Help me find a car!

Help! We live on an island in Alaska and we’ve been looking for the right vehicle for about 6 years. My husband abhors shopping for cars, so the task is totally mine. Our current vehicle, a 1993 Ford Explorer with 197K+ miles, is inching its way closer to the grave every day. The list of its ailments is long; it?s currently held together with wire and duct tape. We really need to find something soon because the front end is going out and the far rear passenger window is leaking, which is highly problematic considering we live in a town that averages about 190 inches of rain per year. I would love to get a little eco friendly, high mileage car, but our current locale and lifestyle prohibit such a vehicle. We have no kids or pets, but lots of bikes, skis, snowshoes, and trash to haul to the dump. So, this is our top 10 list of demands: 1) Decent gas mileage, but not a hybrid as nobody here will know how to work on it. 2) FWD, 4WD, or AWD 3) Ground clearance of about 7 inches 4) Rear seats that fold completely flat 5) Reliability and endurance (something that will last for at least 15 years). 6) Not too many bells and whistles 7) A reasonable price, hopefully about $15-20k 8) 4+ doors 9) Dark interior 10) Simple, smooth body design (too much outer trim just catches water and grows mold and moss). In our little town we have a Subaru/Chevy/Buick dealer, a Ford/Mercury dealer, and a couple of used car lots with a variety of models. We can order a car from Seattle or some other city in the lower 48 and pay about $1,000 to have it shipped here. So far I?ve considered these vehicles: Outback (still considering), Matrix (like it, but too close to the ground), Escape (not sure I want another Ford & their new upholstery stains easily from rain water), Forrester (didn?t really care for the 2006 or 2007, but willing to reconsider a newer one if they?re nicer), Rav4 (haven?t found one to test drive), Tribeca (too much bling, low MPG), Tribute (don?t like the way the seats fold), Edge & Taurus (still the Ford thing), Volvo Cross Country (I?d love one, but they?re pricey & not available here), Venza (don?t know much yet, but it only comes with light colored interior), Traverse (eh). With such high demands is there anything you can recommend?

Whatever you buy will need service. If it is a new car then I’d limit my choices to the local dealers. If you needed warranty service on a Toyota, how does that work?

If any of the used lots have a Honda Element I’d consider it. Of course the same question about who can service it, but at least it would be out of warranty. The Element has a sparse and rugged interior. It is a versitle vehicle which can carry bunches of stuff. Decent gas mileage and they are proven reliable. I think some of the body panels are plastic so rust and dampness should not be a problem.

a 4cyl 4wd Escape should fit your bill. If you’re worried about rain water staining your upholstery, don’t leave your windows down if you know it’s gonna rain.
I’m pretty sure you’d qualify for that C4C deal, so you could get a brand new one for about $20k without too many bells and whistles.

As much as I’d like to recommend Toyota/Honda (Rav/CRV)products , I’m a bigger fan of staying with the local dealers for long time service. Independents can handle most service, but I’ve found that complexity of cars mean some specialized care that some may use your car to “learn” on for higher labor cost. For this reason, new Forester and Escape seem to fit bill for your consideration if 15 years is your goal. You’ll need service help as you already know.

Check out a 2010 Chevy Equinox. I don’t think it is available quite yet; you might consider a 2009 as well. The 2010 is a new design, and should sell for MSRP. If you can find a 2009, there is a $2500 rebate. Add that to the $3500 C4C (less than 10 MPG better) and you are under $20,000, even with the LT models.