By on February 18, 2016

2013 Toyota Matrix, Image: Toyota

Ben writes:

Hey Bark,

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 [email protected] or give him a virtual swipe right on Twitter at @barkm302.

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46 Comments on “Ask Bark: Too Much Junk in the Trunk (and Everywhere Else)...”

  • avatar

    Mk3 MR2 to address the underlying problem.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    The simple answer is to get another Camry or Accord. He likes the product, and he’s obviously not a car guy, so why change?

    Out of left field: get a nice car instead. I’ve seen this scenario play-out a few times; someone owns an old Toyohonda that’s worn-out like a pair of jeans, inside and out. The interior is filled with junk that they couldn’t be bothered to clean-out.
    One day they buy a nicer car (premium, leather, whatever), and all of a sudden the interior is kept pristine, and any small scratch is dealt-with promptly.
    I’m not saying this will happen to a full-on hoarder, but it’s been known to happen to borderline slobs.

  • avatar


  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Just stop worrying about it. OP has already said his brother keeps up with the maintenance on his Camry, he’ll probably get several more years of service from it, and he’s not hurting anybody by carrying around loads of junk.

  • avatar

    I recommend a therapist. Otherwise you’re just trying to help him solve the wrong problem.

  • avatar

    Get a CR-V, same engine as the Accord with more cargo room. I do not like the how the Matrix ride/handles. The CR-V is a very vehicle in my opinion. Mazda3 wagon might work also, but it is smaller than an CR-V.

    We are all works in progress, positive attitude and continue working to get healthier habits.

  • avatar

    Not only is his risk of being injured increased by flying junk, his ability to avoid a problem through braking or avoidance is hampered by the weight. So the underlying problem may be more in need of addressing than you think.

    Going back to the small pickup idea, perhaps a small cabin is actually better? Get one with a cap and install a sliding rear window to accomodate the tossing of stuff into the back. Make a deal that you won’t bug him as long as the passenger cabin is clear.

    Thinking about that, on the other hand, perhaps a P/U would enable the hoarding of bigger/heavier things? Depends if what he puts in is actually garbage.

  • avatar

    I’m quite confident Bark is trolling us for page views with this series.

  • avatar

    It’s strange that on Jalopnik the answer is either Miata or brown-diesel-wagon with a stick.

    On TTAC the answer is becoming WRX.

    Unless it’s Big Truck, and then it’s HELLCAT, FTW.

  • avatar

    Maybe all the junk makes it theft-proof? Just kidding. I had a customer with a 92 Taurus that did the same thing. The only seat anyone could get in was the drivers seat and it squatted down to the bump stops. He asked us to align the car several times, and wanted us to put stiffer springs on it to “fix” his problem, but I had to tell him it couldn’t be done. This guy was an air force pilot too.
    Tell him to buy a Transit Connect or a cargo van. He could really build an interesting hoard with that. I once bought an old VW van that was filled with glass bottles that I returned to the local coca-cola bottler and got more than I paid for the van for them.

  • avatar

    Take everything with independent rear suspension off the list of suggestions. If he’s going to drive around on the bumpstops under a pile of junk all the time, rear tire wear will be much better with a beam axle.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Every blue moon or so I watch an episode of hoarders.
    After a watching and cringing for a while, I just repeat
    “I may be effed up, but that guy is really effed up.” This soothes my ADD.

  • avatar

    Thanks for clarifying.

  • avatar

    Martrix/Vibe 04-07 has Takata airbags and the worst failure rates of any vehicle out there (fun fact ehhh) at over 2%.

    I wouldn’t touch one from this era unless I knew the recall repair had been done.

    The more you know…

    • 0 avatar

      I’m taking my ’05 Vibe AWD in next week to get the recall repair done; first time since new that it’s been to the dealership.

      As much as I dislike Consumer Reports car ratings, they’ve been spot-on about the Vibe and Matrix. I think the Vibe was the only GM-badged car they ever recommended as a “buy.” In 10.5 years of ownership (~100K miles), it’s never been into a repair shop. Oil changes, A/T drain & fills, plugs, serpentine belt, brake pads…all done in my garage. And thanks to Tire Rack, I’ve yet to take it to Walmart, Discount or Les Slob for new shoes.

