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When buying a used minivan or SUV

do I buy a higher-end older vehicles (Lexus, Acura, etc.) or average vehicles not quite as old (honda, toyota, etc.)?

Me, I’d give up features for a newer vehicle. Less wear and tear, and less to go wrong later.

Agree. The lower on the pecking order, the newer you can buy. Since many high end cars are just the same mechanically as many midline vehicles, it’s just a matter of deciding which options you can live without in getting the best deal.

Also, Toyota parts will cost less than Lexus, for example.

Also, Toyota parts will cost less than Lexus, for example.

For the exact same part…they cost exactly the same - either from the dealer or from an auto parts store.

For the exact same part…the Lexus part will cost more because you bought it at a Lexus dealer and it has a Lexus name on the box.

If you go to a Toyota dealer, they will be able to find the same part (with a different #) and a Toyota name on the box for a lower price.

Stay away from older luxury vehicles, especially those with high mileage. The repairs will kill you.

You often see mechanics and retirees drive those barges. The mechanic can do his own repairs, and usually drives less, while the retiree drives very little and likes the “prestige”. For ordinary working stiffs fighting the daily freeway commute a used luxury is the worst choice. You should get a reliable economy car to keep your expenses down.

It depends on what model you look at. A base 2010 Acura RDX with 45,000 miles in clean condition would sell for about $20,000 at a dealer. An Acura MDX with the same specs would sell for about $25,000 while an Odyssey EX-L would sell for $21,000 (same specs). Would a small luxury SUV work or do you want a full size SUV? What about trim level for the minivan and SUV? A base small luxury SUV is very well equipped to begin with.

What do you want? If you don’t want the luxury features, you’re better off with the newer, more modest vehicle. Luxury vehicles are usually less reliable as there are more things to break, especially troublesome electronics. If I could have a newer and/or lower mileage vehicle with all of the features that matter to me, why would I want something less reliable? What specifically are you looking at? Of minivans, the Toyota Sienna seems the most reliable. The Honda Odyssey has a history of some specific problems, though Consumer Reports still gives it a recommendation. Of SUVs there are more decent choices.

For the exact same part...the Lexus part will cost more because you bought it at a Lexus dealer and it has a Lexus name on the box.

And that’s NOT what I’ve seen. I own two Toyota’s and wife owns a Lexus. The parts from the Lexus dealer is the EXACT SAME PRICE for the same part at the Toyota dealer. The Lexus ES-350 shares many many parts with the Camry and Avalon.

If you think the Lexus part is more expensive…then buy it at the Toyota dealer. Or even cheaper at an auto parts store.

Thank you all for your input!

jtsanders: I don’t need a full size SUV, although I do like the Acura MDX. I have 2 kids that I need to be able schlep around with their friends, of course. And when my parents are in town, we have to take separate cars - they don’t visit that often, but it is a real PAIN when they do.

MarkM: “What do you want?” You ask a good question. I thought I wanted a minivan - Honda or Toyota; however, I am, for some reason, smitten by the Acura MDX. Probably because I like the idea of driving a high-end car. However, with the comments I’ve received here, I think I’ll stick with the Sienna - I like the AWD and hopefully I can get one with lower mileage than on the MDX.

One more question: Is it mileage or age of car that matters most? My 2003 Subaru has less than 100,000 miles on it and that seems to pump up the re-sale value. Do I focus on model year or mileage - all other things being equal?

"However, with the comments I’ve received here, I think I’ll stick with the Sienna - I like the AWD . . ."
I’ve been satisfied with the 2011 Sienna that we own. I have about 51,000 miles on it now. I would skip the AWD unless you absolutely feel it is necessary. The AWD Sienna uses run flat tires–there is no spare tire–and these run flat tires are expensive to replace and the tread life hasn’t been good.
However, the Sienna I have has been no better than the 2006 Chevrolet Uplander that I previously owned and sold to our son. The Uplander now has 125,000 miles and has had no major repairs and uses no oil. We visited our son and his family this past weekend and rode in the Uplander. I prefer the ride and seating comfort of the Upalnder to the Sienna. If GM had not quit making minivans, I would have purchased another GM minivan. I carry musicians and their instruments to rehearsals and performances on a weekly basis. An SUV is worthless for this purpose–you can’t get two string basses in an SUV along with passengers.

