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.


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).


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:

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”).


  • James March 19, 2012, 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, 6:53 am

      Hey James….

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

    • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 7:38 am

      Once you own a vehicle (payments are done if financed) I don’t see any reason to get rid of any vehicle even if a person isn’t driving it much. If it is parked and out of the weather, take the insurance off. Ought to only carry liability anyhow on an older vehicle. If necessary let the tags expire. Then if you see the family vacation coming up or a big project on the horizon and need the hauling capability – roll it outside, wash it, and get it legal again. And MPG doesn’t always justify a vehicle swap. Have listened to folks I know justify a new car purchase over a 6 mpg improvement in fuel economy. Just drive less on the weekends… Or eat out less. ;)

      James – I’m not directing this at you. Just heard someone recently talking about a vehicle upgrade b/c of fuel economy.

  • jlcollinsnh March 19, 2012, 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:

    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…..

    • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 7:42 am

      We’ve done the one car lifestyle for years but I have agreed to buy a used car from a friend this weekend to use as a second car. Its a $1800 Chevy Malibu. Why? We’ve managed to work out our work schedules and the school run with one car but occasionally one of us need to be on kiddo taxi duty and the other spouse needs to attend something at work or answer a call of “help” from extended family 100 miles away at the same time. Our parents aren’t getting any younger.

      I still recommend the single car lifestyle to a point. We drive a very well worn (and reliable) CR-V nearing 285K miles and its nice to have a second car in case the CR-V ever breaks – which it hasn’t in all this time since new. We’ll also have a teenage driver in a few years and it’ll be nice not to be stranded at home if our teen is out on a date – and something comes up.

      Ultimately we might sell the ‘Bu once I have one of our two antique aircooled VWs restored. Our our teen can have it. I can use them for “emergency” transport. Good thing the big one is a VW Transporter… ;) (Yeah, terrible joke.)

  • Jen March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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!

        • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 8:29 am

          Don’t see the point to 0-60 in sub-10s except in a sports car. My 1-2-3 shift in my grocery getter is a little slow b/c it is geared low. From time to time I have people all over my back bumper b/c they expect me to floor it from stoplight to stoplight. What’s the point when the next light is changing to red?

      • Jen March 20, 2012, 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).

  • Chris March 19, 2012, 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.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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.

        • Bella March 19, 2012, 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, 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.

            • Emmers March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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. :-)

            • DEC February 1, 2016, 9:49 am

              Diesels are popular here in Europe as the cost of diesel is 10% less than gasoline, higher mpg, and less service cost as mechanically simpler.
              However the initial car prices are higher, say 5 – 7%. So when you actually do the maths, you have to be driving about 10, 000 miles per year to just break even.
              In other words they are probably more popular here in Europe than they should be.

        • turboseize March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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.

        • Trifele October 2, 2014, 4:02 am

          Chris — can you direct me to any German-language blogs or websites you know of on Mustachian topics? Sorry for the off-topic reply and thanks.

        • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 8:34 am

          Labor to replace airbags ought to be VERY minimal. I have had the airbags out of my VW Cabrio Mk III and it amounted to two allen head bolts and one wire.

          I don’t worry about the big trucks. Anything smaller than a Ford F-350 is going to fare very badly in a wreck with a big truck. Saw a Dodge 2500 four door on the weather channel recently that was rearended by a big truck. Bent in the middle so that the truck was almost half the original length.

          Your best bet is to stay away from the big trucks. An airbag won’t safe you in that crash.

          Funny how we have safety laws that are comprehensive in the USA in some ways but totally do not address large truck safety. In Europe big trucks have low bumpers and bumpers under the trailer as well to prevent small cars from being run over.

