdf/sfsc.pdf

      • Doug in London, ON February 22, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

        That’s true, but it’s partly offset by the fact that smaller cars are more nimble and can be more easily steered out of the way of a potential collision. Of course if you really like big heavy vehicles, use public transportation more often. A big SUV like a Hummer won’t fare well in a collision with a bus, and even worse with a train pulled by a 200 ton locomotive!

  63. Kenoryn November 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    Aw man, my car’s in the ‘not recommended’ category. Nevertheless, it’s made it to 15 years old with 320,000 kms with few repairs, and has its advantages: Being plastic, it’s been backed into at least 3 times in its life with no lasting effect. (I’ve heard there’s a hemp composite car in the works called the Kestrel – cool!) And I can get up to 4.8 L/100km with it – average about 5.8 hwy/city combined (Google tells me this is 41 mpg). And I can still fit 8ft lumber in it.

  64. Esteban December 8, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    I’ve been a proud Saturn SC owner twice (the only type of car I’ve actually owned – had a few years carless when living in the DC area).

    They got a well deserved good rating from BeaterReview.com cause they give great mileage and besides drinking oil are very low maintenance.

  65. amber January 1, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    I bought my first car in May, a 2011 Golf TDI (after being car-free for the past 11 years). It was used with high mileage on it for its age. My experience has been pretty positive overall, though I will say it has had some expensive surprises for me along the way. A lot of these costs seem to be related to this being a very sporty car, so it needs things outside the typical norm for a regular car. others have mentioned the synthetic oil change ($80/5Kmiles) (Just FYI, I didn’t know about this the first time so I did get regular oil put in at a national chain. My car did not explode or seize up. I got it replaced and conditioned at the dealer about 3K miles later with the fancy correct oil. No harm no foul.) The 40K tune up was another $700. I guess for me right now, being my first car and so awesome to drive, I love it. But it is costing way more than I anticipated in regular maintenance, so there is no way I am saving any money by driving diesel. It is my Porsche Lite, maximum fanciness.

  66. J.D. January 9, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    I finally broke my own problem of the stereotype that I need a truck for work around the house. Mostly based on this article, I started doing more and more research for replacing my truck with a fuel efficient vehicle. I even had a third car, just to drive back and forth to work! Those days are gone! I actually traded my truck in for a new Honda Fit, and wrote a tiny check to cover the difference for the trade in. I worked a good deal out for that one. Now I’m in the process of selling my old car, and finding a trailer/installing a hitch on the Fit, and I’ll be all set.

    Thanks for helping me break the stigma that I need a truck. I love this little Fit, and can’t wait to see how much it saves me over the long haul. It’s an added bonus that it’s new, but I couldn’t find any used ones in the area that were a manual transmission. I know it costed me a few grand more, but even the used ones states away were only a couple thousand cheaper. I figure even with the added cost, it’s still much cheaper in the long run. And it’s not like I added any car payments, either.

    • Doug in London, ON February 22, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

      Interesting you mention the stereotype of needing a truck. I worked with a guy (not mustachian at all) who said he wanted to buy a truck for, like yourself, hauling stuff around. I replied, explaining the economics of the duty cycle (the times you are actually hauling stuff around) and if it’s low then it’s better to buy a car and use a trailer. He replied: that’s gay, I want a truck! To this day I don’t know what’s gay about owning a trailer (I have nothing against gays, by the way) but it’s easy to see why some people can achieve financial independence and others don’t. By the way, I hauled around a lot of stuff around years ago in a trailer pulled by a fuel sipping 1978 Ford Mustang with a 4 cylinder engine.

      • J.D. January 13, 2014 at 9:23 am #

        Oh, I use the trailer all the time. Just Saturday, I hauled a full size couch, coffee table, and end table in the trailer and the back of my car (I took the couch apart into three pieces). When I was done with that, I hauled a whole bunch of trash left at a rental property back to my house in it. You wouldn’t believe the amount that fit. Then Sunday, I used the trailer again to put 35 studs in to start framing a wall in our basement. I’ll never own a truck again. This is a much better way of doing it. I kind of like all the questions people ask me about it, because nobody else around here does that. Maybe I can open up people’s minds in our area to be more efficient. Lead by example, right?

  67. Joe February 22, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Hey MMM, since this article is nearing it’s 1st birthday, will you please do an update? Or maybe nothing has changed in your Top 10 in the past year? Thanks!

  68. Lindsey May 6, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Hey MMM!

    I’m a new reader and can’t wait to start implementing some of your investment strategies once I get beyond my graduate student teaching assistant income. I know this is an old article, and I didn’t read all 159 of the comments, but I thought I could offer some great insight on the Honda Fit, and what I think is one of its best attributes that I didn’t see listed here.

    My boyfriend owns a 2008, and it has been our best friend on road trips (mostly national parks) not only because of the amazing gas mileage (sometimes back when it was newer we got upwards of 44mpg!), but also because of the “magic seats.” The front seats have been designed to recline ALL the way back and, once the headrests are removed and the seat slid all the way forward, they snugly fit with the back seat to make a great place to sleep! At 5’4″ I can stretch all the way out. While we usually camp out on these trips, this feature has been a big saver in places where there isn’t good camping or we’ve been driving a long stretch of highway and just need to sleep for 5 hours or so. It’s much more comfortable than trying to sleep in the car of any other vehicle I’ve ever been in, especially when you can’t lay down the backseat to stretch out because of all your gear in the back.

    Looking forward to more articles in the future! Oh, I also think it would be a really great idea to do an article on how someone (like me) can get started investing who doesn’t have any debt, but has only been able to modestly save from living on a grad student income. Keep up the great work!

