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Which used minivan to buy?

This is a follow-up to my previous post here. I got some very helpful comments on that thread (thanks!), and we have said goodbye to our 2000 Toyota Sienna, and are continuing to look at a replacement. As I mentioned on the other topic, our budget is about $6,000 (or maybe a bit more), and we need a minivan. After doing quite a bit of searching on and on, and after looking at a few used minivans in person, I have narrowed down the search to these top two contenders:

  1. A 2008 Dodge Caravan, with 94,500 miles. This is a two-owner vehicle, with the second owner purchasing it around 40,000 miles. The Carfax report shows a good number of maintenance records, but only up to about 75,000 miles. After that, Carfax shows no maintenance history. (Maybe this just means that they took it to an oil change place that doesn’t report to Carfax, but there’s no way to know for sure.) This Caravan looks nice, but it’s a very basic model – e.g., no power doors, no built-in DVD player, no power seats, etc. That actually could be viewed as a plus though, because there are fewer things to break.

  2. A 2006 Chrysler Town & Country, with 75,500 miles. This is a one-owner vehicle, that was traded in at a local Buick dealer, and that same dealer now has it for sale. The Carfax report shows almost no maintenance history on this vehicle (only a couple of oil changes), but again does that mean that they didn’t do basic maintenance, or does it mean that most of it just wasn’t reported to Carfax? I don’t know. Unlike the Caravan, this vehicle has all the bells & whistles – power seats, leather seats, power doors on both sides, DVD player, sun roof, etc. It looks nice, though the leather seats don’t age as well as cloth seats, in my opinion.

Both vehicles are around the same price – between $6,000 and $7,000. And with either vehicle, I will make sure to have it inspected by a mechanic before buying.

Any advice on which one is a better gamble in terms of reliability and longevity? Or do you think that I should avoid both of these and keep looking? Basically, if I get either of these vehicles, I would be hoping that it lasts at least five years, without having to pour vast amounts of money into maintenance.

I also looked at a very nice 2008 Chevy Uplander that I could get for around $5,000, but I am a bit leery of the higher mileage (151,000).

That is the opinion that matters no matter what I think . A used vehicle will last as long as it lasts so you purchase and hope for the best.

Carfax can only report on what is reported to it, which is usually only dealer repairs. So they aren’t very trustworthy by themselves.

I agree with @VOLVO_V70- the fact that you want to get any vehicle inspected before purchase is what matters the most.

The Dodge will likely be more reliable because fewer things can go wrong with it. For instance, there is no power seat wiring or motor to break. If you like the amenities enough to buy the Chrysler, get it inspected by a different mechanic and see if you still want it after that. If not, you can always get the Dodge checked.

Here’s the good news: The transmission in the Honda Odyssey you are not considering won’t fail. It looks like these two are apples and apples. Why not a used Sienna? Just curious.

Trust me. I buy and drive older cars.
Rust is a killer on older vehicles!

Do you live where road salt is used in winter?

I would not buy a 2006 (11 or 12 years old) or 2008 (9 or 10 years old) vehicle that was driven in a state that uses road salt in the winter. That’s just flat out too many winters in a salt bath.

As others have pointed out, a check by somebody who knows what they’re looking at (you? … or a mechanic) is in order.

Ask specifically about rust. Reject any vehicle that has much rust. Any vehicle sold in your area could have lived in a completely different area.

You’ll throw good money after bad on a rust bucket.

See that “older” Grand Prix in the little picture at left? It has no rust! It lived in a better area than where I live, before I bought it.

The 2008 is the first year of a new generation of these Chrysler Corp. minivans. The 2006 is the second-to-last year of the previous generation.

We own a 2007, which we bought used because it was the last year the shorter Chrysler minivan was available. It is a better vehicle than our 1999 Plymouth Voyager, which had inferior strut towers that rusted through here in WI and MN. And the headlights on the generation ending in 07 are vastly better than the earlier generation. Our 2007 is getting badly rusted around the rear wheel wells and the bottom lip of the rear door.

By 2008 all these Chrysler Corp. minivans had ABS, an important safety benefit. Our base 2007 T&C does not. It is possible the 2008 redesign is more rust resistant than the earlier ones. A busy body shop might have some valid observations on that point.

I believe a used Sienna within OP’s budget would be older and higher mileage than the Dodge and Chrysler he looked at

Were I in his situation, I’d be looking at either a domestic or korean minivan, provided they get his mechanic’s stamp of approval

Assuming your mechanic approves, #1 . . . it’s a newer vehicle. It might have less rust and more safety features standard, versus the 2 year older Chrysler.

You don’t really need leather seats, power doors, DVD player, etc., do you? Leather seats that aren’t cleaned and treated fairly regularly tend to get hard as a rock and split wide open, at which point they’re even worse than the cheaper cloth seats.

I wouldn’t worry so much about the possible lack of service records. You’re relying on your mechanic’s inspection and judgment, not carfax

Have you looked at any Kia or Hyundai vans yet?

Definitely a valid question. I initially was looking for another Toyota Sienna or perhaps a Honda Odyssey. But with our budget, I can get a 2008 Dodge Caravan with less than 100k miles, for roughly the same price as a 2006 Sienna with 150k miles, to cite two examples of vehicles that I have actually looked at and taken for a test drive. Maybe the Toyota is still a better buy, even with the higher mileage and older model year, but I’m not convinced of that. I’m leaning toward a Dodge or Chrysler, based on being able to get a slightly newer and significantly lower mileage vehicle that still fits within my budget.

I’ll ask the mechanic who checks the vehicle about any rust problems. I suspect that it may not be a big issue for these vehicles though, because the Dodge Caravan I’m looking at was owned in Florida and Tennessee, and the Chrysler was owned in Kentucky. (There’s some road salt in Kentucky, and maybe in Tennessee occasionally, but much less than states that are farther north.) But these vehicles could have been driven to northern states during the winter, so I’ll definitely make sure the mechanic checks for rust.

This is helpful – thanks! I’m surprised that the 2007 Town & Country did not have anti-lock brakes, because our 2000 Toyota Sienna had them. (Though the ABS system on our Sienna stopped working about 8 or 9 years ago, and we never got it fixed – but it was in the original design.)

I’ll check both the vehicles I’m looking at to see if they have ABS, but based on what you said, it sounds like the 2006 T&C probably does not.

You’re right that I don’t really need the extra options, except that the power sliding doors would be nice. Our kids have gotten used to the power door on our Sienna, and our two youngest kids would probably have trouble opening and closing a standard sliding door properly. Still though, those extras are just more things that can break. And you’re right about the leather seats. I would say that the seats in the 2008 Caravan (which are not leather) actually look a bit better than the leather seats in the 2006 T&C.

I have not looked at anything from Kia or Hyundai, simply because I haven’t found any in my price range in my local area. Where I live may not be typical of the entire country, but I don’t see many Kia or Hyundai minivans on the road. I mainly see Toyota Siennas, Honda Odysseys, Dodge Caravans, and Chrysler Town&Countrys. And those four models seem to dominate the used minivan listings around here as well (along with a few Nissan Quests).

ABS and traction control became and option in 1996 on the Town & Country and Grand Caravan, you will have to check each vehicle to see if it is equipped with one or both.