After 340,000 miles we need a new car

We need help deciding on a new car here in South Georgia. We commute about 30 miles to and then from work each day over flat terrain. Twenty-eight of the miles are low traffic, fast highway miles. Two of the miles, however, are down a red clay road that is very dusty, somewhat rough, and very muddy after a rain. We want to get the best gas mileage possible from a vehicle that can travel comfortably on the open highway and still withstand the daily torture of the dusty, muddy dirt road. We tend to keep our cars until they are exhausted. We currently have a Volkswagen Passat (which is not doing well on the dirt road) with over 340,000 miles on it.

Any suggestions?..Thanks

Car Talk’s product adviser is pretty neat:

I have a similar commute each day, but I wanted a bed because I generally carry aroung a lot of muddy equipment, so I bought a small truck (Ranger) in the base, 2wd, form. I have to say that the bit of extra clearance is the second best part, after the bed.

If your dirt road gets ruts and potholes I would look for something that is a little higher off of the ground. The problem with this is that cars higher off of the ground tend to be worse on fuel, but you can make up a lot of that money on not having to replace suspension parts and not bottoming out the vehicle. We recently had 2 separate people with different low slung cars who destroyed there transmissions bottoming out their cars. One was just pulling into a parking lot!

My question to you is if you are planning to buy a new car or a used, new to you, car?

I’m considering a Suzuki SX4 4 dr hatchback to replace my 2000 Blazer in a few years. Although the SX4 isn’t really an offroad vehicle it has decent ground clearance, AWD, and decent fuel economy. The price is reasonable also.

Ed B.

I’ll second that SX4 idea. A Subaru, with full time AWD, isn’t needed, and is more expensive to buy and maintain. A Honda CR-V or Toyota Rav4 (both with 4 cyl. and fwd) would also be options.

A Honda CRV with 2WD if available, or 4WD if the road gets really muddy and slick at times. Very reliable, good ground clearance, can carry stuff, and decent gas mileage (comparable to the Passat). These cars lasts a long time.

Any kids? How many people riding in this proposed vehicle? If I needed a new vehicle and had only myself and one other person to carry, lived in a flat area which gets no snow, had a 30 mile commute (mostly highway) . . . I’d get something fun. Get a 911 . . . or a Corvette . . . or a Viper. 60 miles a day . . . even at 15 mpg . . . is FUN ALL DAY!!! The last two miles of dust and maybe mud . . . so what? That’s why they have car washes. Get something with good A/C, comfy, and COOL. Rocketman

Subaru WRX. Fast enough to handle the highway. AWD to handle the clay and dirt. Good gas mileage, and good relibility.

I wouldn’t put much faith in the Car Advisor. I tried it and it recommended econoboxes like the Versa and Yaris. I wouldn’t be caught dead in either one of those.

Subaru Forester

First of all my congradulations for having driven a Passat for 340,000 miles. We have many posters who have had problems at much lower miles. You must have lavished exemplary maintenance and care on this vehcle.

With that long a commute, you need a little comfort, and some of the small cars suggested don’t have it. If the mud on your road is a real problem and you want to get 340,000 miles out of your next car as well, there are two top choices; a Honda CRV 2WD or a Toyota RAV4 with 2 WD. Both have good ground clearance, are easy on gas, extremely reliable, and will not punish you on your daily commute. Where you live, 4WD is not necessary and it costs more in purchase price as well as in gas mileage. Both CRV and RAV 4 will costs less to maintain and repair than the Passat.

If you were not putting on all those miles, the Suzuki SX4 would be a good and very economical choice. I would stay away from any small SUV made by Chevrolet or Pontiac, or Jeep. Those have not stood up well in heavy use.

How much do you want to spend? Would you be more comfortable with 4 drive wheels? Is ground clearance important? You can find both cars and trucks that will do the job for you. What is the problem with the Passat on the dirt road? If it’s suspension issues, it might be cured by just about any new car, including another Passat. If it’s dust, that problem will exist with anything you buy. A little more information will help narrow the list down a bit. If gas mileage is important to you, chek this out:

A small SUV while okay is really nothing more than a glorified small car. You get in a Forester, RAV4, or CRV and they all scream I am an overgrown economy/small car that I got duped into paying $20k-30k+ for.

I would suggest for you usage a Toyota Highlander(4cyl) with FWD (not AWD). Very comfortable as the chassis is bigger than small SUV’s including RAV4. There is very little penalty in MPG moving up to one from a RAV4.

Believe me, those smaller SUV’s rattle themselves apart in rough roads as small cars/SUV cannot take rough roads as well once you get past 150k.

Doc . . . do you think that 30 miles (28 highway) is a long commute? It takes that long to warm everything up on the vehicle. 60 miles a day for 5 days a week is only 1200 a month, 13k a year. If they keep their next choice for another 340,000 miles, that’s 26 more years of driving fun. I’d get something FUN. Rocketman

Rocketman; I must be getting old, for me 30 miles is a long commute. You have to add all the other miles the OP put on as well. The oldest Passat sold in the US was the approximate 1990 model. In 20 years or so OP put on 17,000 miles per year. Most likely a lot more.

From a comfort point of view, I don’t think I would like to commute in something as small as a Yaris, for example. But OP is used to the Passat, which has a good ride and good seats. The new Honda CRV and RAV4 get high marks for good handling, ride and “fun to drive”. Agree a Subaru Imprezza might be more fun to drive but I have misgivings about putting 300,000 miles on it without major expenses.

With respect to warmup time, most manuals and auto engineers will give 10-13 miles as sufficient time to fully warm up the car so the “severe” maintenance schedule need not be observed. I just took a 9 mile trip to the library. It’s still freezing here, but the car was fullly warmed up when I got there.

My neighbor’s wife works in health care and has to be at work on time in all weather. She also spends time in the mountains. Her “perfect car” is an Acura MDX; lots of ground clearance, great handling, good ride, fabulous traction, etc. But it costs more. It would be my choice if I were in OP’s position and money was no object.

Thanks everyone for the great feedback! All things considered, at this point it is down to the Rava4 and the Honda CVR. One last question…anyone know how the Hyundai Santa Fe compares?

Here’s an article discussing recent small SUV rollover test results, if you’re interested:

Good article. Looks like the Rava4 edged out the Honda.

My neighbor’s son has a Santa Fe. It’s a nice machine and he really likes it, and so far it’s reliable. However, I have some doubts that it is a 340,000 mile machine.

If you retire and don’t drive much anymore, it’s a great buy; lots of standard equipment. The RAV 4 and CRV are both proven to be bullet-proof machines. A friend of my wife just traded her 10 year old CRV for an Accord. It had given her completely trouble-free service.

From what I am reading and hearing I tend to agree with you. Thanks for the feedback.

Wow!! how did you keep a passat on the road for that long? I had a 2002 which I bought new and took good care of and it fell apart at 40k.