Worth reviving an abandoned minivan?
May 6, 2021 10:35 AM   Subscribe

How dead is this minivan? Help me figure out if it's worth trying to revive a 2003 Honda Odyssey that hasn't been driven in a while.

My mother has a 2003 Honda Odyssey that she hasn't driven in 3-6 years (we're not actually sure how long). I'm helping her with home downsizing. This entails figuring out what to do with this minivan, but also junk and furniture hauling. It would be helpful to have a working minivan for this. So... how dead is this van likely to be?

Van facts:
  • Was in good working order before being abandoned.
  • Relatively low miles for its age.
  • Parked half-way under a carport. The back has been exposed to rain, but the front has not.
I expect it needs fresh oil, gasoline, battery, and tires(?). And maybe the brakes have rusted. Should I have it towed to a nearby mechanic, or should I try to get it running well enough to limp there under its own power? What else is likely to be wrong, mechanically, because of extended disuse?

The alternative is to donate it to charity as-is.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
Best answer: If it were me, I would check the oil, and see if it's at an appropriate level and looks like oil, which is translucent and brown (not watery, not black tar). I'd check the tires to see if they hold air and look like tires (not dry and crumbly and covered in huge cracks). I'd check for obvious rodent damage (are wires and other things under the hood chewed up?)

If it freezes where you are, the battery will be shot, and it still will be if it's more than 5-6 years old (it should have a date marked on it.) If it passes the above tests, I'd get a new battery and start the thing and see if it drives. You are right that the brakes might be iffy, especially at first, be careful.

If it drives, I'd take it for an oil change. If it doesn't start or doesn't drive safely, I'd consider towing it to the mechanic for an initial diagnosis.

This isn't that old, but it's also probably not worth dumping money into.
posted by fritley at 10:51 AM on May 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If you do not already have a AAA account, it is worth the yearly fee just to get them to come out, test the battery (possibly replace it, but it seems to depend on the car and region now), and tow it to a mechanic of your choice for a basic service and inspection.

If you need to get rid of it, you should try selling it as-is - Odysseys are popular DIY campervan conversions and it could be desirable for parts or as a project.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:54 AM on May 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On top of that? All the fluids, really. Check anything that degrades. Spark plugs. Vacuum lines and hoses. Belts. (That era Odyssey has a timing belt: though it's mileage and not time that wears it out, if that goes while driving it's probably toast.)

You can do some of the things and think you can get it to the mechanic, and then something not great happens en route. Get it towed to a mechanic you trust or is recommended to you, pay for a full inspection, work out whether the estimate for work is worth the investment. Hondas are pretty bombproof but there are a bunch of known unknowns for you right now.

And like Lyn Never says, signing up for AAA -- the Plus level is probably the best overall deal -- will get you a basic battery check and a tow for about the cost of a tow alone, along with a year of benefits.
posted by holgate at 10:59 AM on May 6, 2021

Best answer: Have a 2008 Odyssey. Double yes to the belts. Drive belt (kind of controls lots of things) is to be changed by about 100k miles according to Honda. I let mine go further, as it was in very good condition, and was fine. But if that goes, Honda charges a bunch of $$ to change the belt and the van is not drivable until they do. Know that when you reconnect the battery and have power again to the system, the radio may disengage and need to be unlocked by Honda. Not hard, just a series of codes that have to be entered using the numbered keys (pre-set stations). Not a big thing, but super annoying after a while.

Agreed to the other advise here. Take a quick look but I'd not burn a lot of time unless you discover super-low miles and extensive service records. I'll cross my fingers for you.
posted by zerobyproxy at 11:21 AM on May 6, 2021

Best answer: This is anecdotal, but I have a 2012 Honda Odyssey, and i don't find them cheap to maintain due to their huge size, and on cars.com I see a 2007 with 130k miles for $4k. So yours is 4 years older- I'd not put more than $1000 to repair it. That's barely a set of tires and a battery, probably not any of the belts. I had mine replaced, I recall it being relatively expensive.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:27 AM on May 6, 2021

Best answer: BTW, mine currently has a $3k repair bill due for things like suspension parts, shocks, spark plugs, and I just spent $2k replacing the catalytic converter and other suspension parts. Like I said, they are expensive to maintain when you are using them. I'm sure yours needs all the same stuff plus more.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:35 AM on May 6, 2021

Best answer: Well, and the flip side is: What's the expected future life? Lugging some heavy stuff around that you would otherwise have had to rent a truck for? Tootling around from your mother's house to the town dump to unload the detritus of living? Anything other than attempting to make it suitable as someone's daily driver and I'd say maybe pour a couple hundred into new fluids and treat it gently until you ultimately call AAA to tow it to whoever will accept a mostly dead 18 year old minivan.

On the other hand, this is also the sort of thing that shadetree mechanics will snap up, dump a couple more hundred into cleaning up the immediate faults, and drive until it falls apart. Different strokes for different folks.
posted by Kyol at 11:49 AM on May 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all. For the future life, I’d like to use it for family trips this summer, but only after it gets a clean bill of health from a mechanic. So it would have some value to me beyond junk hauling. I’m not over there right now to read the odometer, but I’d be surprised if it had more than 60k miles.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:21 PM on May 6, 2021

Best answer: Check the gas. Gasoline goes bad. You can smell it. Do not run it on bad gas. It will ruin the engine. Big time.

I would drain the fuel cell before trying to start it and replace with new gasoline.
posted by AugustWest at 6:23 PM on May 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

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