What mini van should my sister buy?
March 24, 2007 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend a mini van for my sister! She will soon be having her third kid, and the hand-me-down Buick LeSabre she drives now isn't going to cut it anymore. The tough part with this one is budget - she needs to get something for around $16k.

I'm an amateur car guy, but my focus is mainly sports cars. I can give her some general advice, but I really know nothing about what brands and models of mini vans are good. She found a 2001 Honda Odyssey with 40k miles on it that was in her price range, but after we did some investigating and learned that those are notorious for transmission problems, she decided to pass on that. I've heard that most of the vans in the 2000-2004 years had drivetrain problems of one sort or another. That seems to make things difficult, then, because newer models generally aren't in her price range.

Any advice the Hive Mind has would be appreciated, but the kinds of things that really warm my heart are, "I've owned x car for y years, and in that time I've had to do the following repairs on it..."
posted by autojack to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Consumer Reports recommendations for used cars sorted by price range.

We've bought the 2002 Toyota Sienna new and have never had any significant problems with it.
posted by grateful at 2:44 PM on March 24, 2007

I bought a Dodge Grand Caravan new in 1998 and drove it to it's death last year-I literally drove it to the dealership where I was trading it in and it died in their parking lot.

We replaced the brakes once and had the AC fixed once in all that time and we had 160k miles on it. The repairs were expensive, the AC repair was around 1000 dollars (but worth it in Florida). We downsized to a Pontiac Vibe, but I did like my minivan a lot.
posted by hollygoheavy at 3:00 PM on March 24, 2007

160K miles on our Windstar and we still enjoy it. Unfortunately, the Freestar (Ford's current minivan model) isn't as comfortable for taller passengers sitting in the rear seats.

I like the looks of the Kia Sedona (it's very reminiscent of the Windstar, to me anyway), plus it has an excellent warranty and great crash safety ratings.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:13 PM on March 24, 2007

If she can go a couple thousand more, a Mazda5 would be a great choice. It's smaller and more efficient than most typical minivans, but still has a ton of cargo space and three rows of seating. It's pretty fun to drive, too.

That said, are those three rows a necessity? How about a hatchback with a lot of smart and practical features, like a Honda Fit, VW Rabbit, or Nissan Versa?
posted by bhayes82 at 3:18 PM on March 24, 2007

For the growing family on a budget, you can't get any more reliable and cheap to repair than a Toyota.
posted by bizwank at 4:24 PM on March 24, 2007

To echo Hollygoheavy: my mother and I have put 180,000 miles on our Dodge Caravan and it still runs well. Anecdotes do not equal data, but it's actually been less expensive to repair and more reliable than our Toyota.
posted by Jeanne at 4:38 PM on March 24, 2007

I have a Honda Odyssey (2002) and we did have to replace the transmission although it was covered under warranty. Outside of that, it's a great vehicle. Toyota Sienna is an excellent choice as well, nice 'n peppy.
posted by mattholomew at 5:19 PM on March 24, 2007

"She found a 2001 Honda Odyssey with 40k miles on it that was in her price range, but after we did some investigating and learned that those are notorious for transmission problems, she decided to pass on that."

All minivans have transmission problems because they all use a car transmission and on average people grossly overload them on a regular basis.

Having said that the Dodge Caravan is IMO still the best bang for the buck, especially used. Their extreme popularity means they can be fixed by any competent mechanic. Parts are generally cheaper than imports and more available. Their suspension design is both simple and empirically best for both light and heavy loads. They are available in two sizes (Grand = LWB) and both give you more volume than competitors in less length (EG: The long-wheelbase version is 1.6 inches shorter than Windstar, but has almost 20 percent more maximum cargo space).

With the exception of the marketing disaster that the lack of those goofy folding seats was Chrysler has been the innovation leader since inventing the segment. The 96-00 models especially benefited from a ground up redesign to make them family friendly.

Get the dual sliding door model, it's the greatest thing since electric starters.

Full disclosure: I've got 300K on my 89 turbo and 240K on my 96 3l.
posted by Mitheral at 5:32 PM on March 24, 2007

Dodge Caravan. She should be able to get newer than you think - we got a 2003 for about half that budget. When we were used-minivan researching, the Dodge Caravan consistently got high ratings; they hold up well.

Totally get the dual sliding doors - my husband remarked again just this afternoon how great they are.
posted by Melinika at 6:14 PM on March 24, 2007

My sister has had a second hand 2000 Dodge Caravan, with the 4 cylinder engine, since 2003. She does nothing to her vehicles, not even oil changes, for months and years at a time. Every so often, I take pity on her current mule, and have some maintenance done, or replace the tires, but I haven't seen that thing in a year. She thinks that AAA exists as some kind of pre-paid maintenance plan, and she counts on them to come "fix her car" 3 or 4 times a year.

She's still driving it, daily, with 185,000 + miles.

Now that's a recommendation.
posted by paulsc at 6:26 PM on March 24, 2007

Mazda 5- About 17500 out the door. Small enough to get decent milage. Side curtain all around. Two sliding doors, plus way flexible. Plus, she won't look like a Soccer Mom driving it.
posted by rryan at 6:36 PM on March 24, 2007

Honda's are very well-built, run forever and beautifully laid out. They are more designed and thought out than american cars. They're just nicer, and you can get a hell of car for that budget.
posted by wsg at 6:51 PM on March 24, 2007

We have a '93 Dodge Grand Caravan which has been solid as a rock, zero major repairs and minimal maintenance since buying it in 2002, with about 185,000 miles on it now. We've been here there and everywhere, in reasonable comfort, so a newer one (much newer one for the buget!) would be a great traveling machine.
posted by anadem at 8:24 PM on March 24, 2007

There are reasons why Honda commercials are so rare.
posted by buzzman at 8:55 PM on March 24, 2007

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