Turning a Little Car Into a Big One

Colorado Springs – a favorite first stop on many of our road trips heading South.

As anyone who has read more than a few MMM articles has learned, the key to becoming rich is living an efficient lifestyle.

When it comes to your choice of car, this means making sure you choose one that is optimized for whatever you will use it for the most.

While this sounds self-evident, it is actually a rare way to buy a car in the United States. Most people tend to buy the largest and most powerful model they can afford, based on the idea that there are occasional situations where the capacity will be needed (“I haul a boat to the lake every summer, and I need to have enough power for uphill passing even when towing the boat and all my family”).

Because of this, the 360 horsepower,  Ford F-150 pickup truck (17MPG city) is by far America’s best-selling vehicle, more than doubling the sales of the top car on the list, which is the still-rather-large 3200 pound, 178 horsepower Toyota Camry.

Most people do most of their driving alone. So the efficient choice (assuming you even need four wheels) is a very small car. Anything else is inefficient, and inefficiency means poverty (and possible punches in the face).

Luckily, in the US and Canada at least, even the smallest cars are large enough to carry a family of five in relative luxury.

But what about those rare times when you need more space than your small car provides? Like a camping or ski trip? Or a trip across the country where you’ll be virtually living out of the car? Should you pre-emptively opt for the Cadillac Escalade or a Chevrolet Tahoe? The Ford Expedition is nice, but even better is the Excursion because it’s even bigger. What about the Ford F-350 longbed king-cab with six wheels? It would look even nicer pulling a 35-foot travel trailer full of king beds and big-screen TVs. No, that’s too small and makeshift – you need a 44-foot Monaco Dynasty* pulling an Excursion as your runabout vehicle when you get to the destination.

Or, if you want to do it Money Mustache Style, all you need is your existing small car, with some handy outboard storage that can be added for roadtrips, but removed for the other 90% of your car use.

As you know, I’ve been running a Scion xA for the last several years. This car is so great, it should come with a giant silver mustache as its front grille. Despite being one of the smallest cars available in the US (at only 7″ longer than a Mini Cooper), it is a full four-door-plus-hatchback design and easily seats five adults and holds their backpacks too, and can get them around the country at well over 40MPG when driven properly.

This car has already done some fairly impressive roadtrips.  Moab, Phoenix, Santa Fe, South Padre Island, the Great Lakes region of Canada and many points in between.

The Scion’s biggest trip so far was about one year ago. The trip was planned well in advance, and designed to be over a month long, spanning the states of Colorado, New Mexico, and the near-tropical Gulf Coast of Texas. Our goal was to include some family beach camping, and some boating with the inflatable Sevylor kayak. And we wanted to carry and cook all of our own food, restocking from grocery stores as necessary. All with a child who was four years old at the time, in one of the smallest cars you can buy.

Sound like fun? It was!

The first adjustment I needed to make was adding cruise control to the car. Inexplicably, the Scion xA did not have that feature in 2005, so I found a nice Rostra kit on Amazon for about $200 and installed it – a useful educational experience in itself.

Next, I needed more space for the camping equipment and the boat. At this point, I noticed that there are three ways to turn a little car into a big one.

1: Put Your Cargo on the Roof:
Even if your car did not come with roof rails or racks, you can get great ones that are easy to install from manufacturers like Yakima and Thule. Once you have a basic rack, you can take the simple route and strap a few waterproof duffel bags to it, or for more frequent long-distance trips you can up the ante with aerodynamic hinged roof boxes.   These work well, and they are often available nearly-new at less than half price from Craigslist.

2: Put your cargo behind the Back Bumper:

Just ignore the fact that this rack is on the back of a big stupid Chevrolet Avalanche  (what use is a pickup if you can’t even fit your full camping kit in the cargo bed?)

A roof box is fine, but from an engineering perspective it is not ideal to add accessories to the top of a vehicle, because this adds to the aerodynamic drag and thus the fuel consumption. It would be much better to add the cargo to the back of the vehicle, so it can ride for free in the slipstream behind the car. If you have a trailer hitch on your car, or are willing to add one, you can then click in many useful accessories to the hitch receiver: bike racks, cargo baskets, and even huge locking boxes that keep your travel gear safe and dry, while keeping your cabin clear for people.

3: Hook up a Trailer:

This is the most powerful option.  Perhaps because of liability or profit concerns, car companies will often try to discourage you from thinking about pulling a trailer with a small car, and as a result, people in the US usually buy trucks when they plan to pull one.

But think about it this way: I have a power output of less than 1/3 of a horsepower, and yet I can easily pull a full-sized refrigerator around on a trailer with one hand. Even my tiny car has a 108 horsepower engine, making it at least 324 times more powerful than me.

Your car can easily pull any reasonably-sized trailer, and you can get a nice low aerodynamic one for road trips, or an open-frame metal one for landscaping and construction materials. You can get a basic 4x8ft trailer for about $320 at Harbor Freight tools and then customize it however you like. Or even a bigger enclosed one that can serve as a rolling workshop or double as a storage unit or shed. Trailers like those are often found on Craigslist, sometimes already stocked with tools from a contractor who is selling his business.

With the advent of trailers, Boom – the entire category of vehicles known as pickup trucks is now obsolete, unless you are a farmer or Bakari Kafele.

I did some shopping around and determined that I could get a new roof rack and roof box for about $300-$500. While that is not chump change, it is still a great savings compared to the cost of buying and operating a larger car, just because you need the cargo space to be larger a few times per year. Roof boxes are truly the easiest way to turn a little car into a big one.

But being Mr. Money Mustache, I decided to take a slightly different approach and invent my own back box for the car, custom-fitted to the curve of the back bumper to maximize space and aerodynamics. Since I have no trailer hitch, I needed to find a way to attach it to the car, but when I looked underneath the back, I found the perfect thing – the tow hooks. I wanted a lower mount point anyway, so I welded up a custom metal support frame which bolts exactly into the holes where the car’s existing rear tow hooks attach. I was able to weld one long piece of 1×2 rectangular tube steel to each tow hook to create a this frame onto which I could build a box:

Here’s where the tow hooks were bolted on

Here’s the tow hook, welded to a piece of 1×2 rectangular steel.

With a late night of cutting and fiddling and painting, I was pleased to end up with an enormous box (80 gallons of internal volume) that is lightweight but strong enough to hold several hundred pounds.

Both hooks bolted back on along with the steel, ready to build box

And here’s the finished box (undergoing a “heavy load” test)

Caution: If you actually build one of these, be sure to route the car’s exhaust  under the box and out the back so you don’t burn a hole in it. Version one of my box died a melting death, taking a nice cordless drill with it. But by screwing a flexible exhaust pipe onto the existing tailpipe, version two has been trouble-free.

This box was the star of the one-month roadtrip to the Gulf of Mexico, holding all of our stuff and even gathering several appreciative comments from fellow Mustachian travelers (usually from Wisconsin) who I caught admiring it in parking lots. And the total cost was about $30 worth of wood, metal, and paint (although I used scraps from my construction business so in reality I paid $0). It took about one full day of very fun work to build it.

