I Need A Car That Can Do It All For $40,000! What Should I Buy?

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Todd lives in New Hampshire and needs a vehicle that can do it all including light towing and hauling the family, but it also needs to be fun and somewhat reliable. Even with a relatively healthy budget of $40,000, this is a bit of a challenge. What car should he buy?


(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario:

I know that to get the most out of my vehicle I need to have dedicated vehicles for dedicated tasks. But I can’t afford the AMG GT R and a Unimog and an RS 6 Avant. And none of them give me the fuel economy I need for my 36k/yr driving lifestyle. So, I need help!

I have a budget of $30-40,000. I have a farm, have two kids, an 18-ft boat, four kayaks, six surfboards, live where it snows a lot, and am on the road a lot. I need something with room (useful, not excessive, like a wagon), can tow 2,000 pounds with ease, gets decent gas mileage, and isn’t going to ruin my day by breaking down (remember I drive a lot, so there’s not a lot of time these days to wrench). All-wheel drive would be nice but not a must-have.

I don’t really care for Jeeps but perhaps I could be convinced otherwise.

I’ve owned 42 cars already, and it’s time to let my current car go back into the wild to experience the joys of someone else’s love of driving.

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $40,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: New Hampshire

Wants: Functional, Fun, Reasonably Reliable

Doesn’t want: A Jeep

Expert 1: Tom McParland - It’s All About Compromise

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Todd, as you yourself have pointed out, if you need something really good at specific tasks then it’s likely you need multiple vehicles. If that is not an option from either a practical or financial perspective, you are going to end up with something that is likely to be pretty decent at a bunch of things but falls short in some areas. It really comes down to what your top priorities are. If we boil this down to three key attributes of fun, functional, and reliable, which two are the most important?

For the purposes of this exercise, I tried to find a reasonable balance between all three with the Porsche Macan. Now, this is where everyone in the comments gets riled up “The guy asked for reliable and you suggested a Porsche?” but Porsche has pretty solid quality control and consistently ranks well in terms of reliability for a luxury brand.


Despite being a “crossover” the Macan feels more like a hot hatchback. Rear seat and cargo space are not awesome, so if your kids are out of car seats but aren’t teenagers they should be comfortable.

Porsche says the Turbo trim can tow up to 4,400 pounds so I would imagine the turbocharged V6 in the Macan S should be able to handle your towing needs. A nice set of roof racks should be able to manage some of your kayaks or surfboards, but I imagine if you are taking the whole family out for water sports you will use some kind of trailer for all that gear. While I am on that topic make sure you get a car with the towing package already installed as aftermarket solutions are expensive. The Macan S will return a respectable 23 mpg on the highway, but like I said you can’t have it all.


Here is a nicely optioned CPO example with a tow package within your budget.

Expert 2: Jason Torchinsky - A Multitool You Can Drive

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Todd, you’re not so much looking for a car as you are a sort of motorized Swiss Army Knife of transportation, and, luckily for you, such a vehicle exists. Of course, it’s not a common vehicle, at least not in America, and they haven’t been built for a number of years, but, screw it, I still maintain it’s the perfect machine for your many and varied needs: a Volkswagen Transporter T3 Doka Syncro.

That’s a lot of words for what is essentially a VW Vanagon double-cab truck with AWD, which is also a lot of words, but that’s because this truck does a lot of things: it’s got plenty of interior room for the whole family in the double-cab, plus a huge, lockable enclosed trunk under the bed for luggage.


It’s also got a pickup bed with three folding sides so you can load from any angle or convert it into a flatbed. You’ll have no problem getting the surfboards or kayaks or whatever into that bed without having to deal with a trailer, but if you want to take the boat out, these Syncro ones are able to tow over 5,000 pounds, so that’s no problem. But it likely won’t be fast.

There’s a number of these for sale when you start looking, but thanks to your generous budget, you can afford this fantastic-looking 1990 Doka Syncro with a removable camper top for $23,000.


This one has the 2.1-liter Wasserboxer engine that makes about 95 horsepower—while this isn’t the most loved VW engine, its foibles are well-known at this point, and there’s no reason it can’t work well for you. Even so, with about $20,000 worth of room in your budget, you could likely convert this to more modern Subaru power like many have done, but personally I’d give that Wasserboxer a try.

It is perfect inside and out, has only 32,000 miles on the clock, and looks to come with a charming in-bed camper and a smaller camper shell! If I had the money I’d greedily snatch this up.


It’s not going to be quick, but it’ll still be fun to drive, its Syncro AWD system should get you through most anything, and it’s one of the most capable and flexible vehicles ever made, of any kind.

This is your answer. Feel free to ignore everyone else.

Expert 3: David Tracy - Maybe Consider A Mid-Size Pickup

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I rarely have a chance to recommend a pickup truck because frankly, 99 percent of Americans just don’t need them. But you own a farm. You’ve got an 18-foot boat and surfboards, and you have to haul miniature versions of yourself around. If anyone could use a quad-cab pickup truck, it’s you.

And since you care some about fuel economy and size, I think you might actually be the ideal person for a mid-size truck. While there are a lot of trucks in that class to choose from these days, I’ll throw the Ranger in the ring, if only because of its decent fuel economy and pricing relative to the competition. Plus, the Blue Oval’s offering has a great powertrain.


I wrote about what makes the Ranger so compelling in my review last year. Here’s a quote from that:

When it comes to the spec sheets, the Ranger’s got a lot going for it: good fuel economy, excellent towing and payload figures, lots of torque, relatively reasonable exterior dimensions, not too much heft, and on top of that, pretty impressive off-road specs.


I drove the truck 1,200 miles to and from a wedding in Virginia, and I thought it was fine. I scored around 23.5 mpg on mostly highways, which is decent for a truck. The handling wasn’t too bad, the ride was fine, the interior was spacious enough, and the truck didn’t feel too big to park downtown. It’s a bit boring, and the interior is uninspired, but the Ranger gets the job done well, and $40 G’s buys a pretty well-equipped model.

It’s a competent, logical choice, which I have to admit is not usually how I tackle these “What Car Should You Buy” stories. “Reasonable” is not my M.O., so this feels a bit weird.


Expert 4: Raphael Orlove - Screw It

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Honestly, these are all great suggestions, but they’re maybe too reasonable. Put a trailer hitch on a restored full-size muscle car or just buy an old dump truck. You know you want to.

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I’m going with a boring answer- Honda Ridgeline.

It’s the obvious answer because it checks every box. Family hauler? Check. Towing? It’ll easily handle what this guy needs. Fuel economy? Pretty decent on the highway. Fun? You make the fun with who you are with and where you are going. Reliable? It’s a Honda.