Car Recommendation

I am selling my '99 suburban. It got terrible gas mileage. I want to replace it with a station wagon very badly. I have two children, 6 and 8 years old. I teach tennis lessons and am constantly hauling gear and other children. The only wagons I know of are volkswagon, volvo, mercedes, or audi. We can only afford an older model car such as an '02 -'04. I really like the way the Volvo V70 looks. I’ve read good reviews and bad reviews on this car. Any suggestions?

None of those cars are what you want if you use phrases like “we can only afford.” The maintenance costs will be more than you care to spend.

Is gas mileage the reason you want to replace it with a station wagon? If so, small SUV’s aren’t any worse in that department than a wagon. Look at a Honda CRV. They get good mileage and are more reliable.

Shadowfax is right about that list of wagons. I’d stay away from them.

But I think that if you got a small SUV you’d quickly find that it doesn’t meet your needs all that well - you’ll very quickly run out of room.

One option is the minivan - they tend to get low to mid-20s on mpg and are great for hauling kids and lots of other stuff. It is really close to what any full size wagon will get you. I actually tend to see minivans more as large wagons rather than small vans. In addition, they tend to have low resale value so they are easy to find at affordable prices on the used market.

Other than that I’d look for a used Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable wagon. They will be less headache than brands you mentioned.

Shadow does make an excellent point. I would also agree with ANY Honda that fits your needs as far as capacity.

My wife had a 91 Taurus wagon for 6 years followed by a 98 Windstar for 8 years. The Taurus got a bit flaky at 5.5 years, the Windstar was nearly troublefree (1 CV axle) in the time we had. The Taurus got about 23 mpg, the Windstar about 19-20 mpg (25 highway). Both were inexpensive to insure.

Ed B

Only buy an '02 to '04 Volvo wagon if you don’t mind several $2,000 or 3,000 repairs bills a year. Not joking, that’s what you are going to get. A fuel pump is $1,000 for the part. $800 for a drive shaft, part only.

The wagons of today are call crossovers. You can get a new Toyota Venza (FWD, 4 cylinder) that gets good mileage, has plenty of room, and is reliable.

Volvo is the worst, but repairing used MB, Audi, or BMW wagons isn’t much cheaper.

In a used wagon I’d look for Ford Taurus, or Mercury Sable wagons. Otherwise look at some of the new wagons, called crossovers.

In terms of reliability, a 91 Taurus and a 96+ Taurus are light years apart. I would have no trouble recommending a 96+ wagon - so long as you can stand to look at it…

If he’s looking at 02-04 models, he should be aware that many Honda models were eating transmissions in that era. NOT something I’d want…

Hondas are far from perfect - they have problems like everyone else…

Not what you want to hear, but if you have to haul a lot of stuff and kids, then you are looking for a minivan-you will get used to it and actually would love it after a while. Look into a domestic low mileage one from the previous owner with maintenance records.

How about a Subaru, AWD wagon. Just make sure it does not leak oil from the timing cover or the head gasket. Very common on the 2.5l

If you can only afford an older vehicle, you cannot afford to own ANY European car. You list four of the most expensive common makes in the world, in terms of repair and maintenance. If you want a station wagon, the Taurus/Sable is an excellent car. They are quite reliable, low maintenance, parts are cheap and easy to find, and any decent shop can repair them. The same cannot be said for VW, Audi, Benz, or Volvo. A minivan is also something to consider for your situation. They are like a station wagon, but with more interior volume, better comfort, and similar gas mileage. Ford Windstars are pretty nice and reliable, and are a dime a dozen. If you consider a '99-'03 model, have the rear axle inspected for structural integrity. There have been some instances of them rusting apart and failing, particularly in states where rust is already a problem. If you are really budget-minded, you could check into a Ford Escort station wagon. They are kind of cramped if you have to have adults in the back seat, but they are dirt cheap and get 30+ mpg. Good luck finding one that hasn’t rusted to pieces since they haven’t made them for a while.

As for the Taurus, the fuel pump failing on the Walt Whitman bridge into Philadelphia in heavy traffic (with a 10 month and a 4 year old) was the last straw for my wife. We traded in on the Windstar a few weeks later.

