Ask the Totebag – Van Talk

by Up North

Our family is planning to upgrade our minivan soon. We currently have a 2008 Town & Country that we bought new. The 2008 was a new model year and we experienced many issues with the van (most covered by warranty). I don’t mind the general style of the T&C and like the stow ‘n go seats and doors that open and close with the push of a button. However, given the issues with our T&C and a desire for AWD, we are thinking about buying an AWD Toyota Sienna. We haven’t done any test drives yet.

I’d appreciate any minivan buying advice this group has to offer. Any thoughts on Toyota vs. Honda vs. Chrysler? Is getting an AWD minivan worth it (for winter driving)?

Any general car buying advice is welcome too. It’s been awhile since we bought a vehicle. Last time, it made financial sense to buy new since used vehicles were relatively expensive. I’m not sure if that is still the case or if getting a year old van would make sense.


143 thoughts on “Ask the Totebag – Van Talk

  1. We’ve enjoyed two Kia Sedonas– a 2001 and now a 2011– the only two new cars I’ve ever bought. They’re especially good if you want a cheaper (safe) option without so many bells and whistles. For the money, it was choice between a 4-5 year-old Honda or Toyota or a 2-3 year-old other– and I didn’t want to take a chance with those options.

  2. We test drove the Honda and Toyota. This was a couple years ago, some factors may have changed, and I haven’t kept up on the details; however, we’re still talking about the same “generations.”

    The Toyota had a more luxurious feel inside and more classic exterior lines. The second-row captain’s chairs had significantly more room to slide fore and aft.

    The Honda is more utilitarian inside, but it also felt a lot more car-like. The dashboard is larger, with more space toward the bottom of the windshield, so it gives the driver more of a low-to-the-ground car feeling, whereas the Toyota felt much more upright and van-like.

    Objectively, the Honda got better highway fuel mileage with the same amount of available power because of its cylinder deactivation system. Also, important to us, the Honda had a much more functional middle seat option for the second row; the Toyota’s middle seat was an afterthought that clipped onto the left-side captain’s chair. The Honda’s middle seat was independent and had its own LATCH tethers. The Toyota middle seat was much smaller but, paradoxically, not suited to a car or booster seat–so basically useless. (We don’t normally use the middle seat, but sometimes when we’re going on a trip where we’re bringing a lot of stuff, like waterskiing/tubing equipment in addition to luggage, it’s important that we can fold the third row entirely).

    So the Honda won that round.

    AWD wasn’t a factor because we don’t get that much snow. When we did get a fair amount of snow last year, my AWD crossover was in the shop waiting for its new airbags, and I was driving a loaner T&C. I did OK in the snow, but not great. There was one time, going really slowly over a banked icy patch that I thought I was going to get gently stuck in the ditch, but it got through. AWD would have been helpful there.

    OTOH, depending on how much snow you’re getting, a set of snow tires might be even better. Watch this rear-wheel-drive BMW (rear wheel drive even worse than front wheel), but with proper snow tires, destroy an AWD Subaru with “all-season” tires.

  3. The Kia is also a good choice. It can be had with heated and cooled seats and a heated steering wheel. Once have them you’ll struggle to figure out how you survived without them. It also comes with a 10 year warranty.

  4. On our second Honda minivan, both were new. I know there are deals for year or two year old cars, but one of the few vehicle things I enjoy, is it feeling new and with our family, that lasts for about a year. It is completely a luxury, but we all have our “thing”.

    First time through, I compared Toyota and Honda in detail. All the features were comparable and included my favorites / needs for our weather which rarely includes ice/snow, but lots of heat and, when not in a drought, rain. What it boiled down to, was which one was more comfortable to drive. After driving them both several times, I found I liked the Honda better. I could get the seat/steering wheel/mirror/seat belt combination in a more comfortable position.

    I do like the all weather mats that come from the dealer, they fit better than the aftermarket ones. On the last one I didn’t get the navigation or the rear DVD. Some days, I have second thoughts about the navigation when my phone won’t properly connect to the vehicle. The salesman pointed out that most families now have an entertainment device (phone or tablet) for each person and they are getting fewer people asking for the DVD system. I agree, our first one had DVD, and we only used it for longer trips when needed. If your family is a pop a DVD in the minute you get in the car, you will likely feel differently.

    The Honda dealer in our area is a no-haggle shop, which was more pleasant. It is just a matter of having a good idea going in of what the price should be.

  5. I like my Odyssey and have friends that have the Sienna, but they seem pretty much the same to me. Based on Milo’s description of the differences in the middle seat between the captain’s chairs, I’m glad we went with the Odyssey but I had no idea that was a difference. When DH finally convinced me to get the minivan,we just got a quote through Costco and I sent him to the dealership after telling him what color I wanted. Dh went bare bones (no nav, no dvd player). Those things added a lot to the cost and he reasoned we could buy the kids their own kindles for road trip for much less money.

  6. Milo is right….I forgot about the middle seat on the second row. At the time, we didn’t really plan to use it, but in hindsight, we use it more than we thought.

  7. A related hijack. We’re going to be in the market for a new vehicle soon. I really like the the new look Honda pilot. We’re also looking at the MDX, which I know a lot of people here have. What I can’t figure out is what makes the mdx worth the extra money. If you get the pilot fully loaded, it has pretty much all the same features but is quite a but cheaper than a similarly equipped MDX. What’s the difference?

  8. I know there are deals for year or two year old cars,

    Not so much any more and they are almost unheard of for popular models from Toyota and Honda.

  9. I have a 2012 T&C. I love the interior space. When we go to family affairs my grown children will ride with us because I am the designated driver and they can drink. They love the space in the back. My husband and I bought it as a travelling car and it is great for that.

    Now the bad part – we have had glitches with this car since day one. My husband kept going back to dealer with concerns and insisted it had a short. They insisted it didn’t and they just needed to do this or that. We were driving home after a day at the shore on a Sunday evening in shore traffic when the car died – everything died. My husband was able to get the car onto the grass strip in the middle. We called AAA and waited over an hour for help. I endured a 1 1/2 hour drive back home in the tiny, half space behind the front seating of the cab. I walked funny for a few days.

    Had the car towed to the dealer next day. They called and wanted $ 1,051 to fix the car – yes it was a short. The car was less than 200 miles over 36,000 mile warranty. My husband and the service manager went round and round (thought my husband was going to punch the guys lights out). Finally we paid $ 100.00 and that included an oil change.

    Our 2006 Honda Civic and my daughter’s 2005 Elantra have only needed routine maintenance.
    I will not buy a Chrysler product again.

  10. Austin – Another time we use it is with grandparents. The third row doesn’t really fit three kids if even one of them requires a car or booster seat, but the older two can go into the third row, and the youngest goes in the middle of the second row. Then, with the captain’s chairs shifted outboard, the grandparents can be very comfortable in those. We did a six-hour (each way) drive like this not too long ago. It’s much better than telling 60-somethings to shove their a$$es back to the third row.

