Buying a minivan....
May 21, 2012 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Looking to buy a used minivan and need recommendations and resource suggestions. If anyone reading this is currently driving a minivan and would like to mention what they like or dislike about it, I'd love your input and recommendations. Also, is there a site that charts what the most reliable, low-maintenance fuel efficient models were, from years 2006-2011?

So, I'm looking to trade in my 2000 Chevy Astro to a smaller, safe, reliable, used minivan with a side door on each side of the vehicle, (very important) that will seat my family (wife, two kids under 5 and one grandparent.) Plus, I'm over 6 feet tall, so I'll need a decent amount of legroom in the driver and passenger seats.

We are not looking to downgrade in size to anything other than a minivan. We need (at least) 5 full-sized seats, and two of those have to fit car seats. Please do not suggest a vehicle that does not fit those criteria, thanks!

I'd like something that isn't going to cost me a bundle in maintenance bills or in gas. The Astro was ultra expensive for gas, but rarely needed repair. The car will be used every day for city driving.

What should I be looking for? What should I keep in mind? What do I need to know? Anything you can suggest would be appreciated. Thanks.
posted by zarq to Shopping (9 answers total)
If you're going to need two car seats, you'll want to avoid minivans with a bench in the middle row. Otherwise you'll need to come up with a way for the 5th person to access the back row without having to remove the car seats.

My family uses a Toyota Sienna (2007) LE, which has "captain chairs" in the middle row as basic stand-alone seats. The back row is collapsible in sections, which if we had to get someone into the back row and they couldn't squeeze past the middle, they can enter via the back hatch with some high-stepping. Not all models have these options, though.

Power sliding doors is a definite plus when arms are full of kids and groceries. Makes me wish I splurged for the power back hatch, too.

Maintenance costs are low so far, but gas is at a premium because minivans aren't exactly known for their mileage. The one thing I've noticed is that because of the power equipment and increased computerization, the battery life seems decidedly short.
posted by CancerMan at 2:24 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Used Kia Rondo with a third row?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:43 PM on May 21, 2012

I've owned two Siennas and they're the most reliable cars I've ever owned. I'd still be driving the first one if it hadn't been totaled in an accident. When I replaced the first one a few years ago I used CarFax to find another used one. I've had it for 4 years, have put over 60,000 miles on it and have only needed routine brake stuff. Two of my sons are 6'3", they've fit in fine as drivers and as front or back seat passengers. The second one I got is a bare bones model, no fancy features, and unless you really want those features look for such a model in whatever you buy.

One daughter-in-law has a Honda Odyssey she bought used and it's been equally trouble-free.
posted by mareli at 3:12 PM on May 21, 2012

We bought a used 2007 Chevy Uplander in 2008. I had never owned a Chevy before and I am quite pleased. It has two captain's seats in the middle and a bench in the back. Power doors on both sides. Flip-down DVD screen. Etc.

I have five kids and it fits all of our car seats just fine (we use three car seats).

I would never, ever by a Chrysler Town and Country. My parents had a few of them and they were crap. In fact, my dad gave us one after using it for a few years and it had tons of problems. For example, one day my key just wouldn't turn at all. I was at the grocery store with a cart full of just-bought items and two toddlers, and I couldn't get the key to rotate. It turns out the master lock cylinder had just gone bad randomly. Riiiiight.
posted by tacodave at 3:39 PM on May 21, 2012

I'd be wary of a mid-decade Odyssey, the initial Honda five-speed automatics were troublesome. You'd think by now they'd all be weeded out, but be careful. I'd go with a Sienna after they switched to a timing chain in the V-6, somewhere along 2007-8 I think. No timing belt replacement to deal with.
posted by narcoleptic at 6:11 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honda Odyssey! One advantage over the Sienna is that for the middle row, you can remove the center jumpseat and slide the rightmost captain's chair into the center, so that you have a spacious walking path into the back row from the right side door. Since you won't need all 8 seats, that seems ideal for you (as it is for us, with 3 kids).

It's hard to find used Odysseys because everyone loves them so much, they seldom sell them! But my sister and a friend have each found them (they had to be willing to drive to Ohio and South Carolina to collect them, respectively), and they've been just as good as my brand-new one, so far.

Try to get one with the rear-view camera. It's a great safety feature and has saved my son's Razor scooter from certain death several times already.
posted by palliser at 6:24 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

We just sold our Buick Terraza-horrible horrible, avoid at all costs. I'd suggest looking at Consumer reports used car buying guide, either online or at the library, and go from there.

We just bought a Mazda 5 and I'm thrilled with it.
posted by purenitrous at 7:26 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ok, so when you do this: plot the following things in excel (or your favorite spreadsheet)

Mileage vs price
Label by year, model and package.

You should see a few apparent things:
1. prices on used minivans are basically fixed and linear (+/- $50) and driven principally by proximity to warranty milestones.
2. Any cars that fall extremely below what you would expect generally are damaged. Confirm that via a carfax and conversations with fellow employees.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:03 PM on May 21, 2012

We rented a Town and Country for a road trip and were very pleased with the gas mileage and the amenities in our tricked-out buggy.

I'm a loyal Honda owner, but the T&C had some snazzy features and was very comfy. My thought was that this is a popular choice for rental agencies, so you may get some very good deals on a resale. We rented ours through Budget.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:53 PM on May 22, 2012

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