Reader Question: Minivans to Avoid?

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

Tim asks: I’m in the market for a used minivan. I live in SD and most of the vans available up here seem to be Dodge and Chrysler. Having driven these in the past, I’m familiar with their notoriously bad transmissions in earlier models. These seem to fit better into my budget in the miles/price calculation. Should I stay clear of Dodge/Chrysler?

My reply: As a general rule with any used vehicle, it is condition (including miles, service history, evidence of care or its lack, etc,) that should be the first consideration. A brutally treated/horribly cared-for Toyota or Honda can be a very poor choice vs. a well-cared-for Dodge.

That said, I’d incline toward a Toyota Sienna as the best bet of the lot. Honda Odyssey second. Kia Sedonas seem to hold up well, too. If you find a Caravan or Town&Country that appears to be in good shape – and a close inspection substantiates this appearance – then it’s probably not a huge risk to buy one.

Due diligence and caveat emptor are rules to live by!

. . .

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  1. I think it’s too bad more companies don’t/didn’t make minivans with AWD. I feel like vans lose sales to CUVs for this reason alone in the snow belt. Sienna has it. The last GM vans had it years ago. Very excited that the new Pacifica also offers it!

    • I agree, Anon –

      It’s strange that minivans – which are about practicality – generally do not offer AWD. Crossovers- which are very close to being minivans (without the sliding doors) generally do have it.

  2. The Chrysler products get a bad rap. Most people refuse to read and follow their owner manual and maintenance schedules!!! If you do that, 95% of your problems won’t happen, cause that would prevent them!!! The engineering and design work that goes into these vehicles is staggering. The 2008 body redesign and new 6 speed transmission helped a lot. I bought and still have, a town and country, new in 08 with 3.8L engine and 6 speed. The transmission has been the most problem free one I’ve ever had. Just change the fluid and filter and go. The only issue with the 3.8L engine is burning oil. The 3.6L engine is even better than the 3.8, more power and torque, and no oil burning. The oil burning is caused by sales guys telling engineers to use thinnest oil possible, 5W20, to increase milage for a sales point. The trick i found is to use the original oil, 10W30, as per design specs from the early 90s. I went from burning 1 quart every 1,100 miles to using 1 quart every 3,000 miles!! But for the prices on minivans, I found the domestics to be a lot more affordable than foreign ones, on purchase price and parts and maintenance prices. You can buy a lot newer Chrysler with more safety stuff, than a comparable foreign van, for the same price. Trust me, I agonized over enough vans, went to way to many car lots and saw private vehicles too, and did the decision matrices and all the rest. And that was when Nissan was still making decent vans too. Although I would consider a 10 or 12 year old Toyota with all wheel drive, if the price and condition was right.

  3. The Honda Oddities have notoriously bad trannies too…..I mean it’s like EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM is bad (Only unlike the Dodges, the rest of the van doesn’t also fall apart).

  4. Gotta contribute to this one. I used to have a Kia Sedona. I believe it was a 2003, not sure as it got traded in some years ago. I’m not sure if they ever fixed this, but the engine was bad about oil. Specifically, even though I got it changed regularly, it still ended up with low oil situations, though not from burning it. I believe it gummed up or something, don’t remember exactly. Ended up having the engine replaced. Not good, and quite expensive. If I remember correctly, V6 engines from Kia and Hyundai from around that time period were bad about oil.


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