This is the inside view, holding a tent to show the size – I had to cut some shallow slices in the wood (similar to guitar construction) to get it to bend to fit the car

Here’s the box in action on a road trip: serving up food for a sand-dune cookout in New Mexico.

So before you go “upgrading” from a sedan to an SUV because you find it inconvenient to fit your stroller in the trunk, try thinking it out logically first:

A “coupe” or “sedan” is a useless design because the trunk is low and awkward. So look for a hatchback or a wagon. These are almost universal in Europe, where the people are smarter than us. They are less common here, but luckily still available.

An SUV is just a wagon with a raised suspension, making it inefficient for on-road use. The fact that they have a wagon design is why everyone thinks they are so practical, not realizing that the high ground clearance and big engine are unnecessary warts in the idea.

A small hatchback will do most of what an SUV or minivan does. Then you just need to decide between the roof box, back box, and trailer for those rare times you need an even bigger car.

Just as we expanded the usefulness of our bike by adding a backpack and/or a bike trailer in an earlier article, you now have a small car that can do more than everyone else’s big cars. See you at the campsite!

* If you’re in time-wasting mode right now, you should also check out the interior of that Dynasty :-)

  • rjack December 8, 2011, 6:45 am

    I really admire your homemade box. I’m pretty good at woodworking, but I’ve never learned to weld. Is it difficult to learn?

    • Mike December 16, 2011, 11:54 am

      MMM – I am currently taking a night course in Basic Welding at a local technical school. I view this as a Mustachian Skill that will last a lifetime and more than pay for the cost of the class over time.

      I was wondering what you’re using to weld (stick, MIG?) and if you had a recommendation for a versitile, all-around welder.

      Thanks in advance and keep up the good work brother!

      • MMM December 16, 2011, 3:01 pm

        My welder is a flux-core wire one, but I also have a kit to upgrade it for MIG use.. which I never use since the projects I usually do, do not require the extra tidiness of MIG welding. Shop around on Harbor Freight for the best deals on various types of welders.

  • Yabusame December 8, 2011, 6:56 am

    Nice article. How did you put the curve in the back box? I see from the photo that there are several slats… is that how you did it?

  • Jason December 8, 2011, 7:38 am

    MMM – Quick question on safety / legality. Does the box hide your running lights, or license plate? Lights would be my primary concern, but I’d hate to get a ticket when traveling cross country. Thanks!

    • Robert December 8, 2011, 8:52 am

      I was about to ask the same thing. From that picture, it looks like the license plate is being blocked by the box and most of the lights too.

      • Mrs. Money Mustache December 8, 2011, 9:23 am

        The lights were not blocked at all, but the license plate was blocked a little by the box. If this is the case, you can put your license plate on the box at the back so that it is visible. Easy.

        Note that we were stopped numerous times by state patrol near the Mexican border and no police officers ever said a word about it. Their only concern is that we might have an illegal immigrant in the box, but they never actually opened it. :) EDIT: I should clarify that we weren’t stopped because of the box. These were routine check-points all over Texas where all cars had to stop.

        We drove for a month without a problem and we didn’t bother moving the license plate, but it could have easily been done.

        The main thing you need to watch out for is the tailpipe. Make sure you redirect it, if needed, so that you don’t burn through your box! We also added a lock so that our items were safe when we were parked and MMM made sure we could still open the hatchback with the box installed.

        Tons of people asked us where they could purchase this thing and how it was made. It was the star of our roadtrip. It was also ultra-convenient when camping since everything was in one place and we could use the top of the box as an extra table.

        • Jason December 8, 2011, 9:54 am

          If you move the license plate you may need to ‘light-it’ as well if traveling at night. Nothing fancy just something to give visibility. I’ve hauled bikes, toys, etc, that have covered my license plate cross country and never had an issue, but could see some hard ass cop taking issue.

          • MMM December 8, 2011, 12:44 pm

            Actually this whole sub-discussion is off base: the box does not block the license plate at all.

            In fact, the plate is mounted on the hatchback door, and I designed the box to be lower than the back of that door, so I could open the hatch without hitting the box.

            Also a note on aerodynamics: I don’t have a wind tunnel, but many of my fuel efficiency records for that car were set with the box ON. This is because lengthening a vehicle with a longer tapered tail usually improves aerodynamics. There are lots of unpredictable factors with airflow, but this time reality followed intuition quite nicely!

            • Greg Harding January 16, 2015, 11:33 am

              The first time I saw that pic of the Scion with your cool attached box, I thought that you had carried that shelter in it – before I noticed the pad under it. Almost through 2011 in my read through all the posts since the beginning of time.

            • Giovanni August 16, 2015, 10:51 pm

              Me too!

            • Giovanni August 16, 2015, 10:55 pm

              Well Skynet can see you license just fine but it’s at least half covered by the box at normal cop car viewing height base on the photo.

  • Chris December 8, 2011, 8:09 am

    Great creativity here! I recently bought a salvaged Prius and am making a hobby out of seeing how much I can fit inside it on trips to Lowes and Costco. I recently easily fit two full cart’s worth of groceries into it with the seats down. I like the idea of adding a small hitch to increase cargo space on long trips. Nice work!

    • RetiredToWin Alex April 6, 2015, 11:41 am

      Although not as small as your Prius, Chris, our 1998 Subaru Forester has really surprised us with its adaptability to cargo hauling.

      Once we fold down the fully reclineable rear seats and open the rear hatch, we end up with a very substantial “volume space box” into which we can load all kinds of stuff. We routinely fill the space with bales of straw and large bags of mulch. We can pack in many 8-foot lengths of lumber into the space by running them all the way to the front windshield. And many is the large potted plant that has made its trip to our home in that back cargo area. I even recall transporting a large and heavy potter’s wheel back there. But that’s not all.

      Our Subaru Forester also sports a car top luggage rack that has served us well to transport a canoe, bicycles and many other things. Including a gigantic disassembled greenhouse. And (of course) we do have a cargo trailer that is easily towed by the Forester and with which we have transported laundry washers and dryers, mowing tractors, and goodness knows what else.

      Pretty good, we think, for an oldie-goldie 17-year-old car that just keeps on trucking. :D

      • Giovanni August 16, 2015, 11:01 pm

        Awesome with the Forester! I had an 89 Civic hatchback that I could fit 8′ 2x4s in and would probably still be driving it if I hadn’t promised to my son when he got old enough to drive. Miss that car a lot even though I was hard on the mufflers driving it up and down so many fishing ‘roads’.

  • Steve D December 8, 2011, 8:14 am

    It genuinely upsets me when people drive around in massive vehicles. alone. It’s incredibly inefficient. I Love the xA. I had a tC myself (slightly sportier cousin) for a very long time.

    Sadly, Toyota replaced the xA (and equally awesome xB) with bigger and fatter versions. Used xBs (and to some extent, xAs) are a bit overpriced in many markets (In SE Michigan, Motor city for sure).

    Unsurpsingly I was able to use my tC for everything!
    -Seating 5 people
    -1000 mile road trips
    -Moving a 7 foot Christmas Tree (inside)
    -Transporting a latter
    -Even Fun (yes I have fun with my car also)

    One thing to note (very minor detail), but automotive aerodynamics are a complicated ordeal. I wouldn’t say for sure that the back box is always better than a roof box aerodynamically. There are a lot of factors in play.

