Reader Question: Replacement for Totaled Van?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

David asks: We currently have a 2004 Buick Custom and a 1998 Dodge Caravan. Trouble is, my son (25) was involved in an accident and the van may be totaled on age. We don’t have a lot of money and I need a replacement vehicle, not necessarily a van. I am nearing retirement age and would like a vehicle that would be inexpensive to get, inexpensive to operate and maintain, and last well-nigh forever. Any suggestions?

My reply: There are many options; variables, too. You didn’t mention whether you need a vehicle about the same size as the Caravan – something that seats seven-eight people – or would be ok with something smaller.

Also, your budget.

So, I’ll offer up a few general and some specific thoughts.

First, if you need another van, the good news is there’s an abundance of them available on the used market for $10k or less. Vans are not “sexy” and so tend to lose value (depreciate) pretty quickly. The bad news is that they often lead hard lives, as family cars that are not well-maintained by busy parents. Finding a “good one” is a hit or miss operation and caution is the order of the day.

They also, as you probably know, use a startling amount of fuel and that is a considerable expense.

If you are open to something not a van, but not small – and less risky – I would recommend having a look at a Toyota Avalon, which is almost a full-sized sedan with a very spacious back seat and good-sized trunk. It is related to the Toyota Camry – which is mid-sized and only slightly smaller. Both have the same excellent/durable/low-maintenance 3.5 liter V6 (standard in the Avalon, optional in Camry) and these cars are both known for long, trouble-free lifespans.

I’d also consider a Corolla. Yes, it’s a compact. But you will be pleasantly surprised by how roomy it is – especially in the back. It has more legroom in the second row than many mid-sized and some full-sized cars. But the main thing is the Corolla is an almost-can’t-go-wrong car. Unless a prior owner poured sand in the crankcase – or the car went for a swim – these things almost never have major problems and will run for 20 years and 200,000-plus miles with regular oil changes/basic service and good treatment.

They’re also cheap to find in excellent condition. If you have $12k or so to spend, you should have no trouble finding one just two or three years old with low miles (less than 50k) in near-new condition; even $8k or so will buy you one that is hard to tell from new from 20 yards away.

Some more general advice: I would avoid anything with a turbocharger and a direct-injected engine (Toyota is among the last major automakers to adopt DI).

Please keep us posted – and if you have any follow-up questions, post ’em here!

. . .

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