    Rhett – I was reading the MMM forum the other day, and someone mentioned how Kia was offering heated AND cooled seats now as relatively standard equipment. Someone responded, without a hint of irony, “I really HATE how all this excessive comfort and convenience is getting so cheap now.”

    Only semi-related, but this is a wonderfully enjoyable article:

    After reading it recently, I hardly travel anywhere without a nice cooler of drinks on ice on the floor of the van, just behind the center console. It’s actually a huge money saver, also, bringing your iced coffees and boxes of chocolate milk vs. paying for soda that the kids don’t much like, anyway.

  11. The thing about snow tires is that they’re such a hassle. For a few years DH had “performance tires” for summer and all-season for winter. You need storage space in your garage, and then twice a year you either need to swap them out yourself or load the stupid tires into the car and wait while the tire shop swaps them out. It gets old fast.

  12. Denver: We have a 12 year old MDX. We looked at the MDX v. the Pilot and bought the MDX for its looks (I couldn’t stand how the older Pilots looked –cheap and boxy). Also the features and engine were nicer. It was just a very good looking, refined car with great performance. Since we keep cars for a very long time, these things matter.

    Bottom line: We still love the car. It still looks good enough to drive to business meetings, though it’s older and more dirty/dinged up. We intend to keep it for as long as we can. It’s been our only luxury car purchase, and we’re happy with it.

  13. Denver – Our local public television car show made that exact point when reviewing the new Pilot. They said it makes the current generation MDX obsolete, unless you’re just looking for a brand name.

  14. We bought a Honda Odyssey last November. For a family of six, the room in the Kia Sedona was inadequate for road trips. Notice the tracks in the floor between the two- the design of the Sienna is more likely to hold dirt, whereas the Odyssey tracks are built into the floor. Used vehicle options were very limited and expensive in our area. I didn’t like how the Odyssey has “package” levels where you have to pay for several options to get one, but we were under a bit of a time crunch to obtain a vehicle. Vehicle selection was limited at Thanksgiving in our part of the country. We bought the option with power doors and seating for 8.

    We like the Honda floor mats for the front seats but have Weathertech mats in the back. In our climate, we prefer as much coverage as possible due to all the mud. Costco gave us a $200 off a $400 Honda accessories purchase coupon for filling out a survey (that we learned about online in advance) that we used to purchase seat covers from the dealer, but the tray and floor mats we purchased from

    Costco prices between the Sienna and Odyssey were within $500-$600 so cost wasn’t a deciding factor for us. Mr. WCE cares more than I do and I just wanted a minivan. I think the front cloth seats (no seat covers available due to air bags) will wear less well than my Buick Century seats but it’s too soon to be sure.

  15. I have been very happy with a Hyundai van. Very basic model but with sliding doors. After eight years, the doors started to get stuck and the motors on them replaced. The battery also had to be replaced – I was told this was because of the power doors. Other than that, no issues at all. I do want a new vehicle but given that the vehicle has lots of life left, a new car would be wasteful.

  16. We have the Toyota minivan. The year we bought it, the only real choices were that one or the Honda. They were pretty similar, and I think we ended up choosing based on small price differences. We are happy with the minivan, although I miss our old Mazda minivan (they don’t make it any more). It was just a hair smaller, so I found it more maneuverabl, especially backing out of our driveway onto our narrow and parked up street.

  17. WCE – Interesting issue with the seats and airbags. On an old Honda my Dad owned, a 1993, long before side airbags, the driver’s seat fabric had a large hole worn into it where the driver’s back slides against it during every ingress and egress maneuver. The dealership, of course, can only fix by replacement, and then a body shop wanted a ridiculous price, too. At this point he just said “come on, there’s got to be something you can do that’s like an 80% solution” (same thing Fred often advises–they’re a lot alike).

    And they sewed nice, pleather patches on each side of the seat for a very minimal cost. You would never know that it wasn’t supposed to be like that.

  18. Milo,

    IIRC the MDX was upgraded to the same platform at the Pilot last year. So, they might have been comparing the new Pilot to old MDX.

  19. Milo, I’m optimistic that by the time we might want replacements, they’ll be available at the junk yard. That’s how I got the passenger side mirror for my Dodge Shadow, which came without one.

  20. Rhett – It may be; I haven’t followed it.

    I do as much driving as possible with the sunroof open, so extra sound dampening is somewhat moot.

  21. Denverdad, we recently ( as in 20 months ago), looked at both Pilot and MDX, and even with the loaded model of Pilot, MDX is in its own league. No comparison when it comes to luxury, handling and refinement and power. Even the leathers on Pilot and MDX are different. Pilot won out on space and cup holders, but is huge and not as agile to drive. MDX handles beautifully in snow which was important to us.
    In the end, even though I really really liked how the pilot looked, we went with MDX. I only regret that decision when we need more space in car to haul large stuff. But with our family of three, it’s rare.

  22. My data is all very old, but when we test drove the Pilot and the MDX, the Pilot felt truckier and louder – MDX was smoother.

    Rhett – neat site. I don’t see the Suburban on there though. :)

  23. I’ve heard good things about the Kia Sedona. I’ve been very happy with my T&C. However, my newest one has had some minor issues with it, whereas the previous one was perfect during the life of the lease. I get a family discount, so I’m loyal to the brand. We also have gotten a lot of use out of the stow n’go seats. I’ve seen first hand how Ford cars are driven off the assembly line and driven to the lot waiting for shipment, so any brand is subject to issues. In other words, I wouldn’t blacklist a brand because of one car. My friends who have the AWD Toyota’s love them, but even they admit that in snowstorms it isn’t really necessary. The weight of Honda and T&C vans do a decent job in snow. Personally, I prefer the look of the Honda, and when it comes to driving around in a minivan, you should go with what looks best to you and is in your price range.

  24. Thanks everyone! Will read all of the comments over lunch. I hadn’t really thought of snow tires – will see what DH thinks about that.

  25. “I’ve seen first hand how Ford cars are driven off the assembly line and driven to the lot waiting for shipment, so any brand is subject to issues.”

    What does this mean?

  26. Milo,

    From your article: ran a dry-cleaning business. It prospered to the point that, in the late sixties, he was able to sell up for a million dollars and retire. Stuart was twenty-eight

    That’s 7.5 million in today’s money. He put’s MMM to shame!

  27. I’ll be buying a new car next year….I currently have a 2004 Corolla with 152,000 miles on it. I was hoping to hold on to it till next October. My theory is that when the 2017 models come out, i can get a decent deal on a 2016 model. I need a small car (like the Corolla) due to the nightmarish parking that is LA. I’m leaning towards the Lexus IS 250. Anyone else know of a similar small 4 door car?

  28. lagirl – I don’t think those “decent deals” on the last year’s model really exist any more. My cousin was buying a CR-V a couple years ago and looking at the last year’s model on the lot that also preceded a significant upgrade in fuel economy, among some other things. She was not getting any great deal, and I even pointed out how the fuel economy improvement alone would make up for the price premium on the new one in I think about two or three years. But I couldn’t get through. People get an idea in their heads, and that’s it.

