Reader Question: Car Search?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Ken asks: Do you ever give advice for a car search? I am retiring and my wife and I will need a car to travel about 400 miles to see grandkids! Basic requirements: Good gas mileage, 25mpg or so. Easy entry/exit, we are both over 6 feet tall and over 66. Can’t crawl into cars anymore. Four wheel drive. We want to be able to travel safely in questionable weather….we live in Oregon and I listen to you on Bill Meyer’s show frequently.  Thinking of a used Subaru Forrester? Could spend $25,000. Probably not a new car. Any suggestions?

My reply: Your criteria steer me toward crossovers – vehicles like the Forester – which ride higher than cars and so are easier to get into and out of and also have or offer all-wheel-drive. You’d need to steer toward a truck-type SUV to get four-wheel-drive, which differs from AWD chiefly in that it has a two-speed transfer case and 4WD Low range gearing, which you probably won’t need unless you need to get through deep, unplowed snow on road or go seriously off-road.

AWD is actually of greater benefit on road because it provides both a traction and a handling advantage on dry roads, in curves. It does this by regulating the flow of power not not only from front to back (and back to front) but also side to side; some can modulate power flow to individual wheels. Truck-type 4WD is set up to distribute power back and forth only – and in most cases, 50-50 – whereas most AWD systems can route as much as 100 percent to the front or the rear wheels, as traction demands.

I think you are on the right track with a crossover like the Forester; all Subarus (except the BRZ sports car) come standard with AWD, incidentally. In other, similar models like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V it is often optional; the standard set-up is front-wheel drive.

These two are worth a look; they both have established track records for being durable and reliable – if a bit bland. You might also have a look at a Kia Sorento – especially the 2020 and older as the Sorento has just been updated and so you should be able to get a good deal on the older model.  The slightly smaller Sportage could work for you as well. Keep in mind that even a compact-sized crossover will have much more interior space – especially for cargo – than a larger car.

Given your budget, I think you’ll have no trouble finding one of the above, lightly used (maybe three years old or so) and with 30,000 or so miles on the clock. Some will likely still have at least some of their original (and usually transferrable) warranty intact, too.

Keep us posted!

. . . 

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Based on good experience with a 2017 Forester, I would recommend one. Ours is a turbocharged XT which makes it fast as well as practical. Eric’s review influenced our decision to get it.

  2. Remember, with AWD you can’t just replace one tire- if you need just one (Like if it gets damaged) you have to replace all 4 as a set. That, and the more delicate/less durable nature of an AWD drivetrain- which not only means that it’s expensive to repair and doesn’t last as long…but also can make other things on the car much more difficult (and thus expensive) to repair- So, I would let those facts temper the gas mileage criteria. e.g. might want to give up some MPGs and get a real truck-based SUV (Which will offer great comfort, safety, and sturdier 4×4) because even with it getting poorer MPGs, after the previously mentioned caveats about AWD’s, the real SUV likely won’t really cost you any more to operate over time…and may even cost less- while giving you more of what you likely want.


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