Image: GM
What Car Should You BuyThe experts at Jalopnik answer your car-buying questions.  

Laquan has been in a rut of getting cars that just won’t last. He isn’t too picky and just wants something comfortable for his dog, reliable, with all-wheel-drive and heated seats, but his price point makes that somewhat challenging. 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 have had some really bad luck lately with cars. I have had a series of duds (1995 GM Products) that either rusted away or blew a drive train component and can’t afford another. I have to take my 140lb German Shepard on long trips and finding a car that can comfortably do that and will be reliable and cheap to maintain/repair is more difficult than previously believed.

I live in Wisconsin and need all-wheel-drive or 4WD for the snow and another must have is heated seats. As for the budget, I can spend up to $10,000.

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Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $10,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Wisconsin

Wants: AWD, Reliable, Heated Seats

Doesn’t want: Something that will fall apart

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Don’t Overthink It

Photo: Highlander

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Laquan, if you have had a bad run of deteriorating GM products it’s probably time to change course into something that is built to last. The challenge, of course, in this price point is that shopping for cars that are known to be reliable is that usually means something with really high miles. But sometimes you can luck out and catch an outlier that fits all the boxes, providing the condition checks out.

You said you needed something big enough for the dog to be comfortable, all-wheel-drive, reliable and heated seats. What you are looking for is a Toyota or Lexus crossover with a V6, something like a Highlander or the RX series. Find any fairly well-equipped version with leather and it should have seat heaters, but even if it doesn’t, adding heated seats is fairly inexpensive if you do it aftermarket.

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Here is a 2004 Toyota Highlander Limited, it’s a car that’s now almost 15 years old, but this example has less than 70,000 miles. So as long as there are no major rust issues with the frame or other components this Toyota should keep on chugging for quite some time.

Expert 2: Justin Westbrook - Truck Yeah

Photo: Dodge

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You know a truck I never see around? The Dodge Dakota. My dad had an old Dakota for a long time, and I remember the day we traded it in when I was very young.

We went through the pickup to make sure we got everything out of it, and I remember standing outside and feeling this wave of sadness rush over me with the realization that I’d never ride in the cramped back seat again. It was maybe the first time I ever felt a personal connection to an actual vehicle.

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Anyway, I found Laquan here a newer Dakota to buy. It’s red, a good color. It’s a pickup truck—dogs love trucks, all six of my family’s dogs do. It has a V8, as all trucks should. There’s 4WD, so you can take the dog places where it can tap into its wolf instinct.

The only catch is this particular truck in Chilton is right at the end of your budget, and it has almost 100,000 miles on it. But it looks fine? Oh, and the only reason I know it has heated seats, beyond the listing description spelling it out in all caps, is because I googled “Dodge Dakota heated seats,” when thinking of a car for this article and the first thing that came up was a recall... for the heated seats.

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As for reliability. Well, best of luck.

Expert 3: Andrew Collins - It’s Adventure Time

Photo: Mitsubishi

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Man, sub-$10,000 rigs with four drive wheels and heated seats with enough space for a big dog is pretty much my favorite category of vehicles. There are a lot of good options in this class, but if you followed me on Instagram you probably already know what I’m going to suggest: mother freakin’ Mitsubishi Montero.

A third-generation Montero has an abundance of interior space, many have heated seats, and their unibody construction makes the driving dynamics more pleasant on the daily than the decidedly more truckish earlier models. (Earlier ones are cooler and more off-road capable, but it doesn’t sound like that’s your priority.) Mitsubishi’s sweet AWD/4WD system lets you run all-wheel drive on slippery surfaces like snow, then lock things up for even more adverse conditions.

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You can find one for a few thousand bucks, baseline it with a new timing belt, fluids and tires for a few grand more, and have an amazing machine that will live forever under your budget. I would recommend looking for a later, post-2003 model as those got a little more power. Limited trims will have the heated seats you want. You can read more about the differences between third-gen Monteros on Expedition Portal.

Unfortunately, being in Wisconsin means you’re going to have a lot of rust to worry about on anything that’s more than 10 years old. People who aren’t into cars will balk at this idea–but I would recommend you fly out to a southwestern state to score one. A bit of a logistical headache, but worth it in the long run. And Monteros are so cheap that your travel expenses can easily be wrapped up in your budget. But because they’re cheap, good ones are kind of rare. So if you want something that’s been looked after, you probably will have to hike a bit.

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To be totally honest though, I think that applies to most cars that cost under $10,000. It can be a bit of a crapshoot; it pays to be a little picky.

Here’s a Monty that looks fairly clean for sale in somewhat-nearby Chicago, but you’d have to investigate that listing a lot more closely to see if it’s a good deal. If you want to come out my way, this one looks decent in the South Bay. And, bonus, you could get it serviced by one of the great independent SoCal Mitsubishi mechanics before heading home! Or just keep hitting refresh on more local listings.

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