When I was fresh out of college and landed my first “real” job in June 2004, I went right out and bought myself my first-ever brand new car. Looking back on it, it was kind of a dumb move. I mean, I hadn’t even moved out of my mom’s house yet (and wouldn’t for another year). And compared to what my measly salary was, the amount of my car payment was HIGH.

But for the long term, it was a smart decision. Instead of buying a cute little coupe/sedan like a lot of my friends, I wanted a Honda CR-V. It was more car than I needed at the time, but that choice is what has allowed me to continue driving that same car 10 years and 2 kids later. I guess you could say we’ve grown into it. And now? Well, now… we’ve kind of grown OUT of it.

It’s been a great car. There are still a lot of things I love about it. I can’t even tell you how many loads we’ve hauled—all of the things we’ve crammed into it over the course of two moves, many road trips, and countless DIY home projects. It has served its purpose. And it’s been mostly good for transporting our new family of four.

Back in September, we went on a long weekend trip to the Poconos for a wedding. It’s a four-hour drive. We were only staying for three nights (in a rental house). We didn’t even bring the dog. AND WE BARELY FIT. We were packed in there like sardines and it was a little bit miserable. It was then that I realized for sure: We need a bigger car. I even joked with Michael that we need a minivan. THE HORROR.

It had always been our plan to try to avoid having two car payments at once. I paid my car off in July 2009 and to save us money and have NO car payments for a while, Michael continued to drive his beater 1996 Saturn—which he’d had since sophomore year of college—until it literally died in April 2010 (we were going to replace it anyway before Nora was due in September 2010, so the timing was only a little earlier than we planned). At that time, we replaced it with a brand new Mazda3 (ooh, shiny). We qualified for 0% APR on that sucker, so we’ve not been in a hurry to pay it off, paying only the minimum payment each month. We still have about 16-17 months of payments left on it.

But now we have the itch to go ahead and buy a new car. At first we thought we’d wait until Michael’s car is paid off, like I mentioned… just so we don’t have two car payments. Then, that changed to “maybe we’ll look in the spring.” And then suddenly, we started talking about it more and we found ourselves at a few car dealerships yesterday.

You can probably see where this is going.

We haven’t purchased a new car yet, but it’s tempting. We visited Honda yesterday to check out the Pilot and Odyssey (OMG, minivan, AHHHHH!). We ruled out the Pilot right away—we just really don’t like it—but liked the Odyssey way more than we thought we would. They make some fancy ass minivans now, y’all. Then we headed to Mazda to check out the CX-9. We kind of fell in love.

I’m still not 100% sure what to do though. Bigger SUV (with three rows of seating to accommodate up to 7 people) or a minivan? The minivan was huge and spacious and had a lot of bells and whistles. The SUV seemed more “normal” for me to drive on a daily basis. We “only” have two kids, so the minivan sort of seems like it’s almost too much space. Mazda has done a really great job with the CX-9… it felt kinda luxurious. Heated seats. Lots of really cool technology that I have NONE of in my 2004 Honda CR-V. But as is typical with a 3-row SUV, there is not a ton of space to be had in the third row (although there is more in this make/model than there is in many other comparable vehicles). Part of me cares about that… shouldn’t the third row be easier to access and comfortable? But then the other part of me is like, Screw it. I’m not ever going to be the person who has to sit back there anyway. In all reality, it’s going to be my kids and their friends back there. So…?

Out of curiosity, we let the sales guy at Mazda run some numbers for us. We found out we’d get a REALLY respectable amount for trade-in of my CR-V. And the monthly payments were… well, monthly car payments. Blech. Of course they tried to sell us hard, but they were trying to sell us the last 2013 on the lot. So we wouldn’t have our choice in color or anything. And we feel like if we’re going to drop this much money on a car, we want to get EXACTLY what we want. So of course we walked away. Because hi, we were planning on just looking and it would’ve been pretty nuts to sign papers yesterday.

After the girls went to bed last night, I poured over the two vehicles on the internet. I was falling more in love with the Odyssey. I mean, it has a built-in “cooling drawer,” people. It’s a cooler… without needing ice! But I was also still really digging the CX-9. I sent in a request for a quote to another local Mazda dealer, just to see.

Well, I got an email back from the Mazda dealer today that made things kind of interesting.

