beater minivans?
October 10, 2007 4:33 PM   Subscribe

Help my semi-broke young family find transportation we can afford!

Our 1991 Astro recently got totaled when someone decided that a stop sign didn't apply to them, so we're in the market for a new vehicle. We have two kids in car seats and about $2000 to spend. We are mainly looking for another minivan, although I wouldn't turn down a Volvo station wagon if one fell into my lap.

Previous AskMe questions about minivans talked about the Odysseys and Siennas of the world, which look great but are obviously out of our price range, and everything I've heard about reliable beaters has always been about cars. We don't need anything new or pretty, but we'd like it to run reasonably reliably. Decent safety ratings would be a bonus!

Are there minivans in our price range that are particularly good? (Models? Years?) Anything we should avoid or generally be aware of? Any advice or insight for us? Thanks in advance!
posted by streetdreams to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
I have been saving this link for quite some time: Beater Car Review.
posted by tumble at 5:22 PM on October 10, 2007

Beater Review lists the Dodge Caravan and the Chevy Astro.
posted by zamboni at 5:25 PM on October 10, 2007

Warning about early Toyota Siennas: crash test scores were, shall we say, sub-optimal, surprisingly so; ou might find one in your price range, but I wouldn't advise it for that reason.

Do your crash test research before selecting an older (or really any) minivan.

Other than the Sienna mentioned above, early Japanese minivans tended to be on the smaller side, but reliable. Early MPVs are particularly good, and cheap; just avoid the 4-wheel-drive versions.

If I were you, I'd look for a first-generation Odyssey (when they were more station wagon than van) or the Isuzu version of the same van (Honda sold them the tooling when it released their 2nd generation odyssey.) An older Subaru Forester might be in your range as well.
posted by davejay at 5:49 PM on October 10, 2007

Er, early Mazda MPVs. Should have said that above.
posted by davejay at 5:49 PM on October 10, 2007

Dodge Caravan is what you want, it is far and away the best value for the money of possibly any car but definitely minivans. 96-2000 is strongly preferred but the previous generation isn't bad either. The short wheel base model is generally cheaper because they were cheaper brand new. The 3spd 3L is the most trouble free combination though the 3L will probably smoke a bit right at start up. It's the valve guides and it doesn't really effect anything besides having to buy the odd litre of oil.

Caravan = SWB
Grand Caravan = LWB
The "grand" is not a trim level indicator.
posted by Mitheral at 6:23 PM on October 10, 2007

My parents just sold their early-nineties Mercury Villager. You can pick one up for under $2000. Theirs was a reliable high-mileage car (and pretty nice to drive for a minivan), though I'd check Consumer Reports to see how other Villagers have done on average.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:34 PM on October 10, 2007

Ditto Mitheral ...

We have a '97 Volvo 850 wagon (160K miles) and a '93 Dodge Grand Caravan (180K mi). The Volvo costs a VERY MUCH more than the caravan to keep running, though it's said that earlier Volvos last better. The Volvo was wonderful in an accident when we were hit hard from the side. The saloon which hit us was totaled; the Volvo rear passenger door became a V shape but still opened and closed. I doubt the Dodge would have survived.

The Dodge cost us $1200 four years back and the Volvo cost ten times that. I'm planning to get another Dodge soon, to replace the 850.
posted by anadem at 9:12 PM on October 10, 2007

Oh man, my soon-to-be-mother-in-law has a '97 Plymouth Grand Voyager for sale. Pity you're so far away from them.

That said, her car has served her quite well and is still in good functioning order, so maybe look for one of those. She really loved it and probably wouldn't have purchased a new car if her husband hadn't harped on the whole hybrid situation so much.
posted by bedhead at 9:18 PM on October 10, 2007

Consider Mazda - I'm on my second MPV. The Car Talk guys reccommended them except for leg room in back - not so much of an issue when transporting smaller people. I beat this car and it takes it (knocking wood)
posted by readery at 5:42 AM on October 11, 2007

Nissan Axxess.
posted by sfenders at 12:32 PM on October 11, 2007

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