Big Car, Little Car

We're coming to the end of our patience with our fifteen-year-old, in-the-shop-every-month, speedometer-doesn't-work-right, rusty-as-hell Subaru station wagon.

This past weekend we got A's mom to babysit so we could spend a couple of hours shopping for cars together. (Amazingly, this still felt like a date. Must've been the quick parking lot backseat necking session halfway through the second test drive.)

We've got it narrowed down to a couple of options: get another (used) Subaru. Or go for something smaller—like a Honda Civic or (the much cuter option*) Mazda Protege—and use about two thirds of the gas we would with the bigger car.

Now, a Subaru station wagon is by far not the largest or least fuel efficient car a family can drive in this country, and the cash savings on gas if we chose a smaller car would probably add up to only a couple of hundred dollars a year (we don't drive much). But it seems like at this point in history if we have the opportunity to cut out a third of the gas we burn, we should.

Except we are so American. We've been driving this station wagon for so long, we've gotten used to taking off for weekend trips with way more than we need. And we get stuck on What if we get a dog? And What if we buy a tree? And Will we really be able to fit everything in that tiny trunk? What about camping?

For ninety nine percent of the driving we do, a Subaru is Too Much. And a great deal can be accomplished with a roof rack and some more frugal packing habits. Why is it so hard to suck it up and choose what someone in almost any other country in the world would do by default?

How about you? What do you drive? Does it work for your family? For the rest of the world?


*I am so not in the habit of seeing my car as an important part of my identity (see rusty fifteen-year-old Subaru). But driving the Protege, I felt so cute. And driving the Civic? I felt like I was 34 and cheap and covered with baby snot. (Which I am, on all three counts, I guess, but still.)


  1. We are in car buying hell after our car was totaled. We can not stop making spreadsheets comparing blue book values, edmonds values, estimated repair costs, mpg estimates and depreciation. We've ruled out Subaru wagons based on the cost of gas- after driving a small Toyota for so long it's hard to imagine the cost of gas almost doubling each month.

    It makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

  2. We have a Civic, which is laughably small for grocery shopping with two car seats in the back and a stroller in the trunk, but it's easy to parallel park.

    Since we live in the city, we don't drive that often, but it is a very nice convenience.

  3. Well, I have owned all three of the cars you've mentioned. I had a Civic for nearly 5 years which served me well, but I can't imagine using it as my family car (with all the stuff we seem to lug around these days). I then purchased a Mazda 3. Semi station wagon. We decided last summer that it wasn't safe enough for the little bit of snow and big hills of Pittsburgh, so we traded it in for a 4 year old Subaru Forester (I love the 4 wheel drive). I don't drive it much now (I fill up once a month), but during the summer, we go to the cottage in Ohio every weekend so it should serve us well. This is the second Subaru station wagon that I've owned and they are still my favorite cars. Phil has a 95 Subaru Impreza that still runs great. It's a hard decision to make!Maybe you should have a few more make out sessions ;)

  4. I just feel like, in addition to the gas stuff, I need to feel safe if I'm going to be on the road with all those giant cars. We have a Subaru Forrester because it's one of the safest cars on the road. Of course, Gatito rides around in Tata's little Scion all day so I'm a hypocrite.

  5. Well, I will only ever have a station wagon. I think sedans are just poor limited versions of station wagons. Just think of all that cargo space! Very handy. Why limit yourself? I think everyone should have a station wagon. We own two. Mine is a Jetta (wish I had had money for the Passat when I bought it). I'll need a bigger backseat if I have another baby, and I intend to get another station wagon. Anyway, there you go. Glad you got to make out! That is so exciting!

  6. We live in So Cal and both work, so we have two cars- one biggish (a Subaru Outback) and one smaller (used to be an Integra, but replaced with a Prius when the baby seat necessitated a four door car).

    We have been amazed by what we have fit in the Prius, but I think it might get tight if we ever end up with two kids. Have you considered a small wagon, like a Toyota Matrix?

    We are wondering how much longer the old Subaru can last, and have had a few discussions about what we might replace it with. I've argued for a minivan (particularly if someone does a hybrid one by the time the Subaru craps out), on the basis that we could haul 2 kids + us + others. Hubby makes the valid point that we could rent a minivan on the rare occasions that we need the space, and so we should get something smaller. He'll probably win this one, even though I suspect he just doesn't want to drive a minivan.

  7. We have a Passat station wagon and one kid. We haven't decided yet how many kids we'll have yet (the less sleep I get, the more that number goes down...), but we know that she's our first and not our last. It's more than enough for us right now, with adequate room for stroller and weekend getaways, and my husband also has a motorcycle he drives to work when it's nice. And I'm hoping to get a bike this summer, too.

    What's driving me nuts is that EVERYONE (seriously, everyone with whom we have this conversation) tells us that we simply must trade it in for a minivan/SUV with third-row seating, because we will NEED that third row later! We have ONE child who is ONE year old! AKKK. All that just to commiserate on how excessive we Americans really are.

    Growing up, it was all about the cartop carrier, which is way bigger than any trunk. That would be my vote - buy for the driving you do the majority of the time. If you buy a tree? Rent the Home Depot truck for $19 an hour. Or buy pizza for a good friend with a mondo car. Way cheaper than driving a too-big car every single day of the year.