  29. “no seat covers available due to air bags”

    DW found some seat cover options that purport to be air bag compatible at Costco and Amazon. They have cloth panels over the airbags that tear very easily, so you need to be very careful while installing/removing the covers. We know this from experience, which is good and bad– we feel comfortable that they won’t interfere with the air bags, but the tears incurred don’t look great.

    Another option is to just cover the seat bottoms. IME, that’s that part of the seats that need the covers the most, and before DW found the airbag-compatible covers, I just covered the seat bottoms with towels. When the kids were young (e.g., the age of WCE’s kids now), we washed those towels frequently because they got pretty grungy, but the seats below them are still in pretty good shape.

  30. “That’s 7.5 million in today’s money. He put’s MMM to shame!”

    he was an owner. MMM was an employee.

  31. “I was hoping to hold on to it till next October. My theory is that when the 2017 models come out, i can get a decent deal on a 2016 model.”

    It’s been several years since we bought a car, but this is the strategy we employed, successfully, although we bought in September. We get hardcopy newspapers, so I monitored the Friday car section and saw the older model year prices dropping as the new model year cars arrived.

    If the driving experience is important to you, give the Mazda3 a look. Mazda seems to put a higher priority into the driving experience that some of its competitors.

  32. Rhett: those are pretty! My other concern is maintenance. After grad school all my classmates bought new cars. I’ve heard a few of the ones with BMW’s complain about how expensive maintenance is. That’s why i came up with the Lexus-I’ve enjoyed my Toyota reliability.

  33. “Mazda seems to put a higher priority into the driving experience that some of its competitors.”

    I drove a 3-Series to lunch today. It definitely has the feel of driver focus.

  34. lagirl – I have an A3. It is great, BUT I would get tire/wheel coverage on it. I ran over a big pothole and busted 2 tires AND rims and the bill was $2K, plus my insurance went up bc I made a claim on it. Booo!

  35. “I miss our old Mazda minivan (they don’t make it any more). It was just a hair smaller, so I found it more maneuverable”

    The Kia Sedona looks a bit smaller than the Honda and Sienna, closer to the size of the old Mazda MPV, and WCE’s comment is consistent with this.

    DW and I have noticed over the years that, in general, Hondas seem to be more maneuverable than similar size Toyotas, apparently having smaller turning radii.

  36. Lagirl,

    The IS is also a fine choice and it’s rear wheel drive which I like and would certainly prefer if I lived in LA.

  37. he was an owner. MMM was an employee.

    By his own choice. There were other options available to him if he wanted to retire super early.

  38. “After eight years, the doors started to get stuck and the motors on them replaced. The battery also had to be replaced – I was told this was because of the power doors.”

    I don’t think I’ve every had a battery last 8 years, and I’ve never had a car with power doors. Most of our batteries have lasted about 5 to 6 years.

  39. ” I’m leaning towards the Lexus IS 250. Anyone else know of a similar small 4 door car?”

    We are looking for a similar type sedan next year, so we went to the Auto Show earlier this year to try everything that we could. I didn’t care for the Acura much – it didn’t seem to have anything making it worth the premium over the loaded Accord, which is what we have now & like. I’m anti-Audi because of horrible experiences with VW.

    Out of all the cars that we looked at, I really liked the Lexus IS, but not sure that we want to pull the trigger on actually upgrading to a more expensive car. But – the Lexus is just so sweet – quiet, smooth and comfortable. The backseat seemed like it would be roomy enough for a growing kid. Still feels small & not like you are driving your grandfather’s car. Our Honda is loud and you feel a lot of the road. I’ve been watching the used market to see if there are any deals to be had, but it seems like there isn’t much of a discount.

    We didn’t see the Buick.

  40. Up North–if we were buying a minivan now, I’m pretty sure we’d get the 8 seat option, assuming it’s still an option.

    It would come in handy when carpooling, so it doesn’t need to be very comfortable, just safe and legal to drive an extra kid a few miles to or from practice. There have been many times when an extra seat on a carpool vehicle could’ve saved another parent from having to drive at all.

  41. We have a Lexus SUV and a Buick sedan. I will never, ever, ever buy a Lexus or Toyota vehicle again, because after our warranty expired the Lexus dealership repeatedly tried to rip us off on repairs.

    On one occasion, I brought the car in for the 40k check and was presented with a $4,000 bill for the proposed repairs (on a car with no warning lights on the dash or other known issues). I took the car and their list to an independent mechanic, who said that not only were none of the repairs necessary, but some of the items on the list made no sense because the car did not ever have the listed part at all.

    We complained to corporate and got a form letter apology.

    Unfortunately the same group owns most of the Toyota and Lexus dealerships for a 200 mile radius.

    Our next car needs to hold at least 7 and preferably 8 passengers, so I am angling for the Odyssey and DH wants an Enclave.

  42. I have to confess – I don’t drive fast. I rarely go above 70 MPH. This weekend I went 80 MPH and I think my car freaked out lol. So I don’t need a super fast car- just one with some acceleration that will get me around town. But I’m also vain enough to want a luxury car haha. I’ve never bought a car before- this one is still under my mom’s name. I’m sure when the time comes Ill come to everyone for advice! I’m currently trying to figure out how much i should save for a down payment and how much my monthly cost will be.

  43. We bought a new Honda Odyssey in March. It has the lowest level package of options. (Please note my prior complaints regarding automatic door openers and struts on our MAZDA 5). The Odyssey is awesome. The infotainment syncs with the phone well. We have had no issues in 10,000 mile, and the price for new was really good. Price may be better now as the dollar has appreciated significantly since our purchase. It is our first Honda, and if this user experience keeps up, I will name my next pet Honda.

  44. Also for those of you looking at the Lexus sedans, make sure you look at the equivalent Buick – DH really wanted a Lexus ES but I convinced him to save about $10K and buy a LaCrosse, and we love it. We’ve had it almost 5 years with zero issues.

  45. I have noticed that the newer SUVs with the rounded shape seem to have less luggage and passenger space. We are very comfortable in our older sqaure shaped SUV and the van is still more comfortable when filled with people and luggage. However, recently when we have rented the newer SUVs we feel squished.

  46. The roads around assembly plants are questionable at best. in my experience (granted it was 10 years ago) the speed that cars are driven from plant to lot is fast and many underbodies were destroyed by potholes and railroad tracks. There was once a recall of a certain make of Ford for cracked oil pans and mufflers. Not every car enters the dealership lots in perfect condition.