    • Jason June 27, 2017, 8:10 am

      Hello Chris… just had to chime in on your comment about mvc’s in the US vs Europe. I’m also with fire-rescue here in Florida, and I have to say you are absolutely correct regarding accidents involving lifted pickup trucks. Even a relatively newer vehicle that’s well engineered to absorb large amounts of deceleration energy though, doesn’t stand much of a chance when the impact is delivered by a lifted truck, to an area of the vehicle that wasn’t really designed for a particular hit. An example which absolutely blew my mind was a typical rear-end accident at a stoplight that involved a relatively high safety-rated sedan being impacted from behind by a typical lifted suspension half-ton pickup believed to only be traveling approximately 15-20 mph. However, because of the trucks high frame and bumper height, it passed well over the sedan’s rear frame and literally peeled the car apart. In fact, I thought the car was a two-door coupe for probably the first 10 minutes, lol. It wasn’t until after the driver was assessed and determined to be stable that I even noticed that it was actually a four-door sedan. But literally, the rear license plate was pushed against the driver’s seat, with both rear seats and doors basically hiding within the damage. Of course the truck only had minor damage and the driver without injury. But that happened to be the same exact car that my wife drove with our small children every day. Rear occupants in this case would have likely been deceased on arrival, or quickly becoming that way. I traded her car in as soon as I was off-duty, haha.

  • Steve March 19, 2012, 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.

  • turboseize March 19, 2012, 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…

    • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 10:58 am


      I say that because I get very good service out of my vehicles. Some of my family and peers try to emulate that and buy the same make and/or model. At some point when they (a few of them) have problems they get really confused. Why do I have such good LUCK with these cars? Its not luck though. Its about treating the car well, using quality replacement parts and fluids, and not letting problems go for so long that they start to contribute to other problems.

      An example would be letting bad shocks go for so long that the suspension bushings are prematurely worn out or shock tower cracks begin. I bought that car when I was young. When I started to put struts on it my mechanic friend (who was teaching me something every time I hung out with him) told me not to bother. With cracks that serious and the car’s value being so low and so many other problems, it was better to cut my losses and start over with something else. That car had around 100K very hard, very neglected miles on the odometer. Compare that to my other cars which have lasted 300K miles more or less and have never had any problems like those b/c they were not driven HARD and not neglected. Note fast and hard are different things. Hard means keep it out of the potholes. That means slow down for speed bumps. That means accelerate gently and then brake gently. Save that wear for the rare occasion that you NEED to drive it hard to be safe and avoid an accident.

      Back to my peers – they are almost universally “door slammers”. These are people who just ignore the vehicle and just get in, slam the door, twist the key and stomp the “GO” pedal. They might drive it until it drops ignoring those funny hammering noises coming from the engine or the fact that the transmission won’t shift 3rd to 4th occasionally until they rev it to death. That rusty spot? No big deal. Until a chunk of the body or chassis falls out. Had they addressed it when it was a rusty chip in the paint, it could have been repaired for 59 cents. Its expensive to be a door slammer frequently paying for expensive repairs and “trading up” when they give their old car to the dealer on trade b/c they won’t do a private sale.

      And almost universally they don’t want to learn anything about their car until it is costing them more than they can afford to pay this month. They either pony up the cash, walk or go get a car loan. Most opt for the latter option. I was amazed at how much information was available on the internet even in the early days and spent many an evening reading the forums rather than watching TV. That info is still out there and it’s multiplied a thousand fold. Easy picture by picture procedures that beat anything that the repair manuals ever offered. Buy a quality tool or two when your car needs a repair. In time you’ll have everything you need to do a repair for “free” with only your time invested. It took a long time but since I like to work on cars (love working on machines) I have a garage shop and restore antique cars. I can do it all now and my investment in tools was less than a used car. When I wear out a cheap tool b/c I used it so much, I generally replace it with a quality tool. Think Craftsman. Good enough for a home garage and frequent use. Yeah there is Snap-On tools but I don’t use my tools all day every day.

