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”).


  • andrew April 30, 2012, 1:05 am

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

    • jlcollinsnh April 30, 2012, 5:19 pm

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

      How many miles is “high milage?”

      How many miles do you add in your 6 years?

      anything special to consider in doing this?



      • andrew April 30, 2012, 11:55 pm

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

        • andrew May 1, 2012, 12:01 am

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

  • JK May 3, 2012, 12:49 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • andrew May 5, 2012, 3:32 pm

      I had a hunt around the bay area Craigslist. Found this Acura 2008 fully loaded, its 16k but I would offer him 14k and tell him if it doesn’t sell ring me back.

      a nice Camry
      a Hyundai

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

  • JK May 6, 2012, 4:42 am

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

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

  • Hibryd May 6, 2012, 3:09 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • JK May 7, 2012, 1:01 am

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

  • Mike Long July 10, 2012, 12:30 pm

    I find myself in an interesting conundrum…

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 1:12 pm

      A little late to be useful but I’d suggest you keep both for now and sell the car later if that is an option. What will it cost you to hang on to the one you think you want to sell later? Depreciation wouldn’t be that much.

      That way you have a commuter car that is safer and more comfortable and still the truck for when you retire.

      Still, drive the truck occasionally to get more familiar with it and to keep the battery up.

  • Sarah August 17, 2012, 1:33 pm


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

    I’ve been searching craigslist for a car that is

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

    Anyone have any suggestions?

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

  • Annie G September 5, 2012, 9:50 pm

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

  • Dwight Gingrich September 7, 2012, 12:38 pm

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

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

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

    * I plan to pay the total up front.

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

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

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

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

    Thanks in advance for any advice!

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

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

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

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

  • Ashley September 9, 2012, 11:45 am

    Love my Vibe!

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

  • Billy September 14, 2012, 9:24 pm

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

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

  • Diedra B September 20, 2012, 2:52 pm

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

  • sherri October 12, 2012, 3:14 pm

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

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

      Hi Sherri,

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

      • sherri October 12, 2012, 7:48 pm

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

        • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 1:17 pm

          Pay it off and commit to keeping it forever. Treat it like it is a Rolls-Royce. Polish, keep the carpets clean, keep the service up. The payment sucks but you’ve eaten the depreciation at this point. The only way to get ahead is to drive it 250K miles.

          I’m looking at this very long term. In the short term it would reduce your monthly expenses to buy a $6000 wonder car.

          This would not be putting that $875 per month to very good use in investments.

          If you don’t keep vehicles very long then sell it b/c you’ll never keep it long enough to make it worthwhile. If you want to keep it, you can recover the cost elsewhere like cable TV and expensive cellphones. Turn them off instead. Go cheap. Tracphone and Roku and antenna. Or Virgin no contract cell service using your existing phone and keep it forever.

          This will likely get someone’s hackles up b/c it is not very Moustashian.

  • JohnNTx November 3, 2012, 10:52 am

    • JohnNTx February 10, 2013, 12:32 pm

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

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

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

        • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 1:23 pm

          Some folks would benefit from learning to drive their nimble vehicle at it’s limits though. Alot of folks just slam on the brakes and close their eyes when the going gets rough. They forget to swerve or do any sort of fancy driving.

  • Kenoryn November 15, 2012, 9:26 pm

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

  • Esteban December 8, 2012, 7:27 pm

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

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

  • amber January 1, 2013, 1:54 pm

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

    • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 1:30 pm


      Many of those oils can be purchased at your local friend auto parts store. I’ve purchased Rotella oil at KMart. Look online at one of the VW enthusiast suppliers like GermanAutoParts or BusDepot – or Google for one of the many online VW dealers that sell parts online.

      If you go in and rely on a particular auto parts store’s employees’ expertise in choosing oils you may or may not get the right oil. When I sold auto parts for a franchise brand we received ZERO training on anything except how to restock the shelves and how to polish the floor.

  • J.D. January 9, 2013, 12:56 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

        • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 1:34 pm


          That’s how I get my chores done. Also how I haul our camping gear for weekends in the mtns.

          Don’t need much of a truck 99.9% of the time. I have a buddy that spends $$$ to drive an F-250 4WD 25 miles each way b/c it’s “cool”.

