By on June 15, 2010

Perry writes in:

I’m giving my son a used car for his college graduation present. What models and years would you recommend in a car that is big enough to carry a stringed bass (the musical instrument -not a fish!), is very safe, reliable, gets good gas mileage, costs $5k-$7k. Thank you for your suggestions!

Sajeev Answers:

My band (yes, I have a life outside cars) has its own cello player, and he lugs his stringed instrument out of the back seat of a late model Dodge Charger with ease.  Unfortunately, the bass can be 25 inches longer than a cello.  So that narrows your options down considerably.  Because of the timing of it all, I’m letting my affinity for Mercury vehicles get the best of me. And since the 2005 Montego had a PR shot of this car’s interior holding a stringed instrument in its cabin, that’s my pick.  It was a beautiful, if wholly irrelevant shot. Until now. The Montego (and sister ship Ford Five Hundred) is a good choice because of that tall gearing for highway efficiency, unflappable durability/safety record and somewhat surprising depreciation. (clean models go for $8k or less pretty regularly)

But for a bass player? There’s a huge trunk, with a fold down rear seat.  And a fold down FRONT seat.  Lay that bad boy in the trunk and guide the neck across the flattened passenger front seat: Bam!  That was almost too easy.

Steve Answers:

When you’re getting a high priced item for someone young… taste is everything. What may appeal to the two of us can make a twenty-something flinch in all their generational glory. I vaguely recall my Dad offering me a 1986 Lincoln Continental, fake tire hump and vinyl stickers and all, back in the early 90’s. I decided the gramps car wasn’t for me. So…

We ended up shopping for a car together. Sorta. I would offer my Dad possibilities and he would end up saying yes or no. V8?: Hell no unless it was the geriatric Lincoln. But I could get something that was front wheel drive, a four cylinder, automatic and white (not too many constraints there, eh?) I neded up with a Celica that served me well.

If I were you I would let him do some window shopping and find that special something. Take it to a good independent shop. Get a Carfax/Autocheck history, and follow my Car Buying series I put up on TTAC a couple years ago. Do your homework. Be patient. I’m sure you both will find that perfect car for the times to come: and if you think its a little tough, take a look at my Hammer Time series (LINK: to feel a little better about your situation.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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38 Comments on “New Or Used?: Bass Models Edition...”

  • avatar

    Toyota Matrix.
    Rear seats fold completely flat.
    Front passenger seat folds flat.
    Can haul an item about 8 feet in length measured from rear of cargo bay(hatch closed shut) to dash board.

    • 0 avatar

      As an occasional driver of one I second the Matrix. That folding passenger seat has a table that’s meant for Laptops and there’s an optional household plug on the center stack. Just watch out for crappy idler arms on the early years.

      I also suggest the Pontiac Vibe as their the same car but with different fascias, a roof rack, and what I perceived as a slightly lower quality radio.

  • avatar

    2003 Mazda Protege5 or 2004 Mazda3S 5-door. Should be able to find them in your price range with 80-90K. Damn good cars.

  • avatar

    I hauled some rather large solar panels in my PT wagon a week or so ago. It’s a very nice spacewagon with a low price.

    Calibers seem expensive and ponderous by comparison, but they’ve got the VVT engine and some newer features if that’s what you’re going for.

    Magnum is a nice choice for RWD and larger engines.

  • avatar

    Two words: station wagon. Hyundai Elantra, Honda Accord, Ford Focus, Mazda 6 and Protege, etc. Oh wait I’m not a normal 17 year old…

    Sedan then? Five Hundred/Montego or Crown Vic/Grand Marquis/Town Car. All are big enough to hide a mob’s weekly kill and cheap enough for those without connections to buy. And upon looking for insurance for myself, they’re cheap to insure too!

    Sedan-sized hatchbacks should do the job nicely too, the Elantra GT and the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe fit the bill there, along with the Mazda 3

    • 0 avatar

      Very few (if any) of those will hold an upright bass. Just sayin!

    • 0 avatar

      Sajeev? a staion wagon won’t hold a bass? how big is a bass?

    • 0 avatar
      Acc azda atch


      The last Accord wagon to be had was a 5th gen unit dating back to about 96.

