Turning a Little Car Into a Big One

Colorado Springs – a favorite first stop on many of our road trips heading South.

As anyone who has read more than a few MMM articles has learned, the key to becoming rich is living an efficient lifestyle.

When it comes to your choice of car, this means making sure you choose one that is optimized for whatever you will use it for the most.

While this sounds self-evident, it is actually a rare way to buy a car in the United States. Most people tend to buy the largest and most powerful model they can afford, based on the idea that there are occasional situations where the capacity will be needed (“I haul a boat to the lake every summer, and I need to have enough power for uphill passing even when towing the boat and all my family”).

Because of this, the 360 horsepower,  Ford F-150 pickup truck (17MPG city) is by far America’s best-selling vehicle, more than doubling the sales of the top car on the list, which is the still-rather-large 3200 pound, 178 horsepower Toyota Camry.

Most people do most of their driving alone. So the efficient choice (assuming you even need four wheels) is a very small car. Anything else is inefficient, and inefficiency means poverty (and possible punches in the face).

Luckily, in the US and Canada at least, even the smallest cars are large enough to carry a family of five in relative luxury.

But what about those rare times when you need more space than your small car provides? Like a camping or ski trip? Or a trip across the country where you’ll be virtually living out of the car? Should you pre-emptively opt for the Cadillac Escalade or a Chevrolet Tahoe? The Ford Expedition is nice, but even better is the Excursion because it’s even bigger. What about the Ford F-350 longbed king-cab with six wheels? It would look even nicer pulling a 35-foot travel trailer full of king beds and big-screen TVs. No, that’s too small and makeshift – you need a 44-foot Monaco Dynasty* pulling an Excursion as your runabout vehicle when you get to the destination.

Or, if you want to do it Money Mustache Style, all you need is your existing small car, with some handy outboard storage that can be added for roadtrips, but removed for the other 90% of your car use.

As you know, I’ve been running a Scion xA for the last several years. This car is so great, it should come with a giant silver mustache as its front grille. Despite being one of the smallest cars available in the US (at only 7″ longer than a Mini Cooper), it is a full four-door-plus-hatchback design and easily seats five adults and holds their backpacks too, and can get them around the country at well over 40MPG when driven properly.

This car has already done some fairly impressive roadtrips.  Moab, Phoenix, Santa Fe, South Padre Island, the Great Lakes region of Canada and many points in between.

The Scion’s biggest trip so far was about one year ago. The trip was planned well in advance, and designed to be over a month long, spanning the states of Colorado, New Mexico, and the near-tropical Gulf Coast of Texas. Our goal was to include some family beach camping, and some boating with the inflatable Sevylor kayak. And we wanted to carry and cook all of our own food, restocking from grocery stores as necessary. All with a child who was four years old at the time, in one of the smallest cars you can buy.

Sound like fun? It was!

The first adjustment I needed to make was adding cruise control to the car. Inexplicably, the Scion xA did not have that feature in 2005, so I found a nice Rostra kit on Amazon for about $200 and installed it – a useful educational experience in itself.

Next, I needed more space for the camping equipment and the boat. At this point, I noticed that there are three ways to turn a little car into a big one.

1: Put Your Cargo on the Roof:
Even if your car did not come with roof rails or racks, you can get great ones that are easy to install from manufacturers like Yakima and Thule. Once you have a basic rack, you can take the simple route and strap a few waterproof duffel bags to it, or for more frequent long-distance trips you can up the ante with aerodynamic hinged roof boxes.   These work well, and they are often available nearly-new at less than half price from Craigslist.

2: Put your cargo behind the Back Bumper:

Just ignore the fact that this rack is on the back of a big stupid Chevrolet Avalanche  (what use is a pickup if you can’t even fit your full camping kit in the cargo bed?)

A roof box is fine, but from an engineering perspective it is not ideal to add accessories to the top of a vehicle, because this adds to the aerodynamic drag and thus the fuel consumption. It would be much better to add the cargo to the back of the vehicle, so it can ride for free in the slipstream behind the car. If you have a trailer hitch on your car, or are willing to add one, you can then click in many useful accessories to the hitch receiver: bike racks, cargo baskets, and even huge locking boxes that keep your travel gear safe and dry, while keeping your cabin clear for people.

