Need feedback on which 10 yr old SUV to buy for roadtrip

old jersey girl

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Jul 26, 2017
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My daily driver is a 2004 Toyota Avalon: great road car but can't sleep in it or transport much.
I would greatly appreciate input from others here about which choices would work as

1) stealth camper for woman traveling alone. I plan to remove rear seats, install bed platform, basic camping equipment. Me and the mutt.
2) something car-like enough to be comfortable on highway but sturdy enough to function on Outer Banks or Acadia Nat Park in Maine. Don't plan to off road but don't want to get stuck in a ditch either.

I'm considering Toyota Highlander 6 cylinder, Toyota 4-runner. 2006-2008 models or older. Even if I could afford it, I don't want a newer vehicle with all the electronics. Need new enough to have side airbags, old enough to be fixable by any decent mechanic. I lwas considering Subaru Outback but like the larger vehicle that I can stand up in. Also Toyota parts more available. Don't want minivan due to handling issues and cramped engine compartment.

I'm old and old school; like opening the hood and being able to see the ground! Message me if not appropriate for general forum
 

bobpbx

Piney
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I like your two choices. If they meet your requirements, go with one. I'm betting the highlander gets better gas, but not sure. I belong to consumer reports, so if you find something you like but want to know its reputation and don't have Consumer Reports, let me know.
 

46er

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You won't be able to stand in any of your picks; I owned an older Subaru when they were small, maybe early 80's, and have driven the new Outback. A bit too cramped for me and not that much room in back, the Forester might be a better choice roomwise. From your descriptions and wants, you might try to find a Quigley or Sportsmobile conversion, I have seen a couple running around on the beach, very nice rigs, but your fuel mileage might be a concern. If you have no 4wd needs, a VW Westfalia might be worth a look. You won't need anything special for Acadia; OBX sand driving will require a good 4WD system. I've owned a number of 4WD's, mostly Fords and currently own a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a 2014, hands down beats any of the Fords I owned. Comfortable, very capable, great fuel mileage for a 4500lb vehicle, low 20's overall, best tank full was 27mpg. I keep track using the Fuelly site. Beware older Toyota's; I forget the years, but some were prone to frame rot. Toyota had a huge buyback program because of it.
 

Zach McGarvey

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A highlander of that vintage would be a good choice. Avoid the AWD models, they have some significant reliability issues. A 4Runner is a much more capable vehicle but also much more expensive to fuel and maintain, and any that you find around here will be severely rusted. They just don't hold up well to the road salt. I've been a mechanic at the toyota dealer for 13 years and I've seen too many rusty trucks to count.
 
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old jersey girl

Explorer
Jul 26, 2017
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south nj near Delaware bayshore
You won't be able to stand in any of your picks; I owned an older Subaru when they were small, maybe early 80's, and have driven the new Outback. A bit too cramped for me and not that much room in back, the Forester might be a better choice roomwise. From your descriptions and wants, you might try to find a Quigley or Sportsmobile conversion, I have seen a couple running around on the beach, very nice rigs, but your fuel mileage might be a concern. If you have no 4wd needs, a VW Westfalia might be worth a look. You won't need anything special for Acadia; OBX sand driving will require a good 4WD system. I've owned a number of 4WD's, mostly Fords and currently own a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a 2014, hands down beats any of the Fords I owned. Comfortable, very capable, great fuel mileage for a 4500lb vehicle, low 20's overall, best tank full was 27mpg. I keep track using the Fuelly site. Beware older Toyota's; I forget the years, but some were prone to frame rot. Toyota had a huge buyback program because of it.
Twenty years ago I bought a Westfalia poptop camper, sold it a few years later. Loved the camper design, HATED the engine. Wrapping the originally air-cooled vw engine with 8 ft long waterlines to cool the engine did not work. Last straw for me was looking at the engine and realizing that all the gaslines were connected and positioned atop the engine. Sold it for about what I paid.
 

old jersey girl

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Jul 26, 2017
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south nj near Delaware bayshore
A highlander of that vintage would be a good choice. Avoid the AWD models, they have some significant reliability issues. A 4Runner is a much more capable vehicle but also much more expensive to fuel and maintain, and any that you find around here will be severely rusted. They just don't hold up well to the road salt. I've been a mechanic at the toyota dealer for 13 years and I've seen too many rusty trucks to count.
Thanks. I'm aware that the heavier, truck-based 4Runner will cost more to own, appreciate your professional input. My mechanic just said the same thing re rust. I'd asked him if the skid plates on 4Runner would hold road salt and increase rust risk. Can you be more specific about AWD issues on Highlanders? Would I be better off with the 2WD/front wheel drive version? I was looking at a model year prior to the 2007 changes.
 

