Lifespan of a 1996 dodge caravan

my girlfriends car just broke down and we are in desperate need of a family vehicle for our daughter. so we found a 96 dodge caravan for $1,095 with 215,000 miles on it. it is a nice van and it is in our budget. but that is alot of miles for that price. i need to know if i should get the van and it will last a while or if i should just keep looking.

No one could even start to guess at how long that van would last because the most important factors are not known.
Those include the driving habits of the prior owner(s) and how well it was maintained.

If it was not meticulously maintained (only one in a million vehicles are) then you can safely assume this vehicle needs a number of repairs. Any high mileage vehicle needs something, or more than something.

Have an independent inspection to get an idea of potential problems and near future repairs, and estimated costs. Brakes and tires are usually the two biggies.

A chassis has so much life built into it. There will be fatigue points that will start to come into play here …depending on the level of service you demand. You’re at about the end of the typical reliable lifespan, but “it depends”. If it was well cared for and if you subject it to the same level of care …then you will probably get much more than you put into it. Figure 14 model years with 215k is about 15k/year. That’s a decent amount of sweet spot use. Not a whole lot of short trips possible. Less shifts out of the trans …less heating:cooling cycles.

Those are low-ball when compared to something like the transmission. There’s not too much to tell if that will last, but a disposable van for that price, just make sure there are no obvious problems with the engine or transmission. Check the fluids for obvious abuse, like gassy smelling oil or burnt transmission fluid. And be sure to look for signs of burning oil or slipping in gear.

Any car (van in this case) that is 14 years old and has over 200K will need some repairs. The only way to tell if it is a good car for the money is to have a good mechanic check it out for you. Then you may find out some of things it needs, like brakes, or if the motor is sound and the transmission is OK.

Even an inspection can’t keep a trans from failing suddenly. If your mechanic give a thumbs up on the van you’ll likely spend about $1,000 to 2,000 on repairs in the first 2 years to keep it going.

This vehicle is not a good idea.

One important question is how you will use the vehicle. This isn’t a car that you would want to drive cross country at 80 miles per hour. However,it might be o.k. for an around-town vehicle. Be certain to have it checked out to be sure it is safe. In a $1000 vehicle you don’t ask the question “Does this vehicle use oil?” but instead is “How much oil does it burn?” You don’t ask “Was this car ever in an accident?” but rather “How bad was the accident?”

Safety is the big concern. If it uses a little oil, oil isn’t expensive. A few dings in the body don’t hurt anything as long as the undercarriage isn’t bent. You may have to live with a non-working air conditioner and worn upholstery. Cars like this van may have some transportation value.

I have a '95 Caravan with about 215K on it. I’d drive it anywhere. (I also tend to fix most stuff myself though. E.g. right now it needs a ball joint, but this will not cost me much). Burns no oil. Shifts smoothly (trans was rebuilt at 135K). 3.8L motor that will still lay plenty of rubber if you want it to.

As others have noted - the key is a full evaluation just to see what’s around the corner. (Keep in mind that even just a new set of tires would run about $3-400 all told). Figure that if you get even 1yr & 15-20K out of it with minimal work you haven’t lost out.

But…I’d also say that with age and mileage that high and thus the unknowns - the price should look more like about $800.

One important question is how you will use the vehicle. This isn’t a car that you would want to drive cross country at 80 miles per hour. However,it might be o.k. for an around-town vehicle.

I tend to go the opposite. Around town will be the fastest way for this van to hit the junkyard. Classic “too busy to do anything but my agenda” soccer mom nonsense. More wear and tear than you can manage …more brakes …more steering …more bumps …more parking …more cold starts …

A laundry list of destroyers to already mature parts.

I had a 92 Caravan that was stolen a few years back. I routinely took it on longer trips. The thing was a shell behind the firewall. Many 200 mile one way trips to daughter’s college …350 mile trips to NuWingland.

If you really need an $1100 car, you cannot be picky. The best you can hope for is a car that is inexpensive to repair, and this is as good as any.

Where I live, anything that will pass safety and emissions inspection is worth $2000 no matter what it looks like. Any car that runs with decent tires and brakes is worth $1100.

Take it for a drive. If it drives OK (brakes and steering work properly) and the transmission shifts well, and the important electrics work (lights, wipers, defroster) and it doesn’t smoke much, and the oil, water, and transmission fluid are the proper colors, I would say go for it.

Cars in good mechanical condition that you would confidently send your girlfriend out in on a stormy night start at about $6k, and even in that price range you stand a good chance of getting a nasty surprise. For $1100, you can’t go too wrong.

You knew your van. The OP is considering an unknown quantity. Yes, around town drivng is hard on a vehicle, but if one were doing daily commutes to work over an interstate, the minivan isn’t the vehicle of choice.
My point is that if one is contemplating a long distance trip, I don’t think it would be wise to start out in this vehicle until one has driven it around for a while to see what problems it may have. My guess is that the OP has in mind to use it in the “soccer mom” fashion. As long as it is safe to drive, there may be two years of service or so with careful driving.

Points well taken. My conspicuous notation on the soccer mom modality was in a hope that the OP would do everything possible to refrain from falling into the commonality of such things. That is, don’t allow “too busy to think of anything except my daily agenda and a vehicle is like any other appliance in aiding me in fulfilling my tasks”. People can be clever in many ways. Wisdom is what is acquired …usually hard earned.

I’d add to the excellent advice already given, that if the vehicle is filthy inside and out, the oil is black, and the transmission fluid is a sickly orange, you can probably intuit that the owner didn’t care much about the vehicle and I’d avoid it.

I’d see if you can get it cheaper–see if you can talk them down. That’s a lot of miles and an old van. Start too low and work your way up. Kelly Blue Book means nothing in this case. But if the thing is in decent shape and has been maintained, there’s no reason you couldn’t get another 50-100K miles out of it.