    Either way, it’s vastly more efficient than a massive SUV.

    Great post,

    • Ramses December 8, 2011, 11:28 am

      At some point in life I acquired a Land Cruiser… a very mustachian vehicle.
      This was done for one highly justifiable reason: It’s a big beautiful box, and reminds me of a well made large thick metal boots.

      Feel free to cast your stones of anger my way :-)

      My current car is a tiny japanese sedan with 90+hp and 36 constant mpg.

    • David Galloway December 8, 2011, 11:41 am

      Steve, as the owner of a 2006 Scion xB (the last one before the bigger and fatter edition) I completely agree! With a few bungee cords I’ve transported furniture, appliances, and all kinds of home improvement gear in my toaster!

  • qhartman December 8, 2011, 9:27 am

    I totally agree. Hatchbacks and wagons are pretty much the perfect all-rounder cars.

    I currently own a 2005 Passat diesel wagon, and of all the cars I’ve ever owned it is far and away my favorite. It was a bit big and expensive (even 5-year old used) to be called truly mustacian, but I get 30-40MPG in it, have TONS of cargo room, and 8 months out of the year where I live burn 0 petroleum since I can run 100% biodiesel in it when it is above 40 degrees outside. As an added bonus, the b99 is almost always cheaper than petro-diesel, and often cheaper than gasoline.

    It has a roof rack and a 1.25″ receiver hitch. I use the rack regularly. In fact, I used it just the other night to bring home three perfectly good sheets of .75″ plywood and about 75 linear ft of 2x4s that were going to get pitched from a small remodel project done near my office.

    I don’t have a trailer yet, but have dreams a of a utility trailer for hauling, or maybe even a teardrop camper for the super-deluxe roadtripping some day.

    • Matt December 8, 2011, 4:01 pm

      I’ve got a VW Jetta diesel wagon and love it. My brother in law in Texas puts veggie oil straight into his old diesel truck in the summer and it runs just fine. In a few years we’re going to switch it over to veggie oil. Hopefully I don’t screw it up.

      • qhartman December 8, 2011, 4:35 pm

        Modern WVO conversion kits make the process pretty dang simple. The most important part is (if you live in a climate where it gets below about 45 degrees) is to not cheap out and skip the tank heater. As long as you have that, you should be golden. I’ve talked to several people who have installed them with no problems, and they weren’t mechanical geniuses by any stretch. I wonder though if the cost is worth it? Since I have ready access to B99 where I live, the extra $2k or so to go WVO seems like it would take a LONG time to pay back.

  • Jenny December 8, 2011, 9:35 am

    We loved our Scion too – until it got wrecked. We did replace with another hatchback vehicle (used Prius) that we loved and for nearly the same price. Anyway – I’d love to hear your feedback on the type of vehicle that is right for our family – you know our deal – I know we’re a little different. We have a change to make in the next year or two, and am kind of struggling with it. A roof box is awesome and was going to be our next purchase, but now I think I’ll wait until we figure out what vehicle will work.

  • Kathy P. December 8, 2011, 9:51 am

    I used to have a minivan – I loved it, you could fill it up with tons of stuff including three large dog crates with room left over. But most of the time it was just me, driving to work so I replaced it with a Subaru Forester, a small SUV. Not as small as some of the vehicles you mentioned but a pretty fair downsize from the minivan. I can still fit two dog crates in there (which is all I need now), tons of gardening equipment, big artworks can lie flat, etc. I have a fairly frequent need for cargo capacity of some kind and this was the smallest car I could find that would fit the bill. And I wanted the ground clearance because I do sometimes take it off road in the Adks. For bigger loads, I have a small utility trailer and a trailer hitch. You’re right, this combo is far more efficient but I still miss those sliding side doors on the minivan. Sigh.

  • Shawn December 8, 2011, 9:52 am

    In the summer of 2012, we Griswalds intend to embark on our whole month of July “out west” adventure. This will likely happen in our Nissan Sentra. Ideally, I would love to take four bicycles and other suitable supplies. I have considered racks and tow hitch boxes but worry about total weight. Have you ever considered or needed suspension reinforcement?

    I had never considered a small trailer but with your perspective, I certainly will now!

  • Kevin S December 8, 2011, 9:53 am

    Perhaps your car does need one upgrade:

  • Terry December 8, 2011, 9:55 am

    Any chance you could post some more specifics of how you attached the box to the tow hooks?

  • Tanner December 8, 2011, 10:00 am

    I clicked on the picture with the bike in the garage and it appeared the saddle was tilted way down. Could just be angle of the picture, but for more comfortable riding “say nope to slope, flat is where it’s at”:


    ; )

  • El Beardo Numero Uno December 8, 2011, 10:22 am

    Awesome job MMM! I like the creative use of the plastic tub lid – much easier than making your own.

    With a little more work you’ll almost have an aerocivic! http://www.aerocivic.com/

    I’ve been tempted to build a hatch extension for my old Subaru wagon, but it’s pretty far down the effort / reward curve.

  • Matt December 8, 2011, 10:33 am

    We buy trailer hitches for all our little cars. We take out the ball with a removable hitch so it doesn’t stick out when we’re not hooked up on our trailer. Since we’ve bought a couple, we found a website (http://www.rockauto.com/) that has really low prices and they ship it to us dependably. The website is a little crappy in the design area but the prices can’t be beat.

    My wife had a furniture swap business where she’d get couches on craigslist, and repost them with a little touch up or better images. Before the recession the number of people switching out nearly new couches for other new couches was fairly regular. The little trailer and hitch worked beautifully. We’ve even hauled a four wheeler around on it with no problems.

  • No Name Guy December 8, 2011, 10:40 am

    “A “coupe” or “sedan” is a useless design because the trunk is low and awkward. So look for a hatchback or a wagon. ”

    Pretty strong stuff there MMM. 3 of us with a plush set of camping and climbing gear for a week from Seattle to Joshua Tree fit snugly in my 2 door coupe. With a bit of “tetris” in real life, its amazing how much can be fit in the trunk. When it’s just the 2 of us going to a race (kayak and 2 MTBs on the roof rack) we’ll drop the back seats down and can easily fit the remainder of the gear in the back. That said, I DO like your solution, and yes, a small Subaru would certainly fit more. Very creative.

    For those that don’t weld, I could see getting the brackets fabricated at any local welding shop. Make a mock up out of cardboard and duct tape, then draw it up being sure to include critical dimensions (like the hole spacing and size). Eyeball hitches or similar brackets to get an idea of the thickness of material you should specify. It shouldn’t be that expensive.

    Here’s a vote for the water proof bags MMM mentioned. Met a fellow on said J Tree trip who used a sheet of plywood on the Yakima / Thule cross bars. Held it down with some U Bolts from the hardware store, installed some eye bolts around the perimeter and strapped down multiple water proof bags up there. If the ply is too floppy by itself, a rib of reinforcement is easily added around the perimeter with 2×2 and some screws. Far less expensive than the coffin box.

