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Replacement car for 80-year-old mother-in-law

Somewhat by default I’m the car expert in my extended family (not a high bar). My mother-in-law’s 2003 Hyundai Accent w/100K+ miles is now costing more to repair than it’s worth, plus I’m worried about it conking out on her mid-trip. I’m looking for suggestions for a make & model of a solid used car for her basic driving in the Northeast (and even though she’s my mother-in-law, I would like the car to have brakes, windshield, seats, and all the usual safety features!). We do need to keep to a budget for car price and later insurance costs. No family members live nearby, so most of this needs to be done remotely. Thanks in advance for any help.

It’s worth reading the reliability ratings in Consumer Reports. For a used car, how it’s been maintained is also quite important; if you can get the maintenance history, that’s a big plus. Reports like the ones from Carfax are often missing information, so take those with a grain of salt. Whatever car she finds should be taken to a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection.

Has anyone ridden with her recently to make sure she’s still capable of driving safely?

Any car can break down at any time. Can you break down repairs?

I would get her the newest (used) Honda Civic that your budget will allow. The Civic is similar in size to the Accent, so your MIL should be able to drive it if she was able to drive the Accent. Plus it’s quite reliable and reasonable to maintain.

Plus they are quite common and a good used one won’'t be hard to find in the Northeast.

Something mid sized but with a good visibility view will be easy to maneuver .
My 84 y.o. dad has a Focus, it’s a good fit for him.

I have a 92 year old customer who has always had Mustangs.
1 - Mustangs have gotten the high belt line syndrome that too many cars have these days…even I do NOT like to sit down in a bucket to drive plus they have that high rhino hump hood too.
2 - As she gets older her depth and distance awarness seems to be waning a bit.
Add those two together…and the fact that she might…might top out at about 4’8" or so.
Well, she’s been bumpimg in to a lot more things of late and I stronly suggested a smaller car for her, but she’s mustang blind. ( going back to an 03 or older would be a good fit )

New or used? New cars cost more initially, but the warranty eliminates repair costs for a few years. And with no previous owner, maintenance practices in the past are no issue either. Since she already owns a small economy car, something similar would be inexpensive new. If she likes the Accent, why not another one?

More than once I’ve had to eat my own words but I don’t mind if I’m wrong. Used cars now are a real crap shoot because of their high prices, unknown and possibly abused maintenance, and other issues. At the auto show, I was amazed at the low cost of the Mitsubishis, starting around $16,000 with zero interest for 60 months. Complete with 5 year warrantees, and a ten year 100K power train warranty. Really, I’d take a look at new ones and also the Mazdas and maybe even Honda. They are really a better buy than an unknown used car unless you can be certain of the history. And that takes a lot of investigation and time and money to determine.

Eh…for an 80 yr old driver who presumably will be driving for only a few more years, and won’t be racking up many miles, new seems overkill to me. For half the price of a new car you can get a perfectly good used one without much effort. $10k will get you a clean fairly recent Civic that’ll do fine for the 5-10 years of driving 5000 miles or less per year by mother-in-law.

And I like ken green’s suggestion of a Focus. Heck, for $10k around here you can get a Focus that’s practically new.

I’d recommend something easy for her to get in and out of; a small-ish crossover like a CRV or Rav4 comes to mind. Climbing out of a car everytime you drive can hurt the knees and hips after awhile.

You might look at cars being sold by rental agencies. They are usually about three years old, but have high mileage for their age. For an older driver unlikely to be driving long distances that shouldn’t be a big problem. If you buy directly from the companies the price is usually very clear and there is no haggling. The cars are typically fairly common models without a lot of fancy options, but not stripped, either.

I’d probably be looking for a mid-sized car or compact SUV. They will be easier to get into than a smaller car and easier to park than a large car. The Ford Fusion of a few years ago or the essentially identical Mercury Zephyr or MKZ would be excellent choices. They are very common, not expensive, and extremely reliable. They are closely related to the less common Mazda6, also very good. Of course, the Camry and Accord are fine cars, but you pay a premium for them. The Nissan Altima is similarly nice, common in rental fleets, and cheaper. I also like the Hyundai Sonata of a few years ago, a straightforward car. The Kia Optima is closely related, but less common.

Of small crossovers, the Honda CR-V is the obvious choice, but it isn’t cheap. It’s a bit more carlike than most competitors, like the Ford Escape or Toyota RAV4. Those might take a little too much climbing to get into. One slightly smaller model well worth considering is the Toyota Matrix or its twin model, the Pontiac Vibe. These are just a little taller than an ordinary compact, just right for sliding into. Both are basically a wagon version of the always excellent Toyota Corolla, but they aren’t as popular. Being sold as a Pontiac keeps the prices on those down for no good reason.

Maybe ask her what she likes/is looking for in a car?