This second dealership is having “Black Friday” sales this week and the guy laid it all out for me. And based on what I can tell from research on Edmunds.com and the like, we’d be getting a CX-9 with a technology package upgrade (a value of $3,000) basically at the invoice price of the car WITHOUT the technology package. Um, what? This is for the 2014, which they are literally just beginning to get on the lot. And this is without even TRYING to negotiate. This is what I was offered up front, just by sending an automated email to the dealership through Edmunds.com. So discussions became a little more serious today. Should we really consider doing this?

My question is this, though: Is Christmastime really as good a time to buy a car as people want you to believe it is? Or is it really just a ploy to try to get sales to pick up at the end of the year? I mean, the price of the car itself seems low… but they’re not offering 0% APR right now. The lowest is 1.9%. So say we wait. Surely they’re going to offer 0% APR at some point this year, right? (Mazda usually does.) If that’s the case, and they don’t have these “awesome deals” on the cars at that time, then we kind of make up for it with 0% APR, you know? Which is what makes me wonder if we’d basically get the same price/same monthly payments, regardless of when we purchase. So isn’t a wash? Does anyone have a lot of knowledge of car sales that can confirm/deny that this is the case? Any “insider info” or tips? I’m curious.

Obviously, if we’re seriously looking at potentially making a move, we also need to make sure that this is actually THE car we want to buy. I’m pretty sold on the Mazda CX-9 in terms of SUVs, but… the Honda Odyssey is still pulling me back in. Dude. A minivan. I can’t get over the fact that I’m even considering one. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

So, moms… minivan vs. 3-row SUV. Please weigh in. Let’s have a discussion. Let’s keep in mind that we’re pretty sure we’re done having kids. I mean, I won’t say never, but I’m thinking that’s the case.

And then there’s part of me that thinks we’re nuts for even considering this right now, when 1) we’re paying for two kids in full-time daycare and 2) my CR-V is technically still fine and I could easily get AT LEAST another year or two out of the thing. I mean, we “only” have two kids after all. It can be a tight squeeze (or impossible) at times, but it’s definitely doable on a day-to-day basis. For longer road trips—like our planned trip to Virginia and OBX next summer, for which we’ll be gone 10ish days—we would definitely have to rent a minivan or something, which would run us several hundred dollars (I’ve priced them out… we’re looking at like $800 at least, unless I can score a better deal as we get closer). My CR-V has less than 89,000 miles on it. It’s still a good car, and given that we drove Michael’s Saturn literally into the ground, I hesitate to get rid of a perfectly good car. And it’s PAID FOR. But then I remind myself that driving the same car for nearly 10 years is not something that too many people do anymore. And I can’t play my iPod/iPhone music in my car or use Bluetooth because this wasn’t even standard in 2004. First world problems, people.

For what it’s worth, Consumer Reports and user reviews of both the CX-9 and Odyssey are pretty excellent. The gas mileage is a bit better on the Odyssey than the CX-9. Technology features are pretty comparable. So it really comes down to form factor and space. SUV = less space, drives more like a car, has all-wheel drive. Minivan = ridiculous amounts of space, front-wheel drive, and… it’s a minivan.

Talk to me.


39 Responses to The Next Mom Mobile

  1. Sara says:

    I know nothing about the cx-9 but I drive an odyssey and looooooove it. I think my favorite feature is the sliding doors, it’s SO handy to just click a button, have the doors slide open and my boys climb in. I think of how nice that would’ve been when I was lugging around their infant seats! I also love that it drives like a car, I don’t feel like I’m driving a minivan (although I admit, I giggled to myself the first few weeks when I would leave work and see it in the parking lot – omg is that my minivan??) good luck with your decision!

    • Hey Sara, do you just have two boys? Or three? Just curious. It seems as though three kids = DEFINITELY minivan. Two kids? We’re like a swing state. We could go either way. :)

      Also, the sliding doors are kind of a big deal to me, especially for the winter months. We have a two-car garage and it’s TIGHT when we’ve got the cars pulled in. The CX-9 has wide rear doors and I’m worried we wouldn’t even be able to get the kids into the car when it’s pulled into the garage. Considering winter is like November-April here, that MIGHT be a dealbreaker. Depends how bad it is. On the flip side, sliding doors in that situation would be perfect.

