Should I buy this used mini-van?

You guys did such a good job helping me pick my last new car, I thought I’d ask you about a used van I’m looking at.

First, the specifics: 1996 Chrystler Town and Country LXI, 76000 miles, loaded, reasonable price.

This is going to be our second vehicle, used primarily to lug stuff and people around town, and we’re going to put maybe 30 miles on it in an average week. It’s nice enough, however, that we may take it on occasional car trips.

The only minor red flag that has come up was something that I thought was odd on the title search. It was first registered in November of '95. In October of '99, there’s a DMV listing for “Title Issued”, which I guess means that it was sold again, and the odometer reading was 10 miles. Then, according to odometer readings taken at emissions tests, it was driven about 5500/month for the last two years.

So, assuming all readings are accurate, on the one hand, we have a 6 year old van that’s only been used for 2 years, but on the other, we have a van that’s been driven hard for two years.



General Questions is for questions with factual answers. IMHO is for opinions and polls.

I’ll move this to IMHO for you.

Off to IMHO.

DrMatrix - General Questions Moderator

[Arthur] RUN AWAY!!! [/Arthur]

A brand new van driven only 10 miles over 4 years is curious. Coupled with the fact, doing the math, if it was driven every day for the next two years, comes out to about 183 miles per day. Every day. For 2 years. Which raises the question of maintenance, ie, oil changes every 2/3 weeks. Any record of that? If someone’s driving that much, I’d bet the upkeep wasn’t as thorough as it should have been. IMO, I’d keep looking, maybe spend a few more dollars, and get something that is not so potentially implosive.

Well, try forums for the van & see what people say about it.

Did you do carfax on the VIN nbr, LV?

Are you sure all readings ARE accurate? I’d think the thing would have been driven more than 10 miles just to get it to and from a dealership. Is there any way to investigate that further?

I think if you look at the current issue of Consumer Reports you will see that minivans made by Chrysler, years '94-97 are on the “used cars to avoid” list. Expect to have lots of repair bills.

On the other hand, it’s probably a very comfortable van and pleasant to drive. If you can get it cheap enough it might be worthwhile, figuring that much of what you save on purchase price is likely to be used for repairs.

(I have a '94 Plymouth Grand Voyager with 106,000 miles on it. It is very comfortable, nice for running around town and great for road trips. On the other hand, it is on its fourth transmission.)

Those mid-90s Chrysler product minivans are notorious for bad transmissions.

I would avoid them like the plague.

We looked into a similar van–briefly. Word on the street is that they blow their master cylinders at about 70,000. I don’t know if that’s true, but every source we looked at or talked to, reliable and otherwise, indicated that Chrysler vans of that vintage were to be avoided.

A 1996 Chrysler-made minivan? I have one word for you: RUN!

Not only do they have a history of unreliable transmissions, they also have (as I found out personally) a history of air conditioner problems and wiring problems. The air conditioner repair bill on one of these babies will give you a heart attack, or will make you say (as I did) “You know, being sweaty in the summer builds character for kids.”

As for the strange mileage record, I wouldn’t be surprised if that particular van had its body control computer replaced at some point. They go bad on the '96 models a lot and cause problems like erratic windshield wiper action, loss of power to the raido, etc. They also control the odometer, so if one is replaced the mileage is reset. A reputable mechanic should set the odometer to the correct mileage when a new computer is installed, but there is nothing to stop him/her from just putting in the new box and leaving the new odometer reading at zero. And without looking specifically to see if the body control computer has been replaced, there is no way to tell that the mileage is wrong (except for wear and tear of course). I had mine replaced last year with a salvaged computer and now my van with 100,000+ miles miraculously has only 40,000. (Since I plan on driving my van into the ground anyway I’m not worried about the ethical ramifications of the shady odometer numbers).

I hate to sound unamerican but if you’re going to buy a used minivan I would only look at Nissans myself. I can’t remeber where I read this (consumer products maybe?) but I do remeber reading that Nissans are the most dependable resold cars for the money.