I have a brother with a mechanically-healthy 2001 Toyota Camry LE four-cylinder automatic. I’m estimating it has about 180,000 miles now. He uses that car everyday — extensively on the job, and for visits to family members out of state. Mileage is piling up fast. He does have the car regularly maintained — mechanically — through a local independent technician who he trusts. Cosmetically, the car gets occasional self service, pressure-wand-and-foam-brush washes, but that’s it.
Here’s the problem: he’s a hoarder, and his car is suffering for it.
The rear suspension sags due to a full trunk that never gets unloaded or cleared out, as well as a back seat and a right front passenger seat that are piled all the way up to the window sills with junk and rubbish that normal people would throw away. My attempts to tell him that he’s likely killing his shocks, suspension componentry and gas mileage are met with blank, unbelieving stares and dismissive jokes.
My question for you: Based on his unfortunate habit, what’s the best kind of modern day (say, 2006+) replacement vehicle for him if that Camry ever dies, is stolen or becomes totaled in a wreck? He’s fond of high gas mileage for the savings it brings him (but not to the point where he’ll take the added junk weight out of the car), likes the reliability that his Camry and his past two Hondas have brought him, and is not fond of modern techno-gadgetry. He also hangs onto vehicles for a long time and tends to run them until they drop or get wrecked. His auto travels are largely confined to the American south and its weather.
Am I correct in thinking a late model, four-cylinder Ford Ranger/Mazda B-series (with a lockable canopy to secure the junk) would be a good option? Maybe a Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe? Should heavy-duty rear shocks be installed to handle such loads? What do you suggest?
Ben (why is it that 50% of Ask Bark questioners are named Ben?), I am rarely speechless, but I sat and stared at this e-mail for about 20 minutes before I could think of anything to say. Rather than addressing the obvious hoarding issue, let’s do our best to answer your question from an automotive perspective.
I would think the Ford Ranger/Mazda B-Series would present a problem because the cab itself is so small, and I doubt your brother is going to get out of the truck, walk around to the back, and toss his Chick-Fil-A cup in the bed. It seems as though he’d be quickly overwhelmed by the rubbish. Any truck option would likely have to have an extended cab/quad cab to accommodate his, erm, hobby.
I like your Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe suggestion. Every summer, Mrs. Bark loads up her colleague’s Vibe with enough stuff to last her for four weeks to teach at summer music festivals together, so I’ve seen firsthand that the Vibe can handle a month’s worth of belongings for two people. They also typically get close to 30 mpg, even with close to an additional 1,000 pounds of clothes and furniture.
I don’t know if he considers hybrids to be modern techno-gadgetry, but what about a Honda Insight or an earlier Toyota Prius? (God, I’ve never found myself recommending one of these before.) Great mileage, obviously, and plenty of room inside for all his various acquisitions. Depending on budget, a Toyota Camry Hybrid could be a viable — if more expensive — option, as well. I know everybody would be disappointed if I didn’t include a Ford in my recommendations, so why not a Ford C-Max? They can’t be found as cheaply, just because they haven’t been around as long, but great C-Max deals are there to be had if your brother decides to go new for some reason.
And, since this is TTAC, let me be the first to suggest a Subaru WRX Wagon. I realize that it fits virtually none of your criteria, but that doesn’t normally stop people from suggesting a WRX.
Not only would heavy-duty shocks be a good idea, but perhaps an increased spring rate would be in order, too. It’s hard to believe that anybody would go to the lengths of actually making suspension modifications to account for a hoarding disorder, but, hey, if I could have made a mod to my car that would have somehow increased my ability to consume Red Stag and Coke about five years ago, I probably would have. We all have our vices, no?
Bark’s recommendation is right in line with what you were already thinking: get the least expensive and most well-maintained Matrix or Vibe you can find. Vibes tend to be cheaper, just because of its orphan-brand nature.
But, perhaps most importantly, when the bell tolls for the Camry, he’ll finally have to confront his hoarding issue — whether it’s when he has to remove all of his junk from the old car or when he’s confronted with the uncluttered new car. It will give him the opportunity to start anew. The best choice, ultimately, might be the car that he loves enough to inspire him to keep it tidy.
Not sure which car to buy, how many patterns you can wear at one time, or which Skylander to use in the final battle against Kaos? Write to Bark via electronic mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or give him a virtual swipe right on Twitter at @barkm302.