          • Joe Average March 6, 2015, 2:33 pm

            My biggest challenge years ago was finding some sort of trailer that best matched my needs. Didn’t want a big car and a big trailer. I wanted a “luggage trailer” as we called them that I saw everywhere when I lived in Italy.

            In the USA all I could find was Brenderup (Thule). Bought one, loved it, still love it and would buy again. Just looked and suddenly there are ALOT of options in the USA now.

            Spacetrailer, Pul-Mor trailer, Lets Go Aero, Brenderup, SylvanSportGo, , etc.

            All little trailers that work well with four cylinder cars.

            I consider a trailer to be a tool and a one time cost that prevents me from “needing” a larger vehicle like a pickup truck. Seems rich on the front end (mine was $1100) but that’s a year or two of gas mpg penalty with a larger vehicle. My suggestion: keep it out of the weather and it’ll last forever.

  • Joe February 22, 2013, 4:31 pm

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

  • Lindsey May 6, 2013, 9:56 pm

    Hey MMM!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 1:41 pm

        Don’t know about any of the newer versions but the 1st Gen CR-V did that too. We’ve napped that way in National Parks. Have also used the included picnic table under the back carpet as a serving table a few times at parties. Its short but stout.

  • Laura May 9, 2013, 9:47 am

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

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

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

  • Mary M. July 9, 2013, 8:48 am

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

    • frank July 24, 2013, 1:43 pm

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

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

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

  • Chris August 2, 2013, 6:09 am

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

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

    Are Mercs notorious for more complex mechanic work?

    Thanks, I appreciate all your advice.

    • Chris September 26, 2014, 1:59 pm

      I bought a 1981 Mercedes 240D last winter. Only a year into ownership. I have the advantage of a diesel car that can be converted to run on veggie oil.

      I got the car to pay for itself by spending a couple evenings a week delivering pizzas (I actually have fun doing it). Despite the car being a sedan, it has rain gutters which allow me to put on heavy duty roof racks so I was able to bring home 12ft 4 X 4’s from Lowes when I built a fence last summer. We also own a small trailer, but I haven’t put a hitch on the Mercedes – with only 68HP, I’m not sure the car would pull it anyways.

      The car has been very solid mechanically, but being in the salt-belt, body rust is an issue, and we have ongoing body repairs. What has had to be fixed in the car’s mechanics has been dead simple due to the design of the car. As a shade-tree mechanic, I haven’t had to take the car to a mechanic yet. This particular model was built as a 3rd world taxi with dead simple electrical and vacuums running 90% of the options.

      I would not buy a modern Mercedes. But an antique, especially one with a good supply of used parts, and a rock solid reputation, why not?

      • Joe Average March 4, 2015, 1:45 pm

        It would tow a trailer. I have a 67HP 1978 VW Westfalia that I’ve towed whole vehicles behind (2500 lbs). Its just slow on the hills and take offs. Note that the van itself is about 3500-4000 lbs so that would be potentially 6500 lbs with 67 horsepower.

  • Karl August 16, 2013, 2:03 am

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

  • TheGoyWonder August 23, 2013, 8:39 am

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

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

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

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

  • Greg September 1, 2013, 8:44 pm

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

    • Jim August 19, 2014, 7:51 pm

      HHR! That’s been my find.

      My current rig is a 94 F-150. Bought it new. However, I’d like something that makes good mileage and provides a level place to sleep. British Columbia road trips! Keep the Ford for hauling firewood and Lowes trips.

      So maybe an HHR as a second vehicle.

      • Jedichikin February 16, 2015, 6:44 pm

        Would love to see an update to this article.

  • Sara Davis October 19, 2013, 2:21 pm

    Curious as to what you would recommend for a family of 6. Usually we are only a family of 4, but in the summers my husbands kids from a former marriage stay with us..

    I was thinking like a ford hybrid escape or something, but maybe you have a better idea?

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 19, 2013, 6:20 pm

      The Mazda 5, as mentioned in this post, is a pretty great 6-passenger vehicle. I’ve driven one, and at 6 feet I can easily fit in any of the 6 seats. But it is sized and handles like a good car instead of a van.

  • BD November 4, 2013, 8:51 am

    As a german, I am still baffled, that you consider 35 MPG “good”. My 22 year old Mercedes 190 E uses that much, when I am driving normally and it is an old car, big and somewhat clunky (but I love it!). Obviously gas in the US is still very cheap.

