Ask Bark: Growing a Family While Trying To Shrink Bills

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

Ben writes:

Hi Bark,

I am currently in my second year of a 3 1/2 year lease on a 2015 Mazda3 GT — which is probably the most engaging, convenient and efficient vehicle I’ve ever owned. Everything


they say about Mazda nailing the driving dynamics is spot on.

I wasn’t married prior to leasing the vehicle, nor did I have my first child, nor was I expecting another child 14 months after having my first (almost Irish twins). I drove less, hated my job more and didn’t understand the joy a family can bring you. Now I have a 100+ mile total commute daily that I don’t even notice because of my quality of life, job and quite possibly my vehicle.

Yet, I feel the urge to make a vehicle change for 3 reasons:

  1. I am going to be way over the lease mileage soon. I’ll only be about two grand upside down if I get out now.
  2. I’m getting older. The dynamics of the Mazda3 are incredible, but the wheels might be a little big, the suspension a little hard, and — with an 85+ db level at 77 mph — it’s not quite the serene space I’d like.
  3. Having 100-percent more child in five months means I need all the cash I can get. Getting less car could mean saving more.

Do I ride my lease out and swallow the pill at the end? Do I get into $12,000 commuter that I could own for $250/month in three to four years? Is there a $14,000 car that is soft, quiet and comfortable I should consider that I would likely keep longer than a commuter box? Or …

Yikes, talk about a lot of variables, Ben! Let’s try to address each one individually, then find a final recommendation.

First of all, you’re not entirely clear on what “way over the lease mileage” actually means in numbers. The roughly $2,000 that you’re upside down right now will only buy you 8,000-13,000 miles at the end of your lease, depending on the rate for your mileage overage charges. Considering that you’re driving about 100 miles a day, that’s about 25,000 miles a year of commuting alone, not to mention any rad trips you’ll be taking in the next year-and-a-half. HAHAHA RAD TRIPS JUST KIDDING YOU’LL BE STUCK CHANGING DIAPERS AT HOME. Sorry, I had to get that out of my system. Trust me, as a parent of two kiddos, I know the hell joy you’re about to experience.

Anyway, if you have a 12,000 mile lease, that means you’re going to be at least 18,000 miles over at the end, assuming you’re not already pacing over your allowed mileage. Plus, there’s always the off chance that you’ll have some sort of damage to the car between now and then (like, oh, I don’t know, two small children spilling things all over the interior), so you might have some additional fees tacked on at the end. In short, keeping the Mazda for the lease duration only makes sense if you like writing very large checks for things that you no longer get to use.

Secondly, I don’t wanna hear any bullshit about “getting older” and suspensions being a “little hard.” I’m 38, and I daily drive a Fiesta ST. Remove the sand from your nether regions and suck it up, Francis. Oh, and while you’re at it, check out The BarkCast on your next long drive!

Thirdly, having two kids isn’t 100-percent more expensive than having one kid. You’ve already got a lot of the clothes, toys, cribs, and whatnot from your first kid. The second kid slides right in, financially speaking. However, the actual parenting of two kids isn’t twice as hard. It’s at least six times as hard. You’ll get no fucking sleep for the next 24-36 months, and maybe beyond. Accept that.

So, considering all that, and making a few assumptions about the usage of this car, such as how often the kids will be riding along (sounds like a fair amount), I’m going to give you a couple of options.

Option Drive to the Mazda dealer and beg them to help you out of your lease and put you in a new Mazda.

You’d be surprised how desperately Mazda dealers want (and need) to sell new cars nowadays. This could drastically help you eliminate some of that negative equity that you’ve got in your current 3. You could buy a CX-3 Sport FWD at sticker for around $350/month with Mazda’s current promo of 1.9% over 60 months — not as tricked out as your 3 GT, but still a nice car. Yes, this is beyond your budget, but you’d be avoiding having to roll negative equity into a new loan if the dealer is willing to swallow that $2,000 pill. Mazda also offers “pull-ahead” leases with some regularity, but another 12,000-15,000 mile a year lease isn’t going to help your situation, so avoid that temptation.

Option Sell the 3 to somebody who isn’t a desperate Mazda dealer, accept their punitive lease termination conditions, and go spend $12,000-14,000 on a used car that meets the needs of your growing family.

