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Need "new" car advice

Here’s the setup:

We live in a downtown area in the northeast (Boston-ish). We have one car, a 2009 RAV4, which is plenty big enough for the family, including 2 small kids. I currently take public transportation into the city. I may soon get a better job much closer to home (about 4 miles away), which will require a second car. Here are the requirements:
Good resale retention (I’ll probably want to upgrade in a year or two)
Can fit a car seat and a booster seat nicely in back
Automatic transmission
Good in snow

I am open to suggestions.

4 miles to the new job, sounds like you need some good walking shoes - not a new car. Start the new job and see if there is a car pool option, someone else might pick you up, spouse can drop you off, or even walk. I walk about 5 miles a day for exercise, perhaps you can get your workout in as you commute to work.

Normally I would agree with you, but about half a mile of that commute has to be on the highway (the facility is off an isolated exit that can only be accessed from the highway). I’d rather not take my chances with walking (illegally) on the highway. Besides, I think my wife would kill me if I traded an hour+ commute for another hour+ commute, even if I was closer. Since my wife is a high-school teacher, she has to be at work before my older daughter is allowed to be dropped off at school (even before the bus comes).

All-in-all, I’m afraid I’m going to have to get a new car soon after getting the job (assuming I get it, of course)

A four mile trip is the worst thing you can do to a car. It will never get warmed up. Take the bus.

Used Subaru, RAV4 or CRV are top of my list, but are bringing in top dollar in today’s inflated used car market. If I only drove four miles, I look for the least expensive big honking SUV (Ford, GM, etc.). They are going for cheap in today’s $4 a gallon economy. Gas mileage will be bad, but the overall cost per mile during a year of driving will be much less than depreciation on my first three suggestions.

My advice is to concentrate on Japanese makes, as they tend to have the best resale value/retention. (Hyundai is an excellent marque [probably right up there with Toyota, Honda and Subaru in terms of reliability], but its resale value lags its actual reliability record.)

That being said, essentially every car model on the market (with the possible exception of some “performance” models) is available with automatic trans, and the ability to fit car seats and boosters is something that you should evaluate for yourself. As to being “good in snow”, that is a function of the car’s tires, NOT a reflection of a particular car model. If snow is a significant factor in the area where you live, I would advise you to invest in a set of 4 winter tires. But, if you combine AWD with winter tires, you will have a really winning combination.

Most likely–since you are hinting at getting a used car–your best bet would be to look at late model Honda Civics and CR-Vs, Toyota Corollas and Rav-4s, Nissan Sentras and Rogues, and Subaru Imprezas and Foresters.

However, only a fool buys a car without documentary evidence of its maintenance record. Ignore cars that do not come with full maintenance records, but bear in mind that you will still need to have any serious candidates for purchase vetted by your own mechanic PRIOR to purchase. If the seller does not allow you to take their vehicle to your own mechanic, keep walking.

Ooohh good idea on the SUV. In about a year, we’re planning on moving (house is too small for 2 adults and 2 growing kids). We’re looking at towns that would require me to drive about 7-8 miles each way.

Maybe I should go for a full-cab pick-up truck. Then I could get some good extra use out of it, too (i.e., clearing the garage of junk before selling the house).

VDC: very good points as well. Any thoughts on going for a dealer certified vehicle?

“Good resale retention (I’ll probably want to upgrade in a year or two)
Can fit a car seat and a booster seat nicely in back
Automatic transmission
Good in snow

This is really easier than you think. Think compact of subcompact with “traction control”. I do not believe you need awd if you have this feature and snow tires unless you have really steep hills, chase the snow plow drivers to work and/or drive over dirt roads which freeze under the snow during the winter. Check Kelly Blue book on used cars that hold their price the best; they will have the best resale but may cost you more to buy. You have a plethora of good cars to choose from in compacts. .

Traction control is an amazingly effective way of getting as close to awd as you can w/o the expense and always works best with winter tires. You want to just occasionally haul stuff; get a utility trailer, your RAV can handle it and you’ll save lots of gas and money over a wasteful 4wd truck.

Oh, I’m not thinking it will be hard to find something. I’m just thinking it would be nice to hear what advice people have in case there’s something I haven’t thought of yet.

4 miles is such a short commute, even mpg isn’t an issue. What you need to consider is what kind of 2nd car fits your family and needs best. Perhaps a Civic would be a good addition; great mpg and a decent back seat and trunk area for family trips. Or, a huge pick up if you are considering a major DIY home remodel.

You need to consider what vehicle makes sense for your family and needs for the next 7 to 10 years. The Rav4 should be a good basic family car for at least that long as well.

The Cobalt LT has slightly higher depreciation than the Civic or Corolla and less than the Elantra. I suggest that you look at a 2006 or 2007 Cobalt LT sedan. It will be reliable transportation at a lower price than the Honda or Toyota - a couple thousand lower. Depreciation is only about 10% higher for a Cobalt LT vs. a Civic LX. Take advantage of depreciation twice: once for the lower depreciation after 5 years and again for the large price differential built up over those 5 years. A 2006 Cobalt LT with auto transmission will cost around $9200 from a dealer while the equivalent Civic LX will cost about $11,100. Depreciation over 2 years just won’t eat up the difference. If resale value compared to what you pay for it is your primary concern, find a cherry Cobalt LT.