We are demographic freaks and need a larger vehicle
September 11, 2009 12:55 PM   Subscribe

I have four kids and we our outgrowing our 1999 Mercury Villager minivan. Suggestions for something reliable and around 10-$15k (used)? Is there a database that lets me search vehicles by their interior footage?

It seems like we could save a lot of money if we bought a van instead of an SUV. How difficult is it to raise a van for light dirt road travel without making it dangerous on the freeway?

I'm open to van or SUV. We want something reliable, used, and in the $10-$15k range. Thanks for your help and suggestions. It seems like there is a gap between minivans and 15-passenger vans. We would use it as an all-purpose vehice for any activity that all of us might attend together. We live in Utah, and there are lots of canyons, dirt roads and other outdoor fun we could take advantage of with the right vehicle.

Bonus points if it gets more than 20mpg.
posted by mecran01 to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Most full-size vans are built on truck chassis (chassises?). I mean, think about it - they're for construction workers, who often have three tons of tools, ladders, equipment, and supplies in their truck. For that matter, most construction sites are rough as hell, too. I don't think you need to raise or modify them at all for any road you wouldn't need 4wd for.
posted by notsnot at 1:00 PM on September 11, 2009

Response by poster: That is a really good point. I guess I've seen the occasional river-running tour van that has been jacked up and assumed it was a necessity.
posted by mecran01 at 1:04 PM on September 11, 2009

posted by caddis at 1:11 PM on September 11, 2009

Response by poster: I'm thinking a 15-passenger monster might be the way to go after all. The Chevy Express has good axle placement, ABS breaks, and steering stabilization. It's embarassing, but I always figure out the best google search terms as soon as I get done posting here.

a review of a 2004 Chevy Express.
posted by mecran01 at 1:12 PM on September 11, 2009

Have you ever driven a 15-passenger van? 15 passenger vans freak me out a bit to drive. They feel very top heavy and sort of disassociated from the road. They're also going to have terrible fuel efficiency. I wouldn't want to drive one on a regular basis. They're also probably overkill in terms of your space requirements.

Large SUVs will seat you, your spouse, and your children comfortably. I'm thinking along the lines of a Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition. They're also suitable for the kind of terrain you're talking about (though they're not going to get much past 20-21 mpg highway, and about 15 city -- I think the Tahoe Hybrid ekes out 22mpg on the highway, 21 city).
posted by axiom at 1:13 PM on September 11, 2009

Google base vehicles.
posted by notned at 1:18 PM on September 11, 2009

Yeah, I'd urge you to take passenger/driver safety into consideration when making this choice. You can get a decent late model Toyota Sienna (i.e., safest minivan for most model years) for $10K - $15K.
posted by grateful at 1:30 PM on September 11, 2009

I've always used edmunds.com and have found their forums useful as well.

How long do you want to keep this vehicle? Will you be towing? Hauling equipment to these outdoors activities or just people? A fair number of vans or the midsize SUV's will handle 4 kids/6 passengers just fine but, because you'll need the third row for seating, you may only have limited storage space unless you to go to the Suburban size range. FWIW, I know plenty of families who have 100,000 miles on Suburbans that they never intend to give up, regardless of what their other car is, because it's just that convenient to have space and power in one car, esp when driving eight hours through the snow for a week long visit to Grandma. And the Chevy Tahoe is a smaller version of the Suburban and the Yukon XL is the Suburban under the GMC brand.
posted by beaning at 2:06 PM on September 11, 2009

When you say you are outgrowing your current van, is it because of seating capacity or cargo capacity? Or something else? As far as I can tell 6 people fit in your current van, so you're either wanting to haul additional people or additional stuff. Or are people crammed in too tight?

Also, how often do you need the additional room? Can you rent something occasionally and come out ahead? Have you considered a trailer? Most modern minivans can tow quite a bit; definitely enough for a small cargo trailer you could hitch occasionally for longer trips.

