7 - 2008

Help me choose a car

Every morning for a couple of weeks, Mr. Cheap’s car has been drooling some green iridescent solution (yes, that would be coolant … and apparently everything else under the sun) in the gutter. He drives a 14-year-old Toyota Camry with hideous paint that he bought for a song in January 2007 to shuttle him to his student teaching job.

Well, he’s about to finish school, and the Camry is sitting at the Toyota dealership (because our local mechanics wouldn’t touch it and he needed to know what’s REALLY wrong with it). They called today and read me a laundry list of issues with it. The base line is a new water pump, timing belt and something else for $950. It goes up from there … although they included a new door handle to replace the broken one at $279 (no thanks! Hey, it DOES open the door).

We don’t know for sure if the dealer is way overpriced. Like I said, two mechanics in our neighborhood have hemmed and hawed it right out of the shop. (Our only comparison is our Subaru dealer’s service area, which is comparably priced compared to the highly rated local mechanic who messed up our brakes horribly so we had to redo them … at the Subaru dealer in California, taking up a vacation day.)

But it seems Mr. Cheap’s gloomy forecast might have been correct, and we might need another vehicle. Your eco/econ input is invited.

Most of the time, we only really need one car. Sometimes, we need two. Unknown: Where Mr. Cheap will be teaching next year and whether we’ll need a second reliable car or just a once-in-a-blue-moon ride.

Mr. Cheap would like a truck, but between miles per gallon and safety per family, it’s not in the picture. I’d like a minivan (no mockery from the peanut gallery, please), but again, the gas mileage won’t let me do it.

We currently drive a not-quite-paid-off 2004 Subaru Forester. About 20-25 mpg and a not-so-great emissions record. We still have a little over a year of payments on that car.

We’re thinking about getting a newer car and giving Mr. Cheap the Subaru for his less-frequent driving. But what to choose for the new #1?

Fuel economy-wise, I would love to get a Prius. But hardly any used Priuses (Pries? Prii?) are available, or if they are, they save only $1,000 or $2,000 over a used one. The other factors are:

  • A new Prius runs $24,000ish. As we weren’t planning on buying a new car NOW, we have little to no down payment saved. Payments would push $500 a month for a 5-year loan. We probably could afford to run both loans for a year, although I’d rather not.
  • On the carbon front, we would cut our emissions in half.
  • We would get a $2,000 one-time state income tax credit.
  • We would cut our annual fuel costs by an estimated $1,200.
  • Financially, our insurance/registration costs would likely go up enough to almost eat up those fuel cost savings.
  • I haven’t driven one yet, but hear they aren’t that comfortable to drive.

Do you have any feedback, readers? Know of any terrific, great-gas-mileage-getting, people-hauling (must seat at least 5) vehicles we should look into? Or do you have any wonderful savings suggestions for those who need a car now (gulp)?

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