3: Hook up a Trailer:

This is the most powerful option.  Perhaps because of liability or profit concerns, car companies will often try to discourage you from thinking about pulling a trailer with a small car, and as a result, people in the US usually buy trucks when they plan to pull one.

But think about it this way: I have a power output of less than 1/3 of a horsepower, and yet I can easily pull a full-sized refrigerator around on a trailer with one hand. Even my tiny car has a 108 horsepower engine, making it at least 324 times more powerful than me.

Your car can easily pull any reasonably-sized trailer, and you can get a nice low aerodynamic one for road trips, or an open-frame metal one for landscaping and construction materials. You can get a basic 4x8ft trailer for about $320 at Harbor Freight tools and then customize it however you like. Or even a bigger enclosed one that can serve as a rolling workshop or double as a storage unit or shed. Trailers like those are often found on Craigslist, sometimes already stocked with tools from a contractor who is selling his business.

With the advent of trailers, Boom – the entire category of vehicles known as pickup trucks is now obsolete, unless you are a farmer or Bakari Kafele.

I did some shopping around and determined that I could get a new roof rack and roof box for about $300-$500. While that is not chump change, it is still a great savings compared to the cost of buying and operating a larger car, just because you need the cargo space to be larger a few times per year. Roof boxes are truly the easiest way to turn a little car into a big one.

But being Mr. Money Mustache, I decided to take a slightly different approach and invent my own back box for the car, custom-fitted to the curve of the back bumper to maximize space and aerodynamics. Since I have no trailer hitch, I needed to find a way to attach it to the car, but when I looked underneath the back, I found the perfect thing – the tow hooks. I wanted a lower mount point anyway, so I welded up a custom metal support frame which bolts exactly into the holes where the car’s existing rear tow hooks attach. I was able to weld one long piece of 1×2 rectangular tube steel to each tow hook to create a this frame onto which I could build a box:

Here’s where the tow hooks were bolted on

Here’s the tow hook, welded to a piece of 1×2 rectangular steel.

With a late night of cutting and fiddling and painting, I was pleased to end up with an enormous box (80 gallons of internal volume) that is lightweight but strong enough to hold several hundred pounds.

Both hooks bolted back on along with the steel, ready to build box

And here’s the finished box (undergoing a “heavy load” test)

Caution: If you actually build one of these, be sure to route the car’s exhaust  under the box and out the back so you don’t burn a hole in it. Version one of my box died a melting death, taking a nice cordless drill with it. But by screwing a flexible exhaust pipe onto the existing tailpipe, version two has been trouble-free.

This box was the star of the one-month roadtrip to the Gulf of Mexico, holding all of our stuff and even gathering several appreciative comments from fellow Mustachian travelers (usually from Wisconsin) who I caught admiring it in parking lots. And the total cost was about $30 worth of wood, metal, and paint (although I used scraps from my construction business so in reality I paid $0). It took about one full day of very fun work to build it.

This is the inside view, holding a tent to show the size – I had to cut some shallow slices in the wood (similar to guitar construction) to get it to bend to fit the car

Here’s the box in action on a road trip: serving up food for a sand-dune cookout in New Mexico.

So before you go “upgrading” from a sedan to an SUV because you find it inconvenient to fit your stroller in the trunk, try thinking it out logically first:

A “coupe” or “sedan” is a useless design because the trunk is low and awkward. So look for a hatchback or a wagon. These are almost universal in Europe, where the people are smarter than us. They are less common here, but luckily still available.

An SUV is just a wagon with a raised suspension, making it inefficient for on-road use. The fact that they have a wagon design is why everyone thinks they are so practical, not realizing that the high ground clearance and big engine are unnecessary warts in the idea.

A small hatchback will do most of what an SUV or minivan does. Then you just need to decide between the roof box, back box, and trailer for those rare times you need an even bigger car.

Just as we expanded the usefulness of our bike by adding a backpack and/or a bike trailer in an earlier article, you now have a small car that can do more than everyone else’s big cars. See you at the campsite!

