By on December 29, 2009

Welcome to TTAC’s latest feature “New or Used?” In this series, your car-buying questions will become a battleground between the forces of the used-car market (as represented by our in-house auction specialist Steve Lang) and the new-car market (as represented by Mr Sajeev Mehta of Piston Slap fame). Send your automotive scenario to [email protected], and let these skilled pundits for the new and used car markets battle it out for your business before handing the debate off to TTAC’s Best And Brightest. This week we have a hypothetical scenario to get things started, in which a young family finds itself in need of a lot more space. Will they be swayed to buy new or used? Let’s read on…

Guy and Ashley write:

We’re a young family with a one-year old, and we just found out we have twins on the way! Obviously we’re going to have to keep our costs down, so price, reliability and efficiency are important, but we absolutely need a vehicle that can fit three carseats. Any ideas?

Steve Lang: Welcome to Minivan-land! There are some cars out there that could fit three car seats. But it also depends on the car seats. If your budget is under $5k and you absolutely refuse to buy a minivan, there are rear wheel drive Volvo wagons. Volvo was one of the very few to offer tethers for seats, and they were pretty much the only ones to offer a legitimate side impact protection system before those things were ever fashionable.

Unfortunately the last full-sized Volvo wagon that could hold three car seats was made over 10 years ago and the last ‘good’ one, the Volvo 940 Wagon, was last made in 1995. Most parents can’t bear to have their little ones so close to glass and metal, which is why minivans eventually replaced the wagon for those who didn’t need the macho image (and cost) of an SUV.

Sajeev Mehta: Volvo wagons are just too old and tired by now, it’s not a good family vehicle unless Daddy’s garage is well stocked with tools and service manuals. Late model Minivans are the best route, though transmission issues are the norm across the board. Unless you’re lucky enough to find one with really low miles or a glove box full of gearbox service receipts at regular intervals. No matter, minivans are the best for your needs, if you don’t mind the stigma and the silent judgments of your neighbors.

Steve Lang: Geez. The stigma and silent judgment of your neighbors? They’re buying a car. Not joining a swinger’s club. If they have to go on the car side, a Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable or the Ford Five Hundred/Montego would be a far better option. This model combines many of the best elements of Volvo’s safety and Ford’s family car focus. You can also throw in a Freestyle or Taurus X into the pot as well. But in terms of bang for the buck, I would still opt for a well kept minivan.

Sajeev Mehta: Then again, Mighty Mighty Marquis uber alles! Where else can you fit three car seats in a single row, get non-SUV mileage, stellar safety, bulletproof reliability, top-drawer ride and quiet tuning all for less than any other used car? I’d buy a 2003+ model with rack and pinion steering and safely carry the family anywhere.

Steve Lang: If your budget is under $6000 it may be worthwhile to look at a 2003 Kia Sedona or Oldsmobile Silhouette. The Silhouette I like in particular because it had the double whammy of being the last year model of a brand that is now no more. This means that you can get a minivan that retailed in the $30,000 range for a mere 20% of the price and still have 70% of it’s life. Owners apparently love them as well judging by all the online reviews, and they regularly go for $3000 to $4000 less than the Odyssey and Sienna. Neither of which were particularly reliable at this time in their history.

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84 Comments on “New Or Used?: The Incredible Exploding Family Edition...”

  • avatar

    One thing I would warn against is the used Honda or Toyota route for a minivan.  They are both high-priced as used cars and have significant reliability issues–especially the Honda transmissions.

    • 0 avatar

      The trans problems ended in 2003.  Unlike GM these companies actually fix stuff.

      Sienna reliability problems?????  Examples?

      These two are by a wide margin (yes I’m using CR data) the most reliable minivans on the market.


  • avatar

    to be snide, suggestions are pointless without a budget.

    But good options for most budgets are 2005+ ChryCo minivans and the Hyundai Entourage (dunno much about its Kia sibling).

    Agree with comment above, used Toy-onda minivans are overpriced relative to what you can get from a used ChrysCo or Entourage (even controlling for the anecdotal superior reliability of the Toy-ondas).

  • avatar

    Just checking, but when is the last time either of you put a toddler in a car seat?
    If you have recently you would both be screaming MINI VAN. Sliding door access height and head room. There is no better vehicle for this job. Try it and you will see. My SIL visited and we used our van for her daughter. 2 wks later she owned one and still does.

    • 0 avatar

      I never had a problem with the ‘ol car seat thing. I had two children in car seats in the back of:
      1.  88 Saab 900 (2door)
      2. 87 BMW 325 (2door)
      3. 2002 Focus SVT (2door).
      I’ve gone through the infant to booster seat stage with both children while they are 2 years apart. I managed to load them in and out past flipped front seats – and never felt the need to buy a ‘family vehicle’.
      Now if I had a bad back, or like your case, 3 children in seats, then I would have been looking at something bigger and less fun to drive, like a minivan.
      What about the Mazda 5? Are used ones cheap enough for your budget? At least then you’re not driving a gas guzzling behemoth!

