New or Used : Do Two People Need Three Cars?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
new or used do two people need three cars

Steve,

Thanks for sending along your email address, and for you all that you do to demystify the process of buying and owning cars. I find myself in a unique situation, and I would like your thoughts.

My wife is considering taking a job that is 135 miles away from our home. She will commute up once and return 3 days later. We have 3 young kids, and they attend a school that is about 15 miles from home and a similar distance from my office. Should she take the job, I will be in charge of picking them up 3 days a week, in addition to dropping them every day already.

I share this background with you to illustrate that we are already driving some significant miles. Her car is a 2011 Honda Odyssey with about 45,000 miles on it (and rising at about 19K per year), mine is a 2002 BMW M5 with about 84,000 miles (perhaps 14K per year). Simply put, she doesn’t want to drive my car to the job because she’s afraid of it, and I could really use the utility of the van from time to time when she is gone. I have no intention of selling the BMW—it’s worth less than I have in it, and it makes me smile.

We’re considering an additional car for my wife for the commute. It has to be dead reliable, as she will be far away with no time to spare while she’s using it. Right now I’m considering a lease (never thought I’d say that) or buying used (although I’m nervous about picking up someone else’s problems). When crunching the numbers, I see that the Corolla/Elantra/Civic segment is going to cost me more in insurance than going up a class, so the all-in cost is probably similar to a larger vehicle.

What am I overlooking? Is there some magical bare-bones vehicle I can lease or buy used that will provide decent MPGs and trouble-free motoring? Ugly/unloved models are no problem. I can be patient in looking for the right vehicle, but time is a semi-precious resource.

Thanks for your help!

Steve Says

You have just described why so many people now drive Camrys, Accords and Altimas.

A lot of folks like to match the size of the car to the size of the commute. Small commutes are often done with smaller vehicles. Long commutes encourage more stretching room and since many mid-sized cars now have as much room as full-sized vehicles a generation ago, they are becoming the new norm for road warriors.

In the case of your wife, she will likely have about six empty seats and space that will likely remain unused for those journeys with the Odyssey.

But as you mentioned, your minivan is still needed. It works. As for fuel economy, the Odyssey gets around the mid-20’s in mixed driving and the high 20’s on the highway. Plus you never know how the world changes. That potential job for your wife may come and go within a year or two. Or it may be you who winds up caring for the family thanks to an unexpected downsizing.

You didn’t mention a budget, but given your Wall Street money management job and the fact that you seem to be in that fungible mode where so many cars can potentially fit the bill, I would start with sampling a few rentals before finally paying the big bill. You may also put some feelers out there to see if any of your colleagues are trying to get rid of a used car that has been well kept.

I would wait a bit picking an alternative to the Odyssey. See how things work out once the financials are well-established, and then go forward from there. As for a family friendly mid-sized vehicle, or anything else in the world of new and used cars, I’m sure the Best & Brightest will have far more popular choices than the 12 year old brown Saab 9-5 wagon I just bought at the auction.

Then again, maybe not. How would she feel about a brown SAAB wagon?

Note: I can always be reached directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com .

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  • 56BelAire 56BelAire on Apr 10, 2014

    my .02, Why would anyone(husband or wife) with young kids apply for and take a job 135 miles from home requiring 3 nights a week in "corporate housing"? Me no like whole arrangement.....recipe for marriage problems. Signed, Dr. Phil.

  • Toshi Toshi on Apr 11, 2014

    1) I think the commute situation seems inevitable given what has been explained in the comments: NP wife and local practice and familiar schools for the OP + kids. 2) I'd keep the M5 as a toy, if it makes you happy. Odyssey must stay as kid carter. This implies a commuter for the wife, as per the OP's thinking. 3) My pick for a car for the hypothetical wife would be a well negotiated purchase of a new 4-cylinder/CVT Earth Dreams Accord sedan. It'll crest 30 mpg on the freeway, will retain value predictably, and would be useful as a secondary kid hauler. It's also less polarizing than Prii and I predict that the wife would be happy with it, the ultimate goal.

  • Kcflyer Nice to see California giving NY some competition to be the worst run state in the union.
  • Wolfwagen I see my comment was deleted (BTW nice way to censor) so i will say it again:GTFO here with the pseudo "wealth distribution" BS. A crime is a crime is a crime.Its a slippery slope, what happens next, Jail a rich guy when he kills a pedestrian and let the poor guy who kills a pedestrian walk? What about if the poor guy is a crappy driver and has the record to prove it then what?Or we could go crazy and just institute the death penalty across the board for every driving infraction. That will make people better drivers or stop driving altogether which will make the greenies happy (damm it I just gave them an idea - SOB!!!)
  • Wolfwagen No. Bring back the J80 with an inline six and reduced electronics (i.e. no giant touch screen) and they will probably sell like hotcakes
  • David S. " test vehicles sometimes make sudden stops when uncertain about how to navigate traffic."??? Test vehicles are programmed by humans, HUMANS sometimes make sudden stops when uncertain about how to navigate traffic, Duh!!
  • Frank The last guy was doing fine, this is a sales emergency that they're hoping Tim can fix. They want to hang onto the crazy margins from the covid era, which now in the face of abundant inventory, insane interest rates and inflation are a long distant wet dream. Its time to start offering value again, cash on the hood and 0% financing. Move the metal!
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