* If you’re in time-wasting mode right now, you should also check out the interior of that Dynasty :-)

  • Kip Edwards January 30, 2014, 9:13 pm

    MMM- I was able to find a used Thule roof box from an REI Garage Sale (http://www.rei.com/promotions/garage-sale) for $115 and rather than buying a roof rack that is compatible with the roof box, my buds and I simply removed the clamping devices in the box by removing one screw on each; we then grabbed two ratchet straps from the garage and threaded them through the slots in which the clamps once were. At which point we opened the car doors and tightened the straps (nice and tight) from the inside of the car. Boom! Anti-Roof Rack Roof Box (band name). Oh and to top it off, you can use the straps (that run through the car) to hang some of your shit.

  • Joe July 2, 2014, 2:33 pm

    The amount of people who won’t consider using racks/boxes/trailers/etc. to make smaller cars do what they need is unbelievable. A roof rack and my trunk has been plenty for me to get three bikes, a kayak, 4 persons worth of skis/boards/gear, and much other stuff around.

    Those who argue that they need to daily drive a pickup because of the once in a blue moon that they haul a couch or something? Get a trailer! Almost everything can tow 1000+ lbs these days.

  • SharpT September 23, 2014, 8:54 pm

    Yet another excellent article. Just found this website a few days ago and started at the first post and in full-on-binge-reading-mode, and each article resonates with what I have been living for many many years.

    I did purchase my 2007 Civic new and on a loan, a rare 12-month very low interest loan*, but not ultra MMM style. (but MMM style on manual transmission, and no sun roof or other fancypants stuff, just enough to get cruise control and AC, if I recall correctly)

    However, soon after I installed a trailer hitch and purchased a HF 4×4 trailer for hauling stuff. A great often used addition, especially for Craigslist purchase and sales, but rarely if ever see anyone use such a thing.


    * didn’t have much cash as I was selling our house that I had just finished rehabbing from crappiest house on the block that even a bank wouldn’t lend on, to pretty damn nice house on the block. And needed to hold any available cash for potential down payment on new house.

  • Druid October 20, 2014, 10:38 am

    I would love to drive a small car for the reasons mentioned by MMM, but a lot of these small vehicles do not have the leg room of a mid sized sedan. I am 6 foot 3 inches and I literally can not sit even reasonably comfortably in most of these small cars. I tried to buy a Prius back in 2007 and it was just not designed to sit anyone comfortably over 5’10. Anyone have any recommendations for a fuel efficient car for someone my height? I am currently driving a pass me down Chrysler 300 series with V8 engine.

    • Gordo October 20, 2014, 11:33 am

      See: http://www.yarisworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5799
      I highly recommend this car, bought a used one for $5500 (75k miles) a couple years ago. Also have an older one, 222k miles and not one single major mechanical problem. Excellent room and fuel economy. Timing chain for reliability. Can add a tow hitch for towing, etc.

    • Dragline January 8, 2015, 1:57 pm

      It’s not as fuel efficient as some of the others, but you should fit nicely in a Scion Xb with head room to spare. It’s essentially a mini-mini van and feels way bigger inside than it looks.

    • mooyootoo February 16, 2015, 5:36 pm

      Try a Mazda 5 – the same mechanically as the Mazda 3 but way more space with minimal fuel economy penalty.

  • Hal Vandevord November 4, 2014, 9:33 pm

    I have a few random comments:
    We have a 2002 Protege5. Great car, owned it since new. Fun to drive and dependable. But I don’t know if the hatchback aspect is worth it or not. Our daughter has the same car, same year etc. in sedan form. Our hatch seems pretty tight, structurally, but the sedan is quieter. Being a bit of a motorhead, I did some reading. The hatch adds about 80lbs to the car. Unfortunately, this is 80lbs in the wrong place, high up and at the rear bumper. So a sedan, all things being equal, will tend to be lighter and tighter than an equivalent hatch. It is, of course, up to the individual consumer to decide whether or not the potential advantages of a hatch are worth the small disadvantages. For me it has probably not been a big deal one way or the other. But I wouldn’t just automatically go for a hatch again.
    A trailer is a great solution to the problem of hauling. The extra size, bulk and weight of the vehicle are there only when they are being used.
    Those four door pickups are lousy as pickups. Ironically, they make lousy sedans, as well. No, I do not have any personal experience with them. The closest to that that I can relate, is the “64 Chev BelAir that we had some forty years ago. But at least it had a trunk lid instead of a tonneau cover.
    Consumer Reports estimates that the gas penalty for having 4wd on a car is about 2mpg over it’s 2wd equivalent model. I wonder how many people run the numbers to get a feel for how much that 4wd is going to cost them every time they fill up – whether they use the feature or not on that tankfull.

