Truck Buying Advice

So it looks like I’m officially in the market for a new vehicle now.  We’ve had it narrowed down to a Chevy/GMC Suburban[1] for awhile now, and it’s just a matter of finding a good deal on a used one (and getting affordable financing, but that’s another story).  So, LJ friends, gimme the inside scoop.  What’s your favorite place – online, published,  or brick-and-mortar – to shop for used vehicles in the Southern PA/Northern MD area?


[1] OMG A giant SUV?  Do you hate the environment or something? OK, here’s the deal.  My requirements for a family vehicle are simple:

  • It must be able to comfortably accomodate 4 adults and 1+ carseat(s), plus a large dog, plus luggage for a week.  Periodically we visit family in Florida.  Car is by far the most cost-effective way to do it.  Our two older çhildren are adult-sized, and we are planning on having more children during the time we own this vehicle.  We also like to go camping, which requires even more luggage space.  This requirement alone pretty much narrows it down to full-size SUVs and vans.
  • It must be able to transport the whole family on a back road in a blizzard.  We plan on buying a farm in the country as soon as we are able.  PA doesn’t get a ton of snow, but every now and then we get a blizzard, and sometimes bad things happen during blizzards. I cannot responsibly live out in the country without the means to transport my family out in an emergency even in the worst possible weather.  This means 4WD, a large engine, and decent ground clearance.  At this point it’s pretty much between the Suburban, the Sequoia, and the expedition – and the Suburban has, by several decades, the best track-record.
  • It should be a decent farm-utility vehicle.  See above re: farm.  It needs to be able to haul lumber, plow snow, and pull stumps out the ground.

In other words: I’m buying a full-size SUV for what it is actually meant for, not as some kind of male-enhancement device.  I’ll still be commuting (and carpooling) with my little Mazda 3.

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  1. Except for the “plow snow” part, there are some reasonable 4WD mini-van selections out there with decent-sized engines, and wouldn’t kill you so much in the gas mileage department when you do drive it longer distances.

    The Suburban gets dismal mileage, but is a very strong and beefy truck with good hauling capability. If you do put a plow on it, you will not be able to take it off-road much or do farm chores as the ground clearance will be severely limited by the plow attachment (which is semi-permanently attached to the frame). Plow vehicles make poor off-road vehicles, or other utility/farm vehicles and it is a reason why a lot of farmers will use a tractor, ATV, or buy a dedicated plow vehicle like an older Jeep.

    1. Interesting info about the plow, and good to know! Perhaps I’ll look into getting an old tractor or pickup for plowing when the need arises.

      1. You might be able, in this economy, to pick up a plow truck WITH a plow already attached to it for less money than it would cost to buy a new plow, or even have a used one installed on your new vehicle. This, of course, depends on the season. Buying a plow truck the first snowfall doesn’t help prices. Buying one in July/August means people are begging to get rid of them. It only needs to start, hold gas, and shift into forward and reverse. You’ll save a lot of money if you don’t register/insure it and keep it off the road too. It all depends on how much drive you have to plow.

    2. Out of curiosity, which minivans were you thinking of? I haven’t seen a minivan yet that would accomodate 5+ people and a dog AND still have room for all their luggage, but perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough.

      1. Well, for starters, the Chrysler Town & Country seats 6 comfortably, 7 if you are friendly in the back bench seat, all with room for 3-4 suitcases behind that. Room for a fairly large dog(s) -but not in a crate, just laying around at you feet. A HUGE dog could lay between the front 4 seats as there is room enough for a large human to lay there.

        Now I wouldn’t recommend a Chrysler product as they are mechanically unsound and unreliable even if you DON’T consider the fact that they puke transmissions every 60-75k. But the 4WD version works well in the snow and off-road with the 15″ tires, and with full-on snow tires, is an unstoppable monster in the snow. Still, it only gets about 20MPG on average because of the 4WD. Less in the city, more on the highway.

        There are other alternatives from other manufacturers I’m sure. But you probably won’t find them in the showrooms as the 4WD option was not popular in the mini-vans so you probably haven’t seen them.

        1. I second this. I just got a Town and Country and it is MUCH easier to drive and more efficiently layed out than the Tahoe we used to have. The back row of seats is much roomier than the Tahoe, and much easier to get to. I haven’t driven it in the snow yet, but so far I love everything about it (including the gas milage, which has been averaging about 17 mpg; the Dodge Charger I had been driving get about 13.5 mpg for a lot less room).

          1. And the seats come out pretty easily (except for the fact that they are big and bulky and hard to handle, at least the big bench is on wheels). Once out, the whole back of the van is one big truck with a flat bottom. It’s very handy.

            My mom has one of these Town & Countries and she loves it. (although it has been nothing but trouble mechanically even though it is still low miles) Hers is an older one that they got back in ’98 new and it’s got way less than 100k on it (she doesn’t drive it much) -but it’s been in the shop a lot.