There are larger minivans now; I can't tell if your old one is one of the longer wheelbase models--I think it's not (112.2 in., compared to the 2006 Town and Country Limited's 119.3. The longer wheelbases have more room in the back. Also the stow-and-go and related type seating gives you compartments in the floor to use for storage. You'd be surprised how far you can take a minivan; if it's just dirt roads I wouldn't worry too much.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:26 PM on September 11, 2009

Response by poster: At the most we will be towing a mid-sized tent trailer. No other equipment hauling other than basic camping stuff. We have a small gear trailer too. I'm not finding a lot of suburbans with <80k mileage in our price range, and the Toyota Sienna may not be suited for occasional dirt road travel. The Chevy Express has electronic steering stabilization, making it slightly less of a death trap. I wish I had the skill to do a cargo van conversion. Also, I am not enthralled with the increased maintenance costs of the 4wd suburban. I will crawl through the Edmunds forums and see if I can elicit a response from the car/van/truck afficionadso.
posted by mecran01 at 3:40 PM on September 11, 2009

"increased maintenance costs of 4wd Suburban"? I've got a 4wd pickup, and I've swapped out the transfer case old and the front diff, once each. Nothing to it, really. And that motherfucker will go just about *anywhere*.
posted by notsnot at 5:04 PM on September 11, 2009

Best answer: Back in the day we outgrew our Ford LTD station wagon and replaced it with a Ford E150 van. You mention that you are demographic freaks. I'm assuming you mean this in relation to your sizes. There were only 5 of us. Both of my brothers and I are 6' or more. We went out and sat in some Suburbans and other vehicles. Let me tell you, a SUV won't cut it. That third row of seats is indistinguishable from the third row of seats in your minivan. Even the second row of seats aren't all that great. As far as gas mileage is concerned, the Dodge Sprinters have a diesel that will get you well over 20 mpg if I'm not mistaken. You may have some trouble finding a passenger version of it instead of the basic cargo one.
posted by ericales at 6:16 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, those Sprinters look great but the passenger versions are too expensive. Our van is really a 1999 Nissan with a Mercury badge on it, and it is the short wheelbase version. I've looked at a more recent version and it is better. I'm 6'7, and my wife is not especially frail, so we are looking at something the kids can grow into over the next ten years.

Many of the roads are rutted, but not jeep-rutted, if that makes sense. I guess we'll have to hit the dealerships and see what fits us.
posted by mecran01 at 6:48 PM on September 11, 2009

Response by poster: afficionado.

Also, I realize that I am falling into the trap of wanting uber-vehicle to replace several specialized vehicles, like buying an acoustic-electric guitar or an Enduro.
posted by mecran01 at 8:53 PM on September 11, 2009

What about the Honda Odyssey? You can probably get a newer one in your price range. My sister has one and her two kids are in car seats in the middle bucket seats and there's still a full back bench seat for three.
posted by bendy at 12:41 AM on September 12, 2009

Response by poster: I was talking with someone today and he mentioned you can buy a custom chip for the suburban and put in a performance air filter and get the mileage up to 20mpg. That is pretty tempting. He also mentioned you can put on smaller tires and smooth the ride out considerably.

Sprinters are kind of cool, but hard to find and expensive. It looks like a 2005 Odyssey is in range, but not so great for dirt roads.

Also, the existence of a third bench seat doesn't guarantee leg room, and in our current van that 2nd, two-person seat is starting to feel cramped, even for the younger kids.
posted by mecran01 at 9:50 PM on September 13, 2009

Response by poster: As I read a little bit more, that claim for 20 mpg with a chipped suburban is probably overblown. So something has to go from my wish list. Probably the ability to go offroad. Or we buy a third vehicle just for camping and rarely use it.
posted by mecran01 at 10:29 AM on September 14, 2009

Best answer: Ok, just a followup: We bought a 2005 Ford E150 for $8k with 70k miles on it, from friends. It is a former fleet vehicle from Texas. We still need to bolt in the third bench, but it has lots of storage space and will work fine on BLM roads.
posted by mecran01 at 12:41 PM on May 28, 2010

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