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In need of a family car

Our 1999 Subaru Forester just died and is not worth the cost to repair. So, we are looking for a new family car. We are a family of four (2 young boys). We loved the Forester, but it was pretty cramped if we ever tried to put a third person in the back with our boys and their booster seats. So we are considering trying to find something with a little more room. We have looked at three categories of cars - the wagon (basically replacing what we had), the minivan and the midsize SUV. Just not sure what is the best route to go. We have always driven older used cars. We could spend up to about $15,000, but would really prefer to stay in the $5 - 8K range if possible. We originally were looking at Honda Odysseys. But then my husband got nervous when he read about the transmission problems. So now we are talking about an SUV - maybe a Pilot? We are not great with cars, so our first priority is reliability. I would love any suggestions for good reliable family cars. Should we stay away from the Odyessy? We don’t need to haul around a whole soccer team, but would like room for an extra friend or two when needed. Thanks!

At the upper end of that price point, try looking for a used Mazda5. You only have 4 people most of the time, and unless you’re exceptionally tall (like me), they’ll fit four very comfortably with a LOT of cargo room. If you need to carry that third person in back, there is a third row of seats.

Mileage isn’t much better than a full-size minivan, but the price is. The problem is that they’re rare to find used. A few years ago, Hertz was selling a bunch used and you could find them pretty easily 1-2 years old for $13k or so.

All in all, though, it might be a perfect vehicle for you - there is nothing else like it on the market (curse all the rest of the makers for ignoring this segment!)

Have you looked at a Toyota Sienna. My wife has an 06 and is happy with it. The radio was replaced the first week she owned. No other issues so far. The 06 has a timing belt and will be replaced next year. The 07 and later have a 3.5L V6 with a timing chain. Mpg is 20-21.

Ed B.

You don’t need a minivan unless you plan to carry lots of gear or a few of your son.s friends. You might consider an Outback if you are interested in another Subaru… It’s larger than the Forester.

You might also look at a Honda Element.

In the $5-8K range, I will look at used domestic minivans. The Caravan/Town & Country, Ford and Chevy minivans, all if well maintained would provide good service at a much lower purchase cost of a Honda/Toyota.

If you don’t mind lumbering about town in a Crown Victoria I think they’re great family cars. Really. Room in the back seat for 3 and almost enough trunk space.

But seriously, if you’re looking at minivans, the Chevy Uplander is a nice ride. Reliable, comfortable, easy to maintain. I’m a big fan of the Odyssey, but then I’m a professional mechanic and maintain and repair my own cars.

For wagons, if you’ve been happy with Subaru they still make good cars, though the 2000-2006 or so are notorious for head gasket failures. If you find one that has had that service done, it may fit your needs. For something a little larger, look at the Ford Freestyle.

Thanks for all the suggestions. We checked out the mazda5, but my husband thought it was too cramped for the price. We found what looks like a good deal on a 2003 Volvo v70 XC. A little roomier than the Subaru and my mechanic says it is easier to fix than the Subaru. Any known reasons to avoid this car? If we don’t take this one we will likely start looking at the minivans that were suggested.

Older Volvos aren’t known for reliability. They’re especially not known for being cheap to fix. I think other choices will be better for your needs.

Avoid the Volvo. Not reliable, and expensive to maintain and repair. Run away.

“We found what looks like a good deal on a 2003 Volvo v70 XC. A little roomier than the Subaru and my mechanic says it is easier to fix than the Subaru.”

I think that your mechanic may be looking for a retirement annuity funded by you if he is suggesting that you buy a 9 year old Volvo and bring it to him for service. I suggest that you avoid both a used Volvo and that mechanic.

Also, if you focus on a 2001-2006 Outback with the somewhat rare six cylinder engine, you will not have to worry about head gasket problems. The six cylinder engine is pretty much bullet-proof.

In 10 years, the only repair on my 2002 six cylinder Outback was the replacement of the tensioner and the idler pulley for the serpentine belt, as a result of pulley bearings that were going dry. Additionally, the six cylinder engine utilizes a timing chain, rather than a timing belt–and that is a significant advantage, IMHO.