Used Car for a New Family

My wife and I have recently been given the exciting news that our first child will be arriving next spring. Among the various issues that have arisen is the need for a new car. Currently we are driving a 1998 Fors Escort we inherited. It is unreliable and while fine for me to drive the five miles to work and back I wouldn’t want to be driving my infant child around in it. We can probably afford up to about $8000 but given the circumatances would realize we need to save as much as we can. We live in a Northeastern city so we don’t want anything too large. Does anyone have any suggestions for a good used car?

My favorite inexpensive used car is the Toyota Corolla / Chevrolet Prizm, which are mechanically identical and equally reliable. If you want a wagon the Toyota Matrix / Pontiac Vibe is a good choice. These two are basically wagon versions of the Corolla, which might be more practical considering all the stuff you have to haul around with a baby these days.

Other good choices are the Honda Civic or Accord, the Toyota Camry, the Mazda Protege and Mazda3, the Scion xA and xB, and the list goes on.

I suggest you obtain a copy of Consumer Reports annual automobile issue. It contains a list of used car “Best Bets” in various price ranges. There is also a list of “Used Cars to Avoid,” and you definitely want to look at that one.

When you buy a used car, don’t spend your entire budget on the car. Save some money because whatever you buy may need some maintenance soon after purchase, and you’ll need money for that.

First of all, congratulations!
I would recommend at least a midsized car to begin with. Although you can get by in a small car, with a midsized one there is more room for the baby carseat and if you go on a trip there is room to bring a playpen, diapers, etc. along with your own luggage. If you have another child in a couple of years the extra room will be helpful again as you’ll have 2 seats to contend with. And, in my opinion, most midsized cars are safer than small cars.

In our case, after our son was a year old we bought a used minivan and are happy with it. We bought a Chrysler Town and Country (Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth minivans depreciate much faster than Honda/Toyota but they’re still decent vans). If you travel with any relatives it’s a very comfortable way to do so. It’s also great to get into the van during a rainstorm to buckle up the kid(s) and then move to the front without exiting the van. If you still make occasional repairs I think you still come out money ahead with a domestic branded minivan.

I don’t know if a minivan is “too large” or not, but if not, the Chrysler minivans, Toyota Sienna, and second-generation Honda Odyssey would work. However, if only 3 of you are going to be in the car, a sedan such as the Toyota Camry would work.

Don’t overlook a Crown Vic or Grand Marq. You might scoff at the suggestion, but MILLIONS of police cars and taxis can not be wrong…Used ones are reasonably priced, they off boiler-plate reliability, comfort and safety. They get 25-28 mpg on the highway, 17-19 around town. Their A/C is unequaled. The “archaic” body and frame construction provides unequaled crash protection. The trunk will accommodate TWO strollers and a picnic basket with room for more. They are COMPLETELY uncool, and a little cumbersome driving around town, but that’s a small price to pay…


I like to recommend minivans for families too, but with limited access to engine parts and accessories, labor for maintenance and repairs can get expensive. With that in mind, I recommend a family sedan, like the Accord and the Camry. I think a four door Civic would also work, especially if you can get the child seat in the center of the back seat, which is the safest part of the car.

Congratulations, zenright!

My advice is to get the smallest car you can–then you won’t take as much with you. My son’s advice would be to get a minivan. He has one child and it really comes in handy. The minivan is especially handy when they travel, but even around town it is easy to get in and out of and to put in the car seat. Their other car is a Ford Mustang and it is limited in what they can take with them and it is difficult to put a child seat in the back.

I drive a minivan as well. My son has a 2000 Ford WIndstar. I had owned this minivan, but sold it to him. It now has 130,000 miles and has had no major problems. I maintained it well when I owned it, so it was in good shape when he bought it in 2005. He had owned a 1999 Ford Windstar that he purchased second hand. It had been used to deliver packages in its earlier life. He bought it at 85,000 and drove it to over 150,000. He did have $1200 worth of work done to the transmission, but that was all. He sold it for $2700 when he bought my minivan. I drive a 2006 Chevrolet Uplander that I bought in 2006 as a “program vehicle”. It has 51,000 miles and I have had no problems.

In your $8000 price range, look for a vehicle that has been well maintained. I think that is much more important than repair ratings by Consumer Reports. You have plenty of time to shop around, so take your time.

You need a 4-door car. Stretching to put your child into a seat in the back is hard enough with a 4-door; it’s a lot harder with a 2-door. The Prizm was last sold in 2002. You should pay about $4000 to a private party or $5000 to dealer for a 2002 Prizm LSi. The car gets 26/36 MPG. If you buy a midsize car, it will get about 26 MPG on the highway. The Prizm is about $2000 less than the Corolla if comparably equipped.

I agree with the Vibe/Prizm suggestions. You should spend less to buy either as they’re GM products, but should get a better life span out of them as they’re actually Toyotas underneath.

Will you be using this vehicle for yourself, or will this be a 2nd/3rd car?

I’m going to be Mr. Realistic Nasty here and I want to tell you that if you can’t afford at least a new bottom of the line new car, then you can’t afford to send your child to college. You might even had planned for a good car before you expected a baby. Hope very hard and for the next 18 years for a scholarship or a win at the lottery.

For only 5 miles to work, a bicycle can do well in good weather. City bus is good in bad weather.

Being able to send a kid to college = being able to buy a new car? What does one thing have to do with another? Lots of young parents live on a tight budget but develop their careers over the years. Buying a used car might leave money in the budget for a prepaid college plan.

I guess if I can’t afford a new car, I won’t be able to afford to retire? Maybe buying a used car will allow me to put more money away for retirement.

Your logic seems flawed.