    Modern cars over here should be able to get close to 50 MPG and the extreme ones can under best circumstances go to **78 MPG** – VW Polo Blue Motion says it cracks the 3 litres / 100km, though I think that’s not a number you can get on real roads.

    So, if you preach less driving, also preach less fuel consumption when driving, saves you even more ;) If the demand for fuel efficient cars goes up, producers will follow with supply!

  • Debra January 12, 2014, 8:37 pm

    We have a 2006 Mazda 5 and love it! We need to get a bigger vehicle soon. Any idea how to find the ‘smart’ car for those who need 8 seats?

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 12, 2014, 8:59 pm

      Hmm, that is a tricky one. Maybe a pair of 2005 Priuses? They get 50MPG each, so when driving both simultaneously, you’d still get around 25, which is probably much better than most 8-passenger vehicles, and you can carry 10 people!

      After all, probably only a small fraction of the driving involves all 8 people simultaneously, so it makes sense to divide the capacity in half. You wouldn’t want to be stuck driving a school bus for that majority of times just to carry a few people.

      • Debra January 12, 2014, 9:49 pm

        That would be great but as mom I carry all the kids at once in my van (Mazda 5) everyday. All my kids are still in car seats so no one can be in the front seat ie..need a bigger car. From my research I have found that a hybrid (which is the most fuel efficient in this car class) is expensive and doesn’t seem to off set the cost of the vehicle, Whereas an older car that seats 8 is cheap but a gas guzzler. Not sure which poison to pick…

  • RazzStache January 29, 2014, 11:34 pm

    I found you through your WSJ article and am appreciating the insight I’m gaining here.

    I’m also glad to see the Echo here–I bought it as my first car in 2000 after talking the dealer well under invoice, so while it cost $10K new, I thought it was a decent compromise–I’d intended to buy a used car but got scared off at the thought of ending up with a lemon because I knew (and still know) nothing about cars. Plus, from what I’ve read, it had the best mileage of all gas-only cars released that year. Now, I’m keeping my eye on used cars for when my Echo finally bites the dust. it has almost 111,000 miles on it, and my mechanic said it’s still looking really good except for a lot of wear on the struts. I wasn’t sure if I should replace the struts or just get another vehicle when they gave it, but it sounds like replacing them is the way to go–I just have to figure out how I can do that at the best price (I’d appreciate any tips for the clueless like me).

    I just paid off the last of my debt last week, am almost 12 years vested into my employer’s mandatory pension plan, and have almost $20K saved up in a high-yield savings account (only a measly 1%, but I’m still learning) that I’d intended to use to buy a new, modest, efficient car. After some thinking and reading some info here, though, I’m going to buy a good used car and roll some of that into a traditional Roth and index funds (looking at you, VTSMX) so it’s there when I need it.

  • Jim Grey January 30, 2014, 6:31 am

    I see that I’m quite late to this party and so it’s unclear whether this comment will get many eyeballs, but I have owned two cars on the Above Average list and would like to offer perspectives on them.

    My 2003 base Toyota Matrix was a wonderful car right up until the day its 5-speed transmission failed. If you find an 03/04 Matrix with the 5-speed, pass on buying the car unless you are certain the transmission has already been replaced. The Matrix forums are full of stories of failed five speed transmissions in the 03s and 04s. Mine cost upwards of $3k to repair. Also know that this car is underpowered on steep hills and when passing, even with the 5-speed.

    My Matrix was totaled in an accident so I spent the insurance check replacing it with another 03 Matrix, the top-line XRS. If I had it to do over, I would have chosen differently, because it takes premium gas and tops out at 26 mpg. It has a lot more power than lesser Matrixes, though. Mine has developed a very slow oil leak, a drip or two a day, that would cost more to repair than the car is worth. It’s at 155k miles now, though, and has otherwise required only routine maintenance and replacement of items that naturally wear.

    BTW, the Matrix is cavernous inside and swallows a truly astonishing amount of stuff. I moved a dining room table and six chairs in mine. Three child seats fit across the back seat.

