Seeking Used Mini-Van Advice

McDeath_the_Mad and I are considering buying a mini-van. We have our first baby on the way, and also have a somewhat high-maintenance dog that we take with us everywhere.

We looked at small SUVs and wagons but there isn’t quite enough storage space for us to go overnight anywhere.

We don’t want one that’s too old - we’re hoping to get one from 2001 or newer.

Any advice / anecdotes / warnings would be much appreciated!

I had a co-worker who had a 2002 Honda Odyssey and wouldn’t part with it for anything (well, except maybe a 2006).

No anecdotal evidence, but absolutely get a minivan rather than a small SUV. An SUV doesn’t have any more cargo capacity than a station wagon, and it’s bigger & heavier. With a dog, a kid, and all that schtuff kids seem to need, a van is definitely the way to go.

We got a used 2000 Toyota Sienna and have had no problems with it at all. Very nice van. I would recommend leather seats if you have kids. Much easier for cleaning.

My experience with Ford minivans (the Aerostar and the Windstar, model years 1990 and 2000) has been meh. They’ve both had some problems (Ford seems to have fixed most of the reliability issues in the last decade) and I can’t believe how easy it is to bust the radiator. Get in a low-speed (like 10-15 MPH) front-end collision and you can kiss the radiator goodbye. The Windstar has bucket seats in the second row and a bench seat in the third row, but I don’t know how the buckets do with a car seat. Also, I’ve found the Windstar a pain to manuver and especially back out. If it wasn’t for the add-on backup sensor, I would never have driven it because visibility, especially out the back, is lousy. Plus, it handles sluggishly at highway speed.

I don’t think an SUV is the way to go. I’d still take a look at wagons–how about a nice Subaru Legacy or Outback? :eek: :eek: :eek:

Here’s what Phil Edmonston’s Lemon-Aid has to say about mini-vans:

Are you sure you wouldn’t like a nice, reliable Legacy wagon?

I highly recommend NOT buying a '98 Pontiac Transport Montana. Mine has been nothing but trouble. I bought it used and 2 years later I had to replace the transmission, then the next year, I had 2 cracked heads I had to have fixed. My “Check engine” light still comes on for apparently no reason, but then I have to wonder.

Many so-called SUVs are really SWOTTs (station wagons on tall tires.)

As for advice, never buy a vehicle with a can of Bar’s Stop-Leak in the glove box.

Transmission troubles with the A604 “Ultradrive” transmission were traced to faultily-marked dipsticks and misprinted owners’ and service manuals directing people that they could use common Dexron OR the then-new “7176/+3” fluid.

What Chrysler meant to convey is that small quantitiesof Dexron (1qt. or less) wouldn’t hurt anything and were preferable to running the transmission low on
fluid. Apparently, there was a shortage of the 7176/+3 fluid in quart bottles in those early years of the A604.

Instead, the dipstick said simply “use either” and vaguely-worded manuals gave the impression that the cheaper and more readily available Dexron and 7176/+3 were pretty much interchangeable–which they weren’t. Even dealers did whole replacements of fluid with the wrong fluid–with disastrous results.

Some early 604 transmission “brain boxes” were responsible for erratic shifting,too.

The older -design 3-speed TorqueFlites are as reliable as the famous RWD versions built since the 1950s and have analog controls.

I’ve had seepages of engine oil out both front and rear seals of both 4 and V-6 engines on Chryslers,and early 4-cylinder models had “soft” motor mounts that allowed the engine to rock too much on acceleration/deceleration and rip AC hoses in the process, but generally Chryslers just need timely periodic maintenance and they’re good for 150K+ miles–no sweat. These comments apply to Chrysler engines only as I have no experience with the 3.0-litre and 2.6 litre Mitsu engines.

Hondas and Toyotas recommend premium fuel–a decided disadvantage-- and both also have you drag the spare tire out of a well in the midst of the passenger compartment rather than slinging the spare outdoors beneath the rear floor.

Honda engines also are of the “interference” type, meaning that if your timing belt breaks, the valves left open when it does will interfere with the travel of their associated pistons–a very costly “ouch”.

Japanese parts are ridiculously overpriced and more parts are dealer-exclusive on Japanese makes than on American makes, meaning you can’t try to beat the dealer down at O’Reilly, Kragen, or NAPA.

You can’t get short-wheelbase or 4-cylinder vans from the Japanese, Ford or GM.
These other manufacturers have aimed at the middle and higher ends of the market that Chrysler pioneered. Only Chrysler has vans from loss-leaders at about $16 K on up. Everybody else starts in the $22K range.