      Finding one in decent shape with decent miles..
      Screw the Focus.. the units at the 03 and earlier.. are garbage.
      The Hyundai.. has no reason to exist, except for its warranty.

      The Mazda6 hatch / wagon are a rare find.. and exist for only 2m.y’s.
      The other Mazda3 hatch is the only other thing worth driving..

  • avatar

    Subaru Outback.


  • avatar

    To carry an electric bass almost any hatchback will do. I’m partial to the Mazda3 (watch for rust!) and Focus wagon. For a double bass, I’m thinking minivan.

  • avatar

    young dudes are all about cool. i’d say get a nice used Element. Honda’s are rock solid and this one has tons of space. and, it’s cool. ;)

    • 0 avatar

      Bingo. I haul all my gear (and that of others) in my Element all the time. You could fold up the seat on one side, slide the bass in, and still have room for 2-3 people and their stuff. It’s extremely reliable, not exactly fast, gets good mileage, and the interior is very easy to care for. You could do far worse than an Element, and should be able to find good examples in your budget.

  • avatar

    All reasonable suggestions, just want to add compact CUVs to the list:
    Hyundai Tucson/Kia Sportage, RAV4, Escape/Mariner/Tribute, etc.
    Four cyl. versions of these will probably get acceptable MPG and will be more stylish for his peer group.

  • avatar

    $5 – $7k somewhat limits all the “trendy” suggestions to ones that are old and well used. Even if a vehicle is “rock solid” it’s going to need maintenance, especially after 100k miles. Because of that I’d find something that is also cheap to work on. Nothing beats the vanilla family sedans for that. If something breaks on your Cam-cord/Fusion/Sonata/Altima/etc. at least it’s relatively easy and cheap to fix. This class of cars are also safe and do well on the MPG’s. Most all have fold down rear seats which would accomodate stringed instruments. Slap on a spoiler if you want to look sporty.

  • avatar

    1st gen Scion xB1.

  • avatar

    I guess it depends upon what kind of bass that he has. Like others noted, an electric bass will fit in just about anything, a double bass will need a minivan, almost!

    FWIW, I can get my 5 piece Ludwig drum kit into a Chevy Cavalier, you just need to pack carefully. In my case, I’d like to replace the Cav with either an HHR, a Malibu Maxx or a PT Cruiser. It would be much easier with a hatchback.

    In the end, any of the suggestions here would probably work, but I think I’d take the case along with me to see exactly how things fit.

  • avatar

    I will go a different direction. Try an early 2000s Chrysler minivan (Grand Caravan or Town & Country). Find a nice, well cared for model with under 100K. To keep mileage up, I would look for the 3.3 over the 3.8. The 3.3 V6 will run forever and the transmission problems were resolved by then and are no worse than any other fwd automatic. If cared for, both engine and tranny are good for at least 190K (which is what mine has on it). The base model will avoid the electic rear doors, but will be otherwise well equipped. An 05 and up will have Stow N Go seats, which are wonderful. The short wheelbase version (Caravan or Chrysler Voyager) can come with a 4 and is cheaper, but I have no experience with this one. He can put his bass and several of his friends’ instruments in. A musician will not care.
    Plan B would be an early 2000s Taurus/Sable wagon. Same condition and mileage restrictions. Both will be good, practical and reliable cars. The benefit of the Caravan/T&C is that he can carry the bass and several people as well.

  • avatar

    Another idea, and the edit does not seem to be working. Although they are getting older and hard to find nice ones, a 95-98 Honda Odyssey would be a great choice if you can find a really nice one with under, say, 120K on it. My last one was at 218K when it got smashed earlier this year and was a delightful little van to own. The flip down rear seat is a primative Stow N Go, it it is a pleasure to drive, if a bit slow.

  • avatar

    I just talked to a co-worker who played double bass through high school to get a feeling for the size and shape. According to her, there’s really no chance that any sedan would work, even if the seats folded down, because of the sheer volume of the body plus the height of the bridge. It makes for a very broad instrument in two dimensions, and very long in the third.

    So, unfortunately for the cool factor of the kid’s ride, I’m thinking minivan too, or at least an MPV class with folding seats. I don’t even think most CUV’s would be able to handle the length of a double bass without folding down the front seat or having the neck and head stick up between the seats.

