The Cost of a Sixth Seat

post by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-03-10T03:20:02.570Z · LW · GW · 12 comments

When I posted about cars, several people suggested [LW(p) · GW(p)] we might want to get something with more than five seats so we'd have room for friends. This would make a lot of sense, except that it's surprisingly expensive.

The cheapest new (2021) car you can get in the US right now, as far as I can tell, is the 4-seater Chevy Spark, $13,400 MSRP in its cheapest configuration. The cheapest 5-seater is the Mitsubishi Mirage, at $14,295. The cheapest 7-seater is the VW Tiguan, at $25,245.

(What about 6-seaters? Sedans seating three in the front and three in the back used to be common, but the last one in the US was the 2013 Chevy Impala.)

Why do you pay $11k (+77%) to seat more than five? Sure, most people don't need a car that big, but there are still a lot of price-sensitive families.

This is not how it used to be: it was once common for sedans to offer a station wagon variant with a third row. They were more expensive, but not by that much. In the US this disappeared in the mid 90s; the 8-seater Buick Roadmaster Wagon was discontinued in 1996, as was the 7-seater Toyota Camry Wagon.

The full-size wagons disappeared because people were switching to minivans, and then later SUVs. Some of this was fashion, but there was also a legal aspect: being technically "light trucks" they had less strict emissions and fuel economy standards.

I think this explains the cost jump: what was once a relatively minor change to a standard sedan is now a relatively minor change to a standard SUV, but an SUV is a more expensive place to start. For some combination of fashion and regulations, no sedan maker is interested in producing a cheap three-row wagon variant, though there is a small market for fancy European station wagons that seat seven, such as the Volvo V90 at $52k and the Mercedes E-class Wagon at $67k.

I wonder whether there's an opening for a three-row station wagon variant of a standard sedan starting at ~$19k?

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comment by EKP · 2021-03-11T15:56:57.167Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another relevant childhood memory: my parents added an additional lap belt to the back bench seat of our minivan in around 2001, making a 7 seater into an 8 seater legally. We fit four accross a few times (mostly kids/tweens 6-12 YO, no booster seats). Also not the most comfortable but also an adventure. I would be curious what the cost is to add a seatbelt to a 5 seater car nowadays, as it would likely need to be a shoulder belt. With kids in boosters to a much older age it would be more complicated to fit 4 across and I wouldn't do it in a Fit, but there may be other cars where this would be an option. 

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-03-11T23:27:27.387Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think these are allowed in the US, but they do make adapters: https://www.multimac.com/p/multimac_1320_4_seater

Replies from: EKP
comment by EKP · 2021-03-12T03:17:00.617Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those are only useful while the kids are in boosters or carseats though. They don't really add an extra seat in a general sense.

comment by Bucky · 2021-03-10T10:34:38.450Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wondered whether a decent amount of the cost increase was in changing from a hatchback to a sedan but I see that this is only $1,000 to go from the Mirage hatchback to sedan. And the Mirage sedan is the same size as a 90's Ford Escort sedan/station wagon so size doesn't explain it either.

comment by Gerald Monroe (gerald-monroe) · 2021-03-11T04:00:20.241Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Amusingly, renting an uber to carry your friends, at $2 a mile, is only cost effective if you plan to haul your friends around more than 5500 miles over the life of the vehicle.

In your last post here, I recommended a used Toyota Prius.  You stated you were unconcerned with mileage costs because you were not intending to drive many miles.

Why are you looking at new vehicles?  The cost advantage of used is even higher when you plan to not drive many miles, because the components of cost are:

(interest, depreciation, fuel, insurance, repairs).  Interest and insurance are higher for new cars, and are the same regardless of if you drive them 0 miles per year or 20k.  Depreciation has 2 components : (calendar depreciation, mileage depreciation).  Calendar depreciation is usually a larger effect.  

Conversely, if you drive a car very little, fuel and repairs are lower.  Only the cost of repairs goes up with older cars.  The other 4 terms are cheaper.

It is irrational to your goals to be considering new cars.

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-03-11T23:30:56.305Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, I agree! We shouldn't get a new car.

(I wasn't properly accounting for interest or depreciation; self-financing makes them less obvious)

Replies from: gerald-monroe
comment by Gerald Monroe (gerald-monroe) · 2021-03-12T08:51:49.086Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure.  But for self-financing what you can see right away is that a used vehicle in good condition, with under 75k miles, will (depends on the make/model) usually be less than 40% of it's original purchase price.  With typical service lifespans of ~250k miles (average car is 12 years old, meaning that vehicles are on average crushed at 24 years, and is driven 13.5k a year)  it means you are typically getting a vehicle with just 30% of it's life used up but for ~60% less money.  