  • elai December 8, 2011, 10:58 am

    How do you park with a utility trailer like that in parking lots? Or is it pretty much impossible unless you want to stick out or take more than one stall.

    • Debbie M December 9, 2011, 8:49 pm

      His car is way shorter than average usually, so I’m sure it’s no trouble to park.

      • MMM December 10, 2011, 12:17 am

        Yeah, when you’re towing the utility trailer, you are usually visiting a home improvement big-box store or some similar place with parking for large vehicles.

        You’re not going to pull your trailer into a parking garage or to the entertainment district downtown.. which unfortunate large SUV and pickup drivers DO sometimes attempt, with occasional amusing results.

  • Christine Wilson December 8, 2011, 11:21 am

    Haha I love how you delve right into the tactics. Most writers skim over this part. I’ll be looking into this sometime in the future. Your article on house insulation was great… didn’t know everything about insulation and you broke it down so nicely. Thanks!

  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple December 8, 2011, 11:23 am

    Great post! We love our little Toyota Matrix hatchback. We had a brief period of time with 2 sedans, and when the Saturn gave up the ghost, we knew we needed a hatchback. It’s also the car we throw our bikes on.

    On our 1+ week vacation this summer (driving tour of Arizona – Grand Canyon, Page, Phoenix, Tucson), we borrowed a friends “coffin” – a Thule box. He’d just bought it and offered to loan it to anyone. So we bought the rack for our car and put it in its first use. It was a great place to store our camping gear for the trip. Plenty of space for 2 adults and a 5 year old.

    It’s funny that you mention Wisconsin. One of the things that I have been lusting after is a teardrop trailer to tow behind our cars. They aren’t cheap ($6k+), but one would make camping so much easier and more comfortable. Our neighbors have a very anti-Mustachian camping van (prolly $85k), but at least they use it constantly. There’s a local company that makes these trailers that are small enough to tow behind a regular car!

    Here’s an example, but not the local company – their website is down.


    Anyway, we saw one of these on our trip and got to talking to the owners…and they bought their trailer from a company in… Wisconsin!

    Probably will stick to tenting it anyway. I don’t really like to spend money, and my husband isn’t particularly interested…in his old age he’s preferring hotels to camping.

  • J December 8, 2011, 11:37 am

    MMM, you continue to impress and way out-mustache me… And here I was thinking that I was well on my way ;)

    We drive the littler predecessor to the Scion, a 1L Toyota Vitz/Echo. I saw the first one with a towbar last week and am now wondering about it.

    On the other hand, apparently the Peugeot 406 station wagon seats seven and gets 40mpg+ of diesel (cheaper than petrol in my parts). Just need to figure out if they’re cheap enough for parts.

    Thinking about car-swapping is a very easy way to chew up time!

    • Bakari December 10, 2011, 3:51 pm

      One thing about diesels and parts – they need fewer parts! No spark plugs, no coil, no distributor. And the engine is built stronger (to withstand the higher compression ratio) so as a side-effect, less stuff breaks. I’ve never had fewer mechanical problems than with my current 28 year old diesel.

  • Math Teacher December 8, 2011, 11:38 am

    What do you think about electric cars like the Nissan Leaf?

  • Chris December 8, 2011, 11:46 am

    That box is BADASS!!

  • Kellen December 8, 2011, 11:55 am

    I’ve also found that riding in the back seat of an SUV is usually pretty uncomfortable compared to a car or minivan. Since the owner of the car doesn’t usually sit back there, they don’t know the discomfort they’re putting their passengers through on a long road trip.

  • MrCheapskateGotee December 8, 2011, 12:01 pm

    MMM, I plan on doing something very similar to my 2005 Chevy Aveo. With four people in the vehicle for a trip, I can see the frame of the car dip closer to the top of the back tire. How do I figure out the total weight that my vehicle can hold without having to beef up the factory suspension?

    And thank you for another great Mustachian post!

    • Bakari December 10, 2011, 3:47 pm

      It should say on the factory installed plate, usually on the door jam, that tells you the tire pressure you are supposed to run (but use the tire rated max for pressure, the manufacture’s tire pressure is based on ride comfort, not safety or maximum capacity)

      It will tell you the vehicle’s max weight (including cargo), and possibly the max weight per axle. This info should also be in the drivers manual, and of course online.

  • Gypsy Geek December 8, 2011, 1:23 pm

    I feel I have made a very un-mustachian purchase. We just bought a 1997 Ford E350 Diesel van that already has some drawers, couch, and a few other amenities. We couldn’t resist. It was $4000, with “only” 200k miles on it, and a Diesel engine that can last a good 200k more.

    We usually travel with 2 dogs and anywhere from 2-4 bikes (road and MTB bikes, cause we’re endorphins addicts), and I will be adding some custom made furniture with the skills I have been inspired to develop, reading this blog. We make 3-4 long trips (more than a 1500 mile) a year, and expect to make more.

    We only have one car (apart from the huge ass van) with 150k miles on it, and I ride my bike everywhere.

    Please comfort me and tell me my decision wasn’t thhhaaat bad. After all, I’m sure we can sell it at the very least for what we paid for it. We figured, we’ve been so mustachian in everything else, that we could splurge in this one thing…

    I’m feeling really guilty now. I need support :)

    • Bakari December 8, 2011, 4:59 pm

      You could make your purchase super ultra mustachian by selling your house, and moving full-time in your Class B motorhome! All you need to add are a portable toilet, sink and stove.

      My first vehicle purchase (which was also my first home purchase) was intended to be recreational (plus emergency insurance against homelessness) but I discovered I actually enjoyed staying in it, and it ultimately led to me living fulltime in an RV (albeit a bigger one than my first camper van)

      If nothing else, you can recoop some of your purchase price by forgoing the hotel bill at your destination when you vacation. And I find that when you bike everywhere all the time, it can be kind of nice to have your occasional use vehicle be big enough for the really big stuff.

  • Alex December 8, 2011, 2:13 pm

    You should do some sort of directions for making this on ‘Instructables’ or something with more details. This looks like a really useful and fun project, but I personally doubt my own skill at this point in my life to do this without some sort of general directions.

    • Bakari December 8, 2011, 6:40 pm

      I 2nd the instructables idea.

      I can get you a free “pro” membership if you do

  • Bakari December 8, 2011, 4:51 pm

    Monoco Dynasty; psh….
    That thing doesn’t even have a 2nd story. It’s pathetic.
    Anderson Mobile Estates, now that is a vehicle you can be seen being driven around in!
    And you don’t need to pull an SUV behind it, because you can detach the cab and drive that around when you get where you are going


    Thanks for the mention!! Your claim that I am an internet celebrity is sure to become self-fulfilling prophesy now!
    Incidentally, I have a trailer (albeit one which could never be pulled by any size car).
    In addition to its hauling capacity, it further increases its mustahian utility by doubling as my house:


    For your next project, might I suggest redesigning the box with aerodynamics in mind? I notice you mentioned it increased your mileage already as is, but with just minimal sacrifice of space (possibly none, if it extendd out a little more), you could maximize that factor.
    In the ecomodding community they refer to such an extension as a boattail. One guy, who goes by BasJoos on the net, took his Honda Civic up to 90mpg by improving the car’s aero, most notably with a large boattail:


    And lastly, another thing to consider is renting a car. Your space increasing ideas are great, but they won’t take away the excuse of the person who buys an SUV because they go on a ski trip a couple times each winter (despite living snow free the other 359 days a year). They might legitimately be concerned about driving a compact 2 wheel drive car in heavy snow and ice. But the cost savings of owning (say) a 10 year old Honda Civic hatchback to commute in instead of a Honda CRV (~$2000 up front, plus 7cents per mile in fuel) will more than make up for the cost of a rare rental.