  • Rob December 1, 2014, 12:26 pm

    you basically revived the old school trunks!


  • Karl December 24, 2014, 2:50 am

    Some of the cars I have seen in the past few days on the road in Australia have been amazing. Massive 4×4 vehicles with gear piled high on the roof up to 1m high on top of the rack. Incredible. Fuel consumption must be horrible.

  • Guy Madison January 1, 2015, 10:31 pm

    I would just buy a bigger car to begin with, I paid $4500 for a 2001 Land Rover Discovery. I figured it costs about 34 cents / mile, a newer smaller car with better gas mileage comes in around 50-60 cents / mile. Its not the cost of gas its the depreciation thats the real cost in a car. Try it yourself, compare a $20,000 car at 35 mpg vs a $4500 car at 15 mpg, be sure to add in real depreciation 10-15% / year and the real cost of spending $15,500 (+ TAXES) more (thats opportunity cost aka. an investment). The cheap car wins every time.

    Our neighbors have a Honda Civic, it got about 40 mpg in Ohio… in Seattle the same car gets like 25 mpg with all the hill climbing and traffic. So the mpg is dependent on where you live also…

    • IAmNotABartender January 14, 2015, 11:27 pm

      Guy – if you read around the blog a bit, you’ll find that MMM always suggests buying used, so the comparison should be between a $4500 large car and a $4500 smaller car. You’re actually making the same point re: depreciation that is made on this blog.

  • JC January 3, 2015, 7:20 am

    What about the new VW tdi sportwagon golf? Think it’s a 2015 model – will get over 40 a gallon but of course new car would be too expensive so maybe in a few years

    Great article – I think I will look at a used scion as wife and I need to replace our sedan as having a kid and stroller won’t fit in truck – hat tip on your point about sedan’s not being very efficient cargo wise

    Not sure I would say Euro’s are necessarily smarter than us (US & Canada) – their gas tax is much higher so they are somewhat more encouraged to buy the more efficient car. Also will pull my ace on the whole Euro’s smarter idea – think about 30% of Euro’s smoke so not that smart

  • Sevitzky January 27, 2015, 2:12 am

    Hey Mr,

    I’d love to know what you think about trailers/towing and automatic transmissions. If you drive a manual, you can be ginger and compensate for the HP properly, but most auto transmission are probably not designed for towing, right? Extra wear and tear to think about if regularly towing. But now that I say it out loud… who is regularly towing a camping trailer..

    • Joe Average April 16, 2015, 9:25 am

      Heat is the biggest problem with automatics. Just drive like a sane person. Gentle starts for the transmission, gentle stops for the brakes. I guess if I lived somewhere that got really, really hot I would investigate adding a quality transmission cooler and a transmission oil temp gauge.

      Alot depends of course on how much weight you are towing. 400 lb trailer and 450 lbs of weekend project supplies? No big deal unless you are climbing a steep mtn out of Death Valley in July at high noon.

      If I was regularly maxing out a car’s tow capacity I’d be looking for something more powerful to minimize long term wear and tear. Mine is rated for 1500 lbs and my cargos are usually 750 lbs or less.

      Lots of UK caravan websites discussing towing with small vehicles that we can buy in the USA. The UK versions usually come with smaller engines than we get in our versions here. They can offer some great advice. The HondaSUV website has great discussions too on the topic.

