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Advice for a Hesitant Buyer

Background: I’m used to buying used, high reliability, high fuel efficiency commuter cars. For example, a few years ago I purchased a 2004 Honda civic with 90,000 miles. For reasons I won’t go into here, I’m now selling that civic and I’m trying to figure out what to buy.

My needs have changed dramatically and my financial situation has improved… so

  1. Gas mileage is still important to me, but much less than it used to be because I work from home now
  2. I’m looking for something with storage space to carry stuff like, for example, camping gear
  3. I would like to be able to seat 5 adults with relative comfort.
  4. My original budget was in the $15,000 range, but I’ve now expanded to 20,000 (and higher if it’s absolutely the best choice)
  5. I am not mechanically inclined (which makes used vehicles more expensive for me when it comes to repairs)

I’m trying to figure out the best bang for my buck. Before I really started thinking, I was just going to buy a new Honda Fit because I was still in commuter car mode. But as I was thinking about what I really wanted (something to take the kids camping or on road trips) I thought I should perhaps consider my first every (compact) SUV purchase. I have been researching cars like never before (consumer reports, edmunds, etc) and looking at the following three vehicles:

  1. Mazda CX-5
  2. Honda CR-V
  3. Toyota RAV4

I could buy a CX-5 new in the base model with the manual transmission for just over 20,000. In theory, I can buy a used CR-V or RAV4 at that price, although it’s difficult to find one with low enough miles to make me feel its worth it. I was partially interested in the RAV4 because of the optional third-row seats, but the used models I’ve been seeing at dealers and on Craigslist don’t have that.

Sorry for this long post, but finally, here are my questions.

  1. What vehicle would you recommend for me (it doesn’t have to be one of the three listed above)?
  2. I’ve always thought poorly of Mazda’s… does anyone have an opinion about the reliability/longevity of the CX-5?
  3. This is my first time considering a new (as in 0 miles) car; is it worth it? If not, what is the “sweet spot”?
  4. I’ve read that buying a car at the end of summer is a great time because the new models are arriving. If this is true, how much better of a deal can I try and negotiate? (in other words, is it worth waiting?)

Any answer to any question will be much appreciated!

Wow. Let’s construct a matrix that explains all the variables in the universe dealing with buying a new or used car.

+1 for Stoveguyy.

I’m sorry if I’m not very concise… I’m really feeling out of my depth in trying to make a 20,000 purchase. I’m not a “car” guy, and I don’t have any “car” friends to talk to. I was hoping that I’d find some “car” people on this site that love to talk about this kind of stuff.

Get a CR car buyers guide if you haven’t already. That will answer 90% plus of your questions.

@dagosa I’ve already been through CR, and edmunds, and other car sources. The problem is, they’re all written by reviewers, not people that actually drove what they bought. Worse, I can’t actually have an “exchange” with them.

I’ve already done a ton of research and I’m still feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing.

Why are you “down” on Mazdas? I own a 2008 Mazda 3 with 88,000 miles and my daughter owns a 2004 Mazda 6 with 82,000 miles. Both our Mazdas have been reliable/trouble free vehicles. We follow Mazda’s required maintenance schedule (per the owners manual) and neither of us has had to do anything other than the prescribed maintenance and normal wearout items (ie tires and brakes).

I recently test drove the new CX-5 and was very favorably impressed. I was interested in the GT with all the bells and whistles. The one thing I didn’t like about the CX-5 was the engine. There are no engine options. The base/only engine available was a 4 cylinder 155 HP. IMO that’s underpowered (especially if you want AWD). I opted instead for a Ford Escape. If not for the HP issue I may be driving a CX-5 today!

The CX-5 is a new model . You won’t find any reliability history in CR (or anywhere else).

I recommend you give serious consideration to the CX-5. If it meets your price and criteria buy it!

The next step in your research is to visit dealerships and test drive each of the cars on your list. The small SUV’s really are not very fuel efficient, as least not compared to a Fit. Are you sure you need the extra space of a small SUV. If yes, be prepared to pay the price, higher initial costs, higher maintenance costs, and less mpg.

A new Accord gets much better mpg than a small SUV, and costs less than a new CRV. The back seats flip down, handy for carrying snow skies. And the trunk is very big, lots of room for gear.

I think you are struggling trying to find something that does it all. Perhaps you have too many conflicting criteria. You need to figure out what is really important. I suspect if you buy a Rav4 or CRV you are going to regret it every time you have to fill the gas tank.

I don’t see you requiring an AWD or 4wd so I guess your camping is drive till the road ends and hike form there, which is fine by me, your not out there tearing up the wilderness with your 4wd and leaving scars in the landscape behind.

Are you in the mood for a minivan? A used Sienna or Odyssey might be good for you. Maybe a Nissan Quest might work for you, they are quite reliable and often don’t carry the Honda/Toyota “market adjustment” price.