Chryslers don’t seem to rust very easily and the seats, though damned heavy and awkward to remove, are upholstered in heavy, durable fabrics.

I don’t know who Phil Edmonston is, but he sounds like he’s been regurgitating the same “Japanese wonderful/US evil” Consumer Reports garbage. I’ve had enough good fortune with enough cars “not recommended” by Consumer Reports
that I take a non-recommendation as an invitation to try out another underrated underpriced vehicle that’ll give me a good100-150K miles above what the last guy(s) got.

I’ve had no “brake problems” or “body problems galore”.No AC problems other than the hose problem caused by the early-design motor mounts ( not actually a "system failure " of the AC itself but collateral damage)in 300K+aggregate miles put on 2 Voyagers and a Caravan–all bought used. What are Phil’s credentials on the subject of Chryslers? does he even drive/own/work on cars or is he another geek with a computer who collates unsubstantiated crap he’s gleaned from the far corners of the Web?

Thanks all …

Yes, I’m afraid a mini-van is the only thing that will hold all of our stuff - dog kennel, dog, baby seat, playpen, baby toys, etc, plus suitcases, golf clubs, etc. We are somewhat guilty of over-packing but a station wagon just won’t do the trick I don’t think. Plus if we have another child in the next couple of years, we definitely won’t have enough room for everyone and everything.

We are looking at domestic makes, because the foreign ones (Honda, Toyota etc) are just a bit out of our price range.

We looked at a new one - the Chevy Uplander - but it’s gotten fairly negative reviews, and we have decided “used” is the way to go - it’s just so much more affordable …

Sometimes being a grown-up is hard …!!!

How about a very large truck? Four-door extended cab, full-length bed, camper shell.

Nah asterion - too much money - we’re on a budget.

Plus trucks are gas guzzlers, and it’s not exactly easy to get stuff in and out of the truck bed …

This is why I’m asking for MINI-VAN advice!!! We have thought about all of these things, trust me.

We have a 1989 Plymouth Grand Voyager (i.e, the long wheelbase Caravan-clone) with around 100K which is on its third transmission (fortunately not on our nickel; we bought the car shortly after the third tranny was installed. To be fair, the former owners were apparently using it to put a tent trailer.) We’ve also had the air conditioning gone through twice, total of maybe $2000, and a new fuel pump. The engine, the 3.0L Mitsubishi one, is getting rid of oil somehow (I think it’s probably valve seals). And a brake hose ruptured and stranded us in Missoula, Montana (three blocks from the dealer–how’s that for luck?)

However, the darn thing is so useful that we put up with all this willingly. It handles nicely (I can hear you snickering, but it’s true!) and si pleasant to drive. On long trips, it’s quiet and smooth and we can haul an amazing amount of stuff along if we need to. Whenever something needs to be hauled, there’s that big weather-protected box on wheels to do it with.

And the new Chrysler’s stow-and-go seating seems like a wonderful feature; our van’s rear seat is a guaranteed hernia-maker if you have to wrestle it out yourself.

If I could have any mini-van, I’d get an Odyssey. Unfortunately they are quite expensive, even used, as I am sure you have noted. My second choice would be a Caravan (we have a used Windstar, which is fine for our purposes, but yes, there is always something wrong with it. Nothing major yet, but it’s still a PITA). See if you can get one that is new enough to have the stow ‘n go seating - the seats fold into the floor. I would love to have that! When the seats are up, you can use the spaces where the seats go in the floor as extra storage. That’s a nice safety feature too - remember that if you don’t tie stuff down, it’ll go flying in an accident or during a hard stop, and anything that isn’t in the passenger compartment to begin with can’t hit anyone. Also, with our Windstar, we pretty much leave the second row seat out all the time, which means it takes up space in the garage. The stow n’ go also eliminates that problem.

Most of the newer vans have double sliding doors, too, which is another nice feature.

Hey, Stainz, have you thought about a station wagon?


My mom drives a Mercury Villager and swears by it - she loves it, and I don’t think she’s ever had problems with it in the six years that she’s owned it. I’ve driven it a lot before and it’s really comfortable.

I hear you on the minivan thing, though - we’re planning for our first kid next year, and we know we’re going to need a bigger car since, for my own medical purposes, we’re going to try to have 2 kids in 2 years. I refuse to go for a minivan, but we’re considering a smaller SUV now - which we’ve both always had issues with. But I’m not going to fall over myself trying to get two kids in and out of carseats - hey, even if they’re three years apart, with the way the new carseat laws are, you end up with two carseats for a long, long time.

I just don’t ever want to break down and get a minivan…but I have a feeling we may eventually.

Avoid this one. :slight_smile:

*sorry SCR4.