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

Amanda just got a job as a traveling nurse, so she is on the road a lot, but her old Honda Civic is too small to handle her gear and her pets. She is looking for something bigger but doesn’t want to sacrifice fuel economy or reliability. What car should she buy?

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

Here is the scenario -

I just started my first assignment as a travel nurse and (surprise!) all the stuff I need to cart around, including my 60-lb dog and 18-lb cat, doesn’t fit in my trusty Honda Civic.

I need to upgrade my interior space quite a bit, but I don’t want to sacrifice too much fuel efficiency. I’d also like something that’s reliable, not a minivan, and ideally well under $30K... preferably closer to $20,000. What should I be looking for?

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Quick Facts:

Budget: around $20,000 (may be flexible)

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Oklahoma City

Wants: Spacious, Reliable, good MPG

Doesn’t want: A minivan

Expert 1: Tom McParland - You Want It, You Got It

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Amanda, congratulations on the new gig! As you already know, that is a very important job and you will make it so much easier for folks to get the care they need. Since so many people are depending on you, getting a dependable vehicle is crucial. While increasing space and maintaining good fuel economy can be a challenge, if you look into some hybrid crossovers that will allow for the best of both worlds.

I say find a pre-owned RAV4 Hybrid. It has all the durability you expect from a Toyota, and the hybrid will return around 31 MPG highway and up to 34 MPG in the city. The all-wheel-drive and higher ride-height will make it a bit easier to get to patients that might be down some dirt roads.

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There is one downside to the RAV4 Hybrid: local inventory is super limited. I only found two examples within 100 miles of you for less than $22,000. Here is used 2016 XLE, with reasonable miles. However, if you did want to push your budget a bit the all-new 2019 RAV4 Hybrid that is even bigger, faster, and dramatically more fuel efficient than the older car with up to 41 MPG in the city has a starting price of about $29,000. This month Toyota is offering a $1250 rebate and if you do some haggling you should be able to bring the cost down even more.

Expert 2: David Tracy - Wagons Tend to Solve All Problems

Image: VW

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I have to admit that it sometimes pains me to dispense sensible advice about cars that don’t touch my soul, because, when it comes to cars, I tend to follow the passionate parts of my brain and not the logical ones. But every now and then, there’s a practical car that’s so obviously the right answer that I have no choice but to recommend it. And for you, that car is the VW Golf SportWagen.

Anytime someone tells me they want more interior volume than their car without sacrificing fuel economy, wagons come to mind. Expanding a car rearward instead of upward and outward (like large crossovers tend to) means you can preserve the aerodynamic properties (frontal area, especially) of a small car, but offer interior space similar to that of a crossover.

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The result, at least on the base SportWagen S with the 1.4-liter turbo, is city, highway, and combined fuel economy figures of 29, 37, and 32, respectively. That’s for the manual. The automatic is still good, dropping the city number by two MPG and the others by just one.

Golf SportWagens start at around $23,000 for the stick or $24,000 for the auto, and if you want to get a used one, those are even cheaper.

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This VW wagon looks good, it gets decent fuel economy, and it will fit a whole zoo in the trunk; in many ways, it seems ideal. The only real question mark is maintenance cost, and if I’m honest, I haven’t heard the best things about VW products on that front, so that’s something to look into.

Expert 3: Raphael Orlove - If It Is Pups You Seek...

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Perhaps it is time to turn your eye to the Isuzu P’up!

Even today’s smallest pickups are giant, but there was a time when you could buy a new, small, super efficient and economical truck in America. Among that crowd was Isuzu, which made sweet and charming little trucks that ran forever.

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Amazingly, there’s what appears to be an almost-brand-new one for sale near you. This 1985 is listed at $4,500, which seems like a high price for an Isuzu P’up but this one is in immaculate shape, with 26,000 miles. Plus it’s a very low price for your budget. Even though this thing has a full pickup bed (plenty of room for gear, especially with a topper!), fuel economy is estimated at 29 city, 35 highway. You won’t be getting anywhere fast, but you can run I-40 safely and you’ll get lots of smiles and waves all day. Plus, look at that ultra-clean interior that looks, if I’m honest, extremely pet friendly.

Could be you!

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