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Pondering a change of vechicles - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
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.
32 comments or Leave a comment
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.
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.
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 03:04 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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