  • Valerie December 8, 2011, 6:30 pm

    That is sweet! You are one smart cookie Mr MM!

    I’m enjoying my 2008 Toyota Matrix I bought this summer. Just brought home a 7ft Christmas tree this weekend by leaving the top sticking out the hatch window. (It opens which is handy.) I need to look into the possibility of getting roof racks for it.

    I have to say though that I still get twinges of envy when I see friends purchasing nicer vehicles. (I almost bought a loaded CRV but didn’t because it simply was much bigger than I needed and it seemed wasteful – even before I’d stumbled across your blog!) I’m happy to have this blog to come back to and reassure me that I’ve made the right decision!

  • JackVegas December 8, 2011, 6:41 pm

    You missed a handy option. The roof tent. A tent that is set up on a roof-top platform. Its nice because its out of the way and off the ground.


  • LG December 8, 2011, 8:37 pm

    Mr MM – I have a question that I had hoped you would answer here. I currently enjoy the benefits of not one, but TWO excellent commuter cars. 33 and 45mpg tin cans, effectively.

    But I am really missing having a truck, and now have to really batch my hardware store purchases & rent the Home Depot truck to bring them home.

    Would be very interested in a future MMM post on the balance between “using a truck” and “time to buy a truck”, especially since you (like me) need to haul materials for your reno efforts.

    • MMM December 9, 2011, 7:11 am

      Have you tried a cargo trailer yet, as mentioned in this article? A 4×8 trailer has the same bed size as a pickup truck, yet costs only $300 new!

      But I do also see your tradeoff. I bought an old minivan for my construction business since I do need to use it on average at least once a week and I need waterproof, secure storage for materials and tools.. The key to trucks (at least those under 30MPG) is making sure you don’t need them to function as commuters as well – think of it as a gas-powered wheelbarrow. You wouldn’t drive a wheelbarrow to work, of course. Then you can get a very old, smallish truck for hauling stuff. And if you’re ever done with it, you can sell it back into the market for the same price you bought it.

    • Bakari December 9, 2011, 7:12 am

      Seems like an easy one…

      sell the 33mpg car, use the money from the sale to buy a 33mpg (or better) truck.

      If I can get 30 in my big truck, surely you could find a way to get more than that in a compact or midsize

  • J.D. December 9, 2011, 7:27 am

    Great idea about hooking up a trailer to a small car. I never even thought about that! I have a truck just sitting around that I would love to sell, but told myself I need a truck to haul things. I think I’ll get one of those trailers at harbor freight (if I can’t find a decent one on craigslist), and sell the truck! Love all the detail you put in here, too!

  • MnM December 9, 2011, 10:30 am

    “These are almost universal in Europe, where the people are smarter than us.”

    Oh screw you and your reflexive “Americans are stupid” mentality.

    • MMM December 9, 2011, 11:29 am

      Hmm.. I must be the stupid one here, because I can’t quite see how this angry little comment contributes to our discussion. If you actually don’t like the stuff I’m writing here, there is a much more efficient way to spare yourself from the pain of reading it!

      • Bakari December 9, 2011, 11:35 am

        As Will Rogers once pointed out:

        “A remark generally hurts in proportion to its truth”

        One would expect equal hostility if you pointed out that Americans are fat

        • Posted on December 9, 2011, 2:57 pm

          Driving around Europe, every time I passed a camping trailer being pulled by a vehicle, the vehicle was NOT a truck. It was a sedan. Gasoline (diesel) in Europe is upwards of $8.50 per gallon. I am guessing many Americans would appear smarter if our fuel cost two or three times what it does now. Perhaps a more appropriate statement would be:

          “These are almost universal in Europe, where the fuel is 3x more expensive than than ours.”

          • Mr. Money Mustache July 31, 2017, 5:57 am

            Right, but who chose to set their gas taxes at that level?

            Since we’re talking about democratically -governed countries, it was the people themselves.

            I am suggesting that it takes a more enlightened (aka “smarter”) culture to be willing to subject themselves to somewhat painful taxes in order to reduce behavior which has negative externalities, like burning fossil fuels.

            Looking at their carbon emissions per person:

            and quality of life index statistics:

          • Bob. July 31, 2017, 7:28 am

            A lot of pressure not to raise gasoline taxes comes from people in states where they do a lot of driving long distance, I.e. Fuel as a percentage of income is higher. And farmers who use a lot of fuel.

        • Nick December 9, 2011, 3:15 pm

          I would think only fat people would be offended. In fact, I am a slightly overweight [Husky] American guy, and I am still not offended.

          This is such a great website! I wouldn’t knock it even if I were to be offended.

          Mustaches for life!

    • Dancedancekj December 9, 2011, 5:32 pm

      Americans, in many ways, are very stupid. (As are Europeans, but because I don’t live there, it’s harder for me to pick on them). And in this particular case regarding driving huge cars unnecessarily, it is correct :)

  • Naomi December 9, 2011, 4:00 pm

    I thought that the sand in the sand-dune picture was snow! Very cool.

  • qp December 9, 2011, 5:46 pm

    What is the value of surviving an accident without a major disability?

    • MMM December 9, 2011, 7:50 pm

      Ahh, it sounds like the old “I’m afraid to drive a small car because they are dangerous” argument. I guess I’d answer back with a few questions:

      If avoiding disability is such an important priority that you would be willing to waste thousands of gallons of fuel to do it, did you first take the most advanced driver training that is available (I’m talking about racetracks, drifting, slaloms, and in-class study on accident avoidance)?

      And I assume that you’d select a only large car or SUV that has extremely good accident-avoidance handling, like a BMW as opposed to a crude pickup-truck based design such as the Tahoe?

      Does this also mean you keep your driving to an absolute minimum, never driving to a store, or to work, and of course never putting a child in the car?

      Since maintaining maximum health is many times more effective at preventing premature disability than just driving a bigger car, I assume you’re a crossfit champion or similar level of athlete as well?

      Which is safer: working additional years in a stressful office job to pay for extra cost of driving larger vehicles, or saving that money, gaining financial independence earlier, and being able to live a happier and healthier life earlier (or at least taking the equivalent time off to exercise more)?

      And since trucks and large SUVs are more likely to cause serious injuries in the counterparty to an accident, would you say these truck drivers would prefer to cause serious injuries to other families rather than enduring their own?

      Assuming a person has a FULL understanding of all the statistics of all the various risks in driving and other lifestyle choices, and I do mean you have to actually create a spreadsheet to make an informed decision on this, here is the best document I currently know of to assess the risk factors of any given vehicle. Note that even this is not fully representative, because there is self-selection bias in the types of people who buy various types of cars:


      The Honda Accord and CR-V are probably the safest semi-frugal vehicles available, according to that table.