And yeah, you can plunk down less than 10k - I suggest https://www.cargurus.com/, it's what I used - and get something that will work.

comment by Phil · 2021-03-10T04:13:57.259Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, I remember reading about the Chevy Orlando, sold in Canada (but not the US) until maybe 2015. I recall it was said to be the cheapest new vehicle that could seat seven.

It seems cruel to me to ask someone to sit middle seat in front! Maybe not a small child, though.

comment by pharadae · 2021-03-12T07:20:50.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that most cars only have 2.6 seats in a classic three seat second row - at least in european models - where the middle seat is not a full seat, but only two thirds as wide.

If you're seating three children, don't forget that you're not only seating them but (usually) also their car seats¹ - which have gotten so wide through their side shock absorbation zones, that you can't fit three beside each other in a standard three seat second row of a car.

Even when you remove some of the extra-padding some seats offer as removables, it's a snug fit even with a full width three seat second row. So it might make sense to think about a bigger car all along, since most bigger cars with a full second row also have a collapsible third row anyway (at least as a premium option). A cheap model in europe is the SEAT Alhambra, which is essentially a Volkswagen Sharan but with a different chassis.

When factoring in the resale value, take a look at the second hand market specifically for your model, because these family vehicles tend to keep their value a lot better than other cards (since most families drive them until their kids are grown-up).

--

¹ in this case I mean not only a booster seat, but the full seats for ages 3-12. At least in most parts of europe, they are widely accepted if not mandatory.

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-03-13T12:14:50.186Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

since most bigger cars with a full second row also have a collapsible third row anyway (at least as a premium option)

Not in the US; here that's mostly only fancy European imports.

comment by EKP · 2021-03-11T05:30:45.659Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I got put in the middle front seat fairly frequently growing up (1990s). It wasn't comfortable, but it was an adventure and for half hour rides it sure beat there having to be two trips which would have been the only alternative. Comfort isn't everything. 

I presume safety standards have a lot to do with the decline of smaller 6-7 seaters. Today I don't think it would be legal for me to be in the front seat at all at the ages I was sometimes sitting in the middle front seat (5ish-10ish) due to passenger-side airbags that can't be turned off*. The minimum size of a front crumple zone has gotten steadily larger in recent years (ie the distance from the furthest front point of the car to the furthest front point of a passenger) - I imagine rear crumple zones also have some sort of increasing minimum requirement. I also imagine that new standard safety features like side-curtain air bags are difficult to implement in many of the older car configurations.

On a completely different note, I am very curious whether, Jeff, you will amend any of your thoughts related to parking and zoning after you get a car. My understanding is you will now have 3 cars at your house, and 2 off-street parking spaces, meaning your house will require an on-street parking space. I think you've had your house about 5 years, and have said you plan to have it a long time. If even your family previously car-averse is likely to have a car for half or more of the time you are in the house, some of your assumptions about the correct car: housing ratios seem to need revisiting. I feel that the parking situation in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville generally supports that parking and housing are not yet ready to be as decoupled as you've proposed.

*My understanding is that in a 5 seater car with a driver and four 6 year olds, it's perfectly legal to put one in the front passenger seat today - and you still can't turn off the passenger-side airbag!

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-03-12T01:51:29.425Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think it would be legal for me to be in the front seat at all at the ages I was sometimes sitting in the middle front seat

At least in Massachusetts, there aren't actually any restrictions on children riding in the front seat. They strongly recommend that children don't until age 13, but it's not the law: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/frequently-asked-questions-about-car-seats https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter90/Section7AA

I imagine rear crumple zones also have some sort of increasing minimum requirement.

Maybe? But three-row SUVs are not especially long vehicles? For example the Volkswagon Tiguan is 185"; compare to a Toyota Camry at 192".

you will now have 3 cars at your house, and 2 off-street parking spaces, meaning your house will require an on-street parking space

Our driveway does fit three cars, but unless they are interchangeable that's a lot of hassle. Currently, one of our housemates uses the driveway and the other parks on the street; I think we would use the inner driveway space.

I think you've had your house about 5 years, and have said you plan to have it a long time. If even your family previously car-averse is likely to have a car for half or more of the time you are in the house...

Why are you only counting time as a homeowner? We lived in Cambridge/Somerville almost 10y as car-free renters first.

I feel that the parking situation in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville generally supports that parking and housing are not yet ready to be as decoupled as you've proposed.

I think we should:

a) Auction off the right to park in the street, and distribute the money among all residents: https://www.jefftk.com/p/pricing-benefiting-everyone

b) Allow people to sell the right to park in their driveway

c) Allow construction of housing without off-street parking

d) Invest in public transit and bike infrastructure

I don't see why us getting a car would change whether any of these were good policy? At current levels of cost and convenience, it is worth it for us to have a car. If those changed, it might not be.