  47. No advice on minivans per se, just on actually buying whatever vehicle you settle on.
    > The “market” prices you can see on Truecar or Edmunds or KBB are prices anyone can get, so those should be your ceiling.
    > Except to test drive and decide, do not set foot on a dealer lot until you’ve cut the deal on price.
    > Buy during the last week of the month; ideally make your calls (see below) on a Monday morning, emphasizing that you’ll buy a car this week for the right price.
    > Once you decide on a vehicle and the trim level you want, you’ll know the MSRP. Based on that, you can find all the cars with that MSRP at all the dealers you’ll consider buying from and call them asking if they are interested in bidding for your business on one of the cars they have at that MSRP and get their best price.
    > Once you’ve gotten about 5 price quotes for the total out-the-door-price (i.e. including tax, dealer/doc fees, dmv)…make one more round of calls starting with the highest priced place, telling them you’ve got a price offer of $X below the price they gave you initially and will they beat it? So once you’ve made 10 phone calls you should be able to choose the lowest priced one.
    > Tell them you will accept their bid and put a deposit down on the car once they send (email) you a valid purchase order detailing the total bottom line price of the vehicle.
    > if you plan to finance the vehicle, get a loan approval from your bank or credit union before doing any of this. Loan approvals are good for 30-45 days. If the dealer can beat the rate you got outside, then, go with it. Even if you want to pay cash, you might get a better vehicle price if you take a 0% financing deal (at the risk of violating the Rome convention or some such, Milo has a story along those lines).
    >Make sure to test drive the specific vehicle you are purchasing before you sign on the dotted line.

    Essentially, you are acting like the purchasing department acquiring a fleet. Your fleet just happens to be one vehicle this week.

  48. Two of our neighbors gave up the Odyssey due to the harsh winters. They love the minivan, but they couldn’t get up/down the hills in our neighborhood. I actually got stuck behind my neighbor on a small hill as she was trying to get to our street. It has happened to her several times, so they finally gave up the car. They bought the Sienna, and it reminds me a lot of the Odyssey.
    I like the Odyssey, and I’ve been it their cars a lot because of carpools etc. I just know how much trouble they’ve both had in bad weather. It isn’t even the big storms because the roads are cleared, but it is those days where there is just a coating or ice – their cars really struggled. I agree with the comments about snow tires. They are great, but you have to know your schedule to know whether it would become a hassle factor.

    I’ve been in the new Pilot, and the styling reminds me of my MDX. The biggest difference I found aside from the obvious difference with the cheaper interiors is the noise. It is much louder in the Pilot. This doesn’t matter to a lot of people, but it bothers my brother as he has to be on conference calls while in his Pilot. If you don’t care about the louder/cheaper interior, it is a smart financial choice. The cost to maintain should be much cheaper than the Acura.

  49. I took the car and their list to an independent mechanic, who said that not only were none of the repairs necessary, but some of the items on the list made no sense because the car did not ever have the listed part at all.

    While it wasn’t nearly this egregious, the Honda and Acura dealerships have tried to do the same to me when I was there for minor recall issues. I just figure it’s part of the game and use the independent mechanic exclusively. The thing is, so many Totebaggy-type of people love to think about how savvy they are driving a hard bargain on the purchase, doing a lot of the things Fred describes, and they’ll save maybe an extra $500 or a grand. Then they’ll turn around and spend the next five or 10 years getting all the service done at the dealership because they enjoy the free cappuccinos and don’t like talking to people who have grease under their fingernails (they only want to deal with “service rep.”)

    They love the minivan, but they couldn’t get up/down the hills in our neighborhood.

    Someone upthread praised the minvans in the snow because their considerable weight would promote better traction. Going uphill, the weight becomes a liability. It could make for a good, early Statics I exam problem: at what angle of ascent is the weight hurting more than helping.

    many underbodies were destroyed by potholes and railroad tracks


  50. LAgirl– the downside of your buying strategy is that you’ll be limited to what the dealers have in stock, so it’s not an optimal strategy if you want a specific combination of options and color.

    I’ve found that approach makes decisions easier by eliminating the need to choose things like color and option packages.

    There’s a law (not sure if it’s local or federal) that car dealers can’t advertise a price on a car model unless they have at least one car on the lot that they will sell at that price, to minimize bait and switch tactics. So a dealer will often keep one base model on its lot, advertised at a a pretty low price to generate traffic, so if you’ll be happy with a base model, you can often get a good deal on it.

  51. I will update that my 2003 Buick Century ($11,500 new with GM card credit) is now at 135,000 miles with no repairs. It has required an extra coolant change but I think those glitches are now worked out.

    Regarding Fred’s purchasing approach, does anyone know if the supply of Toyota Siennas/Honda Odysseys is higher or lower during the specific months of the year? We probably slightly overpaid (Costco price) because there were about half a dozen vehicles of the model level we wanted in Idaho/Washington/Oregon. Our local dealership didn’t seem to want to honor negotiated (Costco or USAA) prices for a vehicle they’d have to obtain from elsewhere and we wanted a minivan before Baby WCE arrived so we bought ours 300 miles away.

  52. WCE – On my 2003 Honda, two portions of the instrument panel (the one with the speedometer, tachometer, temperature indicator) are remaining dark even when the headlights are on. 175,000 miles. I don’t know if it’s burned-out bulbs or a loose connection, or how much it would cost to fix. The problem, I would think, is access. I’ll probably ask next time I get an oil change.

    I could always get a little battery-powered clip-on LED light. If it gets worse, and it’s more than $100 or $200 to fix, that might be my solution.

  53. here it is. It doesn’t look too complicated for a mechanic. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to get it back together properly.

  54. don’t like talking to people who have grease under their fingernails

    Strong words from someone afraid to fix his own car. :-)

  55. My brother likes to fix cars, and he even sold cars when he was working his way through college. He has trouble trying to do minor repairs now because there is so much in the car that is related to technology. My local mechanic is great, and I trust him with my cars. He is almost always cheaper than the dealer, but he will sometimes send me to the dealers because he can’t access certain stuff anymore due to the technology.

  56. Rhett – It’s not about getting dirty–I get plenty dirty mowing the lawn, blowing leaves. There are just certain things that I find really frustrating, and I would have a nearly impossible time getting it all to fit back together. Or I’d break something when pulling it apart. For stuff like that, I think it’s good to pay people for work for which they are trained and familiar, and that they are willing to do for a reasonable price.

  57. Finn- I don’t need too many options. When my car had to go into the dealer and they gave me a new one as a loaner, I told my dad that my favorite feature was being able to open the trunk with my keys. The only other things I’d really want is bluetooth and backup camera which now come standard. So I think I’d be happy with a basic model. I do want a red car though. I had one in college and I miss it.

  58. There are just certain things that I find really frustrating, and I would have a nearly impossible time getting it all to fit back together.

    If it was new I’d agree because having it misaligned would drive me insane. But, going on 13 years and 175k miles why not a project? Think of the feeling of accomplishment!

  59. “Strong words from someone afraid to fix his own car. :-)”

    Except he’s right. A lot of people wouldn’t dream of messing up their driveways to pull apart their car, or change their own oil. They are also under the assumption that the dealership knows everything. And that’s wrong. They are also sucked into the “rule” that of service records – that cars with service records get you more money on trade in or resale.

    I will cry when my mechanic retires. He’s awesome, and honest – I always get a box of parts so he can show me what he replaced, why, and where things could go wrong next.

  60. lagirl – I just got a new Audi All Road – it is a 4 door station wagon that isn’t too big. I like it a lot, and it fits in my garage quite nicely, and in a lot of parking spaces!

    In the non BMW/Mercedes looks department (no knowledge of their performance or ratings) I like the Ford Fusion, the Kia Optima and the VW Passat.

