Car recommendations

We’re just beginning to explore the idea of getting a new car for me - I do have a 2003 Rio (no comments from the peanut gallery) that I got when I moved from NYC to VA - I needed a car fast and cheap since my credit was shot and I was semi-broke.

Well, I’m married now with better credit, and we’re hoping to need a carseat in nine months or so, probably a little longer. However, my Rio has not been the most reliable of cars - it’s broken down TWICE when I’ve tried to go out of town, and I’ve probably had it into the dealership once every two months. It’s never anything that makes it undriveable (well, once it was), and it’s usually easily fixable, but we’d rather trade it in for a reliable car that’s somewhat bigger.

We’re more interested in a sedan-type car, but we are open (I can’t believe I’m saying this) to a mini-van or a smaller SUV. If all goes according to plan, we’ll have two kids in carseats in two-three years, so we’d like to have a car that is a little bigger than we need right now just so that we can have it for two kids later.

We have no issues with buying a pre-owned car, and will probably do so. Therefore, the most we’d like to spend is probably between $15K - 18K - we will be financing most of it. We have nothing against a new car, and would definitely consider it if it fell within our price range.

We don’t need a ton of bells and whistles, but the non-negotiable items we want are: automatic door locks and windows, air conditioning, a CD player (for me - I can not listen to the radio), and we’d prefer decent safety features (obviously). We’re willing to forgo anything that might be considered ‘luxury’ in order to get a safer car.

We were thinking about a Honda Accord/Toyota Camary or even a Volkswagen Jetta (which might end up being too small). But neither of us is very well-versed in cars (as you can tell by the Rio purchase), so I’m open to any and all suggestions, and WHY it would be a good car for us. We do tend to do a fair amount of traveling, so we’d need something that’s good for road trips.

Safety, obviously, is our number one priority.

Any suggestions?


A station wagon sounds like it would be perfect for you, and there are some really nice ones out there…

The Jetta comes in a wagon form; has does the Passat. A 2003 or older Passat Wagon would also be well in your price range and is a more reliable (and nicer) VW model then the Jetta. A Passat Wagon would be WAY more fun to drive then a mini-van, SUV, Accord, or Camry. Disclaimer: I drive one. :wink:

That said, VW has had reliability problems on some models. They’re not unreliable, but they ain’t quite as problem free as a Toyota or Honda. Definitely shell out the $4 a month for the Consumer Reports web site, as they provide a by-model-year breakdown of reliability, for VW and the other major manufacturers.

I was hoping someone would comment on that - I’ve heard the same about VWs, and that makes me a little nervous. I didn’t realize that CR charges for their site, but I’ll definitely sign up - I’ve meant to get a subscription anyway, having the website is more convenient.

We thought about a wagon - do you have a lot of room in yours? I love the Passat wagons - they’re really adorable to me. I’ve never wanted to be a ‘minivan mom’, but if we’re also going to be hauling two carseats in and out (and I will probably be the one with the bulk of the carseat duties), I want something that’s easy to maneuver. Is there a lot of room in the back of the Passat wagon? Honestly - we’re of the mind that we both grew up in sedans on car trips, and we both survived without the individualized radio controls or DVD players, and we’re both normal people (kind of). We’d rather spend an extra $2,000 for safety, not for bells and whistles.
We talked about a Passat, too, but we thought they might be out of our price range.

As far as the VW if something’s wrong with it - are they pretty easy to fix? Do they come with decent warranties? (Sorry for all the questions - we like the Passats a lot, but you’re the first one I’ve seen that has one!:)).


I’m not a fan of the design and engineering of most american cars BUT… given the deals being offered by all three major makers, it’s hard to justify any other purchase if budget is of high importance.

For my money, given your criteria of starting a family and budget, I’d look at the Ford Freedom or the bigger Ford 500 sedan. Great utility, fairly nice look and quite euro looking in comparisson to other models.

Another great alternative to the Jetta, which I like very much, is the Ford Focus. For your purposes, I’d go with the ZX4 or ZX5 variant which are 4 door sedan or 5 door hatchback variants. The handling and build of this car is highly under rated in the US but well liked in europe.