      • Sara says:

        Just two! We have the same problem with a small garage. My husband drives a Santa Fe, and when he picks the boys up from the sitters he has to park outside, annoying in the cold weather!!

  2. Erin says:

    Well, everyone I know who has a minivan absolutely loves them. I know at least 2 families who are for sure done with 2 kids who have them, still love them. Most were quite hesitant and just rave about them now that they have them.

    I am not a good person to even speak about this because I totally don’t care about cars, at all. I drove the 96 Geo Prizm I got when I was 17 literally until it was totaled, and then paid cash for the Accord I have now. We got it 2 years ago and it’s a 2003 but it serves our purposes just fine and barring some catastrophic situation, I plan to never have a car payment again. Ben drove it on the road trip to Colorado – Luke and I were not in the car for the long drive (but we were for 4 days of when we were actually out there) but honestly I think we could have been (logistically, at least – if we remove the whole 18 month old in a car for 2 days aspect which was my non-starter) – he did bring ALL of our luggage and Luke’s carseat so not a lot changed when we got picked up. (We didn’t bring a stroller though, so that would probably do it – although you can rent those basically anywhere too and I’m guessing they are a lot cheaper than a minivan). Oh and we have a thing that goes into the lighter that enables us to use our phones for music. So anyway I’m sure you can tell what *I* would do, but I’m sure you’ll make the right decision for you!

    • Erin, out of curiosity, can you link to the thing that lets you use the lighter for music on your iPhone? I tried to find something a couple of years ago and tried a few things and none worked well so I returned them all and gave up.

      You are a smart lady, for sure, and will be saving yourself a boatload of money over the years by not giving two craps about cars. I care more than you, but I’m not crazy over cars—I like not having a car payment more than always having the latest and greatest, for sure. I guess that’s why I’m so nervous to make this decision (minivan vs. SUV)… because if all goes according to plan, I will be driving this car for the next 10 years. It’s crazy to think that Nora and Vivienne would be 13 and 10. WHAT?! It’s a big decision!

  3. Rachel P says:

    I actually have a Honda Odyssey and my friend had the CX-9, so I feel like I might have some great insight. We actually only have 1 child (almost 3) and I wouldn’t trade our van for anything. However I was actually one that couldn’t wait to have a van, I just loved the way they drove and all the room to haul stuff. My friend that had the CX-9 actually has 2 kiddos (3 & 9.5 months) and switched to a Honda Odyssey. She has the new model, we have an older model. The sliding doors was the real kicker for my friend and I can’t imagine having any other doors while loading kids. My friend parks her vehicles in the driveway and with her CX-9 she could barely get her infant in if someone was parked beside them. Plus I love the automatic back hatch on the van. You also have so much more room, the 3rd row seats in the CX-9 are sort of a joke in my opinion, not much room at all. Everyone that has rode in our van that sits in the back is amazed at how comfy the back seat is, plus it’s so much easier to access since a van sits lower than the CX-9. I think if you went with a van you’d be able to over-look the “mini van mom” status simply because it’s like a Cadillac of the van world. ;)
    P.S. We have another friend who said she would never own a “grocery getter” and is now happy driving a van.

  4. Vanessa says:

    Hi Heather, things are different here in England – fewer people have such big cars and fewer make long road trips. With that said, two things for you. Marc has a 12 year old small car (3 door) which we don’t use for transporting kids(car seats are a hassle) and I have a Mini Countryman which we bought new before Abigail was born, in early 2012. It’s a great car but it is small. But we won’t be having more than 2 kids. We have had the big car debate and have decided to stick with what we’ve got. We have a self imposed rule: we won’t pay for financing for a car. 1.9% is still v low, but we’d either pay upfront or wait for 0%. We moderately like cars but are ruled by practicality. Do we really need heated seats etc? If we buy new we don’t get lots of extras. I guess we are pretty frugal like that. I don’t know anything about the cars you are looking at but I personally would hate to drive a minivan because of the size. But then I live in London. So there are my totally tangential thoughts!

    • I hear you about the financing. I really, really hate paying interest on things. However, I guess my thing is that they seem to be offering extremely low prices on the car itself… but making it up in finance charges. If we wait and go back during a 0% APR promo, that’s cool, but then I highly doubt they would also be willing to take the price of the vehicle down so low. In the end, I think it’s probably a wash either way, which is what I was trying to get at in the post. You know? I hate all of the “tricks.” I wish buying things like this were more straight-forward.