    When my dad bought a new car in late 2012 I bought his old one, an ’06 Focus five-door hatch with 80,000 miles. It is a wonderful car, though not quite as roomy as the Matrix. Much more fun to drive than either of my Matrixes. It also get surprisingly poor mileage, 26 city and 28 highway, and it’s in good tune.

    I still have the Matrix XRS despite the insurance, registration, and maintenance costs.

  • Greg February 18, 2014, 6:54 am

    What about smart (TM) cars? Small, no more space than necessary, and I see some deals on CL. Are there drawbacks I should know about?

  • murillo April 10, 2014, 6:20 am

    Thanks for the informative post. Does anyone know what name the Scion is marketed under in Europe? Can’t find it on France websites. Thanks.

  • Dylan Smith July 17, 2014, 3:53 am

    Coming late into this blog posting… but in Europe the Honda Civic is a MUCH better car than the Civic they sell in North America. The Euro model is a hatchback and incredibly space efficient and very well thought out (and the fuel economy averager showed 51MPG when I got home yesterday – that’s Imperial MPG, so converting to the US gallon, that would be 41US MPG on a commuting journey). Although it’s a small car and has the same footprint as the NA model, it feels more like a larger midsize car inside, and things like the seat fold down are done thoughtfully – the back seats fold in a single movement, not the usual struggling to lift the base then fit the backs down like many hatchbacks. I play in a band and in my Civic I can fit a full 88 key digital piano, a synthesiser, two tier keyboard stand, a PA with two very large speakers, two guitars, a banjo ukulele plus the guy who owns the guitars. It’s an awesome car.

  • MoneyConscious August 18, 2014, 7:53 pm

    My car is fairly un-Mustachian… a Mercedes SLK 230… however, it has served me well over the last 8 years.

    1 – I bought it used, at wholesale cost, which is still lower than what they sell for now with my current mileage, so if I needed to sell it, I could without losing much money
    2 – I don’t drive much, but when I do, I get 32 mpg even in traffic, and up to about 35-36 at highway speeds with no A/C running
    3 – I paid cash for it and live in a state with no car tax so it doesn’t cost me much on an annual basis
    4 – It handles exceptionally well and fits great in tiny parking spaces
    5 – I still get enjoyment from the car — it’s a convertible and feels pretty luxurious to me. Even if it did cost less than a Corolla :)

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 19, 2014, 9:28 am

      That’s a good point – Mercedes and BMWs depreciate very rapidly, so you can soemtimes get a used one at a bargain. And your 230 (2.3L engine) is pretty efficient.

      The only hitch is that you’ll need to either do your own service or have an honest non-dealer mechanic. Otherwise you end up with $100 oil changes and $300 “checkup” services which explode the cost of car ownership far beyond that of a non-German car.

      • MoneyConscious August 20, 2014, 10:58 am

        MMM — absolutely true and yes, I do all the work on it myself… brakes, oil changes, etc…. just because it has a German logo doesn’t make the mechanics of it much different and it’s a great skill to have.

  • Chris September 4, 2014, 9:41 am

    I am new to your site, but learned this lesson myself, the hard way. Car 1 was a Volvo C70 – which was super cool, but broke down every second Tuesday. As soon as a wrench twister sees Volvo on the grille, work rate goes up through the roof. So I dumped it and bought an ancient but reliable Suburban. In 2 years it never broke down, and it could do everything – but it drank fuel. Who cares says I, I’m only 6 km from work, I can afford it.

    I couldn’t afford it.

    Now I am driving a 1981 Mercedes 240D – Diesel. They were built as 3rd world taxis and survive about everything. Diesel costs a fraction of gas. I can power this thing with french fry oil if I want. Rust is an issue, and I may put a few thousand into the frame for safety, but that still cheaper than what either of the two previous cars cost. Mechanicals on the car are dead simple, and notoriety of driving it is awesome. downside – 68 HP engine and 1970’s vacuum technology to run everything.

    On a final note, for folks who think minivans/trucks/SUV’s are needed for cargo capacity, you can buy a 4X6 trailer at Lowes for $350.00. Trailer hitches are another $150 installed. Save your fuel and just pull the trailer when you have an extra load!

