If you read this blog, you already know the importance of thinking it through in order to make a choice that is not only frugal but practical. When it comes to transportation, for example, we see that motorcycles really do not fit the bill for a variety of reasons. Yes, if you choose a tiny engine and are willing to operate the machine in the rain, in winter temperatures, in the summer heat, and beside tractor trailers on the highways — and if you are one of the rare persons who can manage to ride a motorcycle responsibly — you will save some money on gas costs. But you will also simultaneously expose yourself to death and serious bodily injury, while regularly arriving at destinations soaking wet from sweat or rain and spotted with dead bugs. Not very practical.
Likewise, we see that a bicycle really does not cut it in terms of practical frugal living. At the other extreme, SUVs and full size pickup trucks are almost always a foolish waste of money, both on the front end purchase price and with the sky high maintenance, insurance, and gasoline costs that will follow.
When thinking it though, we also see that the Toyota Prius, despite its legions of loyal owners, does not make the grade — unless you keep it for many, many years. Why? Because the additional upfront purchase costs simply puts you to far in the red at the outset, meaning you will have to accumulate thousands of gallons of gasoline savings in order to make up the difference.
So what are transportation choices that are both frugal and practical? Before getting to my picks, stop and review the working definition of practical frugal living. Applying this to transportation, I expect for the choice to be one that is reasonably priced, safe, and economical to use. It also has to be an option that can be used without undue burden, (e.g., if you will arrive at work sweating like a pig, it doesn’t fit the bill). The choice also has to be one that will prove practical for the vast majority of your transportation needs. This too requires thinking it through. If you justify an SUV purchase because of the three times a year that you visit that off-road mountain cabin, only to find yourself commuting to work, by yourself (or even with one passenger). 250 days a year, you have made a boneheaded decision. Low maintenance costs are also essential. This is another reason, by the way, that motorcycles fail to make the cut. Changing tires and brakes every 8,000 to 10,000 miles has no place in a frugal lifestyle.
Now, without further ado, here is my completely objective (NOTE: I have received nothing from any of these manufactures) list of vehicles that will serve you well in your quest to live a quality, frugal lifestyle:
The Nissan Sentra: In recent years, Nissan has really upped its game in quality. My family currently owns a Nissan Sentra (pictured here) and a Nissan Versa, which is the compact line immediately below the Sentra. Both feature excellent rides and handling. The Versa is small, but the Sentra is surprisingly roomy inside. The real surprise is the fuel efficiency. I now have over 21,000 miles on the car, and my average fuel efficiency for the life of the car is sitting pretty at 38.1. As I’ve previously written, I am not a big proponent of hypermiling techniques. I am also not an all highway miles traveler, although perhaps half of my miles have been highway. As such, this is an average MPG that can be achieved by the average driver.
The key to Nissan’s fuel efficiency is the continuously variable transmission or CVT. Granted, it takes a little getting used to, but it is just no big deal at all. The acceleration is still excellent, and once you realize that your transmission is not “slipping” you’ll quickly learn to appreciate its fuel sipping magic.
My only concerns with the current Nissans has been the two recall notices I have received. One was for a faulty passenger air bag sensor; the latest has been for a small repair to the CVT. The company deserves kudos for acknowledging these problems and addressing them (free of charge, of course) proactively. Still, they do create inconvenience, and they give me some concern about overall quality. But after two years of ownership, I’ve been thoroughly pleased with the first hand driver experience and do recommend the make to fellow frugalists.
The Hyundai Elantra:
As with Nissan, Hyundai has markedly improved the quality of its cars over the past twenty of so years. Its cars now boast solid reliability, and several models, including the Elantra, feature very impressive fuel economy. Hyundai also stands behind its cars with a five year, 60,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty, nearly twice that of most manufacturers. Hyundai also offers many fine options as standard features.
I have owned a Sonata and an Elantra in past years. I drove the Sonata to over 150,000 miles with no major engine repairs required. The Elantra was also relatively trouble free and much better on gas. I was also impressed with the paint on these cars. After some bad experiences with U.S. makes in the past, I really appreciated how well the paint held up on these cars, even after sustaining dents, dings, and all of those other annoying wear and tear markers of long term ownership.
I only have a few negative thoughts about Hyundai. First, the batteries in both of my cars really sucked. The cars came with Hyundai batteries, which died inside of three years each. My cars also blew through light bulbs very fast, and I was told this is a common problem with the make. I went through head lamp bulbs and taillights all well inside of 100,000 miles. They are also very cumbersome to change.
In addition to these relatively small annoyances, my sense is that Hyundai has lost a lot of its competitive marketplace hunger. Its cars used to be great bargains, but the prices have really moved upward in recent years. I’m sure this is largely because word has gotten out and sales have increased accordingly. But for whatever reason, Hyundais are not nearly the terrific buy they once were.
Still, I highly recommend considering the Hyundai Elantra (and Sonata). For young couples or singles, you also can’t go wrong with the Accent.
The Toyota Corolla:
The fact that the Corolla is the best selling car of all time gives us some hope that the world has not completely lost its collective fiscal mind. Toyota has sold over 40,000,000 of these cars and for good reason. It is, and always has been, a wonderfully efficient machine that delivers 28/37 miles per gallon. Despite taking some hits in recent years with recall problems, Toyota is legendary for its quality, and the Corolla is its poster child of all that is right with a low maintenance, dependable performer.
The first car that I bought out of school was a 1992 Corolla. I put over 170,000 miles on it without a major repair, and I was still able to sell it ten years later for two thousand dollars.
My only beef with Corolla, and Toyotas generally, is how miserly they are with options. Toyota seems to like this game of pricing cars cheaply only to jack that base model price up big time for simple options like cruise control. I also don’t understand why a company so known for reliablity doesn’t step up and match the five year, 60,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty of Hyundai and Kia. Chances are that you won’t need it, but that seems all the more reason why Toyota should offer it.
All things considered, however, you can make far worse choices than a Toyota Corolla, which should be plenty for a family of four or fewer. If you must have something larger, the Toyota Camry is also a great second choice.