If an SUV or crossover is out of your family’s budget, or you simply don’t want one, a roomy sedan or compact hatchback or station wagon might be the ticket. Here are a few family-friendly used cars we recommend.
Dodge, and the other brands run by its Chrysler parent, doesn’t have a fantastic reputation for long-lasting cars, but the Charger is a bit of an exception. It’s generally solid, and otherwise notable for being a superb value for a big, comfortable sedan. A 2011 or newer model is preferable, as base versions got Chrysler’s excellent Pentastar 3.6-litre V6, a great all-around performer. The Charger is sensitive to battery voltage; if the battery gets low, your tipoff will be weird behaviour from the car’s secondary systems.
Toyota Prius V
This one doesn’t make the list for low prices, as the Prius’ resale values are rock solid. For your money, however, you get an efficient wagon with loads of interior space and great reliability. Ironically, in a car that runs partly on electricity, one of the most common issues is failed 12-volt batteries; note that this is the same type that every car has, and is not the one that powers the drive motors. In the Prius’ case, a low battery will cause the appearance of random warning lights and strange driveability issues. Also, avoid the troublesome DVD-based navigation system.
Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima
Under the Sonata and Optima’s distinctive styling is a shared, and solid, mechanical package. The most reliable cars are those with the 2.4-litre engine; the powerful turbo model has a few well-known issues that make it more difficult to recommend. Things to watch for include a dodgy brake-shift interlock switch that won’t allow the car to be started, and some owners complain of steering that pulls to one side. Otherwise, this has proven to be a very good car, and relatively low resale values make it a good deal as a used vehicle.
Introduced in 2006, Ford’s midsize Fusion sedan was immediately popular, and has remained so since. It’s also quite durable, a nice surprise from a company whose reliability record is spotty. The best Fusions are from the first two generations (2006-2009, and 2010-2012), in which the most notable problems are a thermostat that gets stuck open and transfer case leaks in AWD models. Rough transmission performance is a well-known issue in later models, so pay attention to how it shifts during your test drive.
Hyundai Elantra Touring
The Elantra is not an exciting car, but its availability in Touring (station wagon) form from 2009 through 2012 made it an attractive family-car alternative to compact SUVs and crossovers. Volkswagen’s Jetta/Golf was (and still is) offered as a wagon, but it’s more expensive and less reliable. This generation Elantra isn’t perfect: watch for erratic automatic transmission performance during your test drive, which typically indicates a transmission headed for failure. If the car drives well and has been maintained properly, an Elantra Touring is a strong value for a practical small car.