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Pondering a change of vechicles - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
greyautumnrain
greyautumnrain
Pondering a change of vechicles
Back in September 2002 when I purchased my Jetta my plan was to drive the thing until it fell apart. I pretty darn happy with the car, I like the way it drives, and I could happily keep it for a good long time.

The thing is, back when I bought it I was laboring under a couple of misconceptions. The first was that I would have a kid in a couple of years, and we know how that turned out. The second was that I could easily fit three kids in the back seat. This is also an error in judgment, though less obviously so, unless you currently have young children.

You see, when I was thinking of children and car size I was thinking back to my own early childhood. At the time my sister was born the only car the family owned was Dad's dark blue VW beetle. In my opinion at the time, it fit a family of four quite nicely. Being much shorter back then, I actually had plenty of leg room in the back, and Margaret was smaller still. My Jetta is huge in comparison to the old bug, surely it would be plenty big enough at least until we had that third child we wanted. What I failed to consider was the full impact of today's different safety standards. When Margaret was born, I remember waking in the back seat of the beetle as Dad drove to the hospital, but it took me a while to figure out where I was because my Dad had laid me down on the seat as though I was sleeping in a couch, a stunt that would no doubt earn him a fine and a stern talking to if he were caught trying it in this day and age. Also, Margaret went home from the hospital in my Mom's arms, ditto with the fine and the lecture. Today's kids ride in car seats from the time they are born until they're practically ready for puberty, and car seats are bulky.

In theory my Jetta seats five. In practice, if two of the back seat passengers are in car seats, there is no way anyone else is fitting in that back seat, not to mention the front passenger seat is pushed most of the way forward to make room for the back-facing infant seat. We could manage it that way, but then if we wanted to take our au pair with us (like we're supposed to do if we travel), then we're in trouble. Thus I am considering purchasing that ultimate vehicular symbol of motherhood, a minivan.

Timing is a question. Right now dealerships are desperate and offering good deals. We took a peak at the Honda Odyssey on Saturday. Actually it turned out to be more than a peak because the sales department had a bit of an aura of desperation about it. Also, I've received mailings from both a VW dealership and a Nissan dealership basically saying 'please trade-in your old car with us, we want your car for resale.' So, in theory if I acted in the near future I might be able to get some good deals. On the other hand Warren's current contract is likely to go away at any time. We can't really complain about that, given how very long he has been there, but it's still a cause for concern given that the president, congress, and even the federal reserve are all doing their very best to make a bad economic situation even worse. Seriously, if anyone in Washington seemed to have an ounce of sense I'd figure the current downturn would be turned around by the time the baby is due and I just wouldn't worry about it, but given that the folks in charge have such a firm track record of making the worst possible economic decision at any given point I find that my personal consumer confidence is not what it could be.

If you have any advice or thoughts on when and whether a minivan in needed and on specific models feel free to chime in.
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Comments
enugent From: enugent Date: June 22nd, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can't comment on the economic issues, but the Odyssey seems to be the minivan of choice at our daycare. Dorothy's best friend's mom has one and she loves it. We do not have a car that can carry our kids plus three adults and we manage OK, but we also do not have an au pair. (We did turn Howard's seat around in Tom's car the day he turned one - I had been referring to the passenger seat as "the space capsule," since I had about a centimeter of room between my knees and the dash when I climbed in.) I do think it is important to be able to carry your entire family, whatever it is, in one car, and for this purpose, your au pair counts as family.

If you are concerned about costs, look for a used minivan. I know that the rental agencies have them, and they turn their cars over pretty fast. You can probably get a 2008 model with reasonable mileage for a good price.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: June 22nd, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
My main concern is not the purchase cost, but a combination of peak oil and technology. I think we'll be seeing gasoline prices in real terms of $5-$10 a gallon before we'd want to trade in the minivan. The question in my mind is whether we can and want to hold out until hybrid minivans are available before buying.
I do think it is important to be able to carry your entire family, whatever it is, in one car, and for this purpose, your au pair counts as family.

Can you expand on why? One of the possibilities I was considering was taking two cars if we need to take the whole family somewhere. This is complicated by the fact that Honda is no longer willing to install an air bag kill switch in the passenger side of the S2000, making the use of a car seat there questionable.
enugent From: enugent Date: June 22nd, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mostly because traveling as a family in two cars is difficult and expensive. It's harder to trade off driving, you have to keep in touch with each other on the road (admittedly easier now than it was a few years ago), you may have parking issues depending on where you're going, and it just diminishes the idea that you're taking a "family" trip, whether it's for a vacation or just out to breakfast. Especially if the kids routinely ride in Mom's car and Dad drives his own, I think that Dad loses out on the ability to have conversations with the kids. Cars are a really good place to talk with your kids - there's something about not having to look at each other that seems to make them open up and talk.