  • avatar

    The best bet would be to find a CPO or regular used minivan previously owned by a traveling salesman (not a family, if you can avoid it). If you can do that, which may require some homework and asking around, you are almost guaranteed the best of everything–one passenger, lots of highway miles, with none of that wear-and-tear of the brand that only kids can manage.

    Otherwise, you can usually get one a few years old from Carmax or similar, along with an extra $500-$700 for some extra powertrain coverage (usually up to 100k miles). That should take care of any niggling tranny concerns.

    Bottom line for me: Van all the way. The extra vertical space and headroom makes loading and unloading much easier than either a car or SUV.

  • avatar

    Pontiac Aztek ftw.

  • avatar

    Minivan all the way.  Babies and toddlers.  That was one of the reasons we got rid of our Explorer.  There’s usually more room in between the bottom of the seat and the top of the door opening in a minivan which makes it easier to lift a child over the side bolster of the car seat without hitting the child’s head on the top of the door opening.  I have personal experience with the Odyssey so I agree with the above poster’s comments.  Look for late model used Chrysler/Dodge minivans with low miles.  The resale is terrible and there are a ton of them out there.  Most of the seating configs aren’t as trick at the bottom price range but the ride is smoother/quieter than the Honda and has better interior quality than the older Siennas (surprising — junk from the ones I’ve ridden in).

  • avatar

    Defintely go for the minivan. Got three grrrls and the Dodge Caravan is the way to go. It does well at just about everything; snow, dirt, mileage, and storage. Its also fairly easy to maintain. However, a used Ford Freestyle is a good way to go if you like a wagon look or a Toyota Venza if you want new.

  • avatar

    Let me add my voice to the minivan chorus.  They also have the side benefit of being nearly invisible when you want to go a bit over the legal limit on the interstate.  If you absolutely can’t stand the minivan stigma, 2003+ Panther platform, or Impalas are going pretty cheap (been watching a few on eBay) and the 3.4V6 while being a little underpowered will get about 30mpg on the hwy, if you can handle a little lower fuel economy then find a 3.8V6 version, and experience the joys of an engine that seems to last about as long as Chrysler’s old Slant-6.

  • avatar
    Garrick Jannene

    Used Chrysler minivans can be picked up for dirt cheap.  I have heard very, very little about there being transmission problems with the RS vans (01-07).  The 41TE/A604 transmission is pretty solid in its current state, much different than when it came out.
    My parents own a ’06 Town and Country, and they have had no major problems with it with around 60k miles on it.  There have been some small annoying issues, such as one of the interior lights went out already, but I’m thinking that has more to do with the fact that it used to be a rental vehicle before they owned it.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    A Pacifica might not be a bad alternative.  Being orphans, they are clearly under priced compared to content, and if you get the pre-2007 year, the content is still up as they didn’t cheapen it to cut costs until then….other than that, I echo the TaurusX/Freestyle comments…..minivan-like space in an psuedo-SUV profile….better than average reliability according to those who know, and again, because it was unloved in the marketplace, they are a good value proposition in terms of vehicle capability per $….

  • avatar

    A late model Dodge or Chrysler van can be had for a song with good miles and some features. Pick up a 100k powertrain plan and you have a great, safe, relatively reliable family vehicle for under 10k. If you know where to look, even cheaper. I bought three 07 caravan se’s with miles in the 40’s from a local leasing company back in September for $5,800 each. All three needed tires, a good cleaning and minor service but I owned them all for less than $6,800 and had no problem moving them for close to my $9,999 asking price. I wish I could buy three vans like that a month.

  • avatar

    You have some bugs to work out with this feature.

    1. Steve and Sajeev are not arguing new vs used, they are arguing  slightly used vs quite used.     Sajeev is talking late model minivans and the MM.  

    2.  W/o a specific budget, this is pointless.   I don’t know what is meant by keeping costs down.   To some that means the car payment has to stay under $150/mo.   To others it means staying under $400.   

    If they can afford it, buy a brand new minivan.   It will be big enough for future needs as the kiddies grow.   It will have a warranty that should see you through 100K.   It will last about 10 years and give you an average annual cost that is reasonable – if calculated over a decade of service.   

    You can drive cheaper buying something from Steve, but you’ll also be buying and using Haynes manuals. 

    • 0 avatar

      And the big question, IMO is this:

      What is a vehicle’s “down time” worth  to you when you have a young family at home?

      If nothing else, I’d be MORE likely to buy a newer vehicle with babies in the house, than I would if it were just my wife and I. When it comes to taking care of the family, I’d strive for 365 in-service days per year and no strandings. Unfortunately, that usually means newer and more expensive.

  • avatar

    A minivan is definitely the way to go, unless you want a Volvo or a Taurus wagon. You can find plenty of Chrysler minivans at low prices.