  • mooyootoo February 16, 2015, 5:32 pm

    I’m late to this game, but I’d just like to point out I can fit an entire Costco cart in my smart car. With a passenger (and nothing stacked on her either!)… and its electric so no gas! I will admit I leased it though, so not terribly moustachian (yep, with an “ou” for us Canadian types)

  • Keymoto March 5, 2015, 6:46 am

    One more way to make more space you forgot: remove the rear seats! I was happy to find your post because I also have an xA, but with no access to a welder I kept looking for alternatives. We ended up removing the rear passenger seats and replacing them with shelving. Six month of frugal road tripping and soul searching here we come!
    It was surprisingly easy to do first find the hooks holding the bottom cushion down and use a screwdriver to pry them up. Next there are a variety of bolts to unscrew. When I’m ready to put the seats back in I’m going to make sure they are tentioned to the right amount, and we’re back to good as new.

  • Speedy G April 14, 2015, 11:32 am

    Where did the black plastic piece for the top of your box come from? it looks like a great part of the system and ideal for camping setup.

  • Joe Average April 16, 2015, 9:15 am

    I want to add something here that didn’t get alot of attention – small trailers. Years ago I bought a Brenderup 1205S b/c I could find no other enclosed light trailer in the USA. Everything else seemed to be UHaul sized trailers which is overkill for most of my family’s needs. Why drag a 1000+ lb trailer along to carry 250 lbs of stuff?

    Our little trailer has a cargo box almost 4ft wide and 7ft long. It weighs 400 lbs empty. Its only a little more with a second set of sides making it taller. It will store standing on it’s tailgate if you prefer saving much space. With the top installed it is lockable and rain ready. It isn’t 100% waterproof but after adding weatherstripping, I seldom see more than a few drops of rain inside. See “VW Thing floor slats” on Google Images. Make these floor slats from scrap wood and everything is above any potential wetness on the floor. Most of what I haul doesn’t care about a floor that gets a few drops of rain inside.

    I haul a table saw, chainsaws, bikes, go-cart, a whole troop of BSA camping gear, etc with our trailer. Has also functioned as “Santa’s Sleigh” enabling us to take Santa’s gifts to the extended family without our kids seeing anything (load after bedtime, keep lid locked). The gifts would fit in the “wayback” of the car b/c we are not big holiday shoppers but our last Santa believer can’t see the unwrapped gifts.

    My 1205S is still doing it’s job wonderfully. The vehicle I’ve towed it with all this time is approaching 300K miles on the original clutch so no significant additional wear and tear there. No reason to buy a big vehicle to bring home a few weekend project supplies or to carry a few hundred pounds of camping stuff. In Europe they pull these little trailers with cars loaded with the family and some having only ~100HP on tap.

    From the USA I’ve seen on the web: Space Trailers, Pulmor trailers, Little Giant trailers, Sylvan Sport GO, Let’s Go AERO and others. You can always import a trailer from Europe: Daxara, Indespension, Brian James Trailers, Anssems, PKW-Anhänger, Brenderup, and dozens more.

    I came very close to building my own trailer. We started out with a standard issue open American style utility trailer from the local hardware store. Because the cargo was simply piled on and strapped down it was subject to theft, road debris damage, and weather. The suspension was FAR too stiff. I removed a leaf spring and made that a little better. The floor was expanded steel mesh and ruined everything that touched it but firewood. We also looked like the Clampett’s everwhere we went. After an icy trip over the mtns with my tablesaw wrapped in a tarp which leaked and rusted the saw top I decided I wanted something better and more weather resistant. The standard American options were very expensive and heavy. See UHaul.

    Most of the Euro-brands won’t show up in US Google results on the first page or two so you might need to switch to a UK search engine to find trailer dealers and then crawl their websites to learn the Euro-brand names to search for and read about. YouTube is pretty good about showing videos of the Euro-brands if you already know the name brands. The European aftermarket and the trailer manufacturers themselves all offer extensive selections of accessories.

    FWIW we paid about $1100 for our trailer new. There were none available on the used market at the time but I do see them pop up every once in a while now.

    There are more details I could share but I don’t want to overwhelm the website readers. Ask if you want more detail and I’ll share.