old jersey girl

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Jul 26, 2017
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south nj near Delaware bayshore
You won't be able to stand in any of your picks; I owned an older Subaru when they were small, maybe early 80's, and have driven the new Outback. A bit too cramped for me and not that much room in back, the Forester might be a better choice roomwise. From your descriptions and wants, you might try to find a Quigley or Sportsmobile conversion, I have seen a couple running around on the beach, very nice rigs, but your fuel mileage might be a concern. If you have no 4wd needs, a VW Westfalia might be worth a look. You won't need anything special for Acadia; OBX sand driving will require a good 4WD system. I've owned a number of 4WD's, mostly Fords and currently own a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a 2014, hands down beats any of the Fords I owned. Comfortable, very capable, great fuel mileage for a 4500lb vehicle, low 20's overall, best tank full was 27mpg. I keep track using the Fuelly site. Beware older Toyota's; I forget the years, but some were prone to frame rot. Toyota had a huge buyback program because of it.
I thought the Outback was bigger than the Forester? I can stand in my picks: I'm short (and, lamentably, shrinking as I age!). I have a great local mechanic. ( I'm no mechanic, just a driver with a toolbox). He drives a 1994 Jeep. !
 

Zach McGarvey

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The awd highlanders use an awkward axle-within-an-axle to mate the front drive wheels, transmission, and rear driveshaft. They have an internal seal that frequently fails, requiring the whole front end to come apart to replace it. It is often improperly diagnosed as a simple outer axle seal, when it is actually a seal deep within the transfer case. This is usually a $2000 repair. A fwd one is perfectly capable for most things you'll encounter around here.
 

Teegate

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The awd highlanders use an awkward axle-within-an-axle to mate the front drive wheels, transmission, and rear driveshaft. They have an internal seal that frequently fails, requiring the whole front end to come apart to replace it. It is often improperly diagnosed as a simple outer axle seal, when it is actually a seal deep within the transfer case. This is usually a $2000 repair. A fwd one is perfectly capable for most things you'll encounter around here.
Nice bit of information for her to think over.
 

bobpbx

Piney
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The awd highlanders use an awkward axle-within-an-axle to mate the front drive wheels, transmission, and rear driveshaft. They have an internal seal that frequently fails, requiring the whole front end to come apart to replace it. It is often improperly diagnosed as a simple outer axle seal, when it is actually a seal deep within the transfer case. This is usually a $2000 repair. A fwd one is perfectly capable for most things you'll encounter around here.
Zach, I could tell you knew cars well a couple(?) years ago when you first joined this forum. Here is a question I have for you. Say you want a simple job done like an oil change or tires rotated etc, but you don't want to do it yourself (or even an hard job you don't want to do yourself). The shops around here usually try to up-sell me. I hate that, and It gets tiring. Or they blatantly try to pull something over on you....you know the drill....they bring you out in to the shop and say, "look, this has to be done right away". I am usually able to tell if they are full of crap, because I"m old enough to have done a lot of the things myself.

But how about you? Do you have any good stories of them trying to get over on you, and you subsequently revealed your background? Of if you didn't reveal your background, but showed them you know a thing or two about repairs.
 

old jersey girl

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Jul 26, 2017
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Zach, I could tell you knew cars well a couple(?) years ago when you first joined this forum. Here is a question I have for you. Say you want a simple job done like an oil change or tires rotated etc, but you don't want to do it yourself (or even an hard job you don't want to do yourself). The shops around here usually try to up-sell me. I hate that, and It gets tiring. Or they blatantly try to pull something over on you....you know the drill....they bring you out in to the shop and say, "look, this has to be done right away". I am usually able to tell if they are full of crap, because I"m old enough to have done a lot of the things myself.

But how about you? Do you have any good stories of them trying to get over on you, and you subsequently revealed your background? Of if you didn't reveal your background, but showed them you know a thing or two about repairs.
A few years ago I helped a friend shop for a used car. Had to go to dealerships---not my favorite venue. Interesting how the sales guys changed their attitude when this greytop old lady flopped down and slid under the car with a flashlight and screwdriver to check for fluid leaks, rust, and torn fwd boots.
"Nobody ever did that before".
No sh--***. Find a good local shop, independant mechanic and stay with them.
 
