Vehicles Archive

2017 Update: Safest Affordable Used Cars for Families and Teens

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Safest Used Cars Deals under $10K in 2017 for Teen Drivers

Many families put a high priority on safety for their kids.  Unfortunately, for various valid reasons, most are not able to go out and buy a brand new car with the latest safety features.  Perhaps others are buying a car for a teen or college student and want something safe, but don’t want them wrecking a new car!  Earlier this year, the IIHS evaluated hundreds of cars to produce a list of recommended models for teens.  A similar list was created by Consumer Reports.

I have somewhat different criteria for my teen drivers, with more emphasis on crash test results and safety features.  For example, while I also exclude the smallest sub-compact and “micro” vehicles, I have no issue with my teen driving a compact sedan if it is above around 2,750 lbs., but only if it has great crash test results.  While compact cars do give up a little in terms of weight in a frontal crash, they are generally more maneuverable and easier to handle and park.  That’s important for new drivers.  And of course, compact cars are less expensive to buy and maintain.  I am also more concerned about having top results in all the actual crash tests, including the new IIHS small overlap test, and less concerned about certain other results that Consumer Reports and the IIHS factor into their recommendations.

Unfortunately, the IIHS excludes compact sedans from their list, even top performing models with many safety features and decent all-around crash test scores, including their own small overlap test.  In fact, some models they recommend do very poorly in this newer crash test.  Like Consumer Reports, many of their recommendations are well over $10,000.

My Requirements?

  1. 4-star or better NHTSA overall rating
  2. No “2-star” or “1-star” ratings in any individual NHTSA crash test or rollover rating.
  3. No “Marginal” or “Poor” IIHS crash test results in ANY crash test, including the newer small overlap test
  4. Around $10,000 or less to buy.
  5. Good visibility and handling.
  6. Stability control and side-curtain airbags.
  7. No minicars, sub-compacts or any model below 2,750lbs.  Weight is a bad thing on roads, I know.  More mass means more kinetic energy and more wasted fuel.  But when the other guy is driving a 5,000 lb. truck, the smallest cars become splatter.

Preferences:

Review: 2017 GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab – Haul Your Cargo and Your Kids

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People don’t often think of pickup trucks as “family vehicles,” but there’s a lot to be said for them if you look for the right features. There’s a wide range of trucks out there, from those with no back seat (standard cab), to those with an unusable back seat (many extended cabs), to those with back seats so large you could camp in them. The former might be tough to use with kids, but the latter can be great, allowing you to safely haul your kids and have plenty of room for cargo and/or horsepower for towing.

I recently had the opportunity to drive a 2016/2017 GMC Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab SLT for a week, and I could easily see it being someone’s family car.

Vehicle Features and Driving

We’ll get to the carseat stuff in a minute, but first let’s explore the Sierra’s features and what it’s like to drive it.

The Sierra gets a 5-star overall rating in the government crash tests. That includes 5-star ratings for driver and passenger frontal crash, driver and passenger side crash, and a 4-star rating for rollovers. It receives ratings of Good in most IIHS categories, with the exception of the small overlap test (Moderate), headlights (Acceptable), and LATCH ease of use (Poor—we’ll get to this later). Regarding the headlight category, only one large pickup rated better than the Sierra—the other trucks all got marginal or poor ratings.

The Sierra comes with the safety features one would expect: Antilock breaks, a full range of airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, etc. The model I drove had some extra safety features, including a forward collision alert system, parking assist, and a lane departure assist system.

The lane departure feature was really neat. I’ve driven a lot of cars that alert you when you’re drifting out of a lane, but this takes it one step further. If the vehicle detects that you’re leaving a lane (while not actively steering and with no turn signal on), it gently turns the steering wheel on its own to keep you in the lane. This is a very subtle process, and I had to test it several times to fully understand what it was doing, but it really did help keep the truck where it was supposed to be, in large part because the steering wheel moving on its own definitely grabs your attention.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not a “big car” person. The bigger the vehicle, the more I worry I’m going to run into something, especially when parking it. It’s the kind of fear that subsides over time, but I was still a bit nervous in the mere week I drove the Sierra. That said, I didn’t run into anything, nor did I have any trouble driving or maneuvering the truck.

Many pickup trucks, especially at higher trim levels, can look and feel like luxury cars inside, and that’s true of the Sierra, too. But make no mistake: It’s a pickup truck, and it feels like one when driving. It took a good depression on the gas pedal to get it going, and the acceleration took a while. That’s probably not surprising, but I drove the Sierra right after testing out the 2016 Subaru Forester, which accelerates like mad with just a feather’s touch, so it seemed like a big contrast. The ride was a bit bumpier than what you’d experience in a typical sedan, but again, that comes with the territory. Overall it was actually smoother than I expected it to be.

The Sierra definitely felt sturdy, and once I got used to the way it drove it was pretty fun, even for someone who gets nervous with big vehicles. I even parked it somewhat decently! (I’ve written about my parking woes in the past.)