  • Maddy April 17, 2015, 7:02 pm

    Thanks for the article!! I have a silver Scion Xa as well….fondly called “The brave little toaster” by my friends and I. I’m thinking about doing this for my out-of-state move!

  • Rachel September 24, 2015, 8:25 am

    Looks great. We have Prius five – seater for our six-member family. When we go on a road trip, we rent a small car. Generally, we store all our baggage in a giant duffle bag that straps onto the top of the car. When you have a solution for extra storage for a kid, let me know.

  • Jason November 26, 2015, 12:13 pm

    My 72 year old father in law just learned to drive. We bought him a 2007 Honda Fit. Last weekend we took it grocery shopping and it had tons of room for four adults and all of our groceries. It’s pretty peppy too, you can’t beat the mileage and it’s a breeze to park. One great car.

  • R November 30, 2015, 1:23 am

    My wife and two kids took a 2 week trip from California to British Columbia in our Toyota Prius. We fit our camping gear (2 tents, 4 sleeping bags, 2 air mattresses, etc) and a soft sided bag each in the car with no roof rack, hitch rack, or trailer. Instead of a cooler we used a soft sided cooler bag which saves a lot of room. We were also able to fit a box of food about the size of a file storage box. The kids had a bag between them in the back seat but that probably wasn’t a bad thing. An amazing amount of room in this car and at almost 500 miles per tank (50 mpg) very economical. This car is also very powerful. Fully loaded we were passing nearly everyone going up mountain passes. I had a V8 Ford Explorer which I drove into the ground and am very happy with the Prius.

    • R November 30, 2015, 1:32 am

      I also wanted to add that ultra light backpacking books from the library or websites have some great info on packing light and the philosophy of keeping things simple, even if you car camp. I found that previously I would bring a lot of just in case items that I never used when traveling, back packing, or car camping. I started keeping close track of what I used versus what I didn’t touch which helped the efficiency of my choices.

  • Tanktop March 14, 2016, 11:09 pm

    Hey MMM,

    I recently just found your site and am trying to work through it when I can. I wanted to know if you had any issues with the box scraping the ground when pulling into parking lots or driveways that were slightly up hill? I think that would be my biggest concern. I love the idea and was thinking of something along the same lines for our MAZDA 5. I’ll have to look more closely at our van to see if I could design something similar and still allow the back to open.


  • Miles Teg March 25, 2016, 4:29 pm

    Generally good advice. Lot’s of people making dumb decisions about how big of a car to buy. But the implication that vehicle towing restrictions (GCVW) can be ignored is way off base.

    The max towing capacity of a car has very little to do with engine power. It has to do with _stability of the towing platform_. A small car, even with a huge engine, does not have the stability necessary to safely pull anything but pretty small and light loads. The towing vehicle doesn’t have to just be able to pull the load, it has to be able to _anchor_ the load effectively. That means, primarily, being heavier, having sufficient braking power, having a long wheelbase and a sufficiently strong suspension capable of providing the proper handling for the weight towed.

    Even full size trucks, purpose designed for towing, can get pushed around by towed loads. A vehicle not designed for towing is likely to fail catastrophically if you exceed it’s GCVW.

    To take the article’s analogy: Sure, you can pull that fridge on a dolly/cart/etc. just fine, you have the muscle power. But can you maintain control of that load while moving quickly if it hits a pothole/big bump/etc.? Nope. If you were pulling the dolly with one hand (e.g. like a hitch), could you maintain control of that high profile load with a sudden high velocity wind gust cap? Nope. If the tire blows out on the dolly, will you maintain control? Nope. If you start rolling down a steep hill, are you likely to be able to _stop_ the dolly from moving? Nope.

    You have the strength to pull that fridge on wheels, but you don’t have the strength and stability to maintain control of it in adverse (but common) situations.

  • Mina July 19, 2016, 7:58 am

    Bloody hell, I wish I’d read this article a year ago! A trailer…why didn’t I think of that before?!

    Then again, my Tiguan has come in handy for picking up 2 X free sofas and 1 free bed (which I would have struggled to tow in our English bumpy, winding one-track country tracks). That said, perhaps the savings would’ve covered having furniture delivered!?