If you want a hybrid, though, I would look at some of the hybrid SUVs to see if you think three across the back is feasible. We were able to put the rear-facing seat in the middle and Dorothy's next to it in my father's hybrid Lexus and have an adult sit on the other side (it was a little snug, but definitely workable, and we took a four-hour drive that way).
psychohist From: psychohist Date: June 23rd, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, that makes sense. I can see how two cars would be very much of a pain for longer distance trips. With respect to shorter trips, I'd plan to still take Margaret in my sports car, even with the air bag - they're not illegal with forward facing car seats, just not recommended - if only to see if people said, "isn't she a little young for you?"

When I was young, we used to take a trip down to Florida every year from Michigan to visit grandparents. I was thinking that might be rarer for us as my parents are split up, so it's cheaper and easier to offer to pay for their fare up to Boston. That argument might not apply to Elizabeth's parents, though. On the other hand, Elizabeth's parents have been quite willing to drive up here to visit.

The people I'd really like to visit more are my brother and Elizabeth's sister, but they're in Utah and California respectively, which might be pretty long trips on the highway.


Edited at 2009-06-23 02:14 pm (UTC)
enugent From: enugent Date: June 23rd, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
In Boston, I think the biggest nuisance about taking two cars for short trips would be the parking (especially for running down to Mary's - even parking one car there is a pain in the neck, unless something has changed since I left). You can probably mitigate that to a significant extent by taking the T, though.

Personally, I would not be willing to put a rear-facing infant seat in a seat with an airbag, even it it was legal. Maybe in an only-way-to-get-to-the-hospital type emergency, but not short of that.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: June 23rd, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Margaret can go in forward facing car seats now that she's a year old.

Usually parking is not so bad at Mary's, probably because we've figured out how to avoid peak times. We haven't actually tried going in two cars, though; that might be a good experiment to run to identify other issues.

I would note that one of my worries about a minivan is that it would be harder to park than either of our current cars, both of which are pretty good from a parking standpoint. As you note, it probably wouldn't be harder to park than both of our current cars put together, though.
jaedian From: jaedian Date: June 24th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Minivans are a bit harder to park. Especially in parallel spots and tighter parking lots.

Take a look at the Mazda5. It will seat 6 if you configure the seats that way and it really isn't any bigger than a hatch. Plus the mileage is much better as it is a smaller car.
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: June 22nd, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think we'll be seeing gasoline prices in real terms of $5-$10 a gallon before we'd want to trade in the minivan.

Yeah, I guess that's my point too. Since you are a two car household and both cars get used to commute (I think), the amount of miles on the minivan with just one occupant vs. the whole family seems like a major consideration.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: June 22nd, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
If I do buy something I'd want something new. My overall strategy for cars is to buy new, keep up on the service, and then keep the car for a long time. As I admit in the post, the only reason I'm even considering getting rid of the Jetta after a mere seven years is because I miscalculated. The real miscalculation I guess is not knowing I'd have the third adult family member. I'd originally assumed we'd have the kids in daycare, but the au pair program has been such a major win for us.
jaedian From: jaedian Date: June 23rd, 2009 04:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you also don't realize what a win a minivan is until you have kids and they are a little older. At first I was enjoying the carpooling potential of other people's minivans. But now I can return the favor.

And until you really use carseats you don't realize how darn bulky they are or how long the kids have to be in some kind of seat. My 8 year is technically still supposed to be in a booster.

You really ought to be able to fit 3 across in a station wagon and you can't.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: June 23rd, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you also don't realize what a win a minivan is until you have kids and they are a little older.

Yes. Our original plan was to wait until the first kid was maybe 6 or 8 years old, which would have been about the right time to retire the Jetta. Having an au pair plus the bulk of the car seats has us thinking we might not last that long, though.