      Also – it’s a good fallback plan should I ever find myself unemployed or underemployed. Buy, fix, and flip used cars. Or antique cars. When I was a 20-something single guy – this kept me out of trouble and helped me drive for free. Buy something that needed TLC, fix it up, drive it for six months, sell it after buying something else. I was buying cars for nothing that needed a major cleaning and $15 worth of repairs occasionally. The last time I did that I got an S-10 pickup for free going to the junkyard because the mechanic told the fellow that the engine was ruined. He is/was a door slammer and never, ever changed the oil apparently. I pulled the seat out, pulled a whole trash can worth of food wrappers out of it (yuck!) and literally hosed the interior out. Scrubbed the seat. Looked great. That ruined engine? It had low oil pressure b/c it was so gummed up. I changed the oil twice in 4 days and drove it a couple of hundred miles. Sold it to my buddy within that first week and he kept changing the oil and putting decent oil filters on it. About four years later he is still driving it without a trouble and the truck looks good outside and great inside. Even has cold a/c. That oil pressure problem went away as the engine flushed itself out little by little each oil change. (Avoid engine flush solvent IMHO). He’s happy and I was happy. Happily spent the money on my family’s needs (unexpected bill).

      Another good example is my daily driver. The power mirror and door locks have failed in the driver’s door. A fellow has detailed out with pictures and parts numbers how to repair the wiring that runs through the door jamb for about $10. Seems the manufacturer didn’t quite get the design right and the wires break right at the nylon terminal block. This fellow has found the correct parts from Digikey or Newark Electronics to repair it for very cheap. Take it all apart, snip the wires a fraction of an inch shorter, put new terminals on the ends, and slip them back into the nylon block. good for another ~175,000 miles. I think highly of my old CR-V but I doubt it’ll still be rolling around with 450,000 miles on it so the door jambs wires should be good “forever”.

  • Wes March 19, 2012, 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.


    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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.

    • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 10:59 am

      Look at European car seats. They have smaller car, babies and need car seats.

  • Chris March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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.

      • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 11:02 am

        As soon as baby #2 came along we started hearing family asking if we were buying a larger vehicle. Now the oldest will get to learn to drive that same vehicle that brought him home from the hospital. Its still our daily driver.

      • GarThor April 20, 2015, 9:09 pm

        I have a ’10 Mazda 3.5 (Its the 3 with the hatchback, so I like to call it three and a half… =p ).

        2.5L i4 gives it more than enough power to get up to speed on the freeway, and I’m continuously amazed at how much space it has. I have two small children that fit in the back no problem. Its a little squished if you try to add another adult back there, but entirely doable. I’ve taken it on long road trips, and it fits basically everything our small family needs. If I do need the extra cargo room, the seats do fold down flat (70/30 split; something that you won’t get with some modern hybrids). I do an average of 24.5 MPG city/hwy (says the readout on my dash)… I could probably do a little better if I wasn’t such a lead foot though… =p

        Its sporty and fun, as well as incredibly practical, and comfortable.

        I used to have a ’95 Jetta (so similar to a Golf that they had the same owners repair manual), and I have the same opinion of them. Wonderfully comfortable, sporty, and practical.

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

      good luck buddy!

  • Tomas March 19, 2012, 7:56 am

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

    • Dara March 19, 2012, 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, 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!

        • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 11:03 am

          That’s our next newish vehicle. Thanks for the encouragement. We still like what we see there.

    • scone March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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.

          • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 11:18 am

            Don’t know what the VW dealer gets for the repair but the Honda dealer here priced me a timing belt replacement for ~$375 and that is every 80K miles. 80K / 12K per year = almost once every 7 years. No big deal. An independent mechanic might charge less.

            I have done timing belts on my Hondas and my VWs and the belt is about $50 and the job is a lousy one to do but I get it done in a few hours in the driveway. Replace a few things around the timing belt every two times. On the Honda that is the water pump and the V-belts. Maybe the idler. That didn’t get noisy until 160K miles.

            The online Honda dealers priced the water pump at about $65 for my Honda. It lasted 215K the first time. Can’t remember if on my MKIII VW whether the timing belt had to come off to replace the water pump.