    Food for thought for when I’m next in the market for a vehicle!

  • Antonio September 2, 2016, 8:16 am

    In Europe GM offered FlexFix on the Opel cars. Its a rear carrier like the hitch mounted one that is permanently mounted on the car and slides inside the rear bumper when not in use, when needed it slides out, pops up an extra car plate so its visible on the car models where the original plate would be obstructed by the cargo, extra rear lights are added in seconds. It carries your bicycles but can also fit a box or other cargo. Easy peasy….

  • Peter stock November 13, 2016, 8:07 pm

    Your reasoning is sound.

    Scion Xa
    Cargo Capacity, All Seats In Place: 11.7 cu.ft.
    Maximum Cargo Capacity: 32.8 cu.ft.

    Honda Fit
    Cargo Capacity, All Seats In Place: 16.6 cu.ft.
    Maximum Cargo Capacity: 52.7 cu.ft.

    Nuff said.

    And perversely a microsized-looking Fit – which we are listing after – has only a hair less – what? 24% ? – capacity than our year 2000 Mercedes E320 wagon (CargoCapacity , All Seats In Place: 21.2 cu.ft. Maximum Cargo Capacity: 69 cu.ft.)
    Though we – and we are only 2 people tough we once had a dog – somehow manage to fill the Merc – with rear seats down – even for the simplest weekend trips where zero gear is required.
    So lifestyle has something to do with it too.

  • Gary February 13, 2017, 6:17 pm

    Right line gear offers a stagecoach style soft gear bag smilar to what was on the back of stagecoaches works real well 5mpg better fuel economy than a roof top carrier !

  • Jordan February 24, 2017, 12:14 pm

    Great post! This past summer I turned my tiny Honda Fit into basically an RV. After about a week of travel, I ended up adding a roof rack and a cargo carrier to our set up, which majorly improved our sleeping arrangements, organization, and stress! We used a bug net to seal off openings so that we could keep the hatch open while sleeping (I built a platform bed) which made the space feel even bigger. More proof that you can do so much with little space, we slept, ate, entertained, and traveled that maybe 4 by 6 ft area for over a month. :)

  • David Baker April 18, 2017, 12:15 pm

    MMM or anyone else, I’m looking for a Wagon/Hatchback with decent legroom for a carseat. Any ideas?

    • Brent April 18, 2017, 12:23 pm

      I’m 6’3″. I have an Outback and there is plenty of room. I drive it like an SUV (off road, gravel, etc.)

  • Timothy August 2, 2017, 12:16 pm

    Hi Mike,

    I have a 2006 Scion XA and wound up sleeping in it while camping this weekend in Vermont. Front seats forward, back seats down. I am 6″1″/195lbs and i had my 55lb. dog with me as well. I love your box idea very much. My brother in law is a welder and is willing to make the box happen. Do you have any suggestions for sleeping arrangements IN the car? I saw a very cool rooftop camper with drop down (wings) that were supported by the side of car.

    As a first time reader of your information i was kinda irritated that it went soooo far off topic. The Forum about the box is amazing and i need to explore your site to see if you have any more related to the Scion XA/camping.

    Thank you and i appreciate your sharing your craft.

  • Boderick Boddington August 8, 2018, 1:35 am

    I have a wagon, and no intention of getting rid of it at the moment. Runs on LPG, so cheap fuel!. Extremely useful for carting gear and people around. Pity is not many now on the market as most buy UAVs (Urban Assault Vehicles). The car is 15 years young and hope to get another 5-10 years out of it.

  • Jørgen August 8, 2018, 7:50 am

    I recently sold my big expensive car and bought a little one. There’s a few times a year where I need a bigger car but then I simply rent the bigger car for the days needed. It’s still saving me a lot of money compared to owning the big expensive car all year.

  • Sharp Scalpel November 18, 2018, 2:20 pm

    I joined this cult on the spot a few months ago and only wish I had found it before…

    I was born with the mustachian gene on the opposite side of the border.

    Rode my bicycle around the second largest city in Mexico to go anywhere for several years, and although I never put a word to the feeling, in retrospect, badassity is certainly what I felt.