    • Doug September 30, 2014, 2:04 pm

      I live in Ontario, where roads are also salted and rust is a problem. One option you have is to take your car to a rustproofing service like Krown or Rust Check. It costs about $110, but is well worth it. It’s normally adequate to give it this treatment every second year.
      You’re also quite right about trailers, they are a more economical way of hauling stuff around than buying a bigger truck or SUV. I’m overcome by deja vu here, as I posted a comment about the virtues of trailers on Feb. 22, 2013 here in this topic.

      • Chris September 30, 2014, 3:24 pm

        Hi Doug – we may be neighbours – I live in the GTA. I agree that rust-proofing is a good plan on a long-term car, but this old girl already has rotted out floors etc. and I just patched her together with pop-rivets and tar to pass safety. Unfortunately Mercedes rubberized the bottom of their cars which had the effect of trapping all moisture into the floor pans. The mechanicals on the car are fantastic, the body shell… not so much!

        I’d love to see a follow up to this article on best $hit boxes under $3,000. If you don’t think that an old beater can get you there, consider the Mongolian Rally and its entry limitations – and those guys are crossing half a continent without roads! My current strategy is that I never buy a car over $1,000, and replace it once repairs outprice replacement cost. I do force my cars to last 2 years. Why buy new tires when you can get a whole new car?

        • Doug October 5, 2014, 4:20 pm

          We’re not quite neighbours (I live in London, ON), but we definitely face the same challenges dealing with rust. Most of my previous cars were junked because they rusted out (one was wrecked in an accident), but mechanically they were still in working order even if worse for wear.

  • Logan September 21, 2014, 11:59 pm

    I bought my ’96 Honda Civic in 2007 for about $5K.

    It was recently stolen, but retrieved, and insurance decided it was fixable. They fixed the steering column and replace the catalytic converter that was removed.

    The car has over 233K miles on it and gets about 25 MPG. I drive it maybe 50 miles a week tops. I’m wondering if it’s wise considering a new used car that gets better mileage and not on the top ten most stolen cars list?

  • Edward September 24, 2014, 8:41 am

    The Matrix is a great car, swiss army knife of cars. With a tow hitch (1500 lbs rated towing ability for my 2008) and a Harbor Freight 4×8 trailer only once in a blue moon is a truck needed. Also with just a little careful driving my has a life time , 135000 miles so far, of slightly better then 37mpg! That includes hauling small boats, bikes on the roof, 1000lbs of concrete backer board on the trailer etc, etc….
    But I’m in line to get a three wheel Elio next year, rated at 84mpg then the Matrix may have to go to a new home:)

  • Jeremy E. September 30, 2014, 1:27 pm

    Ha, the 2007-2009 Nissan Versa is not only above average, but it is also average

  • Mari November 5, 2014, 10:37 am

    Hey Mr. MMM,

    I wonder if you can give me some suggestions in order for me to get out of a sticky financial situation I got myself in last December.

    I bought a new 2013 honda accord ex back in December of 2013 for approx $32k. After 6 hours of being at the dealership trying to get the “best” deal I was so exhausted, I finally caved in and signed the contract. Trust me, I’m not proud of my decision and I still get angry over it. I had a 2006 hyundai sonata v6 and was spending close to $400 amonth in gas alone to commute back and forth from work, the great thing is that I did not have a car payment. Now, I have this new vehicle and feel stuck with a car I don’t really love only because it is a necessity to have a vehicle in order to commute to work and it gets me where I need to be. I don’t live close to my job and can’t conveniently go to places without a vehicle since a lot of places I go to are a good distance away from where I live. My boyfriend and I have purchased a new home and the commute to work will be a little closer, 44 miles opposed to 50. At this point, I’m highly considering trading my vehicle for something that is more comfortable in payments. Currently, I’m paying $445 dollars a month for this vehicle with $0 down and fixed rate of 1.9%. Essentially, what I need is a durable, safe and reliable vehicle for my long commute, with good MPG. I don’t need the added luxuries and a big vehicle since it’s just my BF and I and our dog. What is your recommendation?? I would love to receive some of your advice. Thank you.

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 5, 2014, 12:54 pm

      Mari, this article was written for people just like YOU!

      What you need is a car OLDER than 2006, with a 4-cylinder engine, the best fuel efficiency you can get, and most importantly ONE THAT YOU CAN GET WITHOUT BORROWING MONEY FOR IT!!!

      The idea of a car “payment” should be considered the most ridiculous term in the English language. If you can’t afford a car with a few months of savings, you cannot afford that car.