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bobpbx

Piney
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I always buy used cars from major dealers if I can't find a reliable private party. The major dealers have their reputation at stake.
 

Zach McGarvey

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I am a dealership mechanic and have been my whole career (and adult life) so I am the guy on the other side of that equation. We get paid on a piece-work basis, so finding and recommending additional repairs is simply part of how we make a living. I personally don't know anyone who sells un-needed work but I'm sure unscrupulous mechanics are out there, as they are in any type of business. The side to this that you may not know, is that we are required, for liability reasons, to look over your car in its entirety, and notify you of any problems we see, along with an estimate to complete the repair. This applies even if the item we notice is totally unrelated to the reason you brought the car in. Dealerships, as well as independent shops-- as well as in some states that allow it-- the mechanic himself, is exposed to liability should personal injury or property damage result from a component failure shortly after a vehicle was in a repair facility. This means that if you bring in your car for a leaky water pump but we notice you have bald tires, we are going to tell you that you need tires, not just because we want you to buy them from us, but because we want it documented on the invoice that you are aware the tires are worn, should an accident result. Even in cases where you specifically instruct the shop that you don't want anything but the main repair item, a competent mechanic will still thoroughly check the vehicle and bring to your attention anything he sees. Don't take it as many do, that we are just snakes and want to beat you over the head for extra cash.

It's always ok to get a second opinion, or call around for better pricing. Sometimes you'll be able to negotiate a discount (it never hurts to simply ask for one) and sometimes not, depending on how busy our schedule is. You will also find that for many repairs, the dealer is comparably priced to the independent shops, and the quality of OEM parts is far better than what's used in the aftermarket. Also, whatever is wrong with your car, the dealer techs have likely seen that problem before and know exactly what is wrong and how to fix it, rather than wasting your money throwing parts at a problem that they don't really understand. We see the latter constantly from independent shops.

My recommendation is this. Number one, buy a simple car without electronic gadgets, this stuff costs a bunch to fix. A common car (toyota/ford/honda/gm) will also be MUCH easier and cheaper to repair than something weird like a VW or a Volvo. Two, find a shop that specializes in that make. This may be a dealer or independent, but nobody knows how to fix everything. And three. Educate yourself as to what maintenance and repairs are needed when, and what they should cost. Brand-specific internet forums are great for this. If you are prepared rather than caught ignorant and off-guard, you will be less likely to be taken advantage of.

Hope this helps.


Zach, I could tell you knew cars well a couple(?) years ago when you first joined this forum. Here is a question I have for you. Say you want a simple job done like an oil change or tires rotated etc, but you don't want to do it yourself (or even an hard job you don't want to do yourself). The shops around here usually try to up-sell me. I hate that, and It gets tiring. Or they blatantly try to pull something over on you....you know the drill....they bring you out in to the shop and say, "look, this has to be done right away". I am usually able to tell if they are full of crap, because I"m old enough to have done a lot of the things myself.

But how about you? Do you have any good stories of them trying to get over on you, and you subsequently revealed your background? Of if you didn't reveal your background, but showed them you know a thing or two about repairs.
 

bobpbx

Piney
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Oct 25, 2002
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The last time I got an oil change, this local guy dug out the cabin air filter and brought it in to show me. I think that goes far beyond safety concerns. He does it in front of everyone in the showroom to make you feel like a cad if you don't say yes, replace it. His price for the oil change was $16.95. Now I know better, it was just a lure to get you in. I still went back to him for awhile. On the third oil change, he came out with an estimate of $265 for brakes. So, I decided to change it myself next time. I crawled under the car to put the wrench on the filter, and guess what; his wrench was still on there after thousands of miles! It was stuck, and he likely wanted to get it off, but got distracted. I did a lot of turnpike driving with that wrench on. Since I had already drained the oil, I had to fill it with new oil and bring it to him to get it off. He did it for free, but tried to get me to just use the oil I put in. I said no, it went through a dirty filter, so he relented.

Yes, this is not typical. I have a guy I bring my toyota truck too, and he always does the right thing. He was a toyota mechanic before he started his own shop.