    Wonder if the mustachian gene was what made me buy a 2005 silver toyota scion Xa 14 years ago.

    I have drove the car for 185,000 miles. After reading your hypermiling article, my MPH went from 30 to 40 mpg.

    I am a surgeon and can definitely afford a better/nicer car, but the look on the face of the doctors that see me in my car, and the insistence of everyone around me to upgrade to a more doctor type car has kept me from selling it.

    I use this car for everything:

    1. I moved all my belongings from upstate New York to the Midwest in this car
    2. I have gone camping with a kayak and a bicycle on the car


    3. I carried materials to build a climbing wall on top of this car. At the Menards parking lot, people have laughed at me and told me to just get a pick up truck many times.

    Thanks again for writing all this super interesting, motivating, badass, life changing stuff!!!!

  • Papa Foxtrot April 17, 2019, 3:45 pm

    Haha! Love this post, it’s a subtle thing people forget about yet they will spend tens of thousands for larger vehicles. My family are organizational geniuses. My father could pack clothes for five people for an entire week, supplies including beach chairs, food for a week, and many more in a small van. I know people who rent trailers for less. And I married an organizational genius who can do the same. However, we do use trailers for our small sailing boat.

  • "Fast Heart" Martin Stamper September 4, 2019, 10:23 am

    Well done! I like how your box looks good because it’s not so far behind the car that it looks like it’s going to slide off. I also like how you built special braces instead of using a tow hitch mounted box, because those always look like they are too far away from the vehicle and pulling the rear end of the vehicle down. I also like your break down of buying an economical car. Thanks for this article!

  • CJ December 12, 2019, 6:19 pm

    Interesting! My partner and I drove from Victoria, BC to Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska, camping for 2 months with lots of hiking trips and dehydrated food. We did most of the trip in his Honda Civic, whilst not on foot, which was quite practical especially with a jerry can for longer distances. Most people that we met, who were for the most part traveling with large RVs, told us that we were crazy to do that in a Civic. Then I met a German lady in the Whitehorse visitor centre, where we were both filling up our water jugs with free potable water, who said that she and her husband had BIKED there from Argentina in the previous year and a half. I then felt quite ashamed of my lazy ways…

  • W February 12, 2020, 9:06 am

    Very nice idea, but i think you need add some reflecting material/sticker on that trunk for more safety.

  • Greg February 11, 2021, 7:50 am

    Hey MMM:

    It is ten years later. What’s going on now, car-wise?

  • Angie September 15, 2021, 7:53 am

    Hmmm…wondering if similar modifications can be made to a motorcycle (perhaps towing a smaller trailer). But I feel like there might be some balance issues doing that.

  • Alex March 2, 2022, 6:33 pm

    Nice! If I had a family, or if in the future I ever need extra space this is definitely what I will go for. I have a Toyota Corolla Hatchback and I specifically went with the hatchback so that I can put the seats down and have a bit more storage space compared to a traditional trunk. I have hauled quite a bit with that car already. There was a short period in which I was almost going to live out of it entirely because I couldn’t find housing in the small town that I got a new job in and would rather do that than make a super long commute from a neighboring town. I have definitely seen quite a few videos of people who live out of their cars and how they set them up pretty nicely to rival even one of those fancy camper vans.

  • Lety Low August 9, 2023, 6:33 am

    I have a few questions about your “big car” article https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/12/08/turning-a-little-car-into-a-big-one/
    1- Aren’t you violating dimensions with your barriers?
    2. do not disturb the balance of the car and aerodynamics?
    3. Does all the stuff you are carrying increase the consumption of the car?


Leave a Reply

To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname
(not Blogger @ My Blog Name)

The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers – after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won’t make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!


welcome new readers

Take a look around. If you think you are hardcore enough to handle Maximum Mustache, feel free to start at the first article and read your way up to the present using the links at the bottom of each article.

For more casual sampling, have a look at this complete list of all posts since the beginning of time or download the mobile app. Go ahead and click on any titles that intrigue you, and I hope to see you around here more often.

Love, Mr. Money Mustache

latest tweets