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Car buying advice

Help! Our 10 year old van’s transmission just died and we looking to purchase a new vehicle ASAP. We have 3 small kids and a small boat (that probably didn’t help our van’s transmission). We have never had a car payment…but with 3 small kids and one income, our car fund is pretty small. We take good care of our cars and drive them until they die or are very close. Our goal is to purchase a vehicle with less than 50,000 miles but are having a hard time finding something in our budget that will accomidate the carseats and tow. I know leasing is not a good financial decision, but are considering it until my wife goes back to work and we have 2 incomes again…maybe 3 years.

Any advice?

righ now thinking pilot, 4runner, sequoia, envoy

We tow a small sailboat a little each year; the boat and trailer weigh about 2500+ lbs. Generally we only tow the boat to a lake to launch it each spring and retrieve it each fall, so I guess that this would qualify as “sporadic” towing.

We use a 1996 Mitsubishi Montero with a 3.0 L V-6 with no problems. (This is actually the smaller of the two engine options for this vehicle.) I think that the towing capacity is rated at about 4,400 lbs. Also, this model has two fold-down seats in the “way back”.

The best part is that I bought the Montero for $3,500 AND I can get 20+ mpg on the highway.

Good luck!

Lake Tahoe

You should consider a Chevy Astro or GMC Safari, as they can tow up to 5000 lbs, and can seat 7. Also, a Nissan Pathfinder would be a decent choice, too.

You can be in a newer Explorer for not a lot of money, they are just the right size, pretty reliable, reasonable mileage.

Why would you not just fix the transmission? $2500-3000 and a few days and you’re off the hook for a while. A car with no trans is worthless the way it is and ten years old is not that old. Just use an ATRA member shop.

Those are all decent choices, but I think that you might want to do some additional research on the Pilot. Honda has had a run of transmission problems on the Odyssey vans, and since the Pilot is essentially the same chassis with the addition of AWD and a different body, it is very possible that the transmission is the same on both models.

Hence, a used Pilot could be harboring an incipient transmission problem that you probably want to avoid. Do some research and find out if my suspicions are warranted.

The Chevy Astro has exceedingly poor reliability. I would strongly suggest that you avoid those unless you want to invest in a money pit.

I was thinking the same thing. It would be far cheaper then a new vehicle…I know it’s 10 years old, but what condition is it in.

If you do get it rebuilt…have them add a tranny cooler. Tranny coolers drastically increase the life of a tranny.

Get a tranny fix estimate and then decide. I believe this will be your cheapest route out of the problem with the least outlay of cash. When she returns to work buy another car.

As an alternative to having the transmission rebuilt, you can check into having a used one (from a salvage yard) installed at about a third to half the cost of rebuilding. I went through three rebuilds on two cars (each lasting only 30-50K miles) before going to the yard. The used one was off a newer vehicle and lasted years. Surprisingly, the yard offered a much longer warannty than I got on the rebuilds. I have sgtarted to think that when a transnmission goes bad, a rebuild may not put it back to where it was…

We purchased a 2007 Odyssey and have a grinding sound/vibration that has been there since we drove it off the lot. The sound and vibration happens around 50mph. Honda says it’s just an artifact of the model, that it is a gas-saving feature in the tranny, but the mileage is lousy, high teens on highway. Does anyone out there have any insight into this problem?

This is a tough one, with car buying advice as well as lifestyle thrown in too. Something about which van you own now probably matters. Is it front drive or rear drive? It could make a difference. If it’s one of those Chrysler/Dodge minivans, don’t bother rebuilding it. If you need money, you might consider giving up the boating until those two incomes start to kick in. In order to achieve something, we have to do what is necessary. There are lots of vehicles at good prices that will serve your needs if you don’t ask them to do every possible thing. If the boat and beer budget cannot be compromised, there’s a good chance that you may just be… Seriously though, decisions are tough if you don’t cut something out of the process. I advise that you simplify. Good decisions get easier, it’s the bad ones that require too much thinking.

If Honda tells you that, have them let you borrow another Odyssey of the same year with similar options. If they balk, ask them why not, if it is a normal thing, they shouldn’t have any problem with you borrowing another one.

Inexpensive, reliable, tow capacity and 5 passengers? How about an old-fashioned sedan – Crown Victoria or Grand Marquis. Preferably one with handling and performance package (HPP) that includes heavy duty rear air suspension, more robust suspension in terms of springs, shocks and antisway bars, dual exhaust, a lower rear axle ratio, and a few more goodies good for towing that I am probably forgetting. If you get one with coil springs in the back, add airlifts within the coils to keep the rear from sagging while towing. They are an inexpensive and effective product.

You must, however, dare to be dull.

How much does the boat with trailer weigh? You could still drive a minivan if the weight is not too much. SUVs and large cars are not as good for carrying a family of 5 as a minivan. Our kids are nearly grown, and the 2 minivans we’ve had were great for us. Just because you had a transmission problem does not necessarily mean it was due to towing. A Dodge Caravan with a 6-cyl. can tow up to 2000 pounds. A Chevy Venture or Ford Freestar can tow up to 3500 pounds.