Reader Question: Used Minivan Calculus!

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Here is the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Caitlin asks: Hi there! We just had our second kid and are looking to upgrade from a ’98 Corolla to a 2014 or newer Honda Odyssey. I had the 2014 in mind because of some attractive features they added that year. My question is this: For our price range (no more than 18k total including tax, fees, etc.) we can either afford a newer car with more miles or an older car with fewer. Does it matter? What’s the difference between a 2015 with 100k miles and a 2014 with 60k? We’re the kind of family to drive a car into the ground, so this purchase is likely to last me a while so I don’t want to mess it up. (Writing that down makes me realize why I’ve been so stressed about it…) I’ve never bought a car that wasn’t a beater or a hand-me-down, so I’m not sure what factors to consider. We don’t have a lot of savings, so this is a big deal. Thanks for your help with this.

My reply: Whenever I am asked about used car buying I always harp on condition uber alles. A well-treated, well-maintained eight-year-old car with 100,000 miles can be a much better buy than a five year-old car with 60,000 miles that was “rode hard and out up wet,” as the saying goes.

So, first and foremost, focus on the condition of the vehicle you are considering more than the make or model or the year or the miles. I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not buy any vehicle which you haven’t had checked out by someone you trust who is competent to check it out. If your Spider Sense tingles about anything, listen to it.

Now, as regards specifics:

The thing I would dread most about buying a new or recent vintage minivan is that these things have morphed from being utilitarian family vehicles into high-end (and not-very “mini”) luxury RVs, laden with electronic features that can be expensive to repair/replace when they fail.

Toyota still makes a less-loaded version of the Sienna, which is the Odyssey’s direct rival. I’d consider having a look and comparing the relative pros and cons of each and specifically, looking for one (of either) with the fewest electronic baubles to reduce your exposure to repair costs.

A wild card idea comes to mind, too.

Have a look at the Ford Transit Connect van (my review is here). It actually is “mini” and yet can handle seven passengers. These are inexpensive, too. You could probably pick up a 2-3 year old one for much less than your budget. Granted, these are not a “nice” as the Odyssey or Sienna, but they are what minivans used to be but aren’t anymore.

Keep us posted!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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