Last time we were left with the question of what a low-income family is to do about owning two aging and unsuitable vehicles, especially when the family wants to live in a more sustainable way. The first response is likely to be, “are you sure they’re both unsuitable?”
In a word…probably.
The case against the wagon is pretty clear-cut: Dear Wife won’t drive it. Game over. Seriously, though, there’s more to it than that. It’s got a laundry list of “fix-me”s:
-Fan switch is broken
-Reverse lights are out
-Windshield is cracked
-Rear hatch support struts are worn out
-“Check Engine” light is on (again)
-Front brakes need service
None of which address that it’s hard to steer, hard to park, noisy, and too small for us. So, it is out of the running and currently for sale.
The situation with the minivan is a bit murkier. True, it does have some positive points, among which is the ability to seat us all without us touching each other (an underrated benefit). But its poor service history and marginal cargo space put it squarely on the bubble for long trips, and we are planning a doozy for this summer. I could probably make it work if I had to; after all, we drove it over 3,400 miles to Colorado and back two summers ago and lived to tell the tale.
But maybe I don’t have to! Maybe we could parlay the two vehicles and some of our savings into something that would really work for us as a family-a large family that doesn’t use a car that much, but often hauls large objects around, loves to take long road trips, and enjoys camping. What would that look like?
Would it be a full-size van, possibly with a customized interior? We had one once, and it was great-except for how it wasn’t. They’re roomy enough for everyone, great for highway driving, and could hold all our gear or even tow a small trailer. On the other hand, they’re thirsty for fuel and generally rear-wheel drive. That’s a big downer in a hilly, snowy town like ours, especially for a family’s only vehicle.
A motor home would be even more impractical, forcing us to keep something else for our day-to-day driving. Also, a motor home’s auxiliary systems require maintenance and the question of storage looms in the headlights too. And fuel economy? No, not really. As portable motel rooms go, they’re great; but as cars, not so much.
What’s left, then? Could we be looking at-gasp-an SUV? Maybe, but not just any SUV. This one has some very specific parameters: it has to seat 7 or more, it has to get decent highway gas mileage (18-22 mpg), it must have a good reputation for reliability, and it must be cheaply had-no more than $4000 for a good example. Does such a creature exist?
As a matter of fact, it does.
Permit me to introduce the Chevrolet Suburban, perhaps the quintessential SUV. They are surprisingly well-mannered and fuel-efficient for their size, as long as one steers clear of the “big-block” 454 cubic-inch engine. The 1500 series with the 350 cubic-inch V-8 gets about 18 mpg on the highway, not much less than our V-6-powered minivan, and the difference in space, comfort, and capacity is like night and day. Most of them come with 4-wheel-drive, and prices range from $1000 or so for a “mechanic’s special” to $4500 for a 1996-1999 model with light to average mileage (150-180k).
Time to go shopping, then. How hard could this be?