If I asked my 85 yo mom, I would only get a list of things she hasn’t liked about her last three cars, with a few likes. Liked the Accord best, until my dad wrecked it. Likes the current Civic, generally, but found the Accord easier to get in and out of. Finds the Civic easy to park. She only drives short distances, with only brief, unavoidable freeway stretches, so collision safety doesn’t matter much to ber, if the car is fairly modern. At her age, her body can’t absorb forces very well, so the relative differences may not be the same as for a younger drivers. She likes her Civic, an EX from two generations back, for its easy to read gauges and large buttons and knobs. I’m sure she would not like touchscreens unless relatively simple. She disliked the uncomfortable seats on her wheezy old Escort, found the hatch hard to close, and thought the interior looked cheap (it did). She found that car depressing and they kept it only a couple of years before trading it in on the Accord

I suspect her tastes were similar to many of her age. She wanted something warm and comfy and easy to drive. It didn’t need to be especially large, just big enough to make getting in and out easy and with big, simple controls that could easily be picked out by aging eyes. She preferred a conventional sedan as the trunklid was easiest to handle and any large items she had delivered. We check her driving when we visit and so far she seems fine.

My dad’s desclining driving skills and general lack of alertness were some of the first signs something was wrong (he was developing lymphoma). Not long after that, before we could figure out how serious the problem was, he t-boned the empty pasenger side of a car at lowish speed by missing a light that had just turned red. No one was hurt. Checking on driving skills can turn up poor responses ans the need to give up a license, but also point to underlying medical problems. He had always been a fine, careful driver who had never been at fault in an accident. In the months leading up to the accident he had seemed tired and distractible. As I guess he was. It has been eight years since that accident and seven since he died of the lymphoma.

My mom is much more self aware. She drives fine and is more insecure than she needs to be for the short distances at low speeds she drives, just trips to the doctors and drugstore. She recently moved to an assisted living facility so doesn’t even need a car for those trips. She’s the aging parent you want, along with my partner’s dad, who just said he was ready to stop when he was eighty. I hope as boomers age we get a culture that accepts that not everyone needs to drive and finds affordable ways for people to stay mobile.

@Bing "right on"
With all due respect to older drivers everywhere, you make a very good case for buying cars that may not excel at long term cost effectiveness. We know of many cars that are cheap to buy and expensive to own past year 5 and into 8 which makes them more costly to own with higher yearly costs. So, I will take it a step further and say, “avoid Hondas and Toyotas” which may cost more initially though they save in the long run. Save that extra few grand at purchase and put it into a cruise NOW. BUY AS CHEAP AND AS NEW AS POSSIBLE WITH THE BEST WARRANTY. I may disagree that you can’t get a decent used car which might pay for itself over time…but now is not the time. We are looking at security of ownership and at year by year basis and not that far into the future.

Don’t bother eating your words…they are probably the easiest to digest for this driving segment. I might add Hyundais and others to this list but your assessment is right on ! If, after the warranty runs out and she is still driving, employ the same strategy again. Also, if the dealer offers road side assistance for the warranty years…GET IT TOO !

I would agree that seniors who drive very little per year can use a vehicle with less than stellar ratings but with good comfort featues and low purchase cost.

We have several senior friends who have Dodge Caravan minivans and reallly like them. One drives 6000 miles per year, mostly city, the other maybe 8000 miles per year. Neither will likely wear them out.

Where we live you can buy a Dodge Grand caravan for $9000 less than the cheapest Toyota Sienna or Honda Odessey. Service is readily available and any good garage can easily fix them.

I’m humbled. Plus one place to go for any problem and the dealer pays. No way to get taken to the cleaner on a repair since its their dime anyway. My dad used to go to the dealer for everything and schmooz them while he was at it. I thought he paid more than he should sometimes, but as I age, I ask myself who needs the hassle anymore?

I think we both may not quite be that age but we sure look at car purchases differently. It’s a little more about comfort and security and less about resale value, worrying about repairs and mileage costs. We just don’t drive as many miles and to be blunt, I am less interested in leaving a good car for my heirs then having the most secure driving situation for my wife and I now.

Seat comfort can mean something very different to an older driver. Despite having seats that seem comfortable to me, my mom has a little back cushion that has to go behind her lower back. To me it looks ridiculously uncomfortable, but it works for her, at least for the very short distances she drives. Her biggest concern is reliability, so a Civic is a great car for her. When one of us visits we always drive her car and try to get in one trip long enough to get it a bit of a workout. Otherwise she’d be putting about a hundred miles per year on it. That car really has been a gem. Until a recent move into assisted living, she was in a senior community with several thousand others. Because of those numbers there were quite a few businesses specializing in their needs. She has a great mechanic who really keeps on top of things, sending appropriate reminders and doing a great job explaining why some things need doing even if you are hardly driving. Mom isn’t likely to keep the car much longer. The assisted living facility has a shuttle van and her doctors are very close. I had the usual negative views of assisted living, but the place she found is lovely.