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Minivans - Domestic or Foreign



  • bluedevilsbluedevils Posts: 2,554
    Hmmm. I didn't consider that scenario in my buying process. Somehow I don't feel stupid for not doing so.
  • Hello group,

    I'm looking for help in minivan shopping. My wife and I have just found out that our second child is going to be twins, vaulting us to a family of 5 and out of our Honda Accord (other car is a Nissan Maxima). Our daughter will be two and a half when the twins arrive, so we'll have one booster seat and two rear-facing car seats; three car seats of some sort for the next few years.

    We think a station wagon is going to be too tight (willing to hear your comments on this point), so thinking minivan. Our criteria are 1) safety (I saw the post about third seat fatalities but haven't heard much else on this point), 2) comfort/convenience loading and unloading the kids, 3) Price, 4) Performance (mileage, low emissions, handling in rain/snow/ice). Usage will be primarily local driving but we expect to do the occasional holiday weekend roadtrip (DC to BOS).

    There's a used 1997 Dodge Caravan ES with 73,000 miles (75,000 extended warranty) in good condition available in our neighborhood for $6,500. We like the styling and the size seems right. I like the flexibility of the movable car seats. I envision removing one of the pilot seats to ease getting to the back row.

    Would appreciate any input you have on the subject -- especially about managing mulitple car seats and the safety issues.

  • David -- about the used Dodge -- I own one (a 97 no less) and that's about when a lot of issues seem to hit at least for me. If you don't mind a few k in repairs then perhaps it will work. The styling isn't bad and it is a good vehicle other than having a bad rep for being unreliable at high miles. YMMV.

    I own two minivans -- a 97 Dodge Caravan and a 2002 Kia Sedona. Is one better than the other? The Dodge was cheap but I have over 2500 in unscheduled repairs in it easy at 80,000 miles -- all between 70,000 and 80,000 miles. The KIA has about 14,000 miles on it and it is a good car so far -- much more power than the Dodge.

    The Honda we don't own -- it looks nice but overpriced currently. It's a Honda, not a Mercedes.

    I tend toward a cheap Dodge/Chrysler (i.e.: if they don't give you 5k off list to start with walk -- that is the minimum discount you should get new and that is what you should expect to base your used price off of as well -- and Dodge/Chrysler apparently does not know how to make a reliable high milege vehicle (my opinion based on my experience)). The Kia is good and inexpensive but won't get as good a milege but will cost you less in maintenance it seems.

    Mazda is definately another consideration as is the Mercury which is dirt cheap new right now!!!!

    I've always either bought new or really, really old -- never been brave enough for the middle ground. As I said the Dodge looks good and the price isn't bad but the reliability issue is there. You will find that many 6 year old Chrysler/Dodge minivans are out there and they are cheap -- if you don't finance then used could work just set aside 3k for fixes and hope it's not the transmission which can cost you big bucks.

    If you finance consider newer and/or new and remember to drive the discounts especially on the domestic cars.
  • rylesryles Posts: 19
    My wife and I also had our second child magically turn into twins, immediatley vaulting us into the 5 person family. We went with the Pontiac Montana, as it and it's twin (Chevy Venture) are the only vans to offer 3 across seating in the second row. A big plus for reserving storage space in the back. We can fit 3 car seats in the second row, and fold up or remove the 3rd row. I figure this arrangement is good for at least the next 5 years.

  • cavillercaviller Posts: 331
    Since safety is your #1 criteria, please also consider the Ford Windstar. It had the best overall crash test scores for any minivan until the 1999, when it was surpassed by Sienna and Odyssey (For some reason the IIHS recently downgraded the 1999+ Windstar to "Acceptable" from "Good" in the offset crash test). Windstar also has the nicest array of carseat tether anchors standard since 1995. Ford also added LATCH for 2000, a year earlier than other models. 1995-1998 Windstars are usually pretty good values. Do avoid the 1995 Windstar with the 3.8L V8, though.

    Also see:

  • bluedevilsbluedevils Posts: 2,554
    If you have any safety questions, caviller will be sure to answer them! He (she?) is one of the most helpful and reasonable of all the Town Hall participants.

    There are several minivans that score pretty well in the various crash tests, but there are also several that do quite poorly. In the 'poorly' category, the GM cousins (Olds Silhouette/Chevy Venture/Pontiac Montana) stand out. Odyssey, MPV, Sienna, Windstar, and Sedona all fit into the 'pretty good' crash test rating category.

    However, there are differences in which type of crashes each van handles well or not so well. One can almost go crazy worrying about this. My bottom line: safety is important to me too, but there is no perfectly safe vehicle. I'd avoid the ones that are really rated poorly and consider all others.

    I don't recall where the DCX vans fall in safety-wise, but the info is readily available online.