            Figure out where the good online dealers are on the web. You can buy OEM dealer parts for nearly the same price as aftermarket discount auto parts if you are lucky and a careful looker. And VW parts are cheap in other countries. The brand can be an expensive one here but parts from South America or Europe can be very inexpensive. You have to know what you are looking for (compare part numbers) b/c a USA Passat is not necessarily the same Passat that the rest of the world drives. The VWs sold elsewhere are generally nicer and sportier than we get here IMHO.

            My MKIII was supposedly one of the worst VW offenders and it did have alot of failures but none were expensive and none left me on the side of the road. An ignition switch was $12 from NAPA. I have replaced it several times. A weak point b/c they run too many AMPs through a little plastic switch that gets hot, soft and deforms over time. The thermostat housing was made out of plastic rather than aluminum. Less than $20. Replaced gaskets. No big deal. Clutch cable. Shifter bushings. Oxygen sensors. Etc.

        • scone March 19, 2012, 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:


          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, 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.

          • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 11:28 am

            There is a switch under the passenger seat that detects whether someone is sitting there and whether to deploy that airbag. If a child is sitting there I don’t think it is supposed to deploy. Your laptop is bouncing on the seat and confusing the computer which the computer interprets as a fault. So put your laptop in the floor or back seat. The floor would be better anyhow since a person could grab your computer at a stop light. Smash and grab.

            The oil can be ordered from most auto parts stores. Look for a NAPA. Also look at GermanAutoParts or BusDepot (see Google). VW Vortex is a forum where you can find people to coach you about your not so unusual VW. Your dealer will make choices that makes them the most profit.

            Buy the oil and a good Wix filter and learn to do it yourself for a fraction of $100. I think – check me on this – that Rotella oil is compatible with your engine. I see that ALL the time at all the auto parts stores and KMart. I don’t shop at WalMart and we don’t have a Target.

        • Kat September 14, 2012, 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, 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, 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

          • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 11:33 am

            Did you buy that muffler at the dealer. I replaced my VW exhaust with parts from NAPA. MUCH cheaper than dealer prices.

    • Andrew Mullen May 17, 2017, 8:54 pm

      The data shows that they are not reliable.

  • kyle March 19, 2012, 8:03 am

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

  • Adrienne March 19, 2012, 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, 9:28 am

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

  • Stavros March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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.

          • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 11:44 am

            I service my cars on the serve schedule in the owner’s manual. That means a timing belt at 60K instead of 80K. That means my oil changes happen at 5K vs 7500 miles. I use a Wix filter which is the same as a NAPA Gold here (lower cost) and the same as a Honda OEM filter last I checked.

            If the oil gets black prematurely I change it. Almost never happens but that S-10 truck I bought was so gummed up that the oil changes were flushing out the engine. In time the lifters stopped tapping at idle and the oil pressure gauge was not flirting with zero.

            Buy a quality oil and stick with one brand. I use Mobil 1 synthetic and previously Havoline mineral oils.

      • Chris March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 1:43 pm

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

        • IAmNotABartender February 26, 2015, 2:55 pm

          I do the same thing. I figure, if someone wants to steal it, I have insurance, and it’s not worth a life to protect a car.

  • madge March 19, 2012, 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, 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.

    • Andrew Mullen May 17, 2017, 8:57 pm

      The SOHC engine in the Focus is bad news, but the DOHC Zetec is a pretty solid engine.

      • College Student November 5, 2017, 7:13 pm


        I have an ’02 Ford Focus with that engine at 136k miles. I am about to get the timing belt and transmission done but the amount is $500, half the value of the car. I am thinking of driving it into the ground and getting a better car. Should I get one of the Ford Focuses like MMM suggested?


  • BDub March 19, 2012, 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…

  • et March 19, 2012, 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”
    “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, 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.

      • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 11:50 am

        Pay attention to the interior noise level. That is the most tiring aspect of our daily driver. Quiet enough around town but gets noisy at 70+ mph b/c it is geared low. Noisier over time b/c the suspension bushings and driveline mounts are 16+ years old. The weatherstripping is also getting old and letting in wind noise.

