Because we are expecting our second child in a few months and because my 1991 Acura Integra with 160,000 miles leaks water through my sunroof every time it rains, it’s time for us to buy a new car.
Although my wife and I like small – our other car is a 2000 Toyota Echo – we decided it was time to get something bigger this time around for safety, interior space and convenience reasons. That’s why we’re probably going to buy a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna minivan.
Sure, the vehicles are boring, but as I wrote in August, they are the ultimate family vehicle. I can go back to my affordable sports car paradigm when I’m in my 60s or 70s.
Considering our new needs, here are my criteria for picking out a car:
- Reliability and safety – Even though it’s only happened to me once or twice, I hate having my car towed from the middle of nowhere or getting stuck in the middle of I-10. I also want the car to last forever to minimize the amount of hard-earned money spent on them. And of course, with little kids riding along and big trucks towering over our little Echo, safety has become a much greater concern. Minivans, by the way, are considered the safest vehicles on the road.
- Functionality – My two cars before the Echo were hatchbacks because I could fold back the seats and put things like my bikes in the back. But now we need a vehicle good for long trips to visit grandma and camping expeditions. The minivan has good storage space, adjustable seats, big roof racks and other amenities that don’t exist on most cars and even some SUVs.
- Price – This category is probably 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, but since I only have a set amount of cash anyway, there’s not a lot of room for discussion. By the way, I include gas mileage and repair needs in this category, because that’s part of the overall costs of owning and operating a car. If you divide out the purchase price of my Integra by the number of years I’ve had it, I’ve paid just over $1,000 a year on the car. I spent about another $400 a year on repair costs. My biggest fear concerning the minivan price tag is the relatively low gas mileage, which is a third less fuel efficient than my Acura.
- Styling, performance and appearance – Sure, I would love to drive the coolest roadster made, but as I mentioned above, how long the vehicle lasts and how reliable it is are far more important.
All of this brings us to the April Consumer Reports, which they call the Best 2005 Cars issue. Not surprisingly, the first thing I look at is top picks and reliability index. Since most of the Consumer Reports’ website is behind a subscription firewall, you might want to buy the magazine, which goes on stands soon. Or you can look up stories on CNN the Los Angeles Times or other sites.
Although this year’s report confirms our minivan choice, it’s interesting to note that the Subaru company received the top spot for quality for the first time, reports the Times. We were steered away from Subaru from a friend who complained about problems as the car aged, but it sounds like the company has made great strides in recent years.
Of course, as parents you’ll have to come to your own conclusions about what is the best vehicle for you family, so below I’ve listed some rankings among various categories:
Top Models Overall from 10 Categories
Category // Model
Small sedan // Ford Focus
Upscale sedan // Acura TL
Luxury Sedan // Lexus LS430
Small SUV // Subaru Forester
Midsized SUV // Lexus RX330
Three-row SUV // Honda Pilot
Minivan // Honda Odyssey
Green car // Toyota Prius
Family sedan // Honda Accord
Fun to drive // Subaru Impreza WRX
Vehicles Expected to Be Most Reliable in 2005
Honda Civic Hybrid
Toyota Camry (4-cylinder)
Toyota Land Cruiser