    We are a family of 3 with a likely max of 4 or 5. We bought a Kia Sedona in February and really enjoy it. We do lots of weekend trips but nothing further than 150 miles each way so far. For a family of 5, you probably don't need one of the bigger minivans-- for me, this 'bigger' group includes Windstar, Odyssey, the extended-wheelbase GM cousins, and the Grand Caravan/Voyager. You'll probably have plenty of room in an MPV, Sienna, Sedona, Villager/Quest, short version of the GM cousins, or non-Grand Caravan/Voyager.

    If you are shopping new, the Sedona offers a very attractive price. Actual price tops out around $22k for the loaded top-level EX model. You can probably do quite well on Villager/Quest too. MPV is a little pricier but generally costs less than the larger minivans.

    Our Sedona EX is rated only 15 mpg city and 20 highway, but we are seeing 19.5 mpg overall with a roughly 50/50 city/highway split so far. About 17 in straight city driving and 22-23 in 75mph highway driving. We really are enjoying our Sedona so far. Its quality is far above that of typical Kias in the past several years.

    If you're considering used, the price issue becomes more confusing because you can always go older or higher-mileage to get a model that costs more new.

    One other thing to consider is that some SUVs accommodate 3 child seats in their 2nd row seat. I haven't tried it, but someone on the Isuzu Trooper forum says his newer Trooper handles 3 standard car seats. Ours has 2 in it now (our niece came over to visit our daughter today) and it looks like a third would probably fit.
  • pluto5pluto5 Posts: 618
    03 Impala has room for 3 car seats in the back seat with Latch system. Safer than using the 3rd row in any minivan IMO and the front passenger can monitor children more easily in the back seat of a sedan than in the 3rd row of minivan. Car was over $7K cheaper than DC EL van and more drivable IMO. For a family of more than 5 I would go with the Suburban. Just my opinion.
  • pluto5pluto5 Posts: 618

    new use for minivan/min-SUV third row seat:

    TV couch for rec room

  • Results of this particular crash test give the GM vans poor ratings in the laboratory, yet in the realworld insurance loss stats for injury, collision and theft, the Olds and the Montana are rated best in injury.

  • pluto5pluto5 Posts: 618
    I believe you will find that these stats are constructed based on frequency of injury, not severity of the crash. For example, if a passenger is killed there are no medical payments by the insurer. Something to consider IMO.
  • I think from reading at IIHS, are based on "losses," i.e., dollar payouts by the insurance companies. I imagine losses includes injury, death, medical bills, pain, suffering, lost wages, etc. which I suppose tend to increase with the severity of the crash.
    Re fatalities: I can't find any deathrates past 1997 or so, which excludes many newer vans. At any rate, IIHS says, "Fatal crash injuries are relatively rare, so they have little influence on insurance losses for injuries. Such losses are dominated by the far more frequent low to moderate severity collisions and their associated injuries."
  • pluto5pluto5 Posts: 618
    Exactly my point. If a child gets killed riding in the third row seat it doesn't cost the auto insurer any more than if the child hadn't been there.
  • Does this mean if I'm at fault & someone is killed in the other car, my insurance doesn't pay their survivors anything?
    From consumer info sites:
    "Bodily Injury Liability
    The medical costs of injury that you cause to other people, loss of income for someone you injure and the cost of your legal defense if you are sued and determined to be at fault in the event of an accident involving injury or death."
    "Bodily Injury Liability
    Pays when an insured person is legally liable for bodily injury or death caused by your vehicle or your operation of most non-owned vehicles."
    What I understand is that the GM minivans' good rating in the IIHS injury category includes any & every type of loss, including any injury or death attributable to frontal-offest crashes. Meaning that in spite of the poor rating in the frontal-offset labtest that overall in the real world the GM vans are above average in minivan safety. Although since as a group, minivans are very safe, I think this is mostly hairsplitting.
    Put another way, the statistics show that the individual labtest doesn't say much about your likely overall safety, just what is likely to happen in that particular type of crash.
  • cavillercaviller Posts: 331
    Regarding minivan 3rd row seating:

    There is some concern about 3rd row seats that are too close to the rear hatch. Loaded with heavy adults, the seat back can fail and may lead to injury. Fortunately, severe crashes from the rear are uncommon, about 4-7% of all crashes. Having and using 3-point lap/shoulder belts and properly adjusted head restraints will also minimize any risk. Finally, kids in a harnessed carseat are at the least risk in a third row seat. Their low weight is unlikely to load the seat back to failure, the 5-point harness greatly reduces the chance of ejection and the shell of the carseat also offers some protection from intrusion.

    I have no problem putting my kids in the third row seat of our minivan in a harnessed carseat. In fact, the middle of the third row is quite possibly safer than the outboard spot in the second row of a minivan or sedan. That is because side impacts are more common and more severe than rear impacts, and there is even less crush space.

