New Or Used?: The Incredible Exploding Family Edition

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
Welcome to TTAC’s latest feature “New or Used?” In this series, your car-buying questions will become a battleground between the forces of the used-car market (as represented by our in-house auction specialist Steve Lang) and the new-car market (as represented by Mr Sajeev Mehta of Piston Slap fame). Send your automotive scenario to, and let these skilled pundits for the new and used car markets battle it out for your business before handing the debate off to TTAC’s Best And Brightest. This week we have a hypothetical scenario to get things started, in which a young family finds itself in need of a lot more space. Will they be swayed to buy new or used? Let’s read on…

Guy and Ashley write:

We’re a young family with a one-year old, and we just found out we have twins on the way! Obviously we’re going to have to keep our costs down, so price, reliability and efficiency are important, but we absolutely need a vehicle that can fit three carseats. Any ideas?

Steve Lang: Welcome to Minivan-land! There are some cars out there that could fit three car seats. But it also depends on the car seats. If your budget is under $5k and you absolutely refuse to buy a minivan, there are rear wheel drive Volvo wagons. Volvo was one of the very few to offer tethers for seats, and they were pretty much the only ones to offer a legitimate side impact protection system before those things were ever fashionable.

Unfortunately the last full-sized Volvo wagon that could hold three car seats was made over 10 years ago and the last ‘good’ one, the Volvo 940 Wagon, was last made in 1995. Most parents can’t bear to have their little ones so close to glass and metal, which is why minivans eventually replaced the wagon for those who didn’t need the macho image (and cost) of an SUV.

Sajeev Mehta: Volvo wagons are just too old and tired by now, it’s not a good family vehicle unless Daddy’s garage is well stocked with tools and service manuals. Late model Minivans are the best route, though transmission issues are the norm across the board. Unless you’re lucky enough to find one with really low miles or a glove box full of gearbox service receipts at regular intervals. No matter, minivans are the best for your needs, if you don’t mind the stigma and the silent judgments of your neighbors.

Steve Lang: Geez. The stigma and silent judgment of your neighbors? They’re buying a car. Not joining a swinger’s club. If they have to go on the car side, a Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable or the Ford Five Hundred/Montego would be a far better option. This model combines many of the best elements of Volvo’s safety and Ford’s family car focus. You can also throw in a Freestyle or Taurus X into the pot as well. But in terms of bang for the buck, I would still opt for a well kept minivan.

Sajeev Mehta: Then again, Mighty Mighty Marquis uber alles! Where else can you fit three car seats in a single row, get non-SUV mileage, stellar safety, bulletproof reliability, top-drawer ride and quiet tuning all for less than any other used car? I’d buy a 2003+ model with rack and pinion steering and safely carry the family anywhere.

Steve Lang: If your budget is under $6000 it may be worthwhile to look at a 2003 Kia Sedona or Oldsmobile Silhouette. The Silhouette I like in particular because it had the double whammy of being the last year model of a brand that is now no more. This means that you can get a minivan that retailed in the $30,000 range for a mere 20% of the price and still have 70% of it’s life. Owners apparently love them as well judging by all the online reviews, and they regularly go for $3000 to $4000 less than the Odyssey and Sienna. Neither of which were particularly reliable at this time in their history.

Sajeev Mehta
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  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Jan 06, 2010

    I spent three years living in Europe and Europeans are much like us. They like the things they can not afford just like we do but more of them are content with having less or no debt and that means they (the ones i knew) lived well within their means. They might admire a Range Rover or big Merc but they were likely to drive Fiats and Golfs. They had families too - the same challenges we have - how to put a family of four or even five into a small (or in some cases VERY small) car. Before you "give into" the idea that you'll have to buy a big SUV or minivan if you don't want to - shop for kid seats. I've seen quite a few over the years that were TUV approved, still comfortable, still affordable, and still safe. These were narrow booster/baby seats just like we use here. With the purchase of three of these seats it's perfectly possible to put three children across the rear seat of a midsize car like a Passat or Volvo or Audi. No, I have no problem being seen driving a minivan but I don't WANT a minivan. Well, maybe a Eurovan Weekender but those are still expensive, and still pretty rare and even fewer can be had with low miles. And yes they CAN be reliable vehicles as some friends' 200K Eurovan attested - with the original unrebuilt driveline too. We were looking at narrow child seats a few years ago when we were bouncing around the idea of trying for a third child but the second one was so difficult to get here that we've mostly quit that idea. We would have been putting three children in the back seat of a 1st gen CR-V. I think we were looking at online retailers like Amazon. The mainstream big box retailers like WalMart and Sears and Kmart just didn't have anything like we were looking for. I wonder if they assume Americans will think narrow child seats will look weak so they sold upsized seats for folks who tend to buy upsized vehicles and have spare room in the back. Anyhow if you shop some online retailer - look at the comments - all of them. Folks sometimes offer better ideas in the comments. Also visit the forums of the cars you want to carry three children with. The European forums will often have recommendations for accessories like child seats that will be more clever than anything you saw at WalMart or cousin stores.

  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Jan 07, 2010

    Well my first response disappeared. Let's go again. We've got a 1st gen CR-V. Plenty of room for two car seats. Three bulky seats would be a challenge. When we were considering child #3 I looked around a little and found options. I don't know why the typical car seats sold in the USA are so bulky but the Europeans have alternatives that also go through strict testing processes too. They too have cars they'd like to fit three children across the back seat and have car seats sized for those purposes. Look around and if you already have a favorite import car - look to the enthusiast forums for your vehicle of choice that include European readers. It's unlikely you'll ever fit three children in carseats in the back of a Fiat 500 or Mini but I'm confident that a Volvo or Audi or Merc or Passat will be good for your needs with the right car seats. I don't mind a minivan, just don't want to drive one daily. Same for large SUVs.

  • RobbyG $100k+...for a Jeep. Are they selling these in fantasy land?Twin turbo inline 6 paired to an 8-speed transmission. Yet still only gets 14mpg.Whatever money you think you would save over a V-8 will be spent 2-3x amount fixing these things when they blow up.
  • Alan Well the manufacturers are catching up with stocks. This means shortages of parts is reducing. Stocks are building around the world even Australia and last year had the most vehicles ever sold here.
  • Larry You neglected to mention that the 2024 Atlas has a US Government 5-Star Safety Rating.
  • Alan Why is it that Toyota and Nissan beat their large SUVs (Patrol/300 Series) with an ugly stick and say they are upmarket? Whilst they are beating the vehicles with an ugly stick they reduce the off road ability rather than improve it.As I've stated in previous comments you are far better off waiting for the Patrol to arrive than buy an overpriced vehicle.
  • Alan How many people do you see with a 4x4 running mud tyres? How many people do you see with a 4x4 running massive rims and low profile tyres? How many people have oversize mirrors for towing once in a blue moon? How many 4x4s do you see lifted? How many people care what tyres they run to save fuel? The most comfortable tyres are more or less the most economical.