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What should we buy?

So we have a 2001 Subaru Outback that we hate with every fiber of our being (lousy car, bad gas mileage, Subaru is an awful company, etc.) and are looking to replace it.

We (dad, mom, 2 little kids and potential future dog) want a good used car that is fairly room, decent road clearance (we hike alot), a hatchback of sorts would be good b/c of the dog, good gas mileage, reliable. We want a front wheel drive manual transmission. And we don’t want to spend more than $10,000.

We’ve looked at the Golf/Rabbit/Passats (are they reliable…?) the Toyota Matrix (is it too low/small?), the CRV and RAV-4 (gas mileage), old Accord wagons (how are its safety features).

ANy thougths ideas, suggestions would really be helpful. We are frankly at a loss.


Every one of the vehicles you mentioned are not as large or have less gas mileage than your Subaru. Except for the dog issue (because we don’t have one), we find the Outback wagon to be reliable and relatively comfortable. My wife was looking at gas mileage, and estimates for Camry and Accord come in no better than her actual gas mileage for her Legacy wagon.

Given VW high parts cost and relative lack of reliability, I would pass on those options immediately. I think the Matrix is smaller than what you have, space-wise, and you want to add another family member, the dog. CRV and RAV4 both probably get less gas mileage than your current Subaru.

Points to consider…

You should buy the Consumer Reports used car guide and see what you like.

Your right about the size, definitely. Our problem is, we hate our Subaru. We bought it used from a dealer in 2003 with ~50,000 miles on it. Since we’ve had it have had to replace two head gaskets (they were leaking the ‘wrong’ way according to Subaru so they wouldn’t warranty it) and a whole bunch of less expensive items that shouldn’t have needed replacement at such low mileage. Neither Subaru nor the dealer were willing to help us. Then this past summer the engine blew, stranding us 700 miles from home. So, we put a new engine in and one of the head gaskets in that engine went about 4 weeks afterwards. The check engine light is constantly on, the boots have needed replacement many times. What else … the brakes have had to be replaced several times … The brakes are now making weird clunking noises. The clutch is still good but I chalk that up to us knowing how to drive a manual, not Subaru knowing how to make a clutch. I mean, we are good with our cars - we have a 12 year old p/u with 150000 miles still going strong and had an Accord (that we still regret selling) that all we did was change the oil and timing belt it when we sold it with ~160,000 miles on it.

SO yes I know people may suggest we keep the Outback but the fact is Subaru could give me a car free and I wouldn’t accept it. I can not WAIT to replace this car.

Sorry to rant …

Right. It’s available at your local bookstore. It’s your best starting place.

First off, sorry for the double post. Computer operator error.

We have actually spent the better part of the last year looking for a car that will fit all (or even most) of our requirements. Having to replace the engine and then the head gaskets blowing on the new engine have just been the final straw.

I’m not sure if the car we want exists. I recognize we will most likely have to sacrifice something. I had just been hoping that someone might suggest a car we had not thought of …


Sorry to hear about your challenges. So far, my wife has put 190K miles on two different Legacy wagons, so obviously our experience is much better than yours. I have noticed that her brakes on the second Subaru didn’t last as long on the first, even though her driving habits and usage has not changed.

Consider a mini-van that your family can grow into. I drive a Mazda MPV daily, but lose 20% in gas mileage, compared to my wife’s Legacy, but gain nearly twice as much cargo space. A Sienna or Odyssey does a little less on the gas mileage, but you gain a bit more space inside. While not “cool”, a minivan still makes plenty of sense for a growing family. My MPV is our chosen road trip car, because we can fit two grandsons and all our stuff inside, with no problems, and still get 18 mpg. It has 120K miles on it and is going strong.

VW = not the most reliable, and as others have mention, they are quite pricey to fix. Many of them use premium fuel as well

Matrix/Vibe = probably a little small for four people and a dog

CRV/RAV-4 = $10k will not buy you one of the roomier newer models. The older ones aren’t that big inside

Accord Wagon = probably your best bet, but finding one in decent shape will be a challenge. They weren’t very popular.

On another note, the CRV and RAV-4 get about the same fuel mileage as the other cars you have listed (save for the Matrix/Vibe). Keep in mind these vehicles are just glorfied economy cars with a higher ride height. They are a little heavier than the vehicles that they are based on, and have worse aerodynamics, but don’t expcect just becuase they have the SUV label that they aren’t thrifty on gas. For the record consider that I consider 15 MPG quite frugal. So take it for what it’s worth :slight_smile:

My suggestion would be a minivan as well, but also consider something like the Ford Escape. I can’t say if they ever came with manual transmission, but they’re pretty good vehicles, and the Ford badge hurts resale over Honda/Toyota

We had actually considered minivans but they really don’t get that good gas mileage. One exception seems to be the Mazda5. Another car we had thought about was the 2005 Scion Xa. The Honda Fit’s look cool but are still a little more $ than we want to spend.

