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Used Honda Element- winter in MA


I will be moving from the Midwest to Massachusetts this summer, and I want to replace my VW Beetle for a small SUV. I’m considering pre-owned cars only and I would like to get an AWD or 4WD due to winter driving to and from work (I will have to commute 35-38 miles everyday). Although the design of the Honda Element is not my favorite, I do like the safety ratings, cargo space, and pre-owned Elements are within my budget. However, what I’m not crazy about is the fuel economy (~19-20 MPG).
So here’s my main question: is a 4WD Honda Element worth the 19MPG during MA winters or is it overkill?
Also, if you were considering to buy a used Honda Element (year 2006 and newer) what kind of questions would you ask the dealer, and what kind of issues would you have the mechanic pay special attention to while inspecting it?

Thanks for your input!

I think you’d be better off getting a FWD vehicle and a set of winter wheels with snow tires on them. Less maintenance hassles, and better traction. 4WD is absolutely not necessary in the winter unless you live somewhere remote where you get snowstorms that dump a foot that doesn’t get plowed, or unless you have a job that requires you to drive to remote areas and to get there when you need to get there, no matter what.

You’d probably be happier in a 2WD CRV with snow tires.

As for questions to ask the dealer, “How much” followed by “Yeah right, no really, how much?” :wink:

There really aren’t any questions to ask the dealer because you can’t trust the answers. They will lie if they think it will help them sell the car. If you find a car that you think you’re ready to buy, take it on a test drive to a trusted local mechanic (not one employed by that dealership or any dealership owned by that dealership’s owners - - or any dealership at all, for that matter) and get a pre-purchase inspection done. Use the results to either decide not to buy the car, or to use any flaws found as bargaining chips to get the price knocked down.

We need more details. Will you be in the Berkshires or somewhere flatter? Will you be living in the city, in the suburbs, or in a rural area? Can you adjust your schedule when there’s a bad storm or do you need to be at work on time no matter what? Are you comfortable driving in snow? A front-wheel-drive car with winter tires may very well be enough for you.

For winter driveability…
the TIRES are your biggest variable.
Buying a used car has the greatest probabilty to get worn out or el-cheapo tires that are not what you’d want for winter driving.
When buying used, be ready to add tires to your total cost of aquiring the car.

Thanks for your comment shadowfax! Negotiating is really hard for me, but I think I’m learning some of the tricks.
lion9car: specifics are TDB, but I’ll be commuting around the south coast area, e.g., New, Bedford, Fairhaven, wareham, Plymouth, Middleboro, etc. As to the schedule flexibility, I think my employer will be understanding and will not put staff at risk when big storms are underway. Now that being said, winter driving, especially icy roads make me uneasy

“winter driving, especially icy roads make me uneasy”

Whether you wind up getting an AWD vehicle or a FWD vehicle, I strongly urge you to invest in a set of 4 high-quality winter tires (Michelin X-Ice is the top-rated) mounted on their own set of steel wheels for ease of installation.

In addition to getting you going much easier on wintery road surfaces, they can dramatically shorten your stopping distance in the event that you have to jam on the brakes. Trust me…being able to stop…let’s say…in a 30 foot shorter distance can make the difference between having a collision and not having one.

Also, you will be much less likely to lose traction–and to skid–on curves if you are using high-quality winter tires. You just have to realize that–even with their superior traction–they don’t make you invincible, and you still have to leave much longer following distances between you and the car ahead of you, and to take corners more slowly.

I'm considering pre-owned cars only and I would like to get an AWD or 4WD due to winter driving to and from work (I will have to commute 35-38 miles everyday).

Massachusetts doesn’t get enough snow to NEED AWD or 4WD. This past year was one of the worse on records and Boston received less then 100". FWD will be fine 99.999999% of the time. And when it does snow…they have this great invention called snow plows.

More important in areas in and around middle New England for general travel on paved roads, is traction and stability control. Honda came on board late with this stuff while Toyota made it standard on all SUVs much earlier in 2005. Even a fwd equipped with stability and traction control can do surprisingly well if caught in bad weather. My kids live in the Mass/NH area and only my daughter who is a home therapist and must travel snow covered dirt roads on the outskirts with regularity needs AWD. If that’s not you, anything with these modern traction aids and tires rated well for winter travel will do. AWD will get you in trouble faster then the wink of an eye if you are not skilled and don’t have good winter tires in slippery conditions.