          2. My friend just bought whichever the equivalent dodge is and you can fold the seats into the floor completely so you don’t even have to remoe them. I opted for the swivel seats because the kids really liked the table you can put up, so they’re removable, but can’t go into the storage compartment. The back row folds easily flat, though, which beats the 2001 Tahoe I had to pieces in terns of storage space.

            Granted I’ve only had it a month, but I love it and geez, my friend liked it so much she went out and got one just like it!

          3. I wonder if having the seats come out totally gives the inside more room because I wonder where those folding seats fold TO. That bench in back is HUGE.

            A couple of weeks ago I helped my dad buy floor tile and we forgot to take the seats out before we left to go to the home store. We stacked the two middle seats on the back bench and proceeded to put half a basement’s worth of ceramic 12×12 floor tiles in that middle area plus the 4 bags of thinset and 5 bags of sanded grout. The minivan was a little heavy, but did well with all that weight (I bet it was 3000lbs easy -probably more) in the exact middle of the vehicle.

          4. Alright you two, quit steaming up the back of the van with your little Chrysler love-fest 😉

          5. Actually, I hate Chrysler. I hope they get eaten by GM and GM gets poisoned by the aftertaste.

            But I’m sure there is a big 4WD minivan out there somewhere that can meet your needs. If Chrysler makes one, someone else does too. Personally, I’d look at one of the bigger Toyota 4WD minivans, too bad they don’t sell the big HighAce here in the states. That would be perfect for you.

          6. Last I looked “big” and “minivan” didn’t go together, especially in the Japanese makes.

            I think the Honda offering is currently the king of minivans, and they may have an AWD model. The question is whether they have one OLD enough for us to afford – a lot of makes have only recently started adding AWD to their lines.

          7. I think my parents paid about $30K for their Town & Country back in ’98. It’s probably worth about $6k now, but only because it has just 60k on it. You could probably find one pretty cheap.

          8. Pre Y2K

            Post Y2K

            There are some good deals there on newer ones. There was a ’03 T&C with 88K for only $7K buy it now. I thought they would go for more than that.

          9. I think one thing to keep in mind with the foreign vehicles, like Subarus (<3 mine, heavens hope it never blows a head gasket ever), is that the full-time AWD is great for hauling passengers but I wouldn't depend on it for towing stuff around a farm field. It's simply not meant to be robust enough for that kind of work. It'd probably work but after a shorter-than-you'd-like-to-see-while the internal components that make the AWD magic work will start to fail, making the AWD less and less effective. Bigger trucks with part-time 4WD probably work better because the mechanisms inside are more solid, and rely less on hydraulic clutches or obscure frictional properties of silicone oil (when it's heated up) like my forester's AWD does, for instance.

            I don’t know how Honda does their full-time AWD but I’d be surprised if it was any more robust. Right tool for the job, and all that.

          10. I tell you what, the more I deal with cars the more I long for mechanical simplicity. I was drooling over a Wikipedia article on the Land Rover Defender moments ago – still to this day all of the body panels are simply bolted together, and the whole thing can be broken down with a set of wrenches. Simply beautiful.

          11. They fold into compartments in the floor. If you are using the seats, then you can use those storage compartments for stuff, too.

          12. Those compartments in the floor have to come from someplace, this isn’t “Time And Relative Dimensions In Space” here. The inside can’t be bigger than the outside 😉

            In every vehicle I’ve seen where the seats fold into the floor, the floor is higher than it would be had they not. You can’t get something for nothing. Either that, or the entire vehicle has to be made higher off the ground to make up for that space “used” by those compartments.

          13. I have no idea. I don’t think much more about cars than 1. room for kids and 2. room for crap I buy.

      2. Most minivans don’t to my knowledge. When we have 1 more kiddo we need to upgrade from our Mazda 5(mini minivan…seats 6), but next to no cargo space when 6 are inside). Since we don’t have the dog we have more options though.

  2. Seeing you behind the wheel of a suburban is a mind trip…
    finding out you just had a baby is another! (congrats!)

    I think I have been tuned out for too long!

    1. It would usually be Stacey behind the wheel of the ‘burban, which is probably easier to visualize 😉

      1. we have opted for older conversion vans as family vehicles, with mixed results. We chose an urban lifestyle instead of country, but the vans are bad in snow while awesome otherwise.

      2. Do I really come off that butch?

  3. I don’t begrudge people from having SUVs if they have a real need for them. If you commuted in it, I’d lose all respect. Since you need to haul a family and sometimes gear around, different story. We’re probably going to have to opt for an SUV of some sort for our next family vehicle.

  4. I happen to have a pet who sells used cars. In Glen Burnie, mind you, but if you can’t find anything up nearer to you and feel like making the trip, he might be able to hook you up.

  5. I had good luck with CarMax – I was buying new, not used, and I pretty much knew exactly what I wanted before I went in, but it was a good experience and I feel like they were up front and (relatively – they’re still car dealers) honest with me and gave me a good deal.

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