      • qp December 16, 2011, 6:41 pm

        You make some very good points to the argument you assumed I was making. I believe that most humans suck at calculating risk and responding appropriately. Where risk of life and limb are concerned, car accidents are a pretty big risk factor and I think making a decision regarding frugality without considering the long-term costs of a disabling accident is a bit short-sighted (and admittedly beyond the scope of the article you wrote).

        Your list of arguments seem to point to an all or nothing approach to managing these risks though. If you aren’t going to max out, why attempt to mitigate risk at all? C’mon…all of us make decisions (knowingly and unknowingly) to place ourselves somewhere on the spectrum between ridiculously reckless and mind-numbingly cautious. I was only bringing up one area of consideration.

        I appreciate you including the link to the IIHS list and mentioning driving school though. Both are things that people should consider. Driving a car is easily the most dangerous thing most of us do on a regular basis and I feel that people should be reminded occasionally of that when they are making these decisions.

        • Dragline January 8, 2015, 1:49 pm

          “I believe that most humans suck at calculating risk and responding appropriately. Where risk of life and limb are concerned, car accidents are a pretty big risk factor . . .”

          Congratulations, you are quite human. “In 2011, the passenger death rate in light duty vehicles was 0.48 per 100 million passenger-miles.” http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/injury-facts-traffic-injury-faqs.aspx

          So let’s suppose you drove/rode in a car for 100,000 miles last year. Your chance of dying was 0.00048. While large compared to say, getting struck by lightning or succumbing to a bee sting, its just not very large. Take away accidents involving intoxicants and/or people falling asleep or texting or other easily avoidable stupidity and its probably less than half that.

          Of course, you can always mess with stats like a bad (typical) journalist and write headlines like “Cars are dangerous! You have a 1600% greater chance of dying in a car than in a train! Easy to get there when all the numbers are tiny to start.

  • Debbie M December 9, 2011, 9:09 pm

    Love the discussion on extra storage.

    Disagree about the hatchbacks. My first three cars were hatchbacks or wagons, but I basically never used them. And they never had covers, so you could always see into them, so I tried to at least put my jumper cables, etc., into a box but the extreme heat we have here dissolves the glue on cardboard boxes and cracks plastic boxes into mosaic pieces. I finally went for styrofoam, but in the wrong position, it gets squeaky.

    So the mustachian car for me is:
    1) extremely durable
    2) low-polluting (correlated with gas mileage and ease of parking, which are also handy)
    3) easy/cheap to repair (affordable parts, common car that lots of people know how to work on, etc.)
    4) cloth seats (not plastic/vinyl like in the olden days)
    5) And some nice extras are that it’s a sedan, it has four doors, it’s got a standard transmission, and I can reach all the way across the windshield from one side with the squeegee.

    So my fourth car is a Toyota Corolla from before their gas mileage plummeted in 2009. I looked at smaller cars, but they either had pollution/gas mileage that was just as bad and were more cramped inside or they were much less reliable. I wish there were one-person cars where you could ride inside in an air conditioned environment.

    My favorite car is still my second one (Nissan Sentra wagon), but Nissans aren’t reliable anymore. So I’m giving up design features I liked such as having the gas tank on the passenger side, a pretty “ding-dong” warning buzzer, cool “secret” compartments in the back, rear windshield wipers and defroster, and being able to open the passenger back vent window from the driver’s seat. I’m also stuck with these giant new-fangled expensive battery-operated keys. On the other hand, I do like having the stuff in my trunk out of sight and I do like having anti-lock brakes and multiple airbags.

  • firefighterjeff December 9, 2011, 9:21 pm

    I think qp raises a fair question. Having worked hundreds of car accidents so far in my career with quite a few requiring extrication, I can assure you that the larger vehicle with more mass will always win the fight against a smaller vehicle. Substiture the collision with a heavier car with a tree, concrete barrier, or any other immovable object and the results are about the same with the lightweight cars. And God forbid you should suffer a side impact; there is almost no protection in that case.

    I’m not disagreeing with your counter-arguments as size of the vehicle is only one factor to consider. I wouldn’t dismiss it however.

    • Bakari December 10, 2011, 3:16 pm

      What is the value in avoiding an accident all together?

      You have to realize that as a first responder, you only see the accidents that happened, not the near misses.
      That’s the problem of focusing on crash test ratings.

      At least as important are:
      -braking ability
      -maneuverability/emergency handling
      -driver visibility

      In each of those ways, a small or mid-size car has a huge advantage over a big truck or SUV.

      And this isn’t just theory: the accident per mile statistics show that large trucks and SUVs actually do have more accidents per mile on average than mid-size cars do. Its unfortunate that so few people are aware of this because it 100% undermines the idea that mass=safety.

      Yet more to consider is that a big car beats a small car only in head-on collisions. In rear and side impacts mass has little if any affect on outcome (for example, most drivers rear-ended by semi-trucks live, where as if a large vehicle rear-ends the semi, its just like a solid object).
      And in urban areas (where the majority of people live) most impacts tend to be rear or side.

  • Mike Greczyn December 9, 2011, 11:54 pm

    Thanks for everything you do, firefighterjeff. I hope you’re around if I ever need to be extracted from the smoking remains of my vehicle. How do the number of accidents requiring extractions compare with the number of rollover accidents involving high-profile vehicles? Which type of accident is more likely to be fatal or result in a serious injury?

  • Mike Greczyn December 9, 2011, 11:58 pm

    I am, right now, experiencing vacation envy.

  • Kathy P. December 10, 2011, 6:55 am

    What amazes me is how many pickup trucks are of the short-bed variety – the kind with a “back seat” in the cab so the whole fam-damly can ride in the thing. Every time I go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, I see dozens of these in the parking lot, their owners trying to figure out how to fit 8′ lumber or shower stalls or doors in the shrimpy sawed-off cargo area without so much overhang that the item is in danger of falling out. These are huge, gas guzzling trucks with far less cargo capacity than my little Subie + 4 x 8′ utility trailer combination. I realize the big, honking truck is more “manly” but boy is it impractical.

  • Dark Sector December 10, 2011, 9:56 am

    I don’t like the Scion (or it’s whole class) because it puts the rear passengers in the crunch zone.

    Also, your idea of a trailing box is great except that you have to be careful not to put anything too heavy in there or it will lever down on the (substantially weak) rear struts and wear them out.

  • firefighterjeff December 10, 2011, 1:01 pm

    @ Mike

    I can only go with my personal observations as the amount of variables involving a crash can be overwhelming. The safest course of action as MMM has pointed out is to not drive at all, however one has to deal with reality. Even if you choose to ride a bike you still have to deal with others driving and the hazards of potentially being hit with a 3,000 lb vehicle. Walking gets my vote for safety, plus it’s good for you.

