Need advice on bigger vehicle (used) - preferably one I can sleep in!

I have an 06 Forester that is a great car, but I need more room. I’ll be taking a couple of extended trips this year (clinicals for my grad program). I’m thinking of a minivan b/c of room for my stuff & 2 cats, and can sleep in it if necessary when “on the road”. In reading these discussions, it looks like minivans have higher repair costs than other cars? My Forester is an LL Bean so I’ve been spoiled w/leather, heated seats, and I just put a great stereo in it that I can use with my iPod (important, to me!). Alas, I want to keep the cost below 15K if possible.

Another reason I’m considering a minivan is I have a funky hip that hurts when I drive (or ride in) a car for extended periods, and I’ve read that the seat position of minivans is much better for this. (I should also admit, I’m much older than typical grad student - middle aged, but strong & fit lady). Also, I’m tired of the trans on the floor, which takes up valuable “easy-to-reach” space. Would love any and all input - have been enjoying reading some of these discussions!

For awhile I had the “pipe dream” that I would get a travel trailer so I wouldn’t have to worry about finding housing for me & my 2 cats! It also sounded like a cool adventure. But I’m hearing that that would require complicated, expensive equipment. I’ll be travelling from Bismarck, ND to Billings, MT in January for 2 month clinical, then to New Hampshire (!) for March/April clinical.

I am not so sure I would plan on sleeping on the road in the Jan-Apr timeframe you indicate. Way too cold and too much bad weather. Idling the vehicle all night to keep warm is a no-go. Possibly look at a full size conversion or camping van for this excursion. Then sleeping in winter is less of an issue if properly equipped.

I do like my sitting position in my Mazda MPV better than in our Subaru. My first choice would be a used Toyota Sienna mini-van, since they seem to have fewer transmission issues than the Honda Odyssey. Overall my MPV has not cost me any more than our Subaru Legacy in repair costs. Each have 100+K miles on them.

Thanks for the input! I didn’t mean to imply that I’d be sleeping in my van in freezing weather. I can get to Billings in less than a day from Bismarck. But this summer when I was traveling with my 2 cats I paid $50 to sleep in an icky motel b/c a decent one that took cats would have been close to twice that!

I’m also going to be selling my Subaru - any advice on that would be greatly appreciated as well!!

Selling privately will yield you the most cash. Check out, and to get an idea of value for your Forester. Answer the questions honestly and accurately.

It may be possible to get a 5 yr old sslightly used 25’ travel trailer and a used truck to pull it for under $15K, including the receiver hitch and equalizer needed. A lot depends on your trailer hauling expertise, if you choose to pursue this option. While it may sound like a pipedream, I would investigate the possibilities. Many people may choose to get rid of used travel trailers now that summer is nearing an end, and the prices may reflect that.

It sounds like a minivan would be a good choice, although some will be better than others for your hip. My mother has hip issues and she does better in her Sienna than she did in the Mercury or Nissan minivans. Part of the reason is that the Sienna’s seat can be raised and lowered. Whatever you get, make sure you take it for a long test drive. See if they will let you take it home for a weekend-long test drive.

Regarding sleeping in winter, all you really need is a good sleeping bag, although that might not help your cats.

If you are going to be doing a lot of what RV owners call “boondocking” or sleeping parked at a truck stop, you might be better off with a “class B” RV which is little more than a conversion van with some RV amenities like heat and air conditioning, but no toilet.

Minivans do usually have higher labor costs for maintenance and repair. That is related to the fact that the engine and its components and accessories are hard to get to, but that would be the same with a full sized van too. How about a truck or a cross over vehicle, like the Honda CR-V or the Toyota Rav4?

I see less issues with Toyota Sienna mini vans than others on this forum. It souldn’t involve a lot more money if you get a good price for your Subaru. Take out the seats and you’ll have plenty of room to sleep.

A slightly used 2 to 3 year old Sienna would work fine for you.

Wow – the economy must be worse than I expected.