    I would have a problem putting myself into the 3rd row of a vehicle with no shoulder belt or head restraint, especially if other adults were in that seat also. The increased weight and lack of appropriate restraints increase the risk significantly, and even more in a smaller minivan or SUV with less than a foot from the 3rd row seat ot the rear hatch.

    The back seat of a well designed sedan is likely to be somewhat safer in a crash from the rear than a minivan or SUV 3rd row. On the other hand, you trade off the extra 1000+ pounds for more common and more severe frontal crashes. In frontal crashes, minivans have the advantage of significant extra weight. As they are based on car platforms, they also retain the crushability of a unibody chassis and the better rollover characteristics of a car, too...

    Second, on injury and death data-

    These do have a small component of real world crashworthiness in them. Unfortunately, they also have a large component of driver profile. Notice that structurally identical twins (Villager/Quest, GM Trio, GC/T&C, etc) do not have the exact same loss ratings, and are sometimes quite different. In addition, most car-based minivans are in the best categories of injury and death rates compared to other vehicles. In my opinion, the numerical difference between two vehicles that are both "Substantially Better Than Average" in loss rates is not nearly as impressive as the difference between "2-stars" and "5-stars" in an NHTSA crash or rollover rating, or a "Good" vs. Marginal" in the IIHS offset test.

    Offset crashes are not uncommon. If your vehicle is in one, it's very likely to perform similarly to the crash test. Yes, the angles and momentums can vary in the real world. Even so, these standard tests are precisely controlled and the parameters are well known. If a manufacturer can't even design for an Acceptable result in such a test, I would not trust them to have designed the vehicle to do any better in crashes that vary slightly...

    If you buy a vehicle based only on the death or injury rates, you have mostly just put yourself in the same risk category as other drivers of the same vehicle. Maybe you're less likely to be involved in a crash with "loss" in the first place, but when you are in one you better hope your vehicle performs well in the standard crash tests, too....
  • artgpoartgpo Posts: 483
    Another place where the GM triplets scored high was on the property damage claim amount. The Silhouette scored the lowest claims for both injury or property of any large vehicle. You can go to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's own web site and check out the numbers for yourself.

    The crash test results were interesting in that no test has been conducted since 1997.
  • rylesryles Posts: 19
    If you have the Pontiac or Chevy, you don't even NEED to put one of the 3 children in the third row. They'll fit in the second row, leaving LOTS of room behind the second row for storage, impact absorption, etc. We've been very happy with this solution, and I would doubt that an Impala would have gotten our new refrigerator home as did our Montana.
  • cavillercaviller Posts: 331
    "The crash test results were interesting in that no test has been conducted since 1997."

    If no changes have been made to the chassis or restraint system, the IIHS will generally not retest a vehicle. The NHTSA will often carry test results over to the next year or even two if no redesign has been made to the vehicle.

    Expect the next IIHS test for the GM Trio to be when GM refreshes the vans or updates them with an all-new model.

    If you know there have been significant changes to a vehicle and it has not been retested, it is a good idea to write the IIHS. They have generally been pretty responsive to my inquiries. I am currently awaiting a response as to why the 1999+ Windstar was downgraded from "Good" to "Acceptable" overall in the offset crash rating....
  • pluto5pluto5 Posts: 618
    You got me on the fridge, but I don't think I would spend $7K more to buy a van to haul a fridge every 20 yrs!
  • *While the number of stars has remained constant, the actual force mesurments have changed over the years for the GM triplets at the NHTSA site. So even though there have been no design changes, it seams the NHTSA has continued to test and get slightly different results, which I think questions the actual duplicatability of the results.

    *While it is unclear if "deaths" are in the "injury" ratings for the HLDI lists, they do say that "Collisions that result in serious and fatal occupant injuries are relatively rare, so they have only a small influence on the insurance injury results reported in this publication."

    *Another good example of the paradox between the IIHS and HLDI is the Toyota Tundra. Toyota ads claim it to be the best scorer from the IIHS, but the HLDI (which is funded by the IIHS) has it near the bottom for injury.

    *One thing that always comes to my mind when I see the tests (IIHS), is that should I ever be in that situation, I would think I would 1) get off the gas, 2) step on the brakes, or 3) steer to move the car. I would think it possible the other driver would do simular things. All of which the test dosen't take in to effect. This could result in the differences betweeen lab and outside. Which could mean that a vehicle designned for the crash test may not perform as well on the road.

    *And keep in mind all these tests concern mostly the driver. At 6'4" and 310 lbs, I believe the current crash dummies do not reflect what might happen to me.

    *So my feelings have been, choose the vehicle that best meets your needs and has features you desire, if if two are close then think about reputation and safety.
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