If you plan to use awd as a crutch, you may need one instead without winter driving preparation including experience.

The South Coast gets more rain than snow…If a big Nor’easter is forecast, you simply stay home…With a set of winter tires, your Beetle will be fine…

19-20 mpg for 35-38 miles will eat your budget alive.
I honestly think your best approach is a good set of winter tires in your beetle. And a “blizzard bag” in the back packed for an overnight in a hotel.

I’ve been driving in this climate for over 45 years, and good tires, good technique, and good sense will do you fine. I’ve never had 4wd or awd. Good sense means when the weather is really bad don’t even try, and if the blizzard starts while you’re at work stay at the nearest hotel. Your life is worth a lousy few hundred bucks.

Post here in the fall and we can talk about things like winter wiper blades, car prep, and such.

Out of curiosity, where in the Midwest are you coming from?

The Honda Element is basically the same as the 2002-2006 Honda CRV just with a different body so you have the 2.4 I4 shared with the CRV and Accord which has been very reliable. You might only need FWD with a great set of winter tires but the 4wd version of the CRV can be economical (30mpg on long highway drives,24-25 in mixed driving with dad’s 2007) but the 4wd only activates when the front wheels start to slip. The latest version of the CRV has a AWD system that is much better. The only specific issues that I am aware of with the Element are rattles from the side doors (different from the CRV) and lower mpg due to the boxy shape. These use a Service minder system that tells you when to change the oil. Roughly every 7500-10,000 miles or at least once a year.

The element doesn’t appeal to everyone but It’s a great pick for those who need the space.

"Massachusetts doesn’t get enough snow to need AWD or 4 wd.“
You would never know that driving through the neighborhoods and seeing all the 4wd SUVs and trucks parked in the yards. You would think some of these guys lived in Northern Maine. The ones that are really “well prepared” for winter are the SUVs with 20” plus alloys and performance tires. In my son’s neighborhood there had to be a 4wd in every other driveway. Yet, when they get snow, the roads are completely cleared by noon. Maybe they know something the rest of us don’t. When we drive down there from Maine to visit during the winter, we are the only SUV with snow tires. I very rarely see snow tires anywhere in Mass. during trips there in the winter. The kids visit us on the lake in Maine in the summer while we visit them in the winter. It’s understood that Mass is relatively snowless compared to areas that keep their snow the entire winter. Personally, if I lived in Mass, the last thing I would think of in a car is AWD, unless I liked to travel north regularly in the winter for recreation.

The roads can get treacherous in the Monadnock region in western Mass and western NH. I worked out there for a year in the '80s. But I always kept a blizzard bag and a credit card handy. I stayed in the Motel 6 in South Deerfield Mass on more than one occasion. It wasn’t classy, but is was safe!

Yeah, the western part of MA is different. More like northern NE. SE MA is really quite mild, more like NYC than Maine. If there is a hazard it isn’t snow, but ice. I like the Element for its boxy practicality, not for awd. And I dislike the Beetle for its back seat comfortable only for the headless. When you get there you’ll find plenty of ordinary cars. My 88 yo mil drives a rwd BMW and thinks nothing of it. She spent almost her entire life driving rwd cars. Of course there are safer cars, but good driving practices are more important than the specific vehicle. Good tires, too.

If you like the Element and it meets your needs, it might be nice to have, though the commuting costs argue in favor of something more efficient.

The Element is a great car, but the mpg ratings are true - it is not very good for fuel efficiency. My son had one and put many trouble free miles on it for 6+ years before getting a new Honda Fit. The Fit is smaller, but gets really good fuel economy and is big enough for his family trips.

In MA you really shouldn’t need AWD or 4WD as long as you put good winter tires on your car, such as Michelin X-Ice. I have these winter tires on an '03 Honda Civic and I have no problems and live in an area with more snow and more hills than you’d have in Boston Metro area.

You really have a long commute and gas mileage will get to be an issue. I’d really suggest you look at cars like the Honda Fit, or Civic (Corolla etc,). The small SUV’s with 4WD or AWD all get pretty poor mpg’s, and pre-2011 Subaru’s get very poor mpg.