This isn’t a sexy pick (Ask Bark is alllllll about keeping things sexy) and there’s every chance that you’ll end up truly resenting it. But, it might be the most practical thing that you can do, as least in the short term. I’m not gonna lie, though — there’s not a whole lot in your price range that’s gonna light you on fire in the same way as your 3. You’re either looking at a higher-mileage late model car that probably cost less than your 3 did new, with little to no remaining warranty, or a lower-mileage, early model car that also has no warranty and cost less than your 3 did new. Since your growing family is already assured to hit you with unexpected expenses, I chose to look at late model, certified pre-owned (CPO) cars to ensure that you’ll be covered in case something catastrophic happens. Also, captive finance companies often have good financing specials on CPO inventory.

How about this 2013 Hyundai Sonata GLS? Certified, one owner, lease return car. Spacious enough for the family, a few bells and whistles, and a low, low 2.49% HMFC finance option.

If you wanna keep things feeling Hiroshima-ish, this certified 2012 Mazda 6 looks like an attractive option, and has many of the things you like about your 3, in a bigger, cheaper package.

This 2012 Honda Accord could be a decent option, too. I’m not in love with the fact it’s had three owners in three years, but it is likely going to be the cheapest Accord you can find (and we know how the B&B just loves Accords!).

Basically, you’ll have your choice of three- to four-year-old certified midsize sedans in this price range. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll get good reliability and gas mileage, and a quieter, comfier ride.

But … before you go down that road, head to your local Mazda dealer and take a crack at Option and do it at the end of March — if you can hold out that long. Tax season will be drying up a bit, and the manufacturer will likely have some end-of-quarter incentives that the dealer will be desperately trying to hit. A $2,000 bill is nothing to them if they’re looking at a five- or six-figure bonus.

Best & Brightest, you have spoken with one voice and TTAC has heard you loud and clear. Whether it’s because you love my brilliant insights into the automotive world, or because you love telling me what an idiot I am, or even because you like suggesting Siennas to people who want a track car, you have clicked and commented enough on recent Ask Bark entries that I will be answering doubly as often! That’s right, you’ll get two of these Ask Bark articles per week from now on.

But this can only happen if you, the readers of this fine website, continue to send your questions to me via email at barkm302@gmail.com. I’m happy to continue answering all of your concerns about what car to buy and how to buy it, but I’m also great at questions such as “What should we name our child?” (Easy: Bark!) 0r “What’s the worst collegiate major for future job prospects?” (Jazz Saxophone Performance — ask me how I know!). So keep on keepin’ on with your questions, people.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • HotPotato HotPotato on Feb 07, 2016

    I will echo the love for the Ford C-Max Hybrid: * an incredible bargain if bought used, yet packed with modern tech * very quiet and comfortable, with excellent visibility * handles crisply with great steering, like a tall Focus * 188hp and instant electric torque, plus 37+ real-world MPG * easy load height for your kid, your groceries, and your ass Plus as a hybrid it has an EPA-mandated 100,000 drivetrain warranty (150,000 miles in California). Just make sure the many, many recalls have been attended to. Top alternatives are, uh, other microvans. The Mazda5 is also nice to drive and has a third row, but the can't match the C-Max's MPG, acceleration, or crash scores. The Kia Soul and second-gen Scion sB have the right shape, but aren't otherwise standouts. And then there's the Fiat 500L, same idea but UNBELIEVABLY ROOMY and flexible for parents. Car seats in the back, sure! Strollers in the cargo bay, sure! Flip the seats completely out of the way and go nuts at IKEA, you bet! Its acceleration and MPG are both a bit better than other the non-hybrid microvans, though it requires premium gas. It's also an unpopular vehicle, which makes it cheap to buy, either used or brand-new with staggering amounts of available cash on the hood. Still, it's not as fun to drive as some of the others...and the B&B don't trust Fiats, turbos, or dual-clutch automatics (though you can also get it with a manual or a conventional automatic). But you'd have to reeeeally need that interior room to choose this over a used C-Max for the same money. If you can't see yourself in a microvan, then how about a US-made VW Passat? Freaking gigantic inside, drives pretty nice, and cheap. Or a Ford Fusion 2.5. If you go back to the pre-2013 bodystyle, you can even afford step up to a Fusion Hybrid (the 2.5 hybrid is incredibly long-lived, that's a popular New York City taxi powertrain) or the Lincoln MK-whatever-it's-called version of the Fusion.

  • Laserwizard Laserwizard on Feb 08, 2016

    Find out what the buy out option cost is going to be and refinance for three years or less. Own it since you like it and not have to worry about leasing it. This scenario proves women are the root of all evil. When you didn't have one, everything was just fine.

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  • VoGhost I was talking today to a guy who pulled up in an '86 Camry. Said it ran like a top, got 30 mpg, the AC was ice cold and everywhere he goes, people ask to buy it. He seemed happy.
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