Carseats and Kids

Halloween – The Most Dangerous Night of the Year

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The risk of a child pedestrian being killed by a driver is twice as high on Halloween night.

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If you are driving today (especially during the hours of 4-8 pm when most young pedestrian deaths occur) please exercise extreme caution and follow these tips:

1. Drive slowly and don’t pass stopped vehicles. The driver might be dropping off children.
2. Park your cell phone. Tonight is the worst possible night to be a distracted driver!
3. Watch for children darting into the street. Kids can cross the street anywhere and most young pedestrian deaths happen at spots other than intersections.
4. Always yield to young pedestrians. Children might not stop, either because they don’t see your vehicle approaching or don’t know how to safely cross the street.
5. Communicate with other drivers. Always use your turn signals and if you have to pull over to drop off or pick up your kids, turn on your hazard lights.

Have a Happy & Safe Halloween!

A Cautionary Tale of Car Buying

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I did something foolish last month. Car seat foolish, to be specific.

Last summer, we bought a Honda Odyssey (car seat heaven!) for me to drive and passed my Honda Fit along to my husband. Before you feel too sorry for him, it was a huge upgrade from his previous car (9 years newer!) and it made the most sense driving wise. I’m the primary kid shuttler, thus I needed the kid friendly car and his work commute is longer, thus he needed the better gas mileage car. He was bitter, but we were planning to replace it when the time was right.

And a year later, the Fit was struggling. It still ran like the workhorse of a car that it is, but the air conditioning only worked a small fraction of the time, and Honda was having a hard time figuring out why. The other issue was that we eventually want to add a 3rd child to our family (note to my parents: this is a future event, we have no exciting news to share right now) and while there may have been a way to get 3 car seats across in the Fit, it would’ve been a struggle, to say the very least.

So we went car shopping. We initially looked at used cars at a big used car company. We wanted a small SUV- just big enough for 3 car seats across in the back and room for a good sized stroller in the trunk, but not so big that the gas mileage would be terrible. I told my husband from the start that since it was his car he got to make the decisions with one exception- no overlapping seat belts.

For those unfamiliar: overlapping seat belts are a new(is) thing happening in a lot of cars. In a “normal” car, the middle seat shoulder belt originates outside of the outboard shoulder belt/buckles. There is no overlap at all between either outboard seat belt and the middle seat belt.

In cars with overlapping belts, like the picture below, the middle lap belt originates inside the seatbelt area for the outboard seat, causing the belts to overlap one another. As you can imagine in the picture below, this makes it extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, and potentially unsafe, to install 3 car seats in a row.

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I all but refused to get into cars with overlapping belts. The car salesman thought I was crazy at first, but once I explained why he was right alongside me, pointing out incompatible cars. He also was excited to pass along the information to other families looking for cars for 3 kids, so at least some good came out of the day. We found a car we liked, but it was unavailable and so while we waited to see if the potential buyer was going to go ahead with it, we decided to go check out a local dealership.

Once we got there, we found an SUV we had seen at the used car place (no overlapping belts) and that we had liked, so we decided to look at the new version, mostly for fun. Things escalated rather quickly and we went from glancing at the outside of the SUV to test driving it in what seemed like seconds. I assumed the belts would be similar to the older version and the dealer hopped into the back before I really got a good look at the seat belts. We decided that after the test drive we would try some car seats out in it, at which point I would’ve been able to see whether the seat belts were going to be an issue.

And this is where things went off the rails.

The car ran out of gas on the test drive. We only made it like three or four blocks before the car came to an abrupt, shuddery stop. Since we had to wait for someone to gas it up and drive it back anyway, we decided to go talk about financing to see if we could even possibly make it work before we got too invested in the car.

And then one thing led to another and…we bought it. It literally happened about that fast.

As I was moving our car seats from our Fit to our brand! new! car! I discovered the problem. Overlapping seat belts. Overtly obvious (that picture is our new car…), never should’ve even considered riding in the car let alone purchasing it, overlapping seat belts. I nearly cried on the spot. In California we have a no cooling off law, so for better or, in this case, for worse, the car was ours. And while I was secretly freaking out, my husband was elated- it was his first ever new car. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him for a few days.

I honestly still do not know what we are going to do. We don’t have a 3rd child, so for now, it’s a great car. It fits our two cars seats beautifully, the gas mileage is great and the air conditioning works 100% of the time. I also noticed, after spending a lot of time trying to put car seats in, that thankfully, that the outboard lower anchors and middle seatbelt do not fully overlap, they line up pretty much on top of each other. I am not terribly hopeful, but there just might be a way to make something work for emergencies. And believe me, if I get 3 car seats securely and properly installed in the new car, I will be shouting it from the rooftops and sharing it far and wide, so you’ll know.

But until then, consider this a lesson for everyone smarter than me. Just because an older version of a car didn’t have overlapping belts doesn’t mean a new version won’t. Don’t forget to check the seat belts, even if your car runs out of gas on the test drive and the dealer gives you an amazing deal. An amazing deal on a car that won’t work for your family (planned or otherwise) is not an amazing deal. Trust me.