Any thoughts on that? When did you get the minivan, and if you had it to do over again, would it have been earlier or later?
jaedian From: jaedian Date: June 24th, 2009 12:07 am (UTC) (Link)
In retrospect I would have gotten the minivan when I was pregnant with Sara. And skipped the whole station wagon thing. But we could have kept the station wagon if Juliette hadn't arrived on the scene. We were never sure we would have a 3rd. Although I did regret having a station wagon after Sara was 3 or 4, and we started to make a lot of kiddie friends.
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: June 22nd, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Would it be more economical to rent a minivan when you want to go somewhere with the whole family + au pair? At least until #3 is in the pipeline?
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: June 22nd, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
That might be workable for long, pre-planned trips, but not so much for, "Hey, we're going to Mary Chung's, let's ask Jomkwan if she wants to come with."
mathhobbit From: mathhobbit Date: June 22nd, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
My brother has two kids (no plans for a third, afaik) and seems happy with his used Volvo station wagon. This is an upgrade from a VW golf with one kid. He's a healthy 5'10" and is able to ride between the two car seats in relative comfort.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: June 22nd, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, but I've looked at the back seat of my own car and I'd know not even the most petit person could fit between two car seats. If I'm going to change cars at all, it would not be for another non-minivan, especially not a Volvo. No offense to your brother since I don't know him, but most of the Volvos on the road I've seen are very poorly driven, which makes me disinclined to buy one. Of course this is also the reason why I'm disinclined to buy an SUV as well.
jaedian From: jaedian Date: June 22nd, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have a sienna which I love. I got it over the Odyssey for two reasons, the first was I got AWD. Which may not be a concern for you, but our driveway slopes a lot and does get icy and I like not having to worry as much about getting stuck in snow. The other reason I liked the Sienna was that the back row is just a smidge wider and you can get 3 car seats across. (not true for the odyssey at least in past models)

You do really want to be able to carry more people, you will get carpooling opportunities as the kids gets older, and if you can drive someone else kid to ballet, soccer or what have you, they can return the favor. Which is handy, super handy.

Other options, Mike got a Mazda5. He really want the 3 as a commuter car, but we really felt if we were getting a new car, he should be able to carry the family in it. The 5 is like a baby minivan. The seats in the back fold flat and look like a regular hatch back, but they are there and you can seat 4 in the back (2 rows of 2 seats) Which is handy. It is pretty good on gas mileage being a smaller car. This was a major concern for us since this is treptoplax's commuter car. It is awesome at carrying things with out kids too since all the seats fold flat. And it is pretty zippy to drive. And it has a smaller footprint, which is better for parking in town. I am pretty sure you can get treptoplax to give you a ride in it one day. I believe there is at least another vehicle out there like this, but I forget which. It was definitely bigger though.

One of our friends has a volvo station wagon which is cool. It has a jump seat in the back. Although I don't know if current models still have this as an option. And I think volvos can be pricing. The car is pretty neat, it has integrated car seats, (not infant) but for bigger kids. So it is amazingly easy for her to take anyone she needs to.

But minivans mostly break down into Sienna's and Odysseys here. And if you get silver you will never be able to find your car in a crowded parking lot ;-}

I can give you more opinions about my Sienna. I am pretty happy with it. I actually now like the extra height of the minivan, I feel short in treptoplax's car.

And I sympathize with you. We bought two cars in 2 years. the plan was always to replace the Saturn. But we ended up having to trade in my passat wagon which was only 5 or 6 years old for a minivan. Too bad I didn't get the minivan originally when I was pregnant, but, I didn't really want to be a minivan mom back then!

Oh and you could also look at hybrid SUVs. There are several. My take on those, are that the mileage of the hybrid is often only about as good as a regular car. And obviously hybrids do well mileage wise in stop and go traffic and city driving, but not on open highway. Also I found them less convenient in the getting kids in and out department. The 3 row is often inaccessible unless you fold down a seat in the mid row, which is a PITA. And the slding doors in a minivan (moreso if you get powered ones) are amazingly convenient. It means your enthusiastic kids can't ding other cars, and in a parallel parking spot you don't need much room to get out. Also, they open wider than regular doors, so I think it is easier to get kid in car seats in and out.

Hope that helps. I can give you a test drive/ride in my sienna if you want. And I am sure treptoplax will show off his mazda5, which was relatively cheap, gets decent mileage and has a small footprint.
countertorque From: countertorque Date: June 23rd, 2009 07:07 am (UTC) (Link)
We got a Sienna XLE 1.5 years ago. We're very happy with it. I think the Odyssey and the Sienna are equivalent. My wife preferred the way the Sienna handled. Kia also makes a minivan which she looked at briefly.

SUV's have less interior space and are harder to get into and out of than minivans. They are generally inferior to mini-van's in every respect. A hybrid SUV might do slighty better on gas mileage, but I doubt by much. As far as I can tell, the only reason SUV's exist is because our generation grew up saying "I am not going to own an minivan!"
jaedian From: jaedian Date: June 23rd, 2009 11:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Right, there is the Kia minivan, which I believe is marginally cheaper.

