The sun is shining, summer is in full swing and for some people that means just one thing: it's yard-sale season.
Think about the deals to be had. With just a pocketful of change, you can walk away with toys, furniture, tools – anything to fill that empty spot in your living room, bedroom or garage. Or fill that dusty shelf in the closet.
Of course, you'll need a vehicle able to handle the harvest, something with a little cargo space but not necessarily a pickup. Besides needing a fuel-efficient car for the commute, you also need something nimble and quick to beat all the other yard salers to that next location circled on your folded newspaper. So maybe think about a station wagon. There are plenty out there, waiting to be stuffed with that old floor lamp just like grandma had, or that set of barbells rusting in the basement.
Because you're saving so much money at yard sales, let's look at some compact or mid-sized wagons up to $15,000.
As Americans haven't been too fond of the wagon in the last few decades, these cars come from Europe or Asia. If you're looking newer, there are loads of Mazda3 wagons available around the 2010-11 model years. With crisp handling and a range of engines available, make sure it has the side curtain air bags, as it scored a poor rating with the side crash test from the IIHS without them. Bonus if you find the sporty MazdaSpeed3, with 263 hp from its 2.3-litre turbo engine, though that model only comes with a five-speed manual gearbox – no automatic was available.
Why not step up a bit in luxury to a Volvo? Renowned for wagons, the Swedish car maker has a 2008 XC70 in our wheelhouse. With plastic wheel arches and bumpers, it has the tough look of an off-roader, along with the standard all-wheel drive. And, of course, being a Volvo it's renowned for safety. But while it may offer a certain level of luxury, it may not be the best handling or most scintillating car you've ever driven, even with the two six-cylinder engines available. There have been issues involving the engine cooling fan, the GPS and the windshield wipers, too.
Take another step up, this time to Germany with the Audi A4 Avant, again for around the 2007-08 range. Its understated style and top-notch interior are appealing, but it can be a little tight for passengers and cargo. Available with a 2.0-litre inline four with 200 hp or a 3.2-litre V-6 with 255 hp, it has taut handling and available quattro all-wheel drive. But while it comes with that usual German luxury, you'll also pay German repair prices: the A4 has suffered from some poor engine reliability, especially with its water pump and fuel system.
You know the thrill of finding a good deal; now get the thrill of exciting driving with a BMW 328i xDrive wagon. How about 300 hp from a twin-turbo, 3.0-litre inline six? While it could have a bit more interior room, the fun you'll get from its legendary crisp handling and luxurious features will more than compensate. Plus, the all-wheel drive is great in snow, especially considering the alternative for BMW is rear-wheel drive. Again, you'll find something around the 2007 or '08 model year, which had a few recalls concerning air bags, a control arm and a battery cable. If those check out, the car has proven to be reliable, according to Consumer Reports.
Anything with fake wood panelling on the body. Seriously, do I have to explain that? If you bring something like that to a yard sale, chances are it will blend right in with the tat on the lawn.
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