Putting four people + dog in a Scion or Fit will prove to be awkward at best. Honestly a minvan sounds like type of vehicle that is best for your situation. Yes, gas mileage isn’t going to be great. But in the long run, the extra $5 a week in gas will more than offset the extra room they provide. You may want to try for a 4 cylinder Dodge Caravan, they are about the most fuel effiecent minivans around.

CRV/Rav4 mileage is the same as an Outback even in FWD format due to higher wind resistance.

Golf/Rabbit/Passat are more likely to be unreliable. Subaru’s of your vintage are average reliability overall but have pesky habit of blowing head gaskets.

Accord wagons are too old now to be “reliable”. They may very well be but your chances after 8yrs/150k miles old drop dramtically of trouble free.

In your situation I would suggest a minivan a Dodge/Chrysler. Incredible depreciation so low miles/age for 10k but great vehicle . Just change the tranny fluid and oil and throw it away in 5+ years for something more efficient if they ever appear on the market.

I agree. Your posting screams mini-van to experienced parents and grandparents. I also agree with Dodge mini-van. If you wanted to drive a vehicle 250,000 miles, it must be Honda or Toyota mini-van. But, the Dodge does well up to around 120,000 miles.

You may not feel you need a mini-van, but those kids are small. Every year they get bigger, and five years from now you will want a mini-van even if you can get by now.

You don’t say how much you drive under what conditions. If you are commuting 100 miles a day to work that is one thing. If you only drive 12,000 miles a year, even at $4 gas, gas is not the only expense. People tend to get caught up in the latest hysteria, which recently has been gas costs. Look at total cost. Low mileage drivers may not spend all that much a year on gas, in comparison to insurance, and depreciation. You need to look at the real figures.

I do not hear many parents who drive modest mileage complaining about gas costs on Caravans.


If you wanted to drive a vehicle 250,000 miles, it must be Honda or Toyota mini-van.[/i]

My '95 Caravan has 213K on it and its 3.8 is still strong enough to keep up with (or blow the doors off) all of the Hondas and Toyotas. Good compression. Burns no oil (leaks a little). 24mpg hwy. The tranny was - of course - rebuilt at around 130K but there is not much of a way of getting around that w/ the minivans. The tranny is the weak point in all of them, including the Hondas and Toyotas which have had their share of tranny problems.

As for the minivan in general - we are now minivan people until my kids make it to college for all of those good reasons that some people are just minivan people.

However, you would also want to look at all of the “crossovers” (e.g. Ford Freestyle and such)

We would love to have a car that went 250,000 miles. If I could own a car for 10+ years, I’d be very happy. As I said, I still regreat having sold my 93 Accord. As far as minivans, I suppose we could get one, but their clearance really isn’t all that good for forest roads (as I said we do a lot of hiking). Plus, I just feel like it’s too big for now. If we had the $$ to buy a new car maybe we’d consider one but we’re hoping to find something that will keep us going for 3 - 5 years, maybe a little more. As far as American cars … well I just can’t do it. Maybe I remember the 1980’s too well but I have no confidence in their reliability. There, I said it. I will say though that our Ford p/u is great but that was low risk purchase as we bought it for all of $3000.

As far as our driving, our commutes are reasonably short but we do spend summers on long road trips. Our concern for gas mileage is more an environmental thing than a price of gas thing.

On another note our mechanic (who we do trust) says that although he doesn’t have a crystal ball he does feel that with all the work we’ve done on our S*&%ru that it could very well last us another 100,000 miles. I just can’t help but wonder if the karma thing at this point is too bad with this car, kwim?

As I said in my op, this is something we have spent alot of time on over the last year and I quite frankly just don’t think our car exists (at least not without a big or long term car payment). We were in Germany last year and drove this fantastic diesel hatchback. It was roomy, we felt safe and it got fantastic mileage and thought to ourselves why in the world can’t we buy this car in the US???

Thanks for all your thoughts and suggestions …

You can wait for that diesel hatch to arrive. Who manufactures it? Remember that many European manufacturers don’t sell in the USA. Renault, Fiat, Seat, Citroen - you can’t buy them here and won’t be able for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, drive the hated Subie.

Or take a close look at the used cars that are available on a site like,, or You’ll see the features and prices. You can narrow your list and visit car dealers to test drive them. After you narrow the list to the cars you can stand, start looking seriously for whatever you want to buy.

We were in the same boat, especially with the environment/space thing…and we can’t be happier with our 2009 Mazda 5. It is awesome!!! But you gotta go standard transmission. It zips around like a Sports car (and they call it a minivan!) and you can access 3rd row seat through the middle. Our lab plops down in the space one of the 3rd row seats folds down in and opens up. We have 3 kids. It’s absolutely ideal, and with Mazda $1000 cash back plus financing 5 years at 2.9%, it can’t be beat. We got ours for 16.5.

The manuals are harder to come by, but check around. The dealer can send for one. I am sure you will love it!