And there is the Nissan Quest which is smaller than the sienna and odyssey.

psychohist From: psychohist Date: June 23rd, 2009 02:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I've been kind of concluding that SUVs are best for large adults who live in towns - like Boston - where a full size car is difficult to park.
twe From: twe Date: June 23rd, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
SUVs help with parking?
psychohist From: psychohist Date: June 24th, 2009 01:06 am (UTC) (Link)
A Ford Crown Victoria is 212.0 inches long and 78.2 inches wide without the mirrors. A Ford Explorer is 193.2 inches long and 73.8 inches wide without the mirrors. I would guess that the Explorer is easier to sqeeze into a parking space despite having as much or more interior room, yes.
twe From: twe Date: June 24th, 2009 01:10 am (UTC) (Link)
I wonder why they're always the worst parked vehicles in the lots then.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: June 24th, 2009 03:14 am (UTC) (Link)
My theory is that the drivers look out the window and see plenty of space above the next car's roof, and assume that means they have plenty of space in their parking spots and don't need to adjust carefully.

Well, okay, my other theory is that SUVs attract people who are not considerate enough to care that they block the view of the driver behind them, but I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt.
jaedian From: jaedian Date: June 24th, 2009 02:36 am (UTC) (Link)
a crown victoria isn't a particularly small car either though. So I am not sure about the comparison. Both are fairly large cars.
treptoplax From: treptoplax Date: June 24th, 2009 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)

In the future, all cars will be minivans.

(or roadsters).

Proper minivans (Sienna, Odyssey, etc.) seat 7 comfortably, maybe 8, and have massive cargo capacity. Great for long road-trips, or carpools. Rather poor mileage (20ish?). Oddly, minivans have gotten bigger lately; the original minivans (Voyager, Gen1 Odyssey) were much smaller, but those models aren't available anymore.

The next size class down, the legitimate 6-seaters, are an odd mix of compact SUVs (mostly station wagons disguised as SUVs), 2+2+2 station wagons, and tiny minivans. Note that most of these don't have much cargo capacity if you have more than 5 people, though; it's more like a Fit or Mini with an extra row of seats than a proper minivan. I'm fond of my Mazda 5, and was impressed by the Toyota Highlander (the hybrid even gets good milage) but thought it overpriced.

If you have a long commute to make in it, the question may get tricky, but my feeling is that the extra cargo capacity of a real minivan is pretty compelling. It's nice for us not to have to worry about how many people can fit in which car etc., but if the 5 was our "big" car I suspect we'd be annoyed at it (you can't, as we did this weekend, put 5 people and two bicycles inside much of anything save a real minivan...)
psychohist From: psychohist Date: June 24th, 2009 03:54 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: In the future, all cars will be minivans.

We were always planning to replace the Jetta with a minivan at some point. I was planning that even when Elizabeth bought the present Jetta in 2003; my criteria for the Jetta was that it should see us through the first few years of carrying kids, thus allowing me to replace my touring car with a roadster guilt free, which I did in 2005.

It's just a question of whether we can squeeze out a few more years of payment free transportation with the Jetta - and also whether we should, given the deals presently available on minivans, as balanced against a murky economic future.

I'd noticed the growing minivan phenomenon. I was really thinking we'd want something closer in size to the original minivans, but evidently the minivan market isn't big enough to support multiple size categories - or else the original "correct" size is now a size no one wants.

enugent From: enugent Date: June 26th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was thinking about this this morning, and wondered - if the Jetta is paid off, maybe you should consider the option of becoming a three-car family. You and Warren could continue to use the small cars for your main commute, but have the minivan available for those times when you need it. This may be too expensive, but perhaps you should run the numbers and think about it without rejecting it out of hand. How much would you save by commuting in the Jetta as opposed to trading it in?
psychohist From: psychohist Date: June 28th, 2009 08:00 am (UTC) (Link)
My gut reaction is negative, because of (1) the extra $1000-2000 a year to keep a third vehicle insured, and (2) it makes it more likely that we end up with a vehicle whose life is limited by parts availability rather than by durability.

However, you are right, we should run the numbers.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: June 28th, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Um, so I would have two cars parked on the street, have to remember to move both cars for street cleaning, not to mention finding spaces for them on street cleaning days, and I'd have to dig both cars out of being plowed in every single snow storm? No offense to the other Elizabeth, but this sounds like a terrible idea to me.
enugent From: enugent Date: June 29th, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't realize that Warren hogs the whole driveway. You're right, that would be an issue. :)
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: June 28th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
You've been away from Boston for a while. There is no way that would save money once you factor in all the extra parking tickets, not to mention time spent digging out.
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