Piston Slap: Car Purchase Advice? Pointless!

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap car purchase advice pointless

Jon writes:

Hey Sajeev,

My wife and I recently found out that we’re to add a third child to our family. As such, it’s time to trade in my wife’s 2016 Charger SXT and get something with a bit more room. We’ve decided on something used in the $15-23k range.

The obvious and sensible choice is a newer (2015-17) Grand Caravan/Pacifica/Town & Country. There are a plethora available and we could certainly get into something with the same 3.6-liter Pentastar that we have now with under 50k miles on it. I do like the engine and have driven it in minivan form. I would stick with the FCA offerings over the Honda/Toyota vans because I’m fully convinced that I’ll never make up the 25-30 percent price premium the Odyssey/Sienna command on the used market in repair cost savings.

On the other shoulder, the crazy part of me is considering getting the best Mercedes-benz E350 wagon that I can find in our price range.

I believe I can find something decent from 2011-13 range with 60-80k miles. My limited research suggests that the E350s in this range aren’t terrible in terms of reliability and I’ve always felt a flutter whenever I see a Mercedes wagon. The back seat is roomier for three kids and we can even have someone ride in the rear facing seats once in a while. (My kids are currently only one and three.)

We have several trustworthy mechanics in our area that work on German vehicles and I do know that I’ll be spending a bit more on maintenance with the Benz.

Am I crazy for even considering it?

Sajeev answers:

The “crazy part” of you doesn’t want a minivan, eh?

Stop the presses: now I’ve heard everything!

Every Piston Slapper deserves Friday morning fame, yet I’ve largely avoided car purchase advice because:

  • The original mission was to collect knowledge similar to that of make/model specific forums.
    • Unlike my TTAC inbox, such forums aren’t brimming with “our vehicle failed me somehow, what should I buy now?” questions.
  • We tried this shtick with Lang and, in editing, they were stereophonic financial rants stemming from incomplete information: pretty frickin’ unhealthy for both of us.
    • I don’t expect credit rating divulsions, but acknowledging the likelihood of securing top-tier financing would help. As I’m jaded by how many live in blissful ignorance of this metric, I expect the worst: when I open this door, it sometimes gets shut in my face. HARD. Which depresses the hell outta me.
  • Questioners are secretly hoping for confirmation bias: no worries, we ALL crave it on the Internet. I want every forthcoming comment changing the subject to Medium Brown Metallic Crown Vics, but it ain’t happening.

Perhaps my dilemma is clear … so on to the query!

With your growing family and $15k-23k budget, the notion of spending “a bit more on maintenance” is short sighted. Consider the cost of repairs/component failures that’ll creep up on a 5-7 yr old Eurozone Wagon (vis-a-vis Chrysler minivan) and the tragic amount of bespoke bits that your kids shall break, stain, etc. only available at the dealer or junkyard.

Also, pleeeeease fit the stereotype of buying the first example you see: service history, quality of accident repairs, etc. be damned!

That said, you’re not crazy for considering an E 350 Wagon. I often encourage such lunacy!

That’s right, Son! Here is your E-350 (Club) Wagon and your boy Sanjeev will even hook you up with a 75-shot and an SCT tune. Imagine all the fun scaring the crap outta your kids and their friends for years to come!

And now to give thanks: Best and Brightest, thanks for keeping my creative outlet slapping on all eight cylinders for 9+ years, I can’t imagine my autojourno career without you. And endless thanks to Anthony Bourdain: his candor, pragmatic button-pushing, bottomless compassion and gonzo journalistic influence shall never leave me. RIP.

[Image: Blake Z. Rong/TTAC, Ford]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
3 of 73 comments
  • Stuart Stuart on Jun 15, 2018

    Sajeev, I took your advice. We bought a 1993 E-350 in 1996 when anticipating the birth of our fourth child. Ours is the 15-passenger version. Four bench seats. This has been great for vacations with children; every child got their own bench. Alas, our van has had many problems over the years. I replaced the transmission and engine myself; both of those rebuilt components were subsequently replaced under warranty. The A/C system is powerful when it works, but it's a nightmare to keep working. The engine cooling system has also been problematic. The surprise benefit has been: safety. The vehicle has been hit several times in the front and back, yet the occupants have always been unharmed. I attribute this to the van's prodigious mass. We always drove it away from those accidents. All of the other vehicles had to be towed away. The obvious downside: parking. My wife used to drive it to San Francisco, and it was always a challenge to park. Regardless, if Jon has the room, these are lovely family haulers. Great choice!

  • Bpscarguy Bpscarguy on Jun 18, 2018

    As someone who owns a Town & Country AND an E Class AND has kids... get a minivan! I love my E Class, but she is an expensive date and whenever the kids are in the car they trash it. The T&C is much more user friendly, has been reliable and I don't have to play tetris to fit things in it.

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.