  5. Chelsey says:

    I’m cracking up at “I don’t even know who I am anymore” because guess what? Some mom friends and I had the same convo over mini vans at brunch today and I was thinking the same thing! I say go for the van. If enough of us get them they could be cool again.

  6. Chelsey says:

    We went for the bigger SUV…with the way we pack we felt like the minivan could be dragging on the ground for our road trips, since they ride so low. Plus, we love in a rural area in Wisconsin…roads aren’t always plowed quickly when it snows a bunch. We felt the van would get stuck more easily due to it being closer to the ground. Just part of our thought process when we were having this same debate!

  7. Allison F. says:

    I’d say, if you can, hold out on the new car, make some bigger payments on the loan you already have using the money you’d be paying on the new car, and then next year towards the end of the year get it, especially if you can wait until like the last week of the year when they’re trying to get rid of all their inventory for taxes. But do what feels right to you guys! I’m jelly, I want a new SUV so bad!

    • We considered doing this—making bigger payments on the existing loan—but that loan is financed at 0% so it seems pretty pointless to do so. I’m no financial advisor, but I’m pretty sure most of them would recommend us putting whatever extra money we would use to pay down the 0% loan toward the down payment on the new car (since the lowest interest rate we would get would be 1.9%).

  8. Hannah says:

    We bought ourselves an Oddesey when DD was 6 weeks old and it was great for us. So easy getting the Chicco in and out. Now she’s almost 3 she can watch Dora on the built-in DVD player on long trips. One thing to consider – we got a 2008 model which was 3 years old at the time. They had a lot of then because people were returning their 36 month leased vans. So we got a fully loaded leather, DVD, power everything etc for thousands less than a new standard model. Would definitely do it this way again. Also, regarding number of kids, Tessa counts! We justified ours because we had a baby and an adopted greyhound. :)

    • Jackie says:

      Personally, I prefer to have one car payment at a time. We’re hoping to have a few years with no car payment soon but we’ll have to see. Our 2006 Honda Civic has 110,000 miles on it because of my husband’s long commute (80 miles a day, M-F). We may drive it into the ground sooner rather than later.

      Like Hannah, the last car my husband and Ibought came off of a 36 month lease and it’s been great! There’s usually a lot of options of cars coming off of 36 month leases so you can hunt down the model/trim package/low mileage vehicle that you want. We searched on a large Toyota dealership’s website, ran carfax reports from home and then went to the dealership the next day once we had found the car we wanted. We bought a 3 year old Toyota RAV4 with 30,000 miles on it and it’s been a great car for the past three years! Saved us some money too.

  9. laurental says:

    We have a bigger SUV (enclave). I really hate to say it, but I would probably enjoy a minivan more. I say enjoy, because I don’t think I would “like” it, but I think that all of the amenities would really work for our family. I do love our Enclave, and when someone is looking for an SUV I always recommend it. However, when someone says that they are debating between an SUV and a minivan I usually just keep my recommendation to myself.

    Cons with our larger SUV. #1 is the width. It is wider than a mini van. This means it takes up more room in the garage, is harder to park and generally puts me further away from the kids. Our second car is a 04 Rav4 which is not that dissimilar to a CRV. One of the things I love is that I can easily reach into the backseat to grab something or (as a a passenger) grab things that the kids have dropped. This is impossible in the Enclave.

    #2 the doors. While they aren’t a pain for a normal single adult person, they are definitely an issue with the kids. In order to click them into their car seats I need enough room to put them in and to squeeze my body in so I can strap them. This is often an extremely tight squeeze in parking lots. The other thing is that the doors are big and heavy and swing freely. We have only had one finger slam incident, but because of it I am hyper. Even if the kids are feet away from the door I am the mom that yells “watch your fingers!” every time I open or close that bad boy.

    #3 is storage. Our back row folds down flat. However, it doesn’t pop out, it just folds down. This means that there is not a very high clearance for storage. For trips we pretty much have to have the back seat down or there isn’t enough room for all of our stuff. There is not very much depth in the “trunk” because that is where the spare tire is stored. Last year we rented a minivan on our vacation. It was great because of the way that the seats stored. When they were in use there were big cargo areas in the floor. We don’t get that with an SUV.

