Minivan Advise
June 20, 2006 1:54 PM   Subscribe

What kind of minivan should I buy? I'm in the market for a used minivan, something 4-6 years old. What make/model do you recommend? Why? I've got a bead on a Pontiac Montana. Any good reason to avoid it?
posted by kc0dxh to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yeah, it's a GM car. They're not exactly known for their durability. Most of the GM cars from the late 90's and early 00's had serious drivetrain problems, and they're out of warranty.

Look for a Honda Oddysey that's a few years old. They're rock solid... just change the oil and go. Bonus: Find a "Certified Used" Honda Oddysey and you won't have to worry about breaking down and not being able to get repairs. The Certified Used program guarantees it won't break when you buy it or until the car's 7 years old.
posted by SpecialK at 2:01 PM on June 20, 2006

Yeah, it's a GM car. They're not exactly known for their durability
They may not be known for durability, but that does not mean they are not durable vehicles. The press has had a bug up its ass about GM for years. For every rock solid Honda out there, there are 10 rock solid GM vehicles.
Most of the GM cars from the late 90's and early 00's had serious drivetrain problems
This is simply not true. lets see evidence.

I have a 98 Chevy Blazer with 106,000 miles. Its been a rock solid vehicle, and never had a drivetrain problem.
posted by bradn at 2:18 PM on June 20, 2006

The Odyssey is rated highest, but goes for twice as much as anything else in similar condition. This just doesn't seem good value for the money.
posted by kc0dxh at 2:31 PM on June 20, 2006

Ask over on the forums at (from the main site, go to Inside Line, then Forums, and register there). The members there were very helpful in my decision when buying a new car last year.

(Think of Edmunds as AskMe for car owners.)
posted by Doohickie at 2:42 PM on June 20, 2006

Better yet, just click on this link to get to the Edumnds minivan forums.
posted by Doohickie at 2:46 PM on June 20, 2006

The main thing to recognize with 4 to 6 year old vehicles is that they are hitting age related maintenance points about then, particularly as relates to rubber parts like belts and hoses and (if mileage is appropriate to age) also may need major service interval services, like transmission fluid and filter (for auto), coolant service, and battery replacement. So factor in the costs of these service related issues, and see that they are done, if you've got an otherwise decent candidate vehicle in mind, when figuring your offer price. It's a good idea to check the service record and run a CarMax report on any vehicle you are considering. Pontiac Montanas aren't standout vehicles in any category, but they're not known as being lemons either. In the minivan category, vehicle satisfaction has a lot to do with options, so I suggest verifying if the unit you are considering has the items you want as "must haves." Unpopular configurations can cut resale value sharply.

Also, if you care about appearance and resale value, taking extra care of the paint and body work at that age will be necessary, particularly if it hasn't been attended to recently.
posted by paulsc at 2:47 PM on June 20, 2006

We've had a couple of Mercury Villagers (exactly the same as the Nissan Quest) and they've honestly been the most reliable vehicles we've ever had. The one still in our posession is a 1994 model with 175k miles on it. I kid you not when I say beyond tires, oil changes, and spark plugs, we've spent no more than $1500 on that car in the 7 years we've owned it. We still use it on vacations, roadtrips, wherever.

A few friends have owned them as well with similar experiences.
posted by quadrinary at 2:47 PM on June 20, 2006

Oh! And Villagers/Quests are relatively inexpensive compared to similar vehicles on the used-car market.
posted by quadrinary at 2:48 PM on June 20, 2006

I had a Dodge Caravan for almost 10 years. I can't say enough good things about it. Reliable as hell, roomy, and hauled stuff like a champ. I miss it already.
posted by cosmicbandito at 3:06 PM on June 20, 2006

Value for the money up front, you mean. There's a lot more to the cost of a car than payments. Get a Honda.
posted by kcm at 4:26 PM on June 20, 2006

Have one in the extended family that I frequently drive. My impression is that it's not a lemon but it's not outstanding either.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:05 PM on June 20, 2006

Funny you should ask. We've been minivan shopping too. Consumer reports rates the Honda Odessey and Toyota Sienna #1 and #2 for a bunch of years running. The Honda used car dealer we talked to even said, "if you don't end up getting this one, get a Toyota Sienna" - good safety, mileage, reliability. Consumer reports rates the Dodge Caravan at the bottom. Around here (DC) the honda and toyota minivans are going for about $14k for a 2001 I think. The Dodge Caravans were about $9k. Maybe the consumer reports info drives the price of the hondas and toyotas up, and the caravans down, since it seems like a good rating in consumer reports is a big deal for resale.

I think 2003 was the year honda redesigned the odessey - the newer ones have more room, seats fold flat, and are generally cuter. And more expensive. I don't think we'll get one.

Anyway, my email is in the profile if you want me to pass along any more of my research.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:04 PM on June 20, 2006

The Odyssey is rated highest, but goes for twice as much as anything else in similar condition. This just doesn't seem good value for the money.

That's because they hold together well. $9000 versus $14000 is not a bad deal if you avoid $3k in maintenance per year for 2 years.

As to my experience with GM cars, I managed a fleet of Dodge Neons, Dodge Caravans, Chevy SUVs, and Pontiac ... uh, can't remember. The minivan. They were all new 00's and 01's bought through the fleet program. Every single one of them needed something major replaced every 30,000 miles. New torque converters at 31k for the neons, new transmissions at 29k for the pontiacs, new brake calipers (all of them started leaking) somewhere in that range for the dodge caravans. Sure it was covered under warranty, but the age of the cars you're looking at is when they're coming out of warranty. They weren't used for towing, they received maintenance with high quality components at the "harsh driving" schedule... although they were fleet/loaner cars, so they weren't treated gently.

I wouldn't buy an american made car ever after my experience managing that loaner fleet.
posted by SpecialK at 8:14 PM on June 20, 2006

My wife has a Pontiac Montana - bought new 3 years ago. Little things go wrong every few months: mirror motor, power locks, engine light, it's trying our patience. So far, we haven't experienced the dreaded intake manifold gasket problem - knock on plastic. If that gasket fails, coolant gets into your engine and burns in, required extremely expensive repairs. We would not buy this minivan again.
posted by mediaddict at 9:43 PM on June 20, 2006

Thanks gang. I wish there were a more clear answer. I hate car shopping. Scrimp for so long. Save up a great pile of cash, then bet it all.
posted by kc0dxh at 6:21 AM on June 21, 2006

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