New Or Used: SUV Resurgence Over the Common Sense Corolla?
Steve C. writes:
Currently I own two cars, a daily driver and a completely impractical two seat roadster with no trunk. The daily driver is a 1996 Toyota Corolla that has 145K miles. It has been in my family since new and has received good maintenance. I’ve had the car since 75K miles, doing all of the maintenance myself, and have enjoyed a mostly problem free ownership experience as is usually the case with these cars. However, the car did overheat once about 4 years ago while sitting in traffic due to a fan failure. The coolant actually boiled before I even realized there was a problem. I replaced the fan and thermostat, changed the coolant, and had no problems since.
However, in the past several months the engine has started consuming oil at a somewhat fast pace. I lent the car to my dad, who forgot to monitor it, and over the course of ~3500 miles the car lost enough oil to where there was barely any on the dipstick (the check engine light went on). The car also has some sort of vibration while coasting that seems to be an engine mount or axle issue. Basically, the car has reached the point of where its likely going to cost more to fix then its worth. Additionally, the back seat doesn’t fold so it makes it difficult to bring along my snowboard during the winter and I wont even mention the surfboard and backpacking trips. I would like to replace the car with something more suited toward my active life style, probably a pickup or SUV.
My budget is going to be ~$5,000, give or take a little. I am thinking about a 1990’s Tacoma or 4Runner, though I’ve had trouble locating one in my budget range that is a 4×4 (I live in the North East so a rear wheel drive truck just wont do). Do you have any other suggestions for an older vehicle that can be counted on as a dependable daily driver and can carry my gear? I am not too concerned with MPGs as I bike to work during warmer weather and my commute is ~7 miles round trip. I don’t want anything crazy huge because I live in a city where parking is a bit of a concern. Thanks for your help.
Do you even know what’s wrong with the Corolla?
You need to have an independent mechanic look at that vehicle. Motor mounts are cheap. A check engine light and low oil does not always equal engine damage. Plus $5000 is a lot of money to blow on something you may rarely use.
If you must buy an AWD vehicle, any SUV will do. Loaded low mileage Explorer from the late 90’s are more than fine along with a Ford Escape with a 5-speed. Chevy Blazers and their kin can also be a good fit for you. Cherokees, Grand Cherokees, Pathfinders, Rodeos, Troopers… they all ascribe to a simple and durable powertrain that was made in the hundreds of thousands. 4Runners from that era will be overpriced and they were not leading vehicles for this time. Tacomas of that vintage will ride like your roadster over bumps, and the price premium is even worse.
I would spend $4000 to $4500 on a vehicle that has been well kept. Then spend the remainder amount catching up on any upcoming maintenance issues and customizing the vehicle. That is if you must blow the dough.
See, the problem with writing alongside Mr. Lang is that he’s usually correct. I’ll forgo the Piston Slap routine with your Corolla, since you don’t much care for it. I recommend cleaning the little sedan up, selling it for a decent price on Craigslist so you can take advantage of this model’s impressive resale value and high desirability among the average car buyer.
Cash in hand? Good. Now buy something with less perceived value, but good real world driving value. Sounds to me that you’d love an SUV or CUV, and the only way to narrow it down is via test drives. Lots and lots of them. My gut feeling is that a body on frame SUV gives the most bang for your outdoorsy-lifestyle buck. While I prefer the 1996-up Explorer on interior fit/finish alone, either the Blue Oval or any one of GM’s (1999-up) Trailblazer derivatives will cheerfully fit the bill…for cheap.
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Have you looked at a 1996-2002 Isuzu Trooper? The are comfortable but built like a tank, and have a hard to find low beltline that gives the better outside visibility than any other SUV I can think of. They are also a mid size SUV that holds a lot but is not a land barge. Because Consumer Reports reported that they were more likely to roll over than other SUV's their sales and resale value went in the tank, so prices are pretty attractive. I put about 150k miles on one and regret ever selling it. Bonus: if you find one that has been kept in the south it should be rust free. Seriously, find one on Craigslist and take it for a test drive. The Trooper is a great, low cost option.
Hmm overheated, using oil and run low on oil. Sounds to me like the engine in your Carolla isn't long for the world. My friends 1996 did about the same thing until it set up in sub zero temps with the engine at high idle trying to warm up. It through a rod, out went the oil and the engine never ran again. I wouldn't trust a 90's Toyota truck judging my all the rotted out frames issues I have encountered (neatly brushed under the carpet by Toyota in offering far more trade than the truck is worth). The older Subies are spotty with many examples dropping there trannys with well under 100K. I agree about the Vue. The Honda V6 is smooth and powerful and will last. That plus the body that won't rust out make it even better.