      Yeah, the 1ZZFE is a dog (especially w/AWD) and she’s starting to show her age a bit (though a spring coat of Collinate 845 should sparkle things up), I just can’t find a financially reasonable excuse to get rid of it. Anything I buy to replace it will be a vanity endeavor…I could go full-tilt midlife w/an S8 and still drive it like a Camry (er, Vibe). What to do, what to do?

  • avatar

    A Vespa.

  • avatar

    Love the truck idea! I used to say my Dakota had a self-cleaning back seat.


  • avatar

    How about a Minivan? If he and his passengers can see all the junk he hauls around maybe he will get around to cleaning it out more often? Unfortunately he just may end up hauling even more stuff.

  • avatar

    I’d suggest either a Crown Vic with air shocks or a panel van with no windows and “Free Candy” stenciled on the side. Gas mileage be damned when it’s $1.48!

  • avatar

    Our small town had an old bachelor hoarder who filled his car to the window sills and then parked it in his brothers grove only to buy another old Lincoln, fill it up and put it in the grove. He did this at least four times. Sad.

  • avatar

    I have a friend that seemed to hoard papers and files in his Saturn Ion. The back seat was about half full and the trunk was completely full. He was rear ended hard enough to blow out the back window and everything went flying inside and outside of the car.

  • avatar

    Late 1980’s Winnebago Elanden Series M-37 for maximum storage space (37′) since this seems to be the most important thing to him. Remove the queen bed, install industrial shelving and he’s got himself a rolling walk-in closet to store more crap.

  • avatar

    From what I know of hoarding, any suggestion at all that involves a car that is not large enough to hold the current stash will be a non-starter. (Unless he has a place to park the Camry when it finally dies and use it as a four-wheeled storage unit.)

  • avatar

    How can you possibly suggest a WRX in this case? He clearly stated he needs good gas mileage, high longevity, and drives in the south. None of those are WRX appropriate. I’m appalled.

    The VibeRix is a good suggestion, but I’d like to throw out C-Max. I know you’d catch hate for being a Ford fan boy if you said it, so I’ll carry the torch.

  • avatar

    Slice the roof off and let the rain do the rest of the work, dude needs to fix his boarding before he goofs up another ride.

    BTW Why is everyone recommending Mazdas suddenly? Thin rusty metal doesnt really like stress!

  • avatar

    Why make any recommendation? From the letter, sounds like the brother doesn’t want advice.

  • avatar

    Venza sounds like it is made for him. First time I have ever recommended that car, but a quick and dirty Google search says a 2010 Venza has 200+ more pounds of payload for his junk compared to a same year Camry.

  • avatar

    Get him the nicest 2000-04 Taurus/Sable wagon you can find.

  • avatar

    Mark, before you even respond, Jack explained particular facts that I was previously unaware of, and I sincerely apologize for my hasty and misinformed opinion as expressed above.

    I mistakenly thought the extent and nature of your relationship to the auto industry was of a nature that would adversely impact your objectivity in writing about things automotive in a broad sense, and do not now believe that to be the actual case.

  • avatar

    The best choice, ultimately, might be the car that he loves enough to inspire him to keep it tidy.

    I know a lady that kept her ’96 Camry absolutely loaded. Completely full trunk that several folding chairs had to be removed to get to the rest of the mystery items forgotten about over the decades. The interior carpet hadn’t seen daylight in years. The back seat stayed full to the windows, plus it was just nasty because it could never be vacuumed. When she finally cleared it out to sell it, the pile looked like leftovers from a yard sale with a trash heap. She bought another friend’s used, immaculate blk on blk Acura TL. Surprisingly, four years later, the TL has remained mint. There is never even a crumb on the leather and an umbrella is the only thing I’ve seen in the cabin.

  • avatar

    He needs a shrink, not a car. Hoarding is a sign of a mental disorder.

  • avatar
    miles solo

    Easy one: Chevy HHR – any year, either engine.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Love the photo;
    a rainy night scene in a narrow alley, in what appears to be an ethnic and somewhat unsavory neighborhood.

    Wonder where it was taken?

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