Quite a few years later I was in a junkyard and came across the Taurus, the body and interior were still in good shape. The next owner(s) made to 137k, so it didn’t do so bad after all.

Ed B.

I would suggest a 2005+ Subaru Legacy or Outback as a reliable choice. Before 2004 Subaru wagons were known to have expensive head gasket issues.

Another decent choice is the Ford Focus wagon which is actually roomy. I would be hesitant on a Ford Taurus wagon as they are fleet cars and lead interesting lives.

Unless the Suburban is in need of significant repair, or has really high mileage, I’d hold onto it, particularly if you’re going to find yourself really stretching it financially to get another car. The Suburban apparently already meets you needs, doesn’t make sense in my book to spend more money on another vehicle that is less capable, and will likely cost more to keep on the road. The first time the Volvo or VW takes a trip to the shop, any savings in fuel you might’ve made will be more than offset.

You are right, it’s not what I want to hear. My sister has a Toyota Sienna van and loves it. She keeps telling me I need a van. I’m just didn’t want to be a mini-van girl. But I must admit, when I ride in hers it’s very nice, very roomy. Thanks for your reply.

An Outback is what I’ve really always wanted. It would fit my lifestyle perfectly. But I just read, I think on this cartalk site somewhere, that buying an AWD vehicle is a mistake. Lots of maintenance. It could just be one guy’s experience. Have you ever owned a Subaru?

Love my Sienna. Best car I’ve ever owned, bar none. A lot of people have trouble accepting parent status, and I think that’s why they don’t want the best car for their needs. Mini-vans were created for families. When your kids are grown, you can get a sporty car, unless you are a typical grandma.

We faced the same dilemma a few years ago. We wanted to trade our reliable Toyota SUV for a wagon and found that none of the allegedly reliable Asian brands offered one. Except the Subaru Outback which has AWD which costs more to maintain than a 2WD vehicle by design.

My original response to your question was to look up reliability stats at (subscription required) or There are makes and models (and model years) out there that are batter than others. You may find your little niche. We did with our 2003 BMW 5series wagon which gets stellar reviews on Consumer Reports (best car ever tested by CR at the time) AND very good reliability marks for the 2001-2003 model years. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too! But as most of the brands you look at are luxury brands you have to be willing and able to pay a “premium”. Quite literally on the gas (many of those require premium gasoline) and on maintenance and parts. But you get something in return for your money: These vehicles are more refined than say a Honda CR-V. But that refinement comes at a cost.

Then I saw that you have 2 kids AND haul other kids around and started questioning the wagon choice at all. Sounds like you need more flexible seating. If you don’t want to go full on minivan or crossover you could look at the Mazda 5. It’s a smaller and cooler kind of minivan.

Talking about Mazda: The Mazda 6 is a wagon that does not break the bank and comes form one of the brands that are deemed more reliable.Back when we were looking I test drove one and for us made the choice to go with an older BMW because the level of refinement was just incomparable. But admittedly we had the financial flexibility to take the risk and be willing to put up the occasional $2000 in repairs (which has not happened so far, by the way).

Hope that helps!


I have not, but work on them regularly. My wife and I are looking to expand our family and are quickly outgrowing our Civics. Our next car will most likely be a WRX wagon. It is defiantly a ?drivers car? with stiffer suspension, and quick acceleration. The Outback is great option as well. The maintenance is not much more than the Taurus. The main difference is the Taurus has a timing chain V.S. timing belt with the Subaru. Timing belt should be replaced every 100K. The most important thing is to have whatever vehicle you shop for checked out bumper to bumper before buying. And go through the car yourself checking seat belts, windows, seat operation etc. Looking for the details when buying a used car shows the overall care the car was given.

I haven’t seen any 6 series wagons, just the 3(hatchback), the 5(minivan), the 7(crossover/suv), and 9(larger crossover/suv).

You can get a newer Dodge Caravan, Mazda 5, Chevy Uplander or other domestic/Japanese minivan for the same price as the V70.