      A $32,000 car like your own would be an amazingly expensive choice even for a millionaire. But in your case, it is financial suicide.

  • Rollie November 10, 2014, 1:02 pm

    Hmm. I started at the beginning and at some point it seems to have gone from “don’t buy stuff” to “here’s which stuff to go ahead and buy anyway.” Which cars to not bike in, which credit cards to incur debts on, which bulbs to waste electricity with, which wine to 100%-optionally kill brain cells with. The message is getting diluted, back here in 2012, and I suppose I have all the “new readers” to thank. Fine, but I don’t need another consumer guide, no matter how Mustachian(tm) the perspective. (And if “Mustachian Consumer Guide” isn’t a huge oxymoron then clearly I had my head up my butt all through high school English.)

    Did this turn into a shark-jump and become permanent? Did it recover? Maybe I’ll keep going & find out, but it’s looking like probably not. Not because I “can’t handle maximum Mustache” but because I’m starting to suspect I’m more hardcore than you are. Oh well anyway, thanks for everything so far. There were definitely some good inspirations in there.

    • LoneStarStateWorkerBee November 10, 2014, 2:38 pm

      So, the day I decide that I want to bike the 370 miles I travel round trip to visit my parents, never drink alcohol again, never use a credit card again, and never turn on a lightbulb again, I agree this blog may become useless. Until that glorious day arrives, I think it’s quite good.

  • Philo Beddoe November 16, 2014, 4:26 pm

    Dear MMM,

    I just re-read this blog post…it’s been at least a year since the first time.

    I’m still driving my 2005 Tacoma Double Cab 4WD….If I baby the gas (and I do) I can still only get 20mpg on average. Right smack dab in the middle of your “hair is on fire” category. I have put 97,000 miles on it since December of 2008. I love the thing, but I know it is costing me big time to own it.

    I justify keeping it with thoughts like: “But I like to camp,” or “I need to carry large items sometimes,” or “It’s great in the snow.” But I only camp a few times per year and all of it weenie camping in paved areas. I really don’t carry large items more than once or twice a year. And I hate the snow….I don’t even ski anymore.

    I know I should buy a Prius, but damn they’re ugly. And being single still, I might remain single forever if I had one. My stash at this point is really just stubble….all due to my past choices.


    Philo “I Need a Kick in the Ass” Beddoe

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 16, 2014, 7:11 pm

      A pickup truck isn’t exactly a chick magnet either. And a Prius might actually attract exactly the type of woman you SHOULD be looking for! Besides, you’ll always have your bike either way.

      • Doug November 18, 2014, 10:12 am

        My thoughts exactly! If you have a Prius, or any other econo car, the woman you want is the one who likes that kind of car. That suggests you have similar values and will have a better relationship. If she doesn’t approve of such a car, she’s best avoided. Such a simple selection process. By the way, why is staying single a problem? I would rather stay single, as I am now, then be in a bad relationship.

        Last but not least, look at the economics of a Prius before buying one. If you do a lot of stop and go city driving the extra cost might pay off, but not if you do mostly highway driving.

        • Philo November 19, 2014, 5:33 pm

          Even if you lived on the highway it’s hard to beat a Prius. I’ve read they do 45mpg or so on the highway. Do you know something the rest of us don’t? I am referring to a used (2004 or newer) model. Take a peek at Fuelly.com to see what actual owners of these cars are reporting.

          With regard to being single, nothing is wrong with it if that’s what you want.

    • Jen January 14, 2015, 11:13 am

      Hey Philo – as a female, I can tell you that when I see a guy with a huge pickup – my general impression is that this is a guy who thinks he needs this – while I know he doesn’t- and is someone who is not making strong, logical life choices– so not someone I’m as likely to want to hook up with… No judgement, my friend, but I would reconsider if you are interested in the women who think the big truck is important…

      You don’t have to go the Prius route – how about a Toyota Matrix – they are FUN!

      • Philo February 15, 2015, 9:10 pm

        I appreciate the reply. I think my comments were blown out of proportion a bit. I keep my truck because I love it, not because I think women like it or will be attracted to it. And I hardly consider a Tacoma a huge pickup.

