Reliable Minivan...or what to avoid


Talk to me like I know nothing. We’re looking for a 7 seater vehicle with 130,000 or less miles (we can be somewhat flexible if the vehicle is known for longevity), for $5,000 or less. I’ve heard Toyota Siennas are reliable and long lasting. I’ve also heard to avoid Chrysler. I do know that certain years of certain cars are no-gos because of design flaws, while other years are much better. My husband can DIY on repairs but doesn’t want something that will be constantly needing fixes. If this is too wide of criteria, please let me know! Thanks in advance!


5 years ago I bought a 2003 sienna with 220,000 miles for $1000. Got it for my kids to drive to school. Owned it for two years with only replacing a cracked radiator. Sold it to a high school kid for $400. He still has it and it’s a little over 300,000 miles. Still running good. I would recommend a sienna.


I am a fan of Chrysler when used and low price are criteria. There are so many of them. So many parts available at retail and at auto recyclers. Easy to repair and maintain. Not as reliable as Honda and Toyota, but much less expensive. More prone to cosmetic rust. Will never leave most owners stranded.


I don’t know about what you can get in the way of a reliable van for less than 5000. I owned a 2011 Toyota Sienna which we sold to our son. It now has over 126,000 on the odometer. While I owned that Sienna, I had to have the water pump replaced at 90,000 miles. That was a 975 job because the engine had to be raised to access the pump. The van we had previous to the 2011 Sienna was a 2006 Chevrolet Uplander which we also sold to our son which he still owns. When I rode in that van a month ago, it had over 200,000 miles and has had no major repairs.I know nothing about the reliability of Chrysler vans. I drove a Dodge Caravan from a rental fleet for a week. It was o.k. but I had asked the rental agency for a Duke Ellington Caravan and the agent said that the Duke Ellington Caravans were only rented to Sophisticated Ladies and I would have to settle for a Dodge Caravan. The rental rep was also a Duke Ellington fan


Whether or not you can buy a decent van for $5,000 or less depends on one thing: if you live in a region where rust is a problem. If you live in a region where cars do not rust, a low-mileage used Caravan from the 1996-2000 generation should be very cheap, and a low-mileage used Caravan from the 2001-2007 generation won’t cost much more.

If you’re buying a used 1996-2000 Caravan, I’d look for the 3.0L V-6 engine. The 2.4L 4-cylinder should be avoided from model years 1996-97 due to problems with the composite head gasket (replaced with MLS for 1998 and newer).

If you’re buying a used 2001-2007 Caravan, I’d look for the 3.3L V6 engine, or 2.4L 4-cylinder in model years 2001-2004. I would NOT buy a 2.4L from 2005 onward due to problems with undersized thrust bearings in this engine.

I had a 1995 Caravan, which I bought used with about 100,000 miles on it, and ran it up to almost 210,000 miles. It was still running well when it was destroyed in an accident. That van had the 3.0L engine.


Agreed. In regions where rust is a problem, the 1996-2000 need special attention to the front strut towers. Very prone to crumbling from rust, the eventual death knell of many vans of that generation.


How long you plan on owning it?


To meet your cost criterion, the van has to be more than 7 years old. That is plenty of time for anything to be abused. I’d look for condition first and brand later, after price, or course. When you find something you are willing to buy, get a prepurchase inspection by a mechanic you trust. Unless your husband is a professional mechanic, I’d pay $100 or so to get it up on a lift for a thorough underside inspection. A professional mechanic will also have diagnostic tools that a DIY guy won’t. You will ave a few hours to get the inspection done, and a pro offers the best combination of tools and cost.


My 2005 Dodge minivan was still reliable when it was totalled in 2013 with 130,000 miles. The book value at the time was $5k. If not totalled, I was confident it would continue it’s reliable service until at least 200,000 miles.