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Car buying advice

Hi all,

My wife and I current live in Saint Paul, Minnesota and we’re contemplating a move to Houston, Texas. Additionally, we’re expecting our first child in April. Our current car is a 2000 Pontiac Sunfire without, but it doesn’t have air conditioning, and once our baby is born, we won’t have enough room in the car to transport the dog and the baby.

So given the upcoming life changes we’re in the market for getting a different car. We think we want something like a small SUV, minivan or station wagon. Buying a new vehicle is an option- but we don’t want to finance the car- we want to pay cash, so our absolute budget limit is about $25,000. That said, we’d prefer to buy a used car and keep the budget under $10,000. I don’t really know a lot about cars which makes buying a used car a much more intimidating process. Does anyone have any general suggestions, advice, or specific model suggestions?



My son and his wife will be having a baby soon. I’m going to give you the same advice I gave them:


There aren’t many station wagons on the market these days, and the sliding doors on the 5 are much easier to deal with when loading the child seat and assorted paraphernalia that goes along with a baby.

Not sure about the $10,000 limit, though. That might make things more difficult.

How about a used Ford Focus station wagon?

When you start shopping, take the child seat with you and make sure it fits, and can be taken in and out easily.

Wait until you get to TX and look for used cars there. You won’t have to deal with MN rust issues. Drive several makes and models and decide what you like best. Then, find the best 3 - 4 year-old car. Have a pre-purchase inspection before buying it. $10k buys a decent used car (e.g. Hyundai Tuscon/Santa Fe). Invest the balance in your child’s college fund.


Yes, absolutely follow what twotone said. Texas is a great place to buy cars. You’ll see 35 year old cars running around with bodies that look brand new. Why get a car that’s already been exposed to harsh corrosive chemicals when you’ll be going to one of the better places in the country for preserving cars?

Twotone and Shadowfax make good points, but if it were me I don’t think I’d want my newborn riding around in the hot Texas sun without AC, even if it were just for a few weeks while you search the used car market. Let me suggest that you pick up a Consumer Reports New Car Preview at the local bookstore and peruse the choices. There are choices under $20K and with high reliability available that will meet your needs.

You need a totally reliable vehicle with the most modern safety features (read: side airbags and car seat adaptability) that meets all your needs, including the dragging along of the diaper bag, the toys, the car seat, and a good AC system. You need to be able to focus on the baby and not worry about the car. Used cars all come with some risk…they’re on the used car lot for some reason. You don’t need that right now. And if you have a second one a year or two from now you don;t want to have to trade yet again.

I vote for a new, sub-$20K vehicle with a high reliability rating. Others will disagree, but I think you need focus on only the baby for a few years and IMHO that’s the best way to do that.

Sincere best.

My recent cars have been a Saturn Vue SUV (terrible), a Ford Focus (very nice) and two Ford Fusions (also very nice, and currently on Click and Clack’s 10 most hated cars list because they need repairs so infrequently that they’re bad for mechanics.)

The Fusion is a good mid-sized family car and you could get a slightly used 2008 or 2009 in your budget. The Focus wagon is also a good suggestion. SUVs are overrated for most families; we got ours when our daughter was nearing the end of high school and we still probably only exceeded the capacity of a good-sized sedan a half dozen times.

If you want the maximum value for your money, buy slightly used (2-4 years) rather than new.

It’s not really an option to wait to buy a new car until we get to Texas. We’re going to be driving from Saint Paul, Minnesota down to Houston, Texas- and the move will likely occur sometime between late June to late July- so we will absolutely need a car with air conditioning for that move. I’ll probably be driving the U-Haul, and my wife will probably be in whatever car/van/suv we get.

The rest of our money is savings towards a down payment on a house. I’m a postdoc, so our current plan for paying for college is that our kids will be able to go to whichever University I eventually end up as a faculty member at for free (a typical faculty perk), and if they want to go somewhere else then they’ll have to save up for it, but we’d probably match their investment dollar for dollar.

Our income is going to be drastically reduced once my wife has the baby, since she isn’t planning on working for the first year, and then she wants to have another one shortly after that- so we need to be able to figure out how to live on a pretty tight budget- and my salary, quite frankly, will suck. It’ll probably be somewhere in the $45-$47K range, maybe $50K if I’m really lucky. Unless I give up my pursuit of getting into academia, it’s just what we have to live with. We don’t drive the car very much as it is- I would estimate less than 6000 miles per year, since I commute to work by bike, and even do a fair amount of grocery shopping that way. I bought my current car used with 60,000 kilometers on it (we’re Canadian, and I was living in Canada at the time), and we haven’t had many problems with it.

We need something that has a wagon-like area so we can have the dog and the baby in the car at the same time. Our dog is a 65 lb greyhound, so she’s pretty big.

Then try a used Honda CRV or Honda Element.

I’d suggest a used 2003 or newer Focus wagon, if you can find one. Starting with the 03s, the Focus really became a pretty solid choice. The wagons are tough to find, and they were discontinued in 08. You should be able to find one in the $5000-8000 range. I haven’t seen any listed for more than $9,000. You’ll save over a CRV or similar vehicle, but get more interior volume (132 cu ft vs 106 cu ft) and higher mpg (~26 mpg vs. 22 combined, based on owner reports at

The big problem is finding one.

Hertz is unloading 5s at about 1 year old for $13,000…

I think they’re fantastic vehicles except there still seem to be rear tire wear issues on them. When I was shopping, I couldn’t find a single used 5 that didn’t have both rear or even all 4 tires replaced, even after just 1 year and 15-20,000 miles. Those are not cheap tires, either… Evidently you can fix the problem by swapping out the upper control arms with those for a Mazdaspeed3, thus giving you the ability to zero out the camber (very high negative camber on nonadjustable arms from the factory)… But that will run you several hundred dollars there, too…

Don’t count on that free tuition. As a child of a professor, I got bupkis from the state university where he worked, so I went elsewhere. Also, don’t buy a home until you actually end up as a tenured faculty member - you’re not likely to stay in one place for very long for at least a couple more years.

I suggest a used Toyota Matrix or Pontiac Vibe. They are basically the same, samll station wagon. If you plan to keep the car after you leave Texas, buy it in MN. The TX cars have a deeper window tint that mighthave to be removed when you move to your next job.

Dodge Caravan.
Since you say she might want another child after a year, then you’ll definitely want a minivan for hauling all those things baby needs. It’ll make changing diapers on the road that much easier too.
It might not be such a bad idea to look into adding a DVD entertainment setup in the back, for when the kids get older.