  61. Milo, my Dodge Shadow had a similar problem with the lights to the speedometer. In 1994, the circuit board was extremely simple. Mr WCE disassembled the dashboard, observed the circuit board failure by inspection, resoldered across the problem and reassembled the dash board. I had no further issues.

    Youtube has made finding such information a lot easier, if you want to try doing it yourself. I watched several videos on disassembling our carpet cleaner a few months ago. I was surpised how many there were.

  62. What is the general policy on using the dealer vs. your local mechanic for service for a new car? Except for warranty items, is it perfectly fine to use the local mechanic from day one? Or is there typically a requirement or similar that you have to use the dealer for all servicing for the first x number of years/miles?

  63. “But, going on 13 years and 175k miles why not a project? Think of the feeling of accomplishment!”

    It’s a thought. Like I said, I really don’t resent paying people a fair price to use their skills. I think the MMM types go overboard on a lot of the DIY stuff. Not everyone can be a software engineer. If you’re not strapped for cash, then let someone earn some of his living by taking apart a dashboard and changing the bulbs.

    I got seriously frustrated once trying to hang a ceiling fan. The spot was between two joists, and I had removed the existing light fixture. I had the cross bar that goes between the joists. I can understand these engineering concepts, the mechanics, the stresses. But sometimes making it happen when it’s in front of me, it’s like there’s a disconnect. :)
    I found a nice electrician who hung five ceiling fans for $65 each.

  64. My snowbird AZ friends have ordered a Honda CR-V (is that a cross over, SUV or Van – I am hopeless with the classifications) thru AAA – they have broken down and are keeping a “winter” car there all year round. They were able to avoid some town excise taxes in AZ, and could specify exactly what options they wanted – no fancy wheel trims required as part of a dealer package. It will be waiting for them with plates and every thing next week at the AAA office when they arrive in AZ, they found the price favorable, and said that the buying service seems to be run by the same folks as Costco. I am a totebagger who doesn’t get any thrill out of bargaining for a car, and I don’t mind the local dealer’s service guys who have nothing to do with sales dept – they treat me like their auntie, the car works great, and it is a nice walk home down the bike path after dropping it off. Frankly, if the car buying process were less convoluted/degrading, I would probably trade in and replace my car more often – I like newer and shinier as much as the next person, and I have zero modern bells and whistles on this thing.

  65. Meme – It’s a crossover-style SUV. Crossover just means that it’s built on a car frame. A truck-based SUV is, well, you know (that would be a Suburban/Expedition/Sequoia).

    Vans have sliding doors.

  66. Milo, what do you think about doing stuff so your kids learn/observe? Mr WCE has been doing work on Jeep brakes and in addition to the money saved and his desire to do it, the boys get a chance to see the brakes disassembled and to hit the brake pedal to pump brake fluid into the cylinder.

  67. CoC – I used my mechanic from day one. With my previous car, my dealer berated me repeatedly for having “no service record” with them and therefore my car was at risk of blowing up (I guess… they never gave me a good reason for the service record thing). I would use the dealer for warranty items and if my mechanic couldn’t do the work (wrong kind of tech, specific part, etc).

    When I purchased my current vehicle certified pre-owned, I got their extra warranty package for free. If I have issues, I will let the dealer look at it and then tell me if it’s covered. If it is, they get to do the work, and if not, I’ll see my mechanic. My mechanic has done all the service on the current car with the exception of an oil change or two.

  68. CoC – there is absolutely no requirement you use a dealer ever. Since warranty items are included in the price of the vehicle, obviously you want to do all that kind of stuff at a dealer. But, e.g DWs 1yo Audi SUV was due for its inspection this month and I had her take it to the independent shop I go to for our other cars . Same price; she was in and out in <20 minutes, including a cup of Keurig-made coffee.

    Some chain places (e.g. Monro, Pep Boys) will sometimes tell you a specific job is better done by the dealer, but if your independent guy is good, he can do that work, too.

  69. Except for warranty items, is it perfectly fine to use the local mechanic from day one?

    Sure, you just need to keep your records. My first car had a 100k mile warranty and at 80k miles the timing belt snapped and I needed a new engine. There was a 60k mile service item that said “Inspect timing belt” and that was recorded as being done in their system, so I got a new engine no questions asked. If I had the 60k mile service done at my local mechanic, I’d need to submit documentation that the inspection had been done.

  70. “what do you think about doing stuff so your kids learn/observe?”

    that’s good, too. It all has value. But I also feel like our weekends have enough chores in them as it is–and they do help us with them–that I’m not necessarily looking to add more.

    My Dad has told me that people he knew, in his generation, thought he was doing us a huge disservice by not teaching us how to do maintenance on cars. But my parents had more of the mindset that young teens getting too interested in cars was counterproductive in that it would take away from school. Their fears were probably unfounded. We did plenty of other work; we painted, split and stacked wood, did yard work. Something’s gotta give.

    Our kids (yours and mine) are too young for this now, but I think there’s probably a lot more value in including them in things like preparing tax returns. That’s not to imply that if you teach them how to change brakes, they can’t do tax returns; it’s just a thought about the areas where I really want them to have a good familiarity.

  71. But my parents had more of the mindset that young teens getting too interested in cars was counterproductive in that it would take away from school.

    That’s an interesting approach both totebaggy and classist.

  72. “My first car had a 100k mile warranty and at 80k miles the timing belt snapped and I needed a new engine.”

    Was it a Honda?

    I’m a bit surprised the standard service requirement wasn’t to change the timing belt at 60k.

  73. Milo, good points on car maintenance and taxes. I’m pondering making sophomore or junior year in our house “bill pay with Mom” year so the kids have an understanding of our costs and expenses. That will probably include sitting in on our medical insurance discussion.

  74. “That’s an interesting approach both totebaggy and classist.”

    They were young parents, and on the up and up, but they weren’t that far removed from working-class America, and they were the first generation to go to college. My grandfather’s part-time retirement job was entry-level retail. He would tell us amusing stories about the “big shots” that came to visit the store, probably what we would call midlevel corporate drones.

    So they didn’t always feel quite as secure in Totebaglandia as all of us do.

  75. I’m a bit surprised the standard service requirement wasn’t to change the timing belt at 60k.

    It was supposed to be replaced at 120k miles. There was a class action settlement about it and they changed the service requirement. I assume whatever engineering analysis that was done to determine the replacement interval was flawed.

  76. Lag irk, we bought an IS350 a couple of months ago, and I love it. It’s the first car I’ve liked more than my Miata. It feels so solid, and is so much quieter than our other cars. It really feels like you’re in a safe little bubble while you’re driving. The backseat is apparently small, according to my 17 year old who had to ride there for 8 hours. Not a problem for me though, because I’m up front. I would highly recommend it.