Nothing against GM or Chrysler. I just don’t really like much from them these days, design wise. Perhaps the G6 from Pontiac. Consider the Saturn from GM.

One car I do like to recommend because I think it’s exceptional in it’s class for the price. That car is the Hyundai Sonata. Very good reviews from most car test drive surveys. I’d definately consider it given your requirements.

For more money, German sport sedans. But that’s my obsession.

Good luck. :slight_smile:

No harder than any other mainstream car in it’s class. No more expensive either. VW has had some quality issues but I’ve driven several models for a number of years and have not experienced extraordinary woes. I have no cause for complaint. My turbo sportwagon Volvo has given me far more grief.

My grandpa has a Hyundai Sonata and I ADORE it. He let me drive it a couple of times (under penalty of death if I did anything to hurt it) and it was like driving heaven. I’d be open to the idea of a Sonata.

I’m not a fan of American-built cars - no real reason, except I like Toyotas/Hondas/VWs better. We do have a Saturn that my husband drives, and it’s been really reliable. I would actually really like a Saturn Ion, but the fact that the speedometer is in the middle of the dashboard drives me NUTS (I had one as a rental car once, and it was incredibly distracting). We were thinking about the S-series, but we weren’t sure if that would be big enough.

The cost is what we’re hoping to stick with - but depending on where we are money-wise (we’re both seeking new jobs right now), we could think about buying something a bit more expensive. That’s what we’d aim for based upon our current income, though.


This got me, where would you like it to me, in the glovebox perhaps?

He means in the middle between the driver and passenger, not directly in front of the driver.

It’s in the MIDDLE of the dashboard. Most are behind the steering wheel, this one is in the MIDDLE of the dashboard above the radio so that you have to look over AT it.


I’m a she, but thanks for explaining:).


the Jetta’s back seat does no accomodate a rear-facing infant carrier very well… I had one and while I loved the car it was too small for 2 kids.

We purchased a 2000 Mercury Villager used a few years back and it has held up well (it is the Nissan Quest in a different package). I prefer the mini-van for kids as it is easier to get them in and out of the car, esp in bad weather… perhaps not necessary with one child.

Have you looked at the Honda CR-V? I have one and LOVE it.

We have - that’s actually my first choice, it’s been quite difficult convincing my husband to look at SUVs, though.

My mom’s driven a Villager for quite awhile, so I know it’s got a decent rating and I do like it. We’ll have to look at that - I was interested in the Toyota Sienna if we go the minivan route, but a Villager might be more economical.


I’ve owned both the 2002 VW Jetta as well as a 2002 VW Passat. The Passat is probably what you want. I bought one because I have a friend who is the service manager at a VW dealership in Dallas. I found I could get one cheaper than a Honda Accord or the Toyota Camry.

I’d think long and hard before buying a minivan. I rented one for two days and truly hated it. It was so top heavy, I felt like it would flip it any moment.

I loathed my mini-van… even though it was definately the car we needed when I owned it. It was a '95 Windstar and an absolute piece of shit – we had problems with it almost from the first: electrical problems plagued it in particular, we had to replace the head gasket and the transmission and some other major thing I can’t remember right now… But as far as the style of the thing went, a mini-van is a damned handy car for a family with school age kids – mine were about 7 and 8 when we bought it.

But I’m not sure a mini-van is just the thing for a family with babies, though. I think it would be a hassle crawling in the back to put kids in and out of carseats. When my kids were carseat-size we owned a small hatchback (a Plymouth Horizon and it was a great car – we never had a problem with it) and it was very convenient. I could fit everything I needed in the cargo compartment (and remember, my youngest is disabled, so I carried a stroller or wheelchair around for longer than most young mothers) and it was easy to stow the younguns’. A VW Golf is similar in style to my old Horizon, BTW.

I also like the Toyota Matrix – I seriously considered buying one when the damned mini-van died last year. I ended up buying a PT Crusier for no other reason than I think they are cute (and it has a nice tall cargo area that can accomodate my daughter’s wheelchair without the hassle of folding it down and they are cheap). I’ve been very happy with it – they are something of a specific taste, though – I know a lot of people don’t like them. I’ll show mine off, anyway, since I love it so much.

As for VWs, my husband owned a '00 Jetta and liked it very much. He traded up to a Passat in '02 and has been very happy with it as well. We have found them to be good, reliable cars.