If you feel you need Awd and can get by with something less then a minivan, remember that the Awd in a Sienna is effective only up to it’s ground clearance which is less then a reasonable SUV. Though I am an Awd proponent, we live on a horrendous road and at least on the front half mile, a lady does quite well with fwd Sienna with snow tires. As good as Awd, no. But close effough with traction control, that I would consider Awd in a true SUV first and only get a minivan in 2wd. An Acura IS a Honda and is a very good vehicle. Btw, I would never get Awd as a substitute for winter tires; big mistake ! You can out drive your tires and with a minivan filled with people, you can easily drive too fast for your all season tires in snow to stop and turn. Not getting snow tires for Awd is like getting a Corvette and not getting tires that corner well. It’s self defeating.

@madkins, how much are you willing to spend? Have you driven the MDX and Odyssey yet? Your test drives are very important. Also, if ther is just one or two yeRs difference in age between the SUV and minivan models you like best, you can often find a low mileage SUV that will equalize the two.

The MDX and Honda Pilot are very closely related to the Honda Odyssey minivan mechanically. They share many mechanical bits, with the MDX floor raised to accommodate the AWD hardware. The minivans are also a few inches wider. The lower floor and the extra width (height and length are similar) mean the Odyssey is quite a bit roomier.

If your kids are little you have more choices in 3-row SUVs, as the third rows are often only for kids. Too bad they keep growing. No point buying something you can’t use in a few years. The awd Sienna is a nice combination of qualities. Three-row SUVs of note include the Toyota Highlander (recent models), Honda Pilot, and Mazda CX9. You won’t see the Mazda often, but not for lack of excellence. It’s handsome, roomy, smooth, quiet, and has an interior that would look at home in a luxury brand. There is nothing wrong with the MDX, but you pay for it being an Acura. The Honda Pilot isn’t as fancy, but is mechanically similar.

If your kids are little and you don’t plan on keeping this vehicle until they are full-sized, there is always the Mazda5 mini-minivan. It’s third row is only big enough for younger kids. If your kids are between four and twelve they may fit, at least for the shorter trips around town. If you want to be able to take the grandparents on longer trips (measured in hours, not minutes) this will likely be too small.

I also like the Ford Flex, but Consumer Reports doesn’t so much. It sits up slightly taller, but otherwise reminds me of the full-size station wagons of my youth. Back seat folded and you can seat five. Unfold it and seat seven, if only six comfortably. The seventh center spot is fine for a kid. I don’t know why most carmakers do this. People buying vehicles of this size want flexibility. There is plenty of width to seat three comfortably, but the middle spot is humped up and has a hard armrest for a seat back.

In the old days of front bench seats you could carry as many as nine, but now you need a huge van to do that. Actually, come to think of it, you could fit ten in one Ford we had in the early seventies. Instead of a rear-facing seat, it had a pair of seats facing each other with not much room for your feet. If you needed to seat ten some of them were likely quite small. You don’t have to climb up into a Flex, unlike most biggish crossovers, so it’s easy to load both kids and grandparents.

AWD can still be helpful on paved roads where ground clearance is not an issue. Most car-based crossovers also have limited ground clearance, with too little extra to often matter. The AWD Sienna only makes sense where a sedan with AWD makes sense.

If you travel much on hills, modern cars in snow and ice will use traction control. It operates using the brakes. Anything you can do to spare an extra brake job which often is much more then a set of winter tires, you do ! Awd helps obviously. Winter tires are the cheapest and help a car as much. Together they are unstoppable, figuratively, and will save money on brake wear. Just be sure the terrain and conditions you travel justify the cost of Awd. I would not get a used Awd van !

jtsanders: due to financial limitations, we won’t have much more than $10,000 plus, I’m hoping, about $5,000 trade-in. I haven’t test-driven anything yet. But I have ridden in both the Odyssey and the MDX. I guess I was just hoping to not have to buy a minivan - although i know they are convenient.

My kids are 7 and 10 now and we will need this next car to last at least 8 years, so the kids will be pretty big by then.

I like AWD, mostly because I feel safer in it. I live in the south, so snow really isn’t an issue. The awd is really about driving on slick roads with crazy Atlanta drivers:)

MarkM: thanks for your input. When I first started researching I was finding the Highlander on a lot of ‘best of’ lists for 7-passenger vehicles, I may have to give it a shot, too. I’d like to stay away from a minivan, if I can, but it just depends on what we can find in our prices range.

I like the Ford Flex, too. Why doesn’t Consumer Reports?

I think the Mazda 5 is cute, but I think the family will outgrow it too quickly. Everyone I know who has one really likes it, though.

Anyone have any experience or knowledge about the Buick Enclave? I think that’s a sharp looking vehicle, but don’t know much about its reliability.