  77. I go to the dealer as long as the repairs or maintenance are free/almost free. I go to my local mechanic when I start to need new tires, brakes, batteries or other repairs that are not covered. I’ve found that he will patch a tire when I have a flat, or tell me if I really need a new tire. He won’t even charge me if there is really no problem even if there was some minor labor. This guy contributes to all of our local school fundraisers, and I hope he stays in our town for a long time. I know him, and it is a very different relationship than the dealer. I prefer to give him the business because he is usually less expensive. I also appreciate that he will tell me when he can’t fix something and that I have to suck it up and go to the dealer. This has worked for us in the past because we owned the cars, and we generally owned the cars for longer than 3 years.

    I will be making a different choice with the BMW because it is a lease, and everything should be covered. I really hope this is true, but I guess I will find out the real story during the next three years.

  78. “The thing about snow tires is that they’re such a hassle. . . . You need storage space in your garage, and then twice a year you either need to swap them out yourself or load the stupid tires into the car and wait while the tire shop swaps them out.”

    Save yourself the hassle — just get a summer car with performance tires and a winter car with snow tires. :-)

    I do have snow tires on the Acura. Biggest problem with the fat “performance”-style wheels many cars come with now is that they are extremely easy to spin in slush/ice, and the Acura had enough torque that they spun more often than not. Snow tires are narrower and help that startup power traveling down to the road, where it belongs. I used to get them swapped at the gas station around the corner, but when my regular tires went bald a year or so ago, I just never bothered to buy a new set, since the car is seriously deficient for summer driving anyway (a/k/a can’t put the top down).

  79. @Lagirl — FWIW:

    1. I had very, very good luck with end-of-season deals on the Acura. When you walk in and they literally have four left of the old model, they tend to be eager to clear those out. As mentioned above, helps if you are flexible on options. Also helps a lot if they have a more significant design change (again, I was very lucky — I got the last of the “old” design, which I much preferred, and one of those four was exactly the combo I wanted).

    2. I would also highly recommend Acura, probably the ILX — cute cars, nicely outfitted, drive nicely but also comfortably. But YMMV — I’ve never been able to tolerate how a Toyota drives, for ex., and finishes are personal preference.

    3. Also reiterate worth checking out the Buick. We have an Enclave as our minivan-substitute. I hate driving it (waaaaaay too big for me), but OMG I LOVE riding in it — it just feels swank and comfy and such.

    Re: DVD systems: it’s funny, the Enclave is the first vehicle we got that had one, and like someone mentioned above, our kids now have phones and access to iPads and stuff on trips. And yet, every time we do a road trip, the first thing they do is choose what DVDs they want to watch. They never watch the DVDs at home, they have all of these other options available, but it’s become the road-trip tradition to watch DVDs happily (and quietly). #forthewin.

  80. This car talk is reminding me of gas prices. I happened to be in NJ, and I paid less than $2 for regular. I wish the prices could stay this low. The NY prices are 30 – 40 cents higher, but it is still a pleasant surprise when I fill up the tank.

  81. Oh, yeah, and we went to the Hershey Auto Show this past Sat — WHAT fun! All of these old cars. DH and I are planning on a stupid car if/when we get the garage built — we’d of course love something really cool like an old Duesie, but given that we’re not independently wealthy, it’ll probably be something much more reasonable. I was really amazed at how many cars you can get from the ’30s and ’40s for $25-40K. But I saw one like this for the first time, and I am in love:

    Also saw a really weird van, which is why today’s topic made me laugh. This thing started with a nicely-done maybe ’80s-era conversion van — nice, full-size van, with the tall/narrow windows and curtains and such. But after the second row, they had chopped it and turned the back half into a pickup. So it was sort of like a giant, weird, crew-cab pickup, but with windows and drapes and still painted like a van — like if you crossed the Mystery Machine with an El Camino. Let’s just say that one isn’t going on the short list.

  82. “The backseat is apparently small, according to my 17 year old who had to ride there for 8 hours.”

    Thanks, MBT. This is a good data point for me.

  83. LAgirl, in addition to what LfB said, I think it would also help if you have your financing on hand (especially if you pay cash) so you can jump on any good deal you find.

  84. LfB – the family of my friend down the street had the 1985 Ford Econoline Conversion Van, in 17 shades of brown decals, with the mini-blinds AND curtains you describe, color television (CRT), super-plush crushed velour upholstery including second-row captain’s chairs (in brown), a round, removable drink table in between them, and a third-row bench that folded flat into a bed.

    It was a fun van to ride in, to drive to school, to take on a road trip.

  85. Rhett – I never can understand this…

    “y said it did not expect the bankruptcy process to disrupt its business operations.

    ”We expect to emerge from this restructuring as a much stronger company that is well positioned for investment in growth and enhanced profitability,” Gilbert M. Cassagne, the company’s chief executive officer and president, said in a statement.”

  86. @Milo – yeah, I was really floored at the prices we saw (at least, given that the cars actually ran). And really, who cares whether it’s original? It’s not like I’m planning on going on the show car circuit. I tell you, that show had THE most beautiful car I have ever seen – for $650K!! But even if you can afford that, where exactly are you going to drive it? I’d spend the whole time worrying about getting it scratched or dinged.

    Whereas they had this sedan from the 1940s that was designed for a driver – had tons of legroom in the back, a metal fold-out footrail to keep your shoes out of the dirt on the floor, a bus vase, another brass rail for a travel blanket, etc. it was a total flashback to the “old” 1%, but not precious, not pristine, had a little wear and tear — and under $40k. I could totally see driving DS to her prom in something like that, or driving it out to dinner, you know?

    But for us, it’s pre-1940s for the cars (although I apparently like pickups from the mid-’30s through the mid-40s).

  87. Rhett – I never can understand this…

    If it was taken private for $450 million, it’s entirely possible that they have a viable, profitable business, if it wasn’t for their debt payments. So, you convert the debt to equity (wiping out the existing owners equity) in bankruptcy and you now have the bond holders owning a profitable business free of its debts.

  88. unrelated to anything here, except maybe the holier than thou part of the masthead, I just saw this on timewarnercable’s home page:

    10 Overrated Tourist Attractions

    Why waist your valuable time and money on these overpriced destinations?

    Yep, WAIST.

  89. Doing your own maintenance can be a PITA when you then have to take your oil to a “disposal location” and pay a fee to leave it there. However, I really don’t want my neighbors polluting our local creek by pouring their oil down the storm drain the way people in my MC neighborhood did in the 1960s. In addition, some HOAs do not allow you to do maintenance in your front yard / drive way.

    Our independent mechanic retired and we have not found a good replacement. So, we have used the dealer by default. However, we usually get a coupon around oil change time that brings the dealer price within just a couple of dollars of the local chain oil change places. One of the chains was fairly recently in the news for not using the products they specified or in a few cases even doing the work at all. With our Honda’s we have done very little other than routine maintenance – on 8 yr old vehicle, we had to replace the AC, but after 3 summers with more 100 degree days than 90 degree days, I’m sort of surprised it didn’t need it sooner.

  90. I’ve been in the new Pilot, and the styling reminds me of my MDX. The biggest difference I found aside from the obvious difference with the cheaper interiors is the noise. It is much louder in the Pilot. This doesn’t matter to a lot of people, but it bothers my brother as he has to be on conference calls while in his Pilot. If you don’t care about the louder/cheaper interior, it is a smart financial choice. The cost to maintain should be much cheaper than the Acura.