    The side impact produces the most amount of casualties in my opinion with ejections being a close second. The side of the car provides the least amount of protection as there is the least amount of material (mass) between you and the object that is hitting you. The higher end vehicles try to alleviate this with side airbags and boron tubes but I would still always be careful with your left-hand turns. An ejection is when occupants are thrown out of the vehicle during a crash, such as a rollover. A lot of times the car actually crushes the person before coming to a rest. Properly installed car seats and seat belts go a long way to fix this problem.

    Whatever you decide to drive is a trade-off between economy and safety. Your little Kia might kick ass at the gas pumps until you meet the drunk guy on the highway driving the F-150. It’s all about hedging your bets.

    • Bakari December 10, 2011, 3:27 pm

      Statistics say that the single biggest variable in driving risk is speeding.

      Speeding (over the limit or too fast for conditions) is at fault in more fatalities than teenage drivers, elder drivers, drinking, cellphones, or texting.

      And its not just because everyone does it – its simple physics.

      There is an exponential relationship between speed and momentum.
      This means that twice the speed equals four times the braking distance, and four times the impact force should an accident occur.
      No safety feature can possibly overcome the laws of physics.

      Studies have found that for every 1% increase is speed above 45mph, you increase your risk of fatality by 4%.
      That is independent of road conditions or what speed the rest of traffic is going.
      Fortunately driving 55mph only costs 10 seconds per mile compared to driving 65, and it is legal on every US highway to go that speed.

      If your goal is to maximize safety when driving, pretend it is 1975, and never drive faster than 55mph.

      • Dark Sector December 12, 2011, 2:24 pm

        No. Momentum, or “quantity of motion” is one of the most fundamental definitions in mechanics. Its relationship with speed is linear, not exponential: p = mv.

        • Bakari December 12, 2011, 2:48 pm

          Irrelevant technicality.

          “Momentum” was the wrong word for me to use.
          What matters is impact force.

          Kinetic Energy = 1/2 Mass x (Velocity squared)

          Bottom line is that twice the speed means 4 times the braking distance (more likely to get into an accident) and 4 times the impact force (more likely to die if an accident occurs).

          Incidentally, increasing mass will also increase braking distance, which means you may be more likely to survive a crash in a big car, but you are more likely to avoid it in a small one.

  • Firefighterjeff December 14, 2011, 5:53 pm


    Sorry I hadn’t seen this response earlier; I’m still getting used to this format.

    Your argument sounds like the one gun enthusiasts use for second amendment rights. How many crimes weren’t committed because the potential victim had a gun? Not trying to stir shit up, just reminded me of the similarities.

    I agree with most of your points except for the side impact issue. Size does matter, and a heavier vehicle is going to inflict more damage. My only point in this whole discussion is that if one chooses to drive a small and inexpensive car that has consequences if you are ever unfortunate enough to crash or be crashed into. I only brought this up because I thought MMM was dismissing this particular point when it is indeed relevant. I drive a Hyundai and am under no illusions that this car will protect me in a crash as well as a Hummer. My best option as you have indicated is crash avoidance but as a first responder I also am very aware that many people don’t have a choice when they are involved in an accident. Some idiot makes that choice for them.

    • MMM December 14, 2011, 7:51 pm

      Thanks for the perspective, Jeff. I didn’t meant to imply that vehicle design factors aren’t very important in crash survival. (Including car size and weight, but not limited to those, judging by the crash statistics I linked to). They are definitely important, but I was trying to make the point that there are other things that have an much bigger effect on your life expectancy and quality of life than car choice. So when people discount the idea of a owning a small car because of fear of death or injury, I try to get them to think of the bigger picture.

    • Bakari December 14, 2011, 8:23 pm

      I totally grant that “near miss” isn’t a valid statistical argument (like the magic rock that keeps tigers away, which must work, since there are no tigers around here), but… if you look at fatalities per mile for different vehicle types, large sedan is safer than medium SUV, even though it weighs about 1000 lbs less. I posted the study that I found in a different MMM post (the one about small cars)

      “Size does matter [in side impacts], and a heavier vehicle is going to inflict more damage. ”
      Well yeah, totally, but most people don’t specifically want to kill people in car accidents! The issue isn’t who inflicts more damage, but how much force can be absorbed. Its kind of like facing someone with a .38 when you have a .45 – yes, you can inflict more damage, but you are just as vulnerable. If you get hit on the drivers side by a given vehicle, it makes very little difference what you are (unless you have side impact bars and air bags) because the door is thin no matter how massive the engine and frame are.

      Certainly there are some circumstances where mass contributes meaningfully to safety – I take the time to point out the limitations of that view of vehicle safety because it is the ONLY one that most people consider, and they use it as an excuse to buy the biggest SUV they can – which in turn leads to more vehicles which – as you say – inflict more damage. That is one thing they indisputably do!

  • Firefighterjeff December 14, 2011, 5:57 pm

    Dammit, the comment above was supposed to under your near misses entry.

  • Ryan December 15, 2011, 11:56 am

    I have a 16 foot/1500 lb sailboat. It costs about $100/month to berth the boat if you can find a safe place for it and it deteriorates like crazy out in the weather. Trailer sailing is great fun, but I haven’t found the perfect vehicle for towing yet. My Hyundai will barely pull itself up the super steep ramps we have here and my previous car’s (Nissan Versa) transmission wasn’t up to the task long term. More importantly, hauling a load isn’t usually an issue, it is stopping it–newer compact cars aren’t always up to the task and hauling beyond manufacturer recommendations can void warranties/insurance, etc.

    Should I abandon the sailing hobby as “non-mustachian” or just figure out a way to get 40 mpg from and seat four people in my 1949 Mercury pickup?



    • Bakari December 16, 2011, 9:29 am

      This is probably unrealistic for you, but I know several people who live full-time on their sailboats. You can’t beat $100 a month rent! That’s even cheaper than owning a fully paid for house (when you consider taxes and insurance).

      Otherwise, what about a trailer with brakes? There are electric brakes and surge brakes, either of which would allow the trailer to stop itself, so the tow vehicle doesn’t have to.

      • Ryan December 16, 2011, 10:07 am

        Thanks for the reply! I have visited your website and am really impressed with what you did with that truck. Mine has a 105 hp flathead 8 in it which gets about 15 mpg on a good day. It has no accessories at all except a generator and a cooling fan and the aerodynamics of the truck are hopeless…in short 20 mpg is probably a pipe dream. On the other hand, it is quite collectable and worth a lot intrinsically so I’m not complaining.

        Trailer brakes help, but the manufacturers will not warranty the car, nor will the insurance pay claims unless the car is specifically rated to tow the load. None of the compacts I’ve had are rated to tow at all. The other issue is the dead load up steep ramps.

        In truth, the best solution I’ve ever seen is to get a truck like yours and do what you did. It would probably pull my (paid for!) house off it’s foundation at 30 mpg!

        Living on a 16 ft boat with 2 kids is not an option, but I’ve definitely considered the liveaboard concept. Currently, my taxes and insurance are still competitive with that (subject to change of course).

      • Mike April 24, 2015, 1:23 pm

        I realize I am replying years later, but a Subaru Outback 2.5 4 cylinder has a tow capacity of 2,700 lbs. I get around 34 mpg highway (not towing anything). Incidentally, that sounds like a boat with a lot of ballast! I am building a 17’4″ sailboat that should come in under 500 lbs, including motor, spars, basic gear, etc.