    • I appreciate your honesty, Lauren! One of the things I think we’ll do if we end up with an SUV is to get the roof rails so we can buy a Thule box or something for up top storage for big trips.

      I continue to be turned off by the gas mileage of the SUV, though. It’s 16/22 vs. the minivan’s 18/28.

  10. elizabeth says:

    Our friends with 3 kids (ages 9 mos – 5 yrs) bought an Odyssey, and they love it so much. They showed us all the cool features one night, and I was like “uh, *I* want a minivan!!!” (no kids). I went to work the next day and told a friend who is about to have his second baby that they need an Odyssey. There is just so much room, you can practically stand up and walk around in it. And everything is touch-button (not sure if the Mazda has this), and they said that’s one of the best features because their hands are typically always full. Drink the kool-aid and get a minivan! :)

  11. Melissa says:

    Hmmm. This is tough. I think we will only ever have two kids as well, and I don’t think I would buy a mini van. My parents have a Sienna, which I really like… for them. It is roomy, and when we all go somewhere together, we can ride with them (for now), but for us? We only need four spots. We purchased a Highlander right after we had Rowan, and I don’t see us needing a new vehicle for a long time. We have a third row, which we use on occasion, so its lack of comfort doesn’t bother me. I love that we have a huge amount of space in the back of the SUV, which I guess we could have with a mini van, but it seems like we would never use the third row of seats, so why have them? I also love our SUV over my mom’s van in our country setting. The snow gets pretty high here, and plows are slow, so we prefer something that sits higher. Our SUV had just as many options as the van option (DVD, etc.) so that didn’t matter for us. I think in your case, I would wait. That way you have more time to think, have more time to pay off the other vehicle, and can wait for a better deal.

    • This is my main hang-up as well. I mean, with an SUV, you could basically have the third row folded down all of the time and just have large trunk. But with the van… to have the third row down all of the time seems kind of weird.

  12. Meegs says:

    Do either of them have removable/fold down 3rd row? Because that would be awesome for family trips.

    • Both have fold-down 3rd rows, yes. The van’s third row can actually fold down INTO the floor—there is a big well in the “trunk” that is specifically for that purpose—so that means even more space. But yeah, the CX-9′s seats go down in the back (the second row can actually go down, too) for bigger loads.

  13. Maggie says:

    I have one kiddo, and we recently traded in my sedan for a 2010 odyssey. We looked at the Mazda because the hubs doesn’t love vans, but the van has soo much more space. Power sliding doors and power rear lift are awesome, and it is the best for roadtrips and bulky car seats, I love it. If you want AWD Toyota makes a Sienna with that option but it’s crazy expensive. Good luck!

  14. Katie says:

    We just went through this. My husband was adamant about not getting a van. ADAMANT. So we narrowed it down to 3rd row SUVs. We have 2 kids with 1 on the way and I have a step daughter that we rarely transport. We ended up getting the Nissan Pathfinder (2013 model). The 3rd row has enough room to easily transport over 6′ tall adults (already done this and my hubby is 6’5″), has awesome features (heated seats, panoramic sunroof x2, power lift gate etc, ability to slide middle row with installed carseat undisturbed – unique to Nissan/Infinity), My husband has more than enough room to drive with our youngest rear facing behind him. Best gas mileage in it’s class etc etc. I don’t find that the van with the 3rd row up had much more cargo room than our SUV does. Our neighbors with 3 and the Sienna required a rooftop box to go camping.

    All this said I could not love my car more. I’ve never experienced wanting more space, or feeling cramped at all. We travel out of town a lot to visit family as they live in the neighboring state and I can cram every.single.thing I want in there without the beer having to go under my son’s feet!! :) GL with your hunt!

  15. Katie says:

    We shopped for about a year before making this decision. I LOVED the comparison feature on Cars.com. I was looking for most space/best price/best mpg etc. That’s how we narrowed down between Pathfinder, Explorer, CX-9 and Pilot. You can choose your cars and compare from there.