    Another question is whether passenger space is required, not a factor, or even discouraged. Maybe a minivan with 2nd row chairs rather than a bench, so you could keep one in while laying the instrument between them.

  • avatar

    Should I mention that I got a 2008 20k mile PT wagon for $7,990?

    It makes the car much more beautiful when it’s half-price :)

  • avatar

    For $5-7k, how about a 2003 Volkswagen Passat wagon. The 1.8T engine provides good power and fuel economy, probably as good or better than a Matrix/Vibe, with more cargo space. The 1.8T had a problem early on with engine sludge, but the sludged engines should have worked their way through the market by now. The other major problem was engine coils, which should have been replaced by now.

    We had a 2003 passat that was destroyed in an accident in 2008. Prior to its destruction, it was a gem. Economical, reasonably fast, with a 5-speed transmission. Great materials including a cool red & blue instrument panel and heated seats. It had the full complement of safety features including abs, stability control and side airbags. Just get an independent mechanic to check it out before you buy it. Especially check for oil sludge, engine timing, and early stress cracks on the windshield. make sure the plastic underpan is intact and well attached underneath the car. It would be great if the previous owner has a record of using synthetic oil on the car.

  • avatar

    Got my son the musician a 2003 PT Cruiser. Cheap. Big inside. Slow. Cheap to insure. Decent gas mileage. And, after two years, has been trouble free.

  • avatar

    Bassically, any wagon with fold down rear seats.

    I used to carry my uprights in my parents’ 1980 VW Dasher wagon and my identically sized but fewer doored 1989 VW Fox wagon. Both of those are pretty small cars. Actually, I’m not sure I did have to fold the seats down to get them in the VWs with the bass laying on its back but that depends on the height of the rear seat backs. The end of the neck will poke through between the front seats in a compact wagon like those but it didn’t interfere with my driving and I’m 6’5″ with broad shoulders and lots of knees and elbows. I also carried a 15″ bass combo amp around in there too – bass goes on its side with the scroll pointed between the front seats and the amp and any other gear goes on in next to it.

    I’ve also carried uprights in sedans in which the passenger seat will recline all the way back. This will need to be tested as success depends on how much length there is for the neck on the rear deck and if the door opening is big enough and the height between the seat bottom and door frame or ceiling is high enough. This isn’t as passenger friendly but someone can ride in the back seat behind you. It also requires plenty of clearance on the passenger side when you park to get the thing in and out. I was able to get them into Volvo 122, 144, 240, 700/900 and a 2001 Buick LeSabre (and I hope my wife’s 2007 Impala – I guess I’d better check) this way but a wagon is much preferable – this is a better option for a second car that can be used in a pinch.

    I haven’t needed to haul an upright around for a while now so I haven’t really worried about it. I can still get my smaller bass guitar rig in my ’96 Mustang though – 2×10 cab in the back seat with the basses, and everything else in the trunk. I wouldn’t recommend that to everyone though :)

    A wagon or minivan (real ones, not jacked up CUVs) are sooooooo much easier to load and unload than a sedan/coupe, SUV or pickup truck – the main reason being you don’t have to lift stuff up as high to get it in and out or climb up to reach stuff towards the front.

    edit: A lot of hatchbacks will work too – just remembered I’ve carried them around occasionally in a ’93 Dodge Daytona with the rear seats folded down. Anything other than a wagon/minivan/SUV though and you’ll probably want to do a test fit before you buy.

  • avatar

    This story just gave me a flashback to the day in high school when I was forced to ride a few miles in the back seat of a hippie friend’s hardtop Karmann-Ghia accompanied back there by his 12-string guitar. I’m 6’7″.

    After that experience, I’d say ANY other car is suitable for the job.

  • avatar

    Although a minivan is the logical choice here, this is a young kid we are talking about. There is nothing cool in driving a minivan at that age. I see only one choice here: Dodge Magnum. A 2005/2006 V6 may be had for just around eight grand or so. It has a tonne of room, and is still cool to drive. I can’t believe nobody recommended this already.

