I Need Something Reliable And Fuel Efficient To Deliver Packages! What Car Should I Buy?

A $16,000 budget for something spacious and easy to live with.

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Image: Ford

Darlene has a small package delivery business, but her 300,000-mile minivan is eating into her profits with fuel and maintenance costs. She has a $16,000 budget for something affordable and fuel-efficient to do her delivery runs.

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

Here is the scenario:

I have a small package delivery business, Most of the packages I haul would fit in the front seat, but I still do get larger things and would like to have a hatchback and hope that they would fit. I have a minivan now, with 300,000 miles but prices are so extremely high I can’t possibly afford another one. This one would get nothing on trade, so I thought I would keep it for those large packages and get something that is fuel efficient , hatchback that is quiet on the highway. I have to buy used and $16,000 would be my budget.

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Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $16,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Wichita, Kansas

Wants: Comfortable, reliable, spacious

Doesn’t want: Something too thirsty

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Use A Box To Move Some Boxes

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Photo: Patrick George
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As you are probably aware that shopping for a quality car right now is a real challenge, but if you are open to various options and cast a wide net, you can find something good. It used to be that scoring a small hatchback with low miles for around $15,000 was easy, but now you are looking at higher mile examples given the market inflation. I recommend looking at the tier two brands like Hyundai, Nissan, and Kia since your Hondas and Toyotas are going to be pricey.

For example, the Kia Soul is a great fit as it looks like a box on wheels. Drop the rear seats down, and you have about 62 cubic feet of space. These small hatchbacks will get about 30 mpg on the highway, which isn’t quite as good as a hybrid but certainly better than your old minivan. The Soul is fairly comfortable and reliable as well.

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Here is a nice example with a cool color combo and only 80,000 miles right within your budget.

Expert 2: Mercedes Streeter - Versatile Package Carrier

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Photo: CarFax
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Back in the mid-aughts, General Motors built the very vehicle for people in your situation. Meet the Chevrolet HHR. Wait! Don’t close that tab just yet and hear me out.

On the outside, the Chevy HHR is the cooler sibling to the Chrysler PT Cruiser. I mean, they were designed by the same person, after all. Unlike the PT, the HHR enjoys a flat roof and a van-like body. It’s still a distinctive design over a decade later, perfect for slathering your business logo across.

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On the inside, you’ll witness miles of frankly terrible plastic. Here’s one area where Chrysler did better than the General. But the HHR sort of makes up for it with a cool hat trick. Those back seats? They fold flat. And I’m not talking sort of flat but completely flat. Combined with the flat roof, it makes for a great space to haul stuff around.

My fiancée and I used her former 2009 HHR as a weekend camper. During her ownership, we routinely beat the EPA rating at 35 mpg, and that was with a normal driving style.

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I’m going to offer you two styles. If you want to sacrifice some fuel economy for fun, here’s a low-mileage HHR SS. If you’re set on saving dough at the pump, here’s a low-mileage HHR LT2.

Expert 3: Raphael Orlove - What If You Wanted Something Worse?

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Look, there’s nothing wrong with a Soul or an HHR. Modern, practical, space-efficient. But that’s not what you want.

In my hometown, there was one cool architect. He did all the good buildings downtown, multi-unit mixed zoning, funky, cool, welcoming, accessible places. Lots of color, lots of wood. You know, quirky hippy ‘80s shit. He helped make the town feel like what it was. He could have simply designed normal buildings and they’d have worked fine, but he gave them charm and a more people-friendly design.

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By the same token, he could have driven any normal car, and it’d be fine. Instead he drove a red Citroën 2CV panel van, with the seats you could take out and use as picnic chairs if you wanted to. Every time you saw him driving down the road, you felt like you were momentarily in a Richard Scary book. It had an effect on you. A good one!

With that in mind, I would like to introduce the idea of keeping an antique on the road rather than just another delivery vehicle. This $8,500 VW Squareback has been recently restored and is well under your budged to for keeping up with your regular maintenance at your local old school VW shop. That and getting some new front seats! Hell, you’re in budget to get your own paint job. Darlene’s Delivery Service Vehicle, comin’ thru!

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Expert 4: Andy Kalmowitz - The Sensible Choice

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Photo: Ken Garff Nissan
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You need a vehicle that is 1) going to work, 2) can hold a bunch of shit, and 3) is efficient. Well, my dear friend, you need a Ford Transit Connect. Is it as fun or exciting as the other three vehicles listed this far? No. But that’s okay. You’re running a business, and the last thing you need is a vehicle you can’t depend on.

This particular Transit Connect is perfect for you. It’s got just over 72,000 miles, which is hardly broken in for someone like yourself who can run it well into the triple digits. The car’s 2.5-liter four popper, while not inspiring, will get the job done just about as well as anything else. It also isn’t a bone standard base model, so you get some niceties like better wheels and body-color-matched side moldings. It’s even got a backup camera and some sort of leather-esque seat. This 2015 Transit Connect also comes in just under your budget at $15,994.

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I mean, the car is so perfect for your task that it’s even the header image for this article. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is.

So, Darlene, my friend, don’t be silly. Buy the car that makes the most sense for what you need to do: The Ford Transit Connect.

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