Car Shopping for Special Needs Child - Help Please

As you may know, my baby girl, now 8 mos.old, has Spinal Muscular Atrophy. It’s a nasty bitch of a disease. The gist of it is she essentially has very little muscle strength whatsoever, across her entire body, and will only get weaker with time. This causes respiratory complications.

Her mental capacity is not impaired at all. She’s pretty sharp.

She requires a number of bulky pieces of medical equipment, with more equipment to come. These will need to be transported if we are to take her places, even short trips. We may need a special battery in the vehicle at some point.

She is currently using a car bed, where she can lay flat so she doesn’t choke in a car seat.

My understanding is that she will probably outgrow the car bed and advance to a special medical stroller with tie downs. This will lead to a power wheelchair.

We currently have two compact cars. We have decided we probably need two cars. That means dumping my wife’s car for a bigger car that can accommodate all this stuff. It must also be reliable, so no clunkers allowed.

Our financial picture is currently not so hot. We have some money now, but who knows how long that will last. We figure we should probably get a car now before our credit possibly tanks, and then we’ll have nothing.

Current Car: 2007 MINI
Current Auto Loan Payoff: ~$14k

Most recommended car for our needs: Used Honda Element

Hardly anyone in our area (Sacramento, CA) has used Elements. I’m thinking of trying the Bay Area (2 or 3 hours drive) or even Reno (2 hours) or Los Angeles/OC or even Portland, OR (8 or 9 hours drive) if I can save enough money to make the trip worthwhile.

My brain is fried on medical issues, caring for my daughter, and finally getting back to work (self employed) after a huge hiatus due to her recent surgery.

Any help on sorting through this, finding a good car, and buying it would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!

How far away is Vancouver from you? I was looking on and I see they have some used Honda Elements for sale. They have some 2006 Elements for just under 16 grand. I have no idea what would be involved in getting the car across the border though. :frowning:

Actually, thanks for mentioning that. I have a friend in Seattle. I’m not sure aboot Canada, but I may be able to do Seattle. He may be willing to drive it to Portland. I’d have to ask him.

San Diego may be an option too, based upon the same reasoning.

Also, my wife is quite uncomfortable going older than 2007. She figures it’s worth added security to buy 2010. Any input on cost-benefit from knowledgeable car folks is appreciated.

Well, I would never buy brand-new, because the depreciation the car goes through that first year is just insane, but a year or two old is fine. I find that as the car gets older, the cost to maintain it gets higher, and at some point the cost to maintain the car isn’t worth the expense. But that’s just driving Subarus, I have no idea about Hondas.

I’d think some sort of van might be a better bet, especially if you might need more versatility in the future. Maybe a Ford Transit? They are available in a passenger version with rear door glass.

Missed the edit window:

Looking at the photos, it’s not a very pretty van, but I would guess the rear door and low deck would be better for a powered wheelchair. On the other hand, a friend has an Element and loads an amazing amount into it.

I think we’re pretty set on the Element or something very similar perhaps. No vans but thanks for the thought.

I can’t get the info at work, but is the Element one of those “flexible configuration” cars? The kind where you can take off the last row of seats and put them back on easily. That seems to be more common with minivans than big cars, IME, but maybe that’s local. It’s a feature that my acquaintances with wheelchairs have found invaluable, and the anchor points (if that’s the right name in English) for the seats could be adapted to anchor the chair easily.

Yep, the Element is really versatile. You can fold the rear seats up against the windows (though it does make visibility a bit of a problem) or remove them entirely to have a big empty space in the back.

FWIW the Other Shoe bought a used Element a year or two ago and is quite happy with it. It comes so highly recommended that his father went out and bought the same car, different year but same color even. Cracks me up when my FIL visits and they park side-by-side. :stuck_out_tongue: Anyway, yes, tons of space in the back esp. with the seats up or out, and the floor in the back is plastic instead of carpeting so it’s easier to roll stuff in & out, and spills are easier to clean up. Lots of headroom, too - the interior is spacious to the point of being cavernous, but it’s not really a big car.

Good luck finding one near you! Around these parts (DFW) they’re everyfuckingwhere, seriously very popular, so I’d hope they’d have trickled up to your area!

Carmax has a with 49 thousand miles for $16,599.

We bought ours new for $17.1 out the door in 2004, so the price seems high to me. This one is located in Roseville, CA.

There is a Honda Element message board which has a pricing thread where people tell what they paid for their car. Here is a linkto that thread. We found a similar thread when we bought ours and it made negotiating very simple.

My wife went to Carmax yesterday. My understanding is that Carmax is quick & easy but you don’t get a good deal because they don’t haggle at all. However, with the layers of complexity in our situation right now, perhaps the price of quick & easy is worth it. They offered $11k for the MINI.

Will you need a vehicle with a lift and ramp for a wheelchair?

Private party blue book is about $15k for the MINI.

For now, we need the space for stuff. We should also have the future ability to modify for wheelchair. It looks like Element is a good car for that.

My wife looked at that Element and said the interior was “grimy” and it smelled bad… even after Carmax cleaned it up for sale. FWIW. That’s why we were hoping to shop around a bit out of our immediate area.

I just looked in for my area (San Jose), and they show a 2007 Element for $12,888 in Milpitas. Kind of high mileage (107K)–not sure how you feel about that.

That’s kind of scary considering that part of the appeal is that the interior is easy to clean and doesn’t have any carpeting. They are good cars overall, but one thing that I would caution you about is the suicide doors make putting in a baby in an infant seat a pain in the rear when you are parked next to someone since both doors have to be open. Even with a rear facing seat, it was still tricky because the door opening was from the front and the opening felt smaller and tighter.

Edmunds has a used car search that will give you listings of dealer stock and private party ads …

A quick search found 37 Elements, 2007 or newer, within 100 miles of Sacto.