@my2cents thank you for your feedback. I used to only buy vehicles that have 80,000+ miles on them, so when I look for reliability, I’m usually looking for vehicles that go to 150,000-200,000 miles with proper maintenance. As I’m thinking of buying new, or nearly new, I’m open to trusting other brands. And it’s true, I really do like the CX-5…

@UncleTurbo You are partially correct, I am trying to solve for a lot of different problems that I’ve never had to before. I have four children, and two of them are on the cusp of becoming teenagers. Going camping in my current civic requires putting some gear back with the kids, and every year that’s harder because they get bigger. Nevertheless, you do make a good point about fuel economy which is why I am leaning much stronger towards the CX-5 with it’s 27/35 economy.

I would recommend to you the same thing I suggest to all people searching for a new car; stop by the bookstore, pick up a copy of Consumer Reports New Car Preview, select some that look interesting to you, and spend a weekend or two doing test drives.

Whether it’s worth buying a new (as in zero miles) car is a highly personal choice. Monetarily, I find it works for me because I buy new and keep my cars forever or until my needs change. I’m comfortable with that model. That way I don’t have to worry that there’s some problem that caused the previous owner to get rid of it, I have the full manufacturer’s warranty, and I can know that the car is properly taken care of from time zero. I plan to keep my current car until I trade it for a Hoveround. Late model used cars always make me wonder “why is it back on the market so soon?” and old used cars can be expected to have routine problems to fool with.

It’s been my experience that end-of-model buying can work two ways. You might get a good deal (the manufacturers actually offer kickbacks to the dealers to get rd of leftovers), but you might also end up having to accept (and pay for) options that you may not have wanted.,nd maybe even that God-awful ugly green color that people will gawk at. One time I got a “strippee” Toyota pickup for a great price at the end of the year…it was the last one left…but I just lucked out that time. That’s not something you can usually plan.

@keith thanks for your comment. I do, in fact, already have a Sienna that carries all 6 of us around. I suppose there is an argument to be made for having car #2 still be small (e.g. Honda Fit) and using the Sienna to do our camping and trips. But the gas mileage of minivans is still not as good as say the CX-5.

Question 1: The CRV, CX-5, and RAV4 are all great vehicles, you can’t really go wrong. Pick the one you personally like. A base CX-5 with a manual appeals most to me.

Question 2: Mazdas are generally reliable and more enjoyable to drive than their competitors. No reason to think poorly of them.

Question 3: A new car is worth it if you can afford it and keep it for longer than the finance period. A sweet spot for used cars is something like 2-3 years old & ~36K miles. Depreciation is steepest at the beginning.

Question 4: The RAV4 was just redesigned and is hitting dealers now. If you like the RAV4 that is getting phased out right now (2012 model year) you might be able to get a really decent deal on one.

There is nothing wrong with contemporary Mazdas. Their rotaries of the seventies gave them a reputation they took years to overcome, but even then it was just the engines that were troublesome. The CX-5 is a very nice small SUV that compares favorably to others. That category is rich with nice vehicles, but none are much better than the Mazda. Fitting five is tough. If you find a small SUV adequate, you have found some of the best options already. To get much more space you need either a minivan or a bigger SUV, and they will be above your budget. If you want something slightly more carlike, take a look at the Toyota Venza or Ford Flex. The Flex is reminiscent of station wagons of my youth. The Venza is essentially a Camry wagon. Of course there are also the perennially popular Subarus, if AWD is of value to you. Some hereabouts think poorly of their reliability, but Consumer Reports considers them reliable. I’m not a huge fan because of their ho-hum gas mileage and lack of style, but for people who need/want AWD they deserve a look.

If the Sienna works, why not get something in between, like the Mazda 5? You can get it with a stick and under 20 grand new.
I own the predecessor to the Cx-5, the CX-7, and it’s been a great vehicle for me. No problems yet, and I’ve owned it for almost 3 years now and can’t foresee any major problems(who does, though?) cropping up with it. I just hope Mazda decides to offer a comparable SUV when I’m in the market for a new vehicle again(who knows how long that’ll be).

If you work from home, just use the Sienna for everything. Unless you actually need 2 cars, you’ll never make up in fuel economy what you spend on a fuel efficient car. Another vehicle that costs $20,000 and gets 30 MPG on average will not pay for itself until you drive 260,000 miles. It gets worse if you take out a loan.

Thanks to everyone that contributed! I went out tonight and test drove the Mazda CX-5 and liked it so much that I went ahead and purchased. Thanks for helping me talk through my concerns, it really helped.

Great! I hope you and your kids have fun with your camping trips. Some of my best childhood memories are of camping, both on long summer vacation trips and on weekends in the mountains above LA. I’m saddened that so few kids get to have that experience now. Nice to hear that some do.

@SNJ
Not talking about car reviews, but complete buyers guide which talks about buying strategy as well. Purchase and keep !
CR does drive every car it reviews.

@SJN
Your indecision is understandable. What you really need is/are used car salesperson who can sell you the car that you really want. At this point, you don’t know what you want or need. A professsional salesperson will get you there. And don’t begrudge the commission on the sale. The guys on here are amateurs and have nothing in this but make themselves feel good.

I see that you bought a Mazda. A salesman was involved, am I correct. :-)(
;-))