    The fancier interior would be totally wasted on us, not to mention it wouldn’t last long with the kids. Quieter would be nice, but it’s hard to justify the extra cost just for that.

  91. DD,

    Comparing apples to apples the Pilot (top trim) is 46k and the MDX (top trim) is 50k. So, it’s 8% more for a significantly nicer if a car.

  92. We just bought my husband a new car last week, and used the USAA pricing program. The price we got was great, especially considering we ordered the car rather than getting one off the lot.

    However, we put the car in my husband’s name, and I was the one who did the USAA on-line pricing, so the USAA certificate was in my name, not his. The dealership called yesterday and said that they had to have a USAA certificate in his name, not mine, in order to match the registration. I do not really understand why, since we are married, the proof of insurance had both of our names, and we paid for the car out of a joint checking account. When I said all of this, they said it was a firm requirement. (I got the impression they were sort of sticking it to me, by making me jump through another hoop, but I could be wrong.)

    So yesterday I logged on to USAA, and printed a certificate for the exact same car, but in his name. And lo and behold, there’s a new $1500 additional savings on the car. So now what? Do we get it at the lower price? We have already paid and already have possession of the car. I e-mailed the new certificate over, pointing out the even lower price, but have not heard back from them. Do you guys think they’re obligated to give us the lower price?

  93. So I wonder which program offers the best pricing? Costco, AAA, Consumer Reports, etc? (I’m not sure which others are available to most people.)

  94. “Do you guys think they’re obligated to give us the lower price?”

    No, I doubt it. I also don’t think you were obligated to send in a new certificate. What were they going to do?

    When we bought our house, the sellers didn’t actually have enough money to sell it. They went to closing with insufficient funds to cover the balance, and a loan from his employer to cover the difference was delayed. The closing agency/title company still did the transfer, and we got the keys and had the movers bring everything in the next morning, right on schedule. When I was wondering if there was a chance that the sale wouldn’t go through, FIL laughed and said “What are they going to do? Possession is 9/10ths of the law.” The paperwork wasn’t all complete for about another week.

  95. When I’ve bought with the USAA price, I didn’t actually print any formal certificate. I just logged on for the price, jotted it down on a notepad, and when I started negotiating, I wrote that number down on the salesman’s pad, saying “this is the price I’m eligible for through USAA.”

    Technically, anyone with the information could have done that.

  96. They said they needed it to submit to USAA, I guess to demonstrate that they are honoring their agreement with USAA. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but it wasn’t really a battle I wanted to fight. I suppose it makes sense that it’s their way of documenting the person that got the USAA price was indeed a USAA member. It was easy enough to get the 2nd certificate, but I wasn’t expecting a price difference.

    costofcollege, I checked Costco pricing, and USAA was better for us.

  97. @ Milo – really? This is the 3rd car we’ve bought with USAA, and all 3 (different) dealers have required submission of the actual certificate.

  98. USAA probably has the best pricing, but I think USAA is only open to those with certain military connections.

  99. @ costofcollege, yes that’s correct.

    But if the dealer is submitting the certificate to USAA with the assurance that they’ve given us that price, when they haven’t…that seems off. On the other hand, I’m perfectly fine with the price we paid. I guess I’ll wait and see how they respond.

  100. Lark – Yeah. I’m sure it depends on the practices of the individual. Yours see it, like you said, as some way to document that they’re honoring the agreement. With mine, they just figured, “yeah, this guy has no reason to pay more than this price.”

    “USAA is only open to those with certain military connections”

    They’ve been making it looser and looser and looser over the years, and spending what must be a fortune on advertising, at least in the Washington area. They’re a great insurer, and I’m happy to have them for that. Their prices are good and service is at the Chick-fil-A level of superiority, but traditionally, their competitive advantage as an insurer was kind of based on the idea that military officers were, collectively, a less-risky population of drivers. Then in the 90s they decided to open it up to enlisted members. And they really started pushing that if an immediate family member had been a member, you could continue your membership when you grew up. And now they seem to be advertising extensively that if you have the loosest military connection whatsoever, come on in!

    I’m a little bit leery about how this is going to affect their advantages in the long term. Plus, they’re a nonprofit. Excess premiums are supposed to be returned to us proportionally at the end of each year. I kind of feel like they’re growing just for the sake of growing. And their investment options are way too expensive:

  101. May I ask how close the USAA price was to the invoice price minus any available incentives?

  102. Rhett – It looks like I can get the Pilot Elite with Navigation and DVD for $45,119.

    They’ve changed their interface on this, and it looks to be working in conjunction with TrueCar.

    I think I’m about to get a ton of emails from dealers now.

  103. Milo – if you went so far as to create the certificates, yes you will.

    To my 1st point above…next time you’re going to buy a car, find the (USAA, Costco, AAA) price you’re eligible for and use that as your ceiling. Since that price is available to everyone, you know there will be a good chance you can buy for less. Unless you want to skip the discussion and just take the online discount.

  104. Milo – you have cleared up a big question for me about USAA. They advertise nationwide during major sporting events. I always wondered why DH never took advantage of USAA since he is technically a combat veteran. Of course, he was an enlisted man and it was in the 60s.

  105. Meme – I think you might be eligible as his spouse. Investments are nothing to write home about, and banking is merely fine. We have a 1% cash rewards card. I think that’s a little low, but I haven’t been motivated to change it, especially since we’ve frozen our credit accounts now.

    But their insurance options are good. It wouldn’t hurt to check them out.

  106. May I ask how close the USAA price was to the invoice price minus any available incentives?

    Rhett, it was very close, within less than $1k? I have it all written down at home. It occurred to me the difference with this new price might be that right now there is a $1500 incentive to finance, so maybe this is taking that into account.

    I just received an e-mail from the dealer that they are ‘investigating’ it.

  107. Milo – We re-up around Jan 1, so I am going to suggest to him that he sign up as a member and then I can make the call to get a price quote for auto, home and umbrella. He is Mr Inertia on these things. Insurance is like cable, you have to switch from time to time to get a better price. I called last year and our current provider said we were already as low as they would go.

    General request to the group – my brokerage firm’s account aggregator (an old product) is not picking up some of my accounts. What do you all recommend. I will be buying Quicken 2016 for a volunteer need, does it do that for you?

  108. @ Up North – I have the Honda minivan, and it’s the perfect car for the kind of driving I do – carpooling and road trips. I confess I never test drove the Toyota, as I felt impatient to get a bigger car and wanted to spend as little time shopping for the car as possible. I don’t think you can go wrong with either one.

  109. Comparing apples to apples the Pilot (top trim) is 46k and the MDX (top trim) is 50k. So, it’s 8% more for a significantly nicer if a car.

    I priced the MDX at around 57k fully loaded on their website. Where did you see it for 50k?

  110. DD,

    I was looking it up on my phone and I thought the Elite was $50k but you’re right it’s $57k. The all wheel drive with tech package is the one that’s $50k. That’s a much bigger jump so I tend to agree. That said, if you’re keeping it for 15 years, you might be better off getting something more enjoyable and comfortable. But, I’d need to test drive both to see if it’s worth it.