What about a Dodge Sprinter? Even the small ones are huge, And the fuel mileage is decent. You could get high 20s on the highway (it’s a diesel). They have been outfitted as RVs; you might see if any are available used. Here’s some pictures:

You could get a 2005 for $13,000 - $16,000 (not RV). I don’t know what a Class B or Class C conversion would go for, but don’t expect too many out there; it’s not that old.

A minivan wouldn’t be a bad choice. More room than a sedan or wagon. Better fuel economy than a full sized van, SUV or RV. (Relatives with a Honda Odyssey get 26 mpg on the highway.) If you like to get off into the woods, all wheel drive will help you avoid getting stuck. As far as I am concerned, pulling a trailer is its own punishment.

Make sure the floor is flat and there is enough room to stretch out after all but the two front seats have been removed. If a 4x8 sheet of plywood will fit, so will you. If you decide to buy a used vehicle, be sure to have it inspected first by a competent, trustworthy mechanic.

As far as temperature is concerned, my wife and I have slept comfortably in a tent at 25 deg F. You need a good sleeping bag with a hood to pull over your head. Also an insulating mattress (Therm A Rest or a copy). In my experience, you should take 10 deg off the manufacturer’s temperature rating for a bag. For example, a 20 deg bag won’t be comfortable below 30 deg.

Have you looked at the Honda Element? It’s not too much bigger than the Forrester, but it has a more adaptable interior that you can supposedly sleep quite comfortably in. It should also be cheaper, more reliable and get better mileage than a minivan. Plus it has the shifter on the dash. The AWD option would be good for the places you’re going too.

I’d like to inject a note of caution here.

As someone who was “between houses” for about 4 months a few years back, and slept in his car on a semi-regular basis, I have to say that one is very vulnerable in such a situation.

The nature of a car means that one can’t get too far from the road and is thus accessible. Unless the vehicle has deeply tinted windows, it’ll be obvious one is sleeping in the vehicle. This would invite those with less-than-admirable intentions.

To be fair, it never happened to me, but I always felt I was “sleeping with one eye open” in such cases.

Good luck, whatever you do.

That’s a good point. I would advise her to try to stop at Flying J tuck stops among the RVs. Flying J caters to RVers and has areas for them to park overnight. Buy a truck stop guide at a truck stop. They have listings of truck stops by highway and in order of exit numbers, with notes on what services are available. Then plan your trip and your stops using the truck stop guide. You will quickly learn which truck stop chains have the cleanest restrooms and the best RV parking. Generally, the closer you car park to a high traffic area, the safer you will be.

Wow -what a bunch of helpful tips! This is a great forum :slight_smile: About the Honda Element - I’ve looked at those (online) and not sure they would be comfortable enough for me (my old body needs more “cush” for long trips than it used to!!) The Honda Odysseys and Toyota Siennas seem pretty scarce in Bismarck, ND without driving over 200 miles…I did find a Sienna on AutoTrader today; its about 140 miles from me & I’m thinking of driving down there on Friday when I don’t have any classes. It’s an 05 LE with 89K miles; the dealer listing says it’s a well-maintained 1-owner vehicle.
Do you think my Forester will be hard to sell? It’s got 84K & is in exc. condition-was owned by a mail carrier before I bought it hence the high miles. I’ve had it a year & it’s been trouble-free.
I do like going in the woods when I can but may just keep the van for this year and for moving after graduation, then get an AWD later …
Thanks everyone - all the help is just great!!!

My wife has been rear ended several times. Seat comfort & support is very important to her. We purchased a Sienna new in 2004. She loves how it drives and rides. As far as repairs we haven’t had any. Just maintenance. But it only has about 27,000 miles on it.

When my kids were young, the Boy Scouts once in a great while would sleep outside in the snow. So, we have a couple good LL Bean cold weather bags, rated -20 and -30. When I drive into the snow zone in the cold months, we toss them in the back of our 2002 Sienna, just in case. Emergencies you prepare for seldom seem to happen.