Lincoln lives in Detroit with his wife, daughter and a puppy named Hank, a Pit/Lab/Mastiff mix. The doggie is small now, but it won’t be for long. Lincoln wants an affordable ride for a one-car family that’s suitable for their outdoor activities and big enough for a grown-up Hank. 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 live in Detroit with my wife, daughter and a Pit/Lab/Mastiff puppy named Hank. We are a one-car crew. I mostly bike commuted when commuting was part of my life. We mostly use the car for getting around town, but also enjoy gardening and camping. We previously had a 1994 Toyota Pickup that we really loved. We would love to have something a little bigger that also has more storage capacity. We also would love to get something that we can drive for a long time. We try not to update cars very often and really want to run this next one into the ground. We can spend up to $10,000 and are generally open to ideas.
Budget: Up to $10,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Wants: Spacious and reliable
Doesn’t want: Something too small
Lincoln I think we are in agreement that Hank is the perfect name for a dog that’s big and silly. If you are a one-car family with three humans and a large canine, you need to consider Hank another “person” in regard to how much space you need.
I’m going down a predictable route here: You need a van. Power sliding doors and folding third-row seats will make Hank’s travels much easier and safer. A van will also have a lot of space for any camping gear, and you may even be able to sleep in it if you had to. I would strongly recommend something with leather seats, because vacuuming dog hair off the cloth is not fun.
Here is what looks to be a pretty clean 2012 Chrysler Town and Country with about 132,000 miles for just under $7,000. These are pretty durable if well maintained, and I would imagine any corner mechanic in Michigan can service it easily.
You’ve come to the right place Lincoln, as that is my Pit-Lab mix riding around Corktown in that lead image. As a fellow giant pit-bull-lovin’ Detroiter (I have two!) let me just commend you on all the excellent life choices that have led you to true happiness. Hell, Detroit being a pretty small city, we may run into each ther at some point.
So here’s the thing...you have a kid, which is always gonna cause a mess in interiors, but you also have a pit/mastiff puppy, and brother, they are twice as messy. Eventually, the kid will stop making as many messes, but for the next 10 to 15 years you are gonna have dog of 50 pounds or more with the mind of a 2-year-old. What you need is a car that is tough, roomy enough for a crate, easy to operate and most important, easy to clean.
That’s where the Ford Transit Connect Wagon comes into play. It’s a little goofy looking and won’t thrill you on driving dynamics, but some vehicles need to work for a living. This one will do a ton of heavy lifting. Lots of easy to clean plastic and metal surfaces, plus rubber/vinyl floors that will allow all the food your kid drops to easily slide to a spot where Hank can hoover it up.
Those back seats don’t look comfy, but your kid is likely in a fancy child safety seat all her own anyway. The nice big wide-opening doors and tall seats will make child ingress and egress a breeze. And those giant back doors will let a crate easily slide into the back to keep your pup safe during trips to the Midtown doggy park. (Crates are a must, essentially child seats for your dog.) Or fill it up with camping gear or gardening supplies. If the floor gets gross, just hose it down!
The Transit Connect is a durable vehicle that tends to get driven into the ground, which makes finding used one in good shape rare. Rare, but not impossible. I found this 2012 example in Virginia for just under $8,000. It’s even got a/c! Since you really don’t want to buy a Ford that has seen a Michigan winter, it might be worth it to have this one shipped up to Detroit. Or even go on a little COVID-19-safe road trip — it’s nice to get out of the city sometimes.
I like vans and enjoy their utility more than I like trucks. However, I also know that kids absolutely lay waste to car interiors. A kid will find ways to nearly permanently stain floors. They also leave all sorts of food matter stuck to things. So why not get a vehicle that doesn’t have carpet?
The Honda Element still stands out in the crowd of crossover clones and has some serious utility for a family. The floors are rubberized, and while you shouldn’t hose them down, they’re easier to clean than carpet. The seats fold flat into beds, perfect for long trips. The Element is big enough inside that with the rear seats removed, a whole motorcycle will fit.
Dogcars.com named the Element its Dog Car Of The Year in 2007. In 2009, Honda made the Element even better for our furry friends with the Dog Friendly package. It offered a ramp and a trunk kennel for your doggie pals. That Dog Friendly package even featured a water bowl and fans to keep pups cool.
This 2008 Element comes in right at budget, but it has low miles and I bet you’ll be able to negotiate.
Lincoln, first of all, give Hank a vigorous scratch behind the ears for me. Dogs (properly supervised) and cars together are so wholesome I can’t take it. Watch this video to see what I mean. I would have recommended a Subaru because of that silly video, but that’s too on the nose — er, snoot — so I’m simply going to recommend a car relative of what seems like an old favorite of yours.
Your 1994 Toyota Pickup was likely a T100, which explains why you loved it so. Those pickups are wonderful! The following year, 1995, saw the introduction of the Tacoma, and a few years after that, in 1999, Toyota introduced the truck you see above, the Tundra.
The Tundra was Toyota’s full-size pickup in the lineup, but let’s face it, Tacoma’s now are as big as your T100 was then, and nearly as big as first generation Tundras. I never quite warmed to modern Tacomas, but ironically, the first-gen Tundra always reminded me of the T100 and endeared me to any single-cab long-bed I saw rolling around town.
I found this older Tundra that isn’t too far from you and comes in under budget. I think its cabin would be great for a family like yours, and the bed leaves plenty of space for gardening and camping gear. It even comes in the fancy Limited trim with leather seats. It has that big V8, so don’t let the miles scare you, and it’s a Toyota so you know it’s reliable. Mind the worn pilot’s seat and aftermarket wheels. Either talk the seller down a bit, or take your savings and solve the quibbles.
Since you’re coming from something as interesting as a 1994 Toyota pickup, I’d feel guilty guiding you towards a less viscerally stimulating machine. And though my coworkers’ suggestions are all logical, the cars are a bit boring. Comfortable and reliable, but boring.
You can have reliable comfort and boredom when you’re dead. Until then, you should drive something fun, like the 1927 Franklin sedan shown above. It’s for sale in Ohio for $10,000, and is apparently in all-original condition. Per the seller on Facebook Marketplace, the vehicle has been stored for 40 years, and “ran and drove fine when it was last driven...approx 15 years ago.” That’s better news than hearing that it didn’t run when parked, but worse news than “it runs.”
The interior apparently needs a bit of work, but you should be able to manage that. And when you do, you’ll have a stylish, lightweight (it has a wood frame!) air-cooled, manual-transmission classic American sedan with plenty of interior space. And, as a bonus, there’s a luggage box on the rear just ahead of the spare tire!