Mrs. Frugalwoods and I own one car: a cosmetically-challenged 1996 Honda Odyssey minivan.
The Frugalwoods-mobile doesn’t have a name (other than somehow being a she?) but she does have 201,000 miles! Despite her advanced age and mileage, she gets us where we need to go with a modicum of trouble. In the 3 years we’ve owned her, we’ve only spent $350 on maintenance… and that was mostly for consumables like oil, filters, gaskets, and brakes.
And then there’s her amazing cargo space. Oh the cargo space! The middle seats are removable and the back seats fold flat. Suddenly you no longer have a van, you have a covered pickup truck that gets 25 MPG! We’ve stuffed so many things in the back of the van that it’s hard to keep count. Almost all of our furniture found its way home from the wilds of Craiglist courtesy of this van. When we tell people that our couch fit in the back, they don’t believe us. Well, I’m here to tell you it did AND the rear door closed!
All that to say, we love our dear van and hope to get at least another 100k miles out of our relationship. I would never speak ill of the van. The van is wonderful to us and we appreciate her very much. Have I mentioned we’re superstitious about vocalizing the van’s eventual, inevitable demise? (Shhhh! She might hear me…)
Even with the legendary Honda 4 Banger engine under the hood and a tolerance for body rust bordering on appreciation, some day we will be forced to move on and I’m a planner. I like to have contingency plans for contingency plans. So, I’m on a quest to determine what we’ll do when the van bites the dust (other than mourn and PANIC!). This is Part 1 in a series on our journey to frugally and judiciously prepare for that fateful day.
The Frugalwoods Family Car Requirements:
Good Value: We’re looking for something we’ll be able to drive for 8 years or more that’ll cost less than $9,000. We’ll be paying cash outright since we don’t believe in financing a vehicle (if you need to be scared straight on this front, check out Club Thrifty’s Why Do People Choose to Be Car Poor?). Much less would be good ‘natch, but we’re also mindful of the total cost of ownership and so are willing to pay near the top of our range for a vehicle that won’t need much maintenance over the long-term.
- Fuel Efficient: We love to hike and explore, which is great frugal entertainment except for the price of gas. Reducing the amount we spend on gas would be nice on the wallet and would likely spur us to adventure more often.
- Good Cargo Space: I realize this is a tradeoff with fuel efficiency, but we do take advantage of the van’s awesome cargo capacity on a regular basis. Most of our belongings are second-hand from Craigslist, garage sales, or the side of the road and Frugal Hound, at 60 pounds, takes up a lot of room! We’re willing to sacrifice in this category and get something smaller than a van. Maybe a trailer is in store for the future?
- Good Passenger Space: We hope to add kiddos to the Frugalwoods roster before too long, so we’ll need a backseat that can handle a car seat or two.
- Safety Systems: The van has airbags and anti-lock brakes. And seat belts. This was the height of safety technology in 1996. I think we can do a little better in our next car.
- History of Longevity: We’re spoiled rotten by our van in this regard, and it would be fabulous to get another car that hits 200k miles without any major problems.
- Parts Availability: A close corollary to a good maintenance history is the availability and cost of parts for repair. Our history shows we aren’t averse to taking a car to age 18 and beyond, so making sure parts will be available for a long time is useful. Part (hah! pun!) of this is the brand reputation, and part (!!) is the volume of the model produced. Junkyard parts are great, but usually aren’t available for rare cars.
- Front Wheel Drive: We live in the Boston area, so our winters are snowy. The city does a good job of clearing the roads and we’ve never had a problem with the van. So, no need for four wheel drive. We don’t even put snow tires on, though we probably should.
- Robust Used Market: We’ll buy this car used (of course!) so we want something commonly available in the used market and easy to value.
- Easy to Park: We live in the city and don’t have a driveway, so we parallel park on the street every day. For all of the van’s many admirable attributes, ease of parking is not among them. Something slightly shorter would help us slip into the super tight spaces that we currently have to pass up.
What don’t we need in a car?
- Fancy Electronics: Bluetooth? Don’t need it. GPS? We have our phones. Automatic doors and windows? More stuff to break. Heated seats? Ok, that’d be pretty nice come February!
- Specific Colors: Got an ugly but mechanically superior car? Sounds good to us! The van isn’t exactly a looker…
- Warranty: I’m generally of the opinion that warranties or certified pre-owned are just a tax on worriers. We’re fine buying a car in a private party sale and having it checked out by our trusted mechanic.
- Status Symbol: Uh, no. We aren’t exactly cruising the ‘hood in our hoopty… Plus, this would be counter to the entire Frugalwoods philosophy.
- Sporty: 0 to 60 in 30 seconds? That’s cool as long as it gets 40mpg.
- Alarm: We live in a decent area and use the Club on the steering wheel.
- Targeted to Our Demographic: If a PT Cruiser checks all the boxes, we have no problem being the only owners under 70.
In Part 2 of this car mini-series, I’ll illuminate the research I’ve done thus far and the cars that’ve made our short list.
Until then, tell me what car we should consider. Are you a die hard Pontiac Aztek fan? Let me hear it! Do you have 400,000 miles on your Isuzu Trooper? Tell us!
And, give us the skinny on cars to avoid. Did your ’99 Saturn die in a ball of flames after 15K miles? We need to know!