Okay, I lied about the CRV being my first choice - the PT Cruiser truly is my first choice. I want one DESPERATELY - and my husband likes them, too, so we’d be okay there. My mom’s friend got one, however, and has had a lot of problems with it. She’s the first I’ve heard to have problems with them, though.

We really want a gun-metal gray PT Cruiser. Do you find there’s enough room in the backseat? The storage is the back is a plus, I just don’t want to be hurting myself when I’m trying to get one or two children out of carseats.

I couldn’t see the pic, but I seem to remember - does yours have a flame decoration on it?


I’d love to be able to recommend the VW Passat. I have loved mine for the last year as far as comfort, drivability, gas mileage and style. But, and this is a HUGE but, the 1.8 liter turbo charged engine has what has come to be known as the “infamous” VW sludge problem. Apparently this engine runs at a higher than normal temperature and as a result you MUST use only synthetic oil and you MUST change the oil very frequently.

VW is aware of this problem and issued an 8-year extended warranty–however you’ll never collect on it unless you keep absolutely impeccable records. You must never go 1 mile over the 5000 between oil changes, you must document every oil change, and if you don’t have it done at the dealer and stamped at the dealer, you better damn well have every single receipt for every single bit of oil you purchase. And even then I am not convinced VW will honor the warranty.

I bought my 2002 Passat wagon a year ago with 26000 miles on it. I diligently had the oil changed, but not at the dealer. I am going to pick up my car $2000 dollars poorer tomorrow and VW will not honor the warranty. I am seriously considering taking this issue up in the courts because I’m very, very pissed.

This is the first I’ve ever heard of this problem. That engine, the 1.8T, is in a high proportion of VW’s on the road today and in a good portion of the A4 Audis. The engine is highly tunable and modifiable so it’s also popular with amateur racing enthusiasts. I’ve never heard a single mention of this issue.

Can you provide a link to this problem?

Nevermind… should have done my own homework first. Colour me surprised.

Tons. I have a big dog, and do the dog show thing, so I’m always going on long road trips with her, my clothing, grooming gear, etc., and I have plenty of room. The back seat is plenty wide–I have no problem fitting 3 of my coworkers back there (my very sedentary, very food-loving coworkers) on trips to lunch, and because the roof is so long the roof rack is quite useful: I can fit plenty of lumber and other such things up there, so definately by cross bars for the roof rack if you get one.

See my coworker comment. :slight_smile:

The Passat is a very safe car. Loaded with airbags, crashworthy design, etc. IIRC, it scored as well as (or very near) the Volvo wagons on government crash tests. This is another thing Consumer Reports will comment on.

So far, I’m at 42,000 miles on a 2003 with the 1.8T engine. I’ve had two non-maintenance, non-recall repairs: a bad oxygen sensor and a cracked valve (part of the emission system, I forget exactly what). The dealership I go to for service fixed both under warranty, no hassle and no questions asked.

As for the “VW sludge” problem that Calliope mentioned, it’s certainly something to think about. The only things I’d point out are that: it’s only an issue with the 1.8T engine, if you get the V6 you won’t have anything to worry about; and if you buy a “certified pre-owned” and get your maintenance taken care of at a dealer, you shouldn’t have a problem with it.

And it’s not an uncommon problem in other makes. Toyota, for example, has also had oil sludging problems in their engines.

And Calliope, you should definitely raise a stink. VW is screwing up big in the way their handling the problem.

Elza B – my Cruiser feels surprisingly roomy inside; front seat and back. I think this is partly due to the head room – it’s a ‘tall’ car overall. I think it would be a breeze to get kids in and out of because of this – to put a baby in a carseat you have to bend over and lean into the backseat – you can see how some extra headroom would be handy. I’ve only had mine since November, but no problems so far. My folks have one too – they’ve had theirs for a little over a year and love it, too. And, yes, I have flames on mine. It’s the Cool Vanilla color – sort of a creamy off-white – with a red flame decal down the sides. I added bright red ‘smoothie’ rims to match the flames. It’s a very eye-catching car and I get a lot of second looks and comments on it. Sorry you couldn’t see the pic – it really is cute!