Car Talk: Looking to replace ‘93 Wrangler for reliability

Dear Car Talk:

I am a proud owner of a 1993 Jeep Wrangler that I grew up with. It has 250,000 miles on it, and I love it to death. It fits in the tiny parking postage stamps in the city near me, it has enough clearance and four-wheel drive for the snowy winters and steep roads here, and best of all, it is so easy to work on (I do all my own mechanics). However, it’s not really a friendly size for the family that I would like to start in a few years. And when I’m driving the interstate, I’m either holding up the truckers in the right lane or barreling along at 3,000 rpm while I panic internally that my engine will kick the bucket from the effort.

All of this is to say: I’m wracked with indecision. Drop a crate motor in or buy a new-ish car? Ray, what are your thoughts? What are the vehicles that fit the bill most closely? I am not super worried about reliability since I enjoy working on my vehicle (provided it’s not catastrophic failure).

What vehicles are the easiest to work on nowadays? It seems like everything under the sun is jammed into the engine bay, and you’re practically removing the motor to access the oil filter. Thanks. — Casidy

Oh, Casidy. You probably thought this was a car question, didn’t you? I actually think it’s more than that. I think it’s about adulthood.

The ‘93 Wrangler represents your youth. You grew up with it. You had lots of adventures with it. It didn’t matter if it broke down. So what? Another adventure! You had no responsibilities.

And now you are thinking about starting a family, and you fear that it’s time to — yikes! — get practical. And I think you’re right. Unfortunately, nothing is going to be as easy to work on as a Jeep from 1993 (which was pretty similar to a Jeep from ‘83, a Jeep from ‘73 or a Jeep from ‘63).

But if you love the barbaric nature, unreliability and occasional roof leaks of your old Jeep, you can always get one of the newer, four-door Wranglers. But those are big money and not great for toting kids. So at least see how the other half drives before you buy another Wrangler.

There are a ton of rugged-looking crossovers these days that have all of the practical qualities you love about your Jeep — the all-wheel-drive, the ground clearance, the compact size. But what they also have is comfort, safety, good mileage, reliability, a quiet interior, good handling and room for strollers and child seats. Oh, and they’re all able to stay in their lane for more than a few seconds.

I’ll list a few. You’ll have to go on some test drives and see what appeals to you: Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Ford Bronco Sport, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V, VW Tiguan, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5.

Given the rugged self-image you’ve gotten used to driving your Jeep, I’d start with the RAV4 and Bronco Sport and go from there. And if you want either of those to ride just like your Wrangler, put an extra 10 pounds of air in the tires.

And here’s my final suggestion: Don’t sell your ‘93 Wrangler. It’s not worth a lot anyway. Instead, store it. It’ll make this transition a little easier. Then, once your kids are screaming and driving you crazy, hand them over to your spouse for a few hours and go out and get your hands dirty working on the Wrangler.

It’ll be an escape from the chaos of your future life. It’ll remind you of the freedom and adventures you’ve had. You can revel in that while turning your wrenches. And it’ll become more important to your self-image once you graduate to that minivan, Casidy.

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