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Two car seats, light towing, good mpg?

Hello forum

I’m looking for a little help picking a new used car. My wife and I are expecting our second kid any day, and when she goes back to work in a few months, we’ll need a second car.

Currently, we’re sharing a 2000 BMW 540, 6 speed, lots of fun. But it takes premium gas, and lots of it. And, while diy maintenance isn’t nearly as bad as some say, there is a cost to the premium ride, power, handling, etc. And the (legal, official, etc) tow hitch options for this car are limited.

So, I’m looking for something that can safely and comfortably carry two car seats, get over 30 mpg on the highway, and once a month or so, pull a 4x8 utility trailer to the hardware store for a few sheets of plywood, or mulch, or whatever. It won’t replace the F250 crew cab I sold a few years ago, but it will be much more practical 350 days a year.

I’d also like to stay within sight of the fit and finish of the 14 year old beemer (no trabants please) and my wife and I are both about 6 feet tall, so our knees will not work with a civic with the car seats back there.

As to price and age, we’d like to stay under $8k in the Houston TX market, prefer less than about 8 years old. I’ve done complete suspension, cooling, and fuel system replacement in the driveway, and ground up rebuilds in the garage, but with the second kiddo, I don’t intend to buy a “mechanics special.”

We drove a company Focus hatchback for a year, with one car seat, but it was a 2013, and I’m not seeing any of that generation, with a top trim level, available for a price I want to pay.

We’d also prefer a manual transmission.

That’s a tall order. Under 8 years old, 4 door to comfortably hold 2 car seats, less than 8 grand, 30 mpg highway and tow capable. All I can think of would be a small SUV with a 4 cylinder or possibly a Subaru wagon?

I don’t follow pricing, but agree that your other specs sound like a compact crossover/SUV would be the best deal. They are usually rated for light towing. You’ll have to figure out the weight of trailer + cargo and look up towing specs, but if your loads really are that minor, most utes could handle it.

Your back will also thank you. It’s much easier getting child seats into an SUV with big doors and a seat you can slide it across instead of having to lift it up before removing it.

Premium fuel is required by almost all European cars because the octane rating of their regular gas is about like our premium. Japanese and American luxury cars often suggest premium, but admit regular is OK. This is unlikely to be an issue. Common models are also fairly cheap to maintain and repair.

So, what was around 8-10 years ago? The Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 were, though the earliest RAV4s were tiny and not very practical. The 2nd generation is very decent. The CR-V has changed in styling, but not much else. All have been good, if a bit ho hum.

The early Subaru Foresters are rather carlike, but with very tall roofs. Subaru has had more mechanical problems, partly because their awd systems are complex. I always liked the Forester, but a high-mileage Subaru would worry more. The Ford Escape and the nearly identical Mazda Tribute were made for a decade with modest changes before last year’s redesign. They always sold well and are likely to be cheaper than any Japanese SUV, though they were mainly designed by Mazda and share quite a bit with the Mazda3 (so did the Focus). The V6 version would be better for towing, but the fours were generally more reliable and get better gas mileage.

For even better towing there are the truck-based models like the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner, but they are scarcer, more expensive, and get worse gas mileage. If you figure to be towing regularly these are a reasonable option, but for the same money you can get a newer compact crossover. Can’t have everything. Compact cars aren’t usually made to tow and are less roomy in back. Bigger cars solve that, but cost a bit more and the gas mileage is worse (less so now than a decade ago). I don’t know if it can tow at all, but the Pontiac Vibe (lesser known twin of the Toyota Matrix) is an excellent family car that sits up higher, like a crossover, but is essentially a Corolla wagon, and drives like one. You might be able to afford an early one. The Vibe is usually cheaper because of the Pontiac branding. It and the Matrix were made side-by-side in Fremont, CA.

The Escape hybrid comes close. You could find a 2005 to 2007 in your price range.

That pretty much fits my G6. Can tow up to 1500#, comfortable, 28-32 on the highway with a V6, all the options, and will get up and go with the best of them. Don’t know what they’re selling for now. Got my 09 in 10 and would get another one if they were still made.

Is the Escape Hybrid rated for towing? It wouldn’t surprise me if it wasn’t, since hybrid drivetrains are controlled by computers to provide maximum fuel mileage. Towing would screw up the aerodynamics and complicate things. If it can tow, it would be a reasonable buy, if you could find one. Make sure you have any used hybrid checked over by a mechanic who works on them regularly and can assess the condition of the battery. Toyota has had no problem with theirs failing early, but Honda has had serious problems for some reason. The Ford hybrid system is conceptually more like the Toyota system, with two motors and the engine driving a planetary gearset instead of a conventional transmission. Those parts are very simple and should present less risk of failure than a conventional transmission or a CVT in an older car.

It wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't, since hybrid drivetrains are controlled by computers to provide maximum fuel mileage.

There are several Hybrid SUV’s that can tow up to 3000lbs. So the inability to tow should have nothing to do with it being a Hybrid or not. Although Towing with a Hybrid will significantly decrease your gas mileage.

The Escape Hybrid was rated for 1,000lbs max. The Highlander Hybrid was rated for towing and came with the factory tow package as standard when first introduced.

When looking for a used car under $8K that gets good mileage, can seat two six footers and a baby, and has tow capability, you’re going to have to select from a very limited field. And you may have to accept something not up to your “BMW standards”, something a bit more “pedestrian”, like the rest of the world drives when they embark on building a family.

If you were buying new you could be choosey. Used car buyers with budgetary constraints don’t have that luxury.

All I can say is good luck.

Seats 2 tall adults with 2 car seats in the back comfortably
Fit and finish of a 2000 BMW 5 series
can tow 1500 pounds(?)
Less than 8 years old
Under $8000
AND gets 30mpg highway to boot

If all of those are required, i fear you may never find what you seek

Since you had an F-350, you and a Crown Vic or Grand Marque will be old friends…30 MPG? No, but 22-25 is not unreasonable to expect…Body & Frame construction, great tow vehicle, plenty of room, huge trunk, worlds best A/C, easy to work on…A little cumbersome around town, unequaled out on the interstate…

Thanks for all the replies. I’m not likely to consider a hybrid, as I prefer to work on my own cars, and all the used ones I know of start having expensive problems at about 8 years old.

I had not considered a full size American car. Not sure why, as I drove a Crown Vic in high school, and loved it. I never saw over 20 mpg (another v8 in 2 ton car), but at least it’s regular and not premium, and the insurance may be a bit less. Back to craigslist…

I realize I may have come off as a bit uppity with my fit and finish requirements. I’m looking at the interior of my car, which is wore in a few places but a long way from worn out, and my father in laws 2005 honda pilot, with the “leather” worn through in several places, the plastic of the arm rest cracked about 5 years in, and the plastic chrome worn off the door handle so he cuts him self every other month. I am willing to pay for a quality, valuable, product.

Until I read the "undet $8k " I was all set to say, "wait for the 2015 Tacoma crew cab in 2 wd. "
$8k will barely be a down payment. Best of luck ! If you find something that reliably fills your needs for that price, let us know.