  • stepthrough December 16, 2011, 11:24 am

    This kind of brings up a really frustrating issue – the absolute lack of fuel efficient hatchbacks or wagons that are more than a year or two old. It’s as though from about 1998 – 2008, automobile manufacturers collectively forgot to ship their hatchbacks to the US (because they were making some really sweet ones for Europe and Asia). So if you are looking for an old-but-not-too-old car along those lines, there’s almost nothing.

    And forget about fuel economy. What happened!!? If you go on the fueleconomy.gov website and compare MPG across the past couple of decades, something seems terribly wrong. Across the same make and model, 1985 fuel consumption will typically be better than 1995, which will be much better than 2011. I guess the popularity of all those hybrids improved their fleet efficiency so much that they could start using new technology to offer extra heated cupholders instead of better gas mileage in their other models, right? I mean, surely in the past two decades we have developed better fuel conservation technology, right?

    It’s really aggravating, because my old manual 95 Nissan Sentra sedan got high 30s mileage around town and well over 40 MPG on the highway. And I could carry a ton of stuff in it, because there was this big cutout between the trunk and the backseat – you just folded the seats down and could move furniture, construction materials…it was an impressive list of stuff that I moved in that car. But eventually it needed more in repairs than I could justify, so I started looking at the used car sales and learned how bad things had gotten…

    • MMM December 16, 2011, 3:11 pm

      It’s not as bad as it seems!

      First of all, there has been a hatchback revolution since about 2003: Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, Subaru Impreza/Legacy, Mazda Protege5/Mazda3/Mazda6, the usual Audis, BMWs, Volkswagens, Honda Civic Si, Honda Fit, Scion Xa/Xb/Xd, Toyota Yaris, Toyota Prius, Kia Soul, Hyundai Elantra Touring, Ford Focus, Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Versa.. and that’s just off the top of my head. As I often point out on this blog, my Scion is almost always above 40MPG even in mixed city/country driving.

      Secondly, the EPA has revised its rating method around 1999 and again in 2008 to state lower numbers, but really the cars are just as efficient as before. The only difference is that in 1998, a good driver would barely beat the EPA numbers, and since 2008, you’ll find you beat them by over 20% (sometimes 50%+ in competitive hypermiling situations).

      There are of course even more silly cars here in the US (sedans with automatic transmission and huge v6 engines, and trucks).. but the choices for Mustachian Travel have never been better in my lifetime!

  • JaneMD February 8, 2012, 2:09 pm

    I posted this before, but anyone want to suggest a good family sized manual car for us? We’ll have a rear facing 12 month old and infant in our Kia Forte soon. The convertable toddler seat forces the front passenger seat into a VERY uncomfortable position and we are looking at buying a used minivan.

    However, there is no such thing as a manual transmission minivan and until we reach a third child, I would prefer a more fuel efficient family car. Suggestions would be very welcome. Thanks!

    • Bakari February 8, 2012, 2:38 pm

      there is one manual minivan – the VW microbus.
      It supposedly gets 25mpg (to regular drivers).
      As an added bonus, it would be much safer than the average car/van, because there is no possibility you will be tempted to speed (and speed is the single largest variable in risk of accident and accident severity) – because it is simply incapable of it!

    • qhartman February 8, 2012, 4:05 pm

      I’d look at the VW wagons. We have a 2005 Passat and the rear-facing seat doesn’t impinge on the passenger’s space much. It would behind the driver’s seat, but only when I’m driving. I’m quite tall though, so I have the seat back further than most people would.

      The Jetta wagons from this era have similar passenger room. Most of the difference in size is found in the cargo area. I know the Jetta is available in a stick, not sure about the Passat.

      Keep in mind that VWs are generally more expensive to maintain than the Korean or Japanese brands, so if you’re looking for a stick to reduce cost of ownership in the long term, it might end up being a wash (or even a net negative) when comparing the stick VW to the automatic KIA/Toyota/Honda/whatever . That said, they are sooooo much more comfortable to drive, that you might decide it’s worth the extra cost (I did).

  • J February 10, 2012, 2:35 am

    We have a 2003 Peugeot 406 diesel station wagon, seats seven (two seats are rear-facing in the trunk, never used them but nice to know they’re there) and does 52mpg on the highway and not much worse around the city. Unbelievably cheap and comfortable driving…

  • SheaZ February 18, 2012, 12:58 pm

    MMM- we have the same vehicle. This makes me feel extra-Mustachian. But I think your evaluation of the interior is a little off-base. Yes, it fits 5 adults, but I’m not so sure that “comfortably” is an adverb I’d apply to the activity. With me driving, my wife in the passenger seat, and our son’s carseat in the rear, additional passengers tend to find difficulty getting enough legroom/elbow space (headroom is excellent) to avoid cramping on longer trips. Usually, by the time I’ve pulled my seat forward enough to give them a comfortable amount of legroom, my knees are hitting the dashboard… It’s a great car, and I have no intention of ditching it for something with more room*, since it’s a rare day that I need to put anyone other than my family in it for our weekly church/shopping excursion, I just thought I’d offer an alternative perspective on how many adults it “comfortably” fits :).

    *I am NOT going back to the stupidest of all vehicles, our former Jeep Liberty- all the room of a mid-size sedan with almost the gas mileage of a pickup!

  • Gordo December 12, 2012, 10:01 pm

    I made a video for youtube showing my toyota echo hauling firewood and going off road just to demonstrate to others that you don’t need an expensive pickup truck or SUV. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXRMtTYzAMw

  • CB February 27, 2013, 9:03 pm

    I realize this is an old post but I just wanted to point out the importance of doing due diligence when it comes to trailer safety. This is important to me because my husband’s sister was killed by a runaway trailer.

    Here’s an article on the subject:

    • Lennier November 21, 2015, 3:36 pm

      I have mild OCD, so making sure my FILs trailer is properly hooked up is a bit of a no-brainer for me. However, the old 50mm ball is the weak point, so I’m looking to upgrage to a McHitch (http://www.mchitch.com.au/). He’s resisting, because that’d mean swapping out the towball on four cars an F150, as well as the hitches on the car trailer, utility trailer, and work trailer. Pointing out that on two of the cars, the ball is replaced by simply unscrewing it, and on the other two to simply remove the tongue and swap in anew one (so you can always keep the ball-and-tongue as a spare) doesn’t sway him unfortunately.

  • MJ November 17, 2013, 8:49 pm

    Hi MMM! My husband and I and our three children are driving from Utah to Kansas in December, and I have been pondering how to get our 2003 Mazda Protege to hold the stuff we need for five people for two weeks. I did not read anyone mentioning in the comments about the roof bags from roofbag.com. These are waterproof, soft shelled car top carriers that can attach to ANY car, whether you have a roof rack or not. This was important to me because we don’t have a rack and I don’t want to buy one for a car that we will be getting rid of within the next two years, since we will most likely be having one more child and will need to buy a bigger vehicle anyway.These bags are also pretty inexpensive, and when they are not in use can be folded down to store in a small space. Seems like a great option to me! Just an FYI in case anyone else needs a similar option:)


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