  111. I’ve gotten about 10 emails from dealerships. Many do not have in stock the specific color and trim that I inadvertently selected, but they’re offering comparable models. The one dealership that did, which computed the lowest price, wrote me to say that active military members or active reservists can take an additional $500 off that $45,119.

    In other words, as Fred said, any pre-negotiated price can just be the starting point.

    It’s the boat side of things that I have much less confidence in navigating.

  112. I’ve gotten about 10 emails from dealerships

    This probably explains the difference between your experience and mine. There are no brands that have more than one dealership where we are, and there are many cars DH would have liked to consider, but no local dealerships so he just crossed them off the list, because that’s too much of a pain if there’s a real problem.

  113. “That said, if you’re keeping it for 15 years, you might be better off getting something more enjoyable and comfortable.”

    This sort of thinking would push me to the RDX over another CR-V. But then they tune the engine up, and it requires premium fuel (which, percentage-wise, represents a much higher additional cost than it ever did before) AND the fuel economy is worse. In this case, it’s a V6 vs. a 4-cyl., but the point is, it’s not just initial cost. Oh, the tires will be more expensive. Other parts will probably be more expensive.

    Objectively, it’s more logical for DD to channel MMM and recognize that the new Pilot is better in just about every way than any other form of personal transportation that has ever existed in the history of humankind. It’s better than the top Mercedes SUV of probably seven years ago.

    So why NOW does he have to spend 20% more on the next level up, just because it’s available?

  114. We had an 2000 Odyssey, 2006 Pilot and now a 2012 Sienna. We generally have one large vehicle with AWD and a smaller vehicle that gets better mileage and has FWD. We were happy with the Odyssey but we really wanted a vehicle that was better in the snow. We live at the top of a steep hill and we spend a lot of time in VT in the winter. I agree with Lauren’s comments: it’s the lower accumulations of snow and ice that are an issue, not the higher amounts of snow. I do not want to deal with hassle of changing out tires twice a year. We use the dealer for maintenance and generally speaking, we haven’t had any issues. DH is also a haggler, and very little gets past him. When the Pilot hit 125k miles, we took it to a local guy who came highly recommended. It took multiple visits to try and solve the check engine light issue and he wound up taking it to the dealer anyway because he didn’t the right equipment to diagnose/fix the problem. It was very frustrating at the time, and it caused us to miss the part of a ski weekend.

  115. “it’s the lower accumulations of snow and ice that are an issue, not the higher amounts of snow.”
    This is where regional differences come into play. We don’t get much ice or 1″ at a time. We also don’t have hills. I would hate having to store snow tires and then do the dealership swap, so AWD would be a big consideration.

    Does USAA offer boat pricing deals? Also, PSA: watch out for carbon monoxide on boats.

  116. no, I don’t think so. I’ll check. Good call. I’ve just been watching Craigslist to see what dealers are offering on new ones now that it’s Fall. But it’s hard to compare brands when you don’t really know. I’m looking forward to some boat shows this winter.

    Thanks for the CO warning, but this will be totally open with an outboard.

  117. “because that’s too much of a pain if there’s a real problem.”

    Lark, I don’t get that. If you need dealer service for a warranty issue, you can go to any dealer in the network, not just the one you bought the car from. Your local dealer’s service department will be happy to get you as a customer, even if it’s just warranty work at first. There’s always the chance you’ll become a customer for life.

    The car dealers (approximate) business model: 1/4-1/3 new sales, 1/4-1/3 used sales, the rest is parts, both wholesale and retail, + service.

  118. Rhett, as I said, if the differences are mainly the quality of the leather/trim/etc. and the noise reduction, then it’s mostly wasted on us. I’m not going to notice the difference in leather and such – I’ve been in high-end cars, and really, I don’t notice it – plus with all the mud, dirt and snow getting in from the kids sports, skiing, camping, etc, it’s going to get worn pretty quickly. So a 10k difference just for the noise reduction (which I would definitely notice) seems pretty hard to justify. We’ll take them both for test drives, but unless the MDX really wows us, I can’t see spending the extra money. And the “fun to drive” factor is also wasted on us as well – we really don’t notice it.

  119. @ Fred, no dealership at all for a number of car brands. We don’t want to travel 1-2 hours for service on the car if there’s a problem.

  120. We’ll take them both for test drives, but unless the MDX really wows us,

    I would agree – it only makes sense if it wows you.

    That said, my car is going on 8 years old and has 45k miles so I feel sort of bad I didn’t buy something nicer as it looks like I’m going to have this car for a long long time.

  121. Fred, your entire post upthread about how to buy a car was so valuable, thank you. My dad died last year and I miss him all the time, but especially now that we’re about to buy a new car–he used to love negotiating and did the car buying for the whole family. Your method is more our speed.

    Also, love the discussion about the Pilot vs MDX, as those are the two we’re considering. Upgrading from an Odyssey with 270,000 miles that our (independent) mechanic says really shouldn’t be driven anymore. I think we got our money’s worth.

  122. When we shopped, the USAA Honda Odyssey price was $150 higher than the Costco price and the local USAA affiliated dealer didn’t have the model we wanted, so choosing the Costco price and buying the vehicle from a dealer who had what we wanted was a no-brainer.

    Meme, when you compare USAA pricing, realize you get a bit back over time as a dividend (less than $100/year for us). I haven’t shopped for insurance based on price, based on my parents’ experiences after a car accident that resulted in a lawsuit and their experiences with another company and USAA. (USAA was good.) Maybe one of the attorneys can weigh in on when your insurance company is supposed to handle legal matters for customers after car accidents- my parents were not knowledgeable and grateful USAA handled it.

  123. Well, fwiw, we almost never get large quantities of snow, either. But after seeing the difference snow tires make in sleet, freezing rain, and even an inch of snow, I will never go without them again. For me, it’s a small price to pay to feel safe and completely under control no matter what the weather.

  124. I would love to hear from other non rural Massachusetts drivers. I have never owned snow tires, and I don’t have any issues driving in the snow even with an automatic. I do have good quality all season tires.

  125. @Meme – I think my issue is the “performance” styling of my cars — extra-wide tires + high torque = difficulties getting going in bad weather + proclivity to lose traction if react too quickly/forcefully to an emergency situation (for ex, my Acura also tends to hydroplane because tires are wider than many). I suspect a non-turbo-charged 4-cyl FWD vehicle with non-performance wheels and decent all-weather tires would be fine in most urban environments.

  126. LfB– definitely, in snowy/icy conditions, an underpowered car with narrow tires is less likely to lose traction and enter a skid. Rapid changes in force applied to the tire/road interface can overwhelm the friction at the interface, initiating skids; thus, muscle cars are non-optimal for these conditions.

    Are your snow tires narrower than your summer tires?

  127. @Finn – yes. That was part of what convinced me to upgrade, i.e., that it wasn’t just tire tread. (Not that I’d call a TL a “muscle car,” of course. 😉).

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