John and his wife are into the great outdoors a lot more than they are motoring so a vehicle is simply a way to travel around the country experiencing great cycle trails, walks and camping spots.
It's not a cheap lifestyle. Most of their spare money goes into buying or upgrading all the outdoors gear required for overnight stays and time spent in isolated locations camping under the stars.
Their vehicle, an old Mitsubishi Mirage station wagon, has travelled close to 300,000km and is well past its use-by date but they are dreading finding a replacement.
The wish list has been narrowed down to the following: affordability, reliability, economy, interior space and reasonable comfort. For security reasons, they prefer to have their bikes inside their vehicle when travelling or on overnight stopovers. With no children to worry about, rear seats that fold to make the maximum use of interior space is desirable. Garage space is also limited so small on the outside but large on the inside is another preferred option.
Buying in this price range can be difficult as I suspect most vehicles will have reasonably high odometer readings which can mean the potential for high future repair costs. For example, many of the engines in this price bracket will be fitted with cambelts which have a limited lifespan and can be expensive to replace, while lack of past attention to cooling systems can lead to financial dramas you definitely don't want to know about, especially if you are a long way from home. A thorough mechanical inspection before buying is highly recommended. And don't buy without a warrant of fitness that's been issued within the last month. Safety will have its limitations also, with a couple of airbags and anti-locking brakes probably the best you can expect, which highlights the need to keep crucial items such as brakes and tyres in excellent condition.
The other compromise may be getting the bikes into the back. This may require a front wheel removal only and standing them upright or laying them flat, which will definitely reduce available space.
The Budget: $9000
Toyota FunCargo (2004)
It looks odd on the outside but has huge amounts of interior space. They also have a very low loading height which means almost wheeling a bike rather than lifting it into the rear. It's a model that was never sold new here so you are looking at used imports from Japan. There are lots of them around, so parts should not be a problem, and the 2004 is in your price range. Be careful of the variation in engine size; it's best to go for the larger 1.5-litre unit.
Suzuki APV Van
These all-purpose vehicles seem to be popular with some of the rural posties so that is always a good indicator of reliability. Upside is loads and loads of interior space for the bikes and camping gear. The bikes could be wheeled in complete which means less mucking around after a long and tiring ride. Downside is seating is limited to driver and passenger only and on a longish trip may not be overly comfortable. The 2006 engine size is 1.6 litre and the only transmission available is a manual. If it's just the two of you then it may do the job nicely.
This 2000 2-litre, 5-speed manual even has a removable picnic table fitted in the rear cargo area. Manual transmissions reduce the risk of possible future expensive automatic repair bills and helps keep fuel consumption down. They also have a very simple but effective 4WD system which only operates when slip is detected in the front wheels. Less rear interior height than the Toyota and Suzuki but better overall comfort and more power may be appreciated on long journeys.
All have their merits but check out the Suzuki APV first.