        The Matrix does look like a fun car. One plus of having the truck is I have been speeding ticket free since owning it. When I had a car I drove like a bat out of hell generally….because it was fun! (Older and wiser now.)

    • Brian January 15, 2015, 11:00 am

      In my single days I drove a car I thought would help me land the ladies (in my case it was a brand new BMW, not a pickup, but you get the idea). On my third date with future wife, she walked right up to a Honda in the parking lot and waited for me to unlock the door. That’s when I knew I had wasted my money, because she hadn’t even noticed my car’s make. For the record, I was cool about it, simply saying oh my car is this one over here…

  • Doug November 19, 2014, 12:27 pm

    This topic, although over a year old, keeps getting comments. That’s rightly so, because cars can be a big expense if not handled in a sensible mustachian way. As you are no doubt aware, the price of crude oil has dropped significantly in the last month and it has resulted in a price drop at the pumps for petrol and diesel fuel. One of the effects of this cheaper fuel has been sales are way up for bigger cars, trucks, and SUVs again. Being 54 years old I’ve seen it all before. Just watch, fuel prices will eventually go back up again and there will be an oversupply of those large vehicles as everyone will want small econo cars again. Don’t these people ever learn? Now, while fuel prices are cheap you should be still driving a car that is cheap to run, pocketing the money you saved and using it to build up your portfolio. Better yet, use it to buy oil companies (or energy ETFs like XEG-TSX) as they are on sale now!

  • Dinah November 23, 2014, 5:02 pm

    Hello MMM (and dedicated commenters!),

    First off, this blog has been super helpful! My face is a little bruised now, but my arms have had a great workout! I have been considering selling my car in order to get one that doesn’t suck down quite as much gas, but not sure if it’s worth it. I currently have an 04 Oldmosbile Alero that gets 23mpg when I checked last month that I own free and clear. I believe the value of my car is around $2,000. I calculated that I drive a little over 8,000 miles per year. My commute to work is just over 10 miles roundtrip. Boyfriend lives 30 miles away, highway/interstate all the way (I drive it 1-2x/week). I have begun biking to work, will be able to do it at least 3x/week. (Funny story about that – I cycle for fun over the summer for 5-6 hours at a time yet I thought the 20 minute commute into work was too much of a hassle. Whining about rain, being sweaty when I treat my patients. FACE PUNCH!) My boyfriend and I are serious and plan on being married within a year, in which case we will likely sell my car and just use his Honda Fit. We use his car for longer drives to hiking/skiing anyway.

    I’m inclined to think it’s not worth the hassle or the extra couple thousand I’ll have to spend to get a new car, but I’d love some input from those of you whose ‘stache is long enough to twirl!

  • Beatrix Josephy December 2, 2014, 6:01 pm

    Had to read your recent Dec 1, 2014 post on all wheel drive given I own my subaru lagacy that I am less than happy with wrt the gas milage. That most recent post lead me to this one. Happy to have learned something over the last few years of reading this post. Helped my daughter look for her first car. We found a 2005 toyota echo for $5300 Cdn with 2 sets of tires. Not much on the winter tires we purchased it with and so after 2 180’s on icy roads we found a good deal on studded tires through Walmart of all places and she reports great traction. And only $40.00 to fill the tank!

    I’m now wondering if I should ditch the subaru and find something similar for myself.

  • Julia January 14, 2015, 7:49 am

    We have been driving a 1997 Saturn SW2 (wagon, manual transmission) as our only vehicle, besides bicycles and a motorcycle, since we were a family of three in 2005. We added a child in 2006 and it has remained our sole car. With a roof rack and a trailer hitch, it is highly versatile for hauling. Without using the roof rack or trailer hitch, we still have ample passenger and cargo capacity for road trips, and can get over 40 mpg on the highway when it’s running well.

    I reread this post this past week because our Saturn has finally hit the point where it needs major engine work (at over 202k miles), and we are needing to choose between an engine rebuild or replacing the car. We’ve spent a couple weeks talking and researching, and cannot find anything newer that we prefer to this car. For overall cargo capacity, reliability, and mpg, I’m not finding something that can beat it. (Maybe a Prius, but a roof rack looks trickier, and we wouldn’t want to spend more than $7 or $8k on a replacement car – and I’m not sure it has the same cargo capacity as our Saturn – definitely not as tall in the back.)