    • Dan Williams May 7, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

      Will second this. I’m 6’4″ and slept in the back of my ’08 Fit a few times…with my wife…who is 5’6″…

      Unfortunately, we sold it while living in Colorado. It simply didn’t have enough ground clearance to drive in the snow without feeling like we were going to destroy the new-car-ish-ness of it. It would damn-near high-center on the side-street drifts. I say unfortunately because we have subsequently moved to the PNW and it never snows here…and it would have been paid off long ago.

      Instead we have a 2006 Accord 4 cyle EX-L that we paid $20K for back in ’09. It only has 60k miles on it and is paid off…but still feels a bit luxurious…I imagine we’ll keep it though and try to drive out the depreciation over the next 10 years…don’t really feel like going through the hassle of selling it just to get a car a couple thousand cheaper and earn a couple percentage points on the difference…something to be said for keeping the car you have when you know its service history, quirks (or lack thereof), etc. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a safe one, with decent gas mileage and all that. Do miss the extra hauling space of the fit though…and the 38mpg on the freeway.

      • Mr. Money Mustache May 8, 2013 at 9:31 am #

        Wow, I guess we have different perspectives on snow.. I consider Colorado to be a “it never snows here” place (maybe 4 big storms per year, unless you live in the mountains), since I came from the Great Lakes area where it snows every few days for about three months of the year. My Scion Xa is much smaller than a Honda Fit and with identical ground clearance, and it works perfectly well in the snow. It’s all in the tires.

        Of course, my tires are currently all down to less than 1/8″ of tread, so snow driving would be impractical at this point. But that’s because retirement has allowed me to choose not to drive on snowy days :-)

        • Dan Williams May 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

          It was mostly the pesky berms going from main streets onto side streets…highways were fine. But yeah, I was still working daily…and still am ;)

  69. Laura May 9, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    I was wondering, what kind of car do you recommend for a family of 9?

    • Mr. Money Mustache May 9, 2013 at 9:59 am #

      Maybe two Toyota Priuses? Total capacity 10 and about 25MPG if you are driving them both simultaneously. Plus, 50MPG for those frequent times when somebody is doing something without the entire group along.

  70. Mary M. July 9, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    Dude, my 2001 Toyota Echo is so NOT dorky! I love that car and I’m going to try to make it last forever. It was my first and only ever new car. Now that I don’t live in insane So. California anymore I only put about 5K miles a year on it. We live in a small town where we can walk lots of places and you can drive across town in 5 minutes. The 5K is mostly due to vacations. I would have preferred a hatch back but they just weren’t making them that year. It does however have a roomy trunk with a pass through if you put the back seats down. We’ve brought home 8′ pieces of lumber and 10′ lengths of re-bar by passing them through and having them stick out the front passenger window. Dorky indeed! For shame Mr. Mustache!
    PS: Besides which it’s CUTE, has front wheel drive so it turns on a dime and is a breeze to parallel park!

    • frank July 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

      Mine is a 1999 Dodge Neon Sport that I bought for $350 (yes three hundred and fifty) with new paint but some engine noises and some front end body damage.

      I now have a car with a rebuilt engine, gearbox and perfect body for about $1300 total. Lots of fun to drive and does 35mpg if I can leave off the A/C.

      OK I drive it 80 miles to and from work but we won’t talk about that as its coming to an end soon

  71. Chris August 2, 2013 at 6:09 am #

    Hey MMM, my wife and I are currently reading nearly everything you’ve written and digesting it fully; amazing.

    My question is what’s your view on old Mercedes? Specifically we’ve got our eyes on a Mercedes-Benz E-Class 4-matic Wagon. She’s an old one, but looks like it’s in good shape.

    Are Mercs notorious for more complex mechanic work?

    Thanks, I appreciate all your advice.

  72. Karl August 16, 2013 at 2:03 am #

    I haven’t owned a car in over 5 years (bicycle FTW!) but my girlfriend has owned a Toyota Camry for the past 4 years which has been a great vehicle. The fuel consumption is low-moderate for it’s size and engine and it only gets used on weekends for short-medium length trips out of the city. It is very reliable, comfortable, cheap to run and maintain and very practical for general use and travelling. She paid $3500 for it when she bought it a few years ago (we negotiated on price a bit) and could sell it right now for the same amount as we’ve kept it clean, maintained and don’t use it often (about 5,000km per year on average). I prefer to be totally car free and only use a bike, but having access to a cheap, reliable, no-frills vehicle is great for those longer journeys or with multiple people. Definitely recommend.

  73. TheGoyWonder August 23, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    What about the 10 years old or under $5k limit you mention so often, not many of these fit? I guess the several years around Y2K were an automotive dark age.

    And alternate theory: Go for a shockingly low purchase price. Old euro cars that were built expensively but have hit rock bottom on depreciation. Repairs that cost +30-50% over a run-of-the mill Accord/similar can be funded from the near-complete lack of Opportunity Cost. These usually have less hi-$ reoccurring maintenance like water pump/timing belt or valve-nonsense. Best of all, the paint/exterior holds up great and they are never embarrassing to be seen in like many of the Stanza-like cars listed. Examples include:

    900, 240, w201, maybe e30/36, but not any VW product.

    The oddball American car that kinda works for this:
    Foxbody Mustang (4-cyl hatchback, great aftermarket support)

  74. Greg September 1, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Don’t forget the chevy HHR. 30 plus miles a gallon plus it is so ugly you can buy one for dirt cheap. I have had a full ice shanty and all of my gear. 10 50 pound bags of dirt.

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