  16. rockess says:

    We only have one kiddo, so my experience with the ‘stuff’ is obviously different. But if I were you guys, I would squirrel away money towards a new car (basically pay yourself the car payment) so you can have a bigger downpayment after you pay off the other car. I am still driving my beat up 2004 Nissan Sentra that just turned 10 years and 132,000 miles on it and I am hoping to get another year out of it, so a fancy car is def. not something high on my list. But I would be really loath to have 2 car payments at the same time. $800 to rent a minivan for a vacation is still less than a year of car payments. And it would give you some real world experience with the minivan to decide if it was a car you really wanted to be in for the next 10 years.

  17. Rebecca says:

    I am one who will never drive a mini-van, simply because I hate them. Do remember, however, that the amount of stuff you hauled this summer because you have an infant is a lot less as they get older. You will have this car for 10 years, do you really need all of that space all of the time? We got the Tahoe, and although the seats don’t fold down into the base in our model they do in the 2015 model, which we are holding out for. I just can’t do the van thing, so I know your reasoning for holding back :)

  18. Kristina says:

    I don’t think you can go wrong either way. We recently “downgraded” to one car, so that I can stay at home for a few more years. I’m now sharing my husband’s (it was his dad’s) 2007 Odyssey. Prior, I had a 2011 Mazda6 (bought in December 2010 – a great deal) and, before that, a 2007 Mazda3 (bought in March 2007, but also a great deal). Personally, I lean more towards the Mazda. :) Our Odyssey, even being “older”, though, is awesome. We have 3 girls, so it’s obviously a lot better than cramming everyone in my old Mazdas – Ha! I love the automatic doors (LOVE) and it drives super easy (I had never driven anything bigger than a sedan on a daily basis before this). Good luck with your decision! Can’t wait to see what you choose (if you do take the plunge). :)

  19. Christy says:

    As far as snow, snow tires can make a giant difference! I drove a mustang for 9 years and never would have survived Ohio winters without snow tires. Then I upgraded to a (free) 1999 Astro Van and religiously put on snow tires every November. Upgraded to a Honda

  20. Christy says:

    Sorry dang iPad. Got a new honda thanks to a lady hitting me and totalling my free van. Boo car payments but yay great van. Love it! Already got the snow tires on and ready!

  21. Lesley says:

    Wanted to add that a power tail/lift gate is AWESOME. Not sure if it’s available on the Honda, but dude, I love it. It’s super helpful and honestly, I didn’t think I’d use it often! And I DO! ALL THE TIME! So that’s a check mark in the SUV column for me – but again, not sure if the Honda has it as well.

  22. Maureen says:

    We have 2 and went with a van (we actually bought it when I was pregnant with #2 and even with just 1 kid I loved the van). Our original plan was to get a SUV with 3rd row seating, but when we tried it out with carseats we preferred the van. Yes-we brought carseats and installed them on the model in the show room floor! We live out of state from family, so we take a lot of long trips and having the room is nice. The ability to fold down the 3rd row and take out the middle seats is huge, we have been able to put so much stuff in the van with ease (an upright freezer, grill, a piece of plywood without having to have Lowes cut it, etc.).

    If you are really leaning towards one, see if the dealership will let you take it home for a few days. Ours let us take the van for the weekend. It worked out because we had all the grandparents in town so we were able to see how it worked for us. I didn’t even know ‘borrowing’ a car was possible, but I guess so. The sales guy said that he has never had anyone NOT buy the car after doing this though.

    We are in the minority, but we didn’t get the power doors. We know a lot of people who have had issues with them, including one whose doors open while she was driving on the highway.

  23. Terri says:

    We do a lot of traveling as well, which made the decision to switch (from a Subaru Outback to a Minivan) easier. When we figured in what we would be paying in car rentals + the amount of trips that we would be making in the future, it just made sense. Not to mention all the conveniences you’ve already mentioned….automatic doors, DVD player, heated seats…

    We also have a Subaru Tribeca which has the optional third seat. As you know, that third seat is just a joke, there’s no way anyone could fit there comfortably, or safely for that matter. The only one that fits back there is our chocolate lab.

    as for being a mini van mom, have you seen this?? :)

  24. Amanda S. says:

    I totally understand your dilemma. :) When we had to kids I had a 2008 Tahoe with no 3rd so I tons of trunk space and loved it. When #3 came along we battled with getting a 3rd row or upgrading to a Suburban/Yukon XL. If we got a 3rd there would noooo trunk spaceand that was not going to fly. Haha So last December we got a a Yukon XL. I looooooobe it and have tons if space.

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