    • 0 avatar

      See iNeon’s post, third from top. I’ll third it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll add on to the Magnum suggestion by saying this: look for a late 2006 or 2007 model with a 3.5L V-6 and the 5-speed automatic. It shifts better and gets better mileage than the 4-speed that the car launched with in 2005 and unfortunately went back to in 2008 when Daimler/Cerberus was in full cost save mode.

    • 0 avatar

      The 3.5 engine would be the choice. I cannot recall if the 2.7 V6 was offered, but if it was, absolutely avoid it under all circumstances.

    • 0 avatar

      When I was looking in November, Magnums were not at all in my price range(the same as the OPs) unless you wanted a clapped-out ghetto sled that was someone’s custom job before it was repoed and subsequently decontented of stereo, speakers and televisions. They’ve all got dubs and poor two-tone paint in this price range. Ditto Chargers and 300s. They also have cloth seats with spooge stains on them.


      The 2.7 I drove in a Charger felt like a sweetheart. Quiet, adequate and plenty enough economy. The sludging issues were over years ago. Like, 2004, years ago. But this is moot– these cars are unavailable under $10,000– more like $12,500– and that’s with miles.

      I’ll say it again: I got a waranteed PT wagon, manual-shift, 5 airbags– for $7,990 in November. The car may not be luxe, but it’ll last until 2020.

  • avatar

    With the passenger seat folded down, I managed to fit my bass guitar and hard case in my ’82 Corvette… granted it wasn’t reliable or fuel efficient

  • avatar

    I’m betting that said Bass player knows which are the best cars. Try posting on a bass playing forum for good suggestions.

    A high school friend played upright bass and ended up with a wonderful used convertible Dodge Dart (of course, this was the 1970s in an area where it almost never rained). A neighbor teenager girl knows she will be loving minivans her whole life because she plays the harp.

    The bass player and generous parent are ahead of the game in the used car hunt: they have a no-illusions, not-negotiable constraint.

    There’s an old joke about a banjo player (I am one, so I can tell the joke) who leaves his banjo in the car while he steps into the pub for a beer. He mentions that he left the banjo in the car, and the horrified bartender warns him about the bad neighborhood and tells him to check on it immediately. He goes outside and, sure enough, the window is smashed in and there are two more banjos in the back seat. . . . .

    Anyway, I’m thinking if the bass playing son will ever need to park discretely and has an expensive instrument, that a vehicle that hides its contents is a good idea. Tinted windows, a panel van, or maybe one of those horrifically ugly HHR Panel things might be on the short list.

    Oh, and avoid NYC taxi cabs, YoYo Ma left his Stradivarius Cello in the trunk of one once.

  • avatar

    ………just bought my daughter a 2003 Taurus. 69,000 miles. Clean trade in, regularly serviced. Solid car, looks like new.
    While not cool like the red Escort Zx2 she had (briefly!) , this one doesnt have a rear trailing arm that looks like it is ready to detach from the rest of the car. The underside of this thing looks like it just rolled out of the factory.
    Safe. Dependable. Insurable. Yes.

  • avatar

    Not sure if it is what you are looking for, but I’d get a personally get a Freestyle over the Montego/Five Hundred.

  • avatar

    For $7K, you can get the Matrix or Scion XB.

  • avatar

    I’d vote for the Matrix or a Focus wagon. Both have surprising amounts of room, especially the Focus. I would look at an ’04 or later model year Focus, FWIW: most of the reliability issues were fixed by then. My Focus wagon has run almost 103,000 mile with only one unscheduled repair.

  • avatar

    An early/ mid 90s E34 BMW 530i or 540i Station Wagon.
    Or a similar vintage Dodge Van with some bucks in the slush fund for when the tranny and AC fail

  • avatar

    Haha, I have two other suggestions, and neither has anything to do with “what” car to buy.

    1. Buy a cello and a Pod/XT (or like) pedal. Many pedals have an “octave down” feature. Problem solved!

    2. He could also buy a six string cello, but that only drops the lowest note by about a fifth. Plus, he’d have to learn the cello’s string spacings; they’re in fifths, and I believe the double bass is in fourths.

    Okay, so that second choice isn’t much.

    And neither is the first. Many don’t like the sound of the POD.

    But they may both be cheaper than buying a car. :)

  • avatar


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