    My husband is an engineer and a DIYer who does most of the maintenance and repair himself, which I know helps hugely in our ability to enjoy this older, high-mileage car. It’s not for everyone, but I thought after putting so much consideration into replacing it and finding it to still be our preference, it was worth mentioning.

    (One unique feature of Saturns of this era is that the body is made of plastic, which means it doesn’t rust, so it still looks pretty good – also the plastic makes it a lighter car than something else of a comparable size.)

    Your blog has become a dependable go-to for decisions like these, not to mention a lot of fun. Thanks MMM and all you smart and helpful readers!

    • Julia March 11, 2015, 10:53 am

      After I wrote this, we did just a bit more research into the Honda Fit and discovered for ourselves what a number of other commenters had already mentioned and I just didn’t believe at first – that there really is a lot of room and flexibility for cargo inside that little car! The back seat splits so you can put one side down and leave the other up – so both our kids can sit on one side with two seat belts, and we can load longer things on the other side. The front passenger seat folds flat as well, so we can actually load longer things inside this car than we could inside the Saturn (and we did last Saturday when we bought lumber to build a garden bed and loaded it all inside the car).

      We found a used ’08 with a manual transmission for a great price, paid cash, and have been very happy with it so far. Glad the model we found happened to be the Sport trim. We didn’t realize the difference ahead of time, but the Sport version comes with cruise control and an Aux stereo input while the base version does not have those options.

      I could do without the Sport’s low-hanging trim around the bottom though. Makes winter driving a bit more hassle as snow and ice chunks really collect inside the trim and can interfere with the tires while driving if you don’t get it cleared out enough.

      So far, we’re averaging around 38 mpg, combined city & highway. And it’s a fun car to drive (though bicycle and legs are still our number one form of transportation). Now it’s time to find a roof rack and trailer hitch!

  • Daniel January 19, 2015, 7:40 am

    Going to look at a 2004 Suzuki Aerio hatchback today with 112,500 miles. Asking price is $3,000. Glad ugly cars keep most folks from making smart decisions, and keep prices for those cars low!

    • Daniel January 19, 2015, 7:42 am

      Forgot to follow post.

      • Philo February 15, 2015, 9:22 pm

        Who said buying a Suzuki was a smart decision. Unless you’re referring to a GSX-R1000, I think Suzuki is a bad choice.

        The cheap price is not just looks, it’s because Suzuki will no longer be selling cars in the US (are you in the US?) Anyway, I think parts availability is a concern on a 10 year old car. Did you buy it?

  • harold January 25, 2015, 5:33 pm

    2 comments: What about basic physics, i.e. crash survivability better in bigger cars. What about thos total environmental cost assessments that favoured Hummers over Priuses?

  • Semifruggal January 27, 2015, 7:56 am

    Any thoughts on the Nissan Leaf? I am tempted. My commute is 11 miles each way. I live in Massachusetts, where cold temps could be a problem. I’m having a bit of trouble verifying what the government incentives might be (to be fair, I haven’t looked that hard, and I’m wondering if someone out there has already done the legwork here.)

  • Loren February 20, 2015, 12:14 pm

    Great article, I echo the sentiment of Jedichikin, would love an update.

    I have a related question to which I’m pretty sure I already know the answer… we’ve got a new car we’re making payments on, is MMM’s advice to sell the new car, pay off the loan, and buy used instead? Thanks.

  • Buffalo Jim February 28, 2015, 9:07 pm

    Hello MMM, a question for you. I have a 2001 Mazda tribute v6 2WD that I bought for $2000 cash a few years ago (family friend gave me a good deal). Almost at 170K miles now. I probably average around 20 mpg. Should I sell and buy something with better mileage?

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 3, 2015, 9:15 am

      You’d have to do the math based on how much you drive and what you use the van for. At 20MPG, you are using almost double the gas you’d burn with an efficient car, and you can buy a used fuel-efficient car at almost any price if you’re looking way back at the 2001 model year.

      For example, if you are driving 12,000 miles/year, that is 600 gallons or $1800/year if gas averages around $3/gal. You could save almost a grand a year with a better car, which makes it worthwhile even if you have to put an extra few thousand into the car. On the other hand, a under 1000 miles/year like my van gets, fuel efficiency is not as important.


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