        Smartphones have apps avail that measure noise.

    • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 11:54 am

      That data from thousands of people includes data from door slammers that know nothing about their cars nor how to take care of them themselves.

      Look for surveys about which cars were the most reliable after ten years. JD Powers had one that I saw that bragged about the Buick Century 3.1L V-6 a few years ago. I’m not a big fan of JD Powers b/c I worry they are more of a advertising mechanism than anything else.

  • JP March 19, 2012, 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.

  • The Dude March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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.

  • Alice March 19, 2012, 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, 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/

  • Angela March 19, 2012, 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.

  • No Name Guy March 19, 2012, 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, 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.

  • kiwano March 19, 2012, 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.)

  • Bella March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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.

  • The Masked Investor March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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.

  • Mr. Dahlin March 19, 2012, 11:06 am


    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, 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.

  • Amanda March 19, 2012, 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.

  • David Galloway March 19, 2012, 11:22 am

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

  • Erik Y March 19, 2012, 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.

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

      How’s this for a Scooter post – written by a valued MMM reader who is a a university professor: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/08/19/guest-posting-get-rich-with-scooters/

    • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 12:34 pm

      I rode year ’round in all weather for a couple of years. I gave up motorcycles when we started having kids b/c of the risk.

      Note in years of riding I never wrecked a streetbike & never got a ticket. I am very capable on a motorcycle in all weather and have had one up to 140 MPH.

      That said I had two occasions when people just didn’t see me in normal 45 mph traffic. In neither situation was I in any danger b/c I simply slowed down and changed lanes. I saw that they did not see me with plenty of time to react.

      I did witness a motorcycle wreck in the Smokey Mtns on a big ride with my father. We were both on our motorcycles at the time. I was following a car that was struck head on by a motorcycle that failed to negotiate a curve. Rider panicked and quit turning b/c sand on the road made him think his bike would slide/fall. Not enough time to recover due to the speed they were travelling which might have been 25-30 mph on a hard turn. Bike was a sport bike and probably capable of making the turn with the right rider despite the little sand on the road. This was the rider’s first big out of town ride. He only had his license about two or three days his buddy told me.

      Rider nailed the car, shortened the bike frame by 2″-3″, flew over the handlebars and bounced off of the car’s hood and then onto the ground. He was white as a ghost and in shock. This was back when only a few people had cellphones. My wife and I shared one and I barely got a signal there in the mtns. One of those situations where you hold the phone up and shout at it b/c laying it against your ear would end the signal. Ambulance took 45 minutes to get there from Maryville, TN.

      The folks who owned the car allowed him to lay in the back seat of the car. He was unaware of of anything the entire time. He was awake but never recovered his pallor nor was he able to communicate. I have no idea what happened to him once the ambulance took him.

      I highly recommend a rider’s safety course and making the effort to learn to handle your machine at it’s limits on an empty road. What does it feel like to stop HARD? What does it feel like to turn HARD? What does it feel like to take off HARD? Wear a good helmet too. Flip flops, shorts and a helmet from a garage sale won’t cut it.

  • Rita March 19, 2012, 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, 9:05 pm

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

      • Emmers March 20, 2012, 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.

  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy SImple March 19, 2012, 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!”.

  • Shanna March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 3:37 pm

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

        • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 12:42 pm

          Its worth living with what you have. Went through the same thing plus luggage and family dog. We were cramped but as the kids outgrew all the supplemental safety gear – the CR-V seemed to grow and grow extra space.

  • da55id March 19, 2012, 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.

  • Lucas Smith March 19, 2012, 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 :-)

    • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 12:44 pm

      Put a roofrack on the motorcycle. Had one of those too. Fun. In Europe they have scooters with a rounded roof so folks can ride in the rain and stay mostly dry. You could do the homebuilt equivalent. ;)

  • TT March 19, 2012, 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, 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) :-)

  • Matt March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 8:41 am

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

    • Bella March 20, 2012, 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.

      • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 12:50 pm

        You just want that feeling of independence owning your own vehicle leads to. I get that. I own four cars right now (two antiques). Not a bad thing to have a “play vehicle” for road-trips if that makes you happy. Might have a cost associated with it but it might be cheaper than counselling.

        Sounds like a vehicle purchase would fall under “want” rather than “need”. As long as you are honest with yourself about that, do what feels right.

        Ultimately we’ll have something nice for trips to grandma’s house that gets driven little per year b/c that makes us happy and we’ll keep the well aged daily driver for wear and tear. The other two will be for weekend tinkering and weekend trips. Might not be the absolutely most frugal choice but we’re frugal about other things too. Only reading library books, only chopping wood with an axe, using home made candles, and walking everywhere is absolutely the most frugal decision – but we’re not quite that motivated. ;)

    • mjb September 25, 2015, 1:25 pm

      We just visited RNMP and the front range, renting a 2011 Toyota Yaris. I was really impressed how well it got up those hills, even taking the Trail Ridge Road deep in RNMP, at 12K feet! The real fun was coasting/downshifting downhill, and mocking the pick-up drivers frying their brakes in front of us. After a weeklong romp from Denver to Longmont, to Estes, FoCo, and Boulder, we paid $20 total in gas. I figured it was due to less air resistance at altitude, but regardless, I had to laugh at the rental company’s suggestion to upgrade to a sedan, to handle the CO mountains. Scammers!

  • Ryan March 19, 2012, 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, 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…

    • Torque March 10, 2016, 7:04 am

      Not sure if you’re serious (but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt). In fact this guy (link below) did just that, he daily drove a Ford Model A for 1 year (hence the name of his website).

      Now granted he did it as a personal challenge/experiment & he lives in a remote area of northern Michigan & he happens to work for a major antique car insurance company, but still he did (mostly*) successfully drive a Model A for a full year (yes including through a Michigan winter).

      If you like antique / brass era cars, you just might find yourself reading every “daily entry” like I did :)

      *”mostly” b/c not surprisingly even though he started with a pretty nice Model A, of course (prior to the start of his experiment) it hadn’t been been daily driven in probably over 70 years, so he did have a few extended periods of time where the A was being worked on/repaired.


  • Joe @ Retire By 40 March 19, 2012, 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.

  • bogart March 19, 2012, 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.

  • PNW March 19, 2012, 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, 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, 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).

        • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 12:57 pm

          So just drive slower with AWD and snow tires. If I lived up north I’d have both. As it is I can’t justify snow tires for 1-2 snows a year that last 3 days at most.

          AWD is good in snow and mud and climbing steep a certain steep gravel driveway I know well. Tried it in the same vehicle with the AWD disabled (driveshaft out) and pulling my little Brenderup 1205S utility trailer I almost did not get up the hill. Steep hills, heavy trunk cargo and trailers unload the front wheels somewhat.

          Besides with AWD representing a 1 mpg penalty on my vehicle, why not have it?

          If we are going to haggle over 1 mpg then everyone ought to forgo the automatic transmission and air conditioning to recapture that other 1-2 mpg. ;)

  • Jill March 19, 2012, 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, 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.

      • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 1:01 pm

        Once or twice per year when we need to haul the four of us plus a few more kids we take both of our cars. A friend suggested we needed a minivan but what is the point for occasional use. Even driving two four cylinder cars at the same time (100% more fuel for that trip) we are still saving money over driving a van all the time.

  • Eliot March 19, 2012, 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.

  • Co March 19, 2012, 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.

  • Dragan March 19, 2012, 8:44 pm

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

  • dot_com_vet March 19, 2012, 9:33 pm

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

  • Fritzescu March 20, 2012, 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.

    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.

  • $lowmotion March 20, 2012, 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.

  • Debbie M March 21, 2012, 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, 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, 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.

  • saoili March 26, 2012, 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?

  • Julia K. March 30, 2012, 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.

  • Stephen April 9, 2012, 3:02 pm

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

  • Alberto April 26, 2012, 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).


    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.


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