  • avatar

    I have owned many minivans and used them in my business.  Used Windstars were inexpensive to own and generally lasted over  100K before transmission/ac problems popped up. Bought a new GC in 02. Had to buy a truck to pull a van trailer and really took it in the shorts on resale value. The GC was worth half what a comparable Odyssey was selling for. Learned a big lesson. Now I only buy Siennas or Odysseys.  Check out CR for the particular model year and be prepared to spend money fixing up a used one. There are good reasons why the toytoas/hondas have such good resale value..they are more reliable and better vans than the chrysler/hyundai models.

    • 0 avatar

      Your points about resale are legitimate ones but it’s not as bad as it seems and it can favor the American products depending on how long you plan on keeping the vehicle. While a Honda or Toyota product will almost always be worth more than a comparable American product, the price of entry is almost always laughably higher. According to kbb, an 07 Sienna CE with 45k is worth $7,000 more than an 07 Caravan SE with the same miles. $7,000 is a lot of money. “But I’ll get it back when I go to trade it in or sell it”, you say? Ehh. The Toyota will be worth more, but nowhere near the amount you paid in premium over the Caravan. Kbb tells us an 02 Sienna CE with 120k is worth about $5,800 in good condition, while an 02 Caravan is worth about $2,600 in the same condition with the same miles. So the Sienna is now worth twice as much but I think we’ll agree that that doesn’t come close to recouping the $7,000 premium you paid to get it. It seems like you might have taken it in the berries because the vehicle didn’t work for you business and you didn’t keep it very long but for most people there’s a very definite upside to going American, especially on used car buys.

    • 0 avatar

      Is there a definite upside to used American cars, or is it a false economy?
      I mean that in all seriousness.  Presumably, if one has any faith in market principles at all, that 7000 premium is because, on average, that Sienna is worth 7000 more for some objective reason, not just brand snobbery.   A preliminary comparison of Chrysler T&C reliability numbers vs. the Honda Odessey & Toyota Sienna (via TrueDelta) would indicate that there is a very real and significant gap in reliability, especially as the vehicles age, contrary to many statements on this thread.   If you go to google and type in Chrysler minvan, the fourth entry is “Chrysler minivan transmission problems”.  “Chrysler minivan problem” is #5.    “Honda minivan” & “Toyota minivan” do not have the same results.
      Especially for a completely milquetoast vehicle like a mini-van, reliability, longevity, and a more livable interior may well be worth 7k.  I think the guys claiming Chrysler isn’t at the disadvantage in that category are blowing smoke.  If they weren’t they wouldn’t be selling their product for peanuts.  Nor would they depreciate so badly.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s no question that the reliability gap is a real one but I also believe it’s been made much, much bigger because of the general public’s perception of the car market and the major auto players in the world economy. The Japanese products have been too good for too long and, by severe contrast, ours have been horrible until only recently. Combine people’s very real experiences with shoddy American product in the past, their turn to the Japanese and now their perception of the health of Detroit and it seems to me like a perfect recipe for nonsense premiums on otherwise similar products. As for the all important reliability issue, spend the money on a power train warranty to keep even more of it in your pocket! These cars can have issues that are very real, there’s no question about that, but even the mighty Toyota and Honda have their soft spots. I feel like if I was a family man on a modest budget I could sleep well at night knowing I had saved as much money as I could while not sacrificing the safety or comfort of my family by buying a used, warrantied Chrysler product. I’m in the unique position of actually owning and spending time with these cars through our car store (“dealership” would be a little too grand of a description) so, while I don’t get the full ownership experience of the Chrysler, Toyota or Honda van, I have driven them, seen them serviced, noted how they wear and, to be perfectly honest, I’ve seen terrible examples of all three. The biggest difference between any vehicles will always be the owner. All that said, my personal cars are all HoMoCo vehicles of varying vintage and I can’t see that changing unless my girlfriend tricks me into marrying her.

  • avatar

    There are some cars out there that could fit three car seats. But it also depends on the car seats.
    Yes and no.  Unless you’ve been dealing with modern carseats, there’s a few other provisos often unrealized.
    One, rear-facing car seats must be an inch back from (and not touch!) the front seat while being level to ground.  If you have a tall driver, this means your front passenger had better be short.  If you have two tall adults, one of them takes the bus.  If you have two rear-facing childseats, you’re hosed.
    I did a lot of car and seat shopping and the combination of rear-facing seats and a tall driver eliminated every single passenger car.  Every. Single. One.   Even livery-by-nature cars like the Town Car or Impala were problematic because the top edge of the carseat always touched the reclined edge of the front seat for me.  Some (not all) taller SUVs and crossovers and, of course, minivans, with their tall chair height allow the front seat to be upright, which gives that critical inch.
    Two, rear-facing seats are mandatory until your child is one year old and can walk.  They’re also much safer, so it’s a good idea to keep your kids in them as long as possible.  You’re going to have these children in rear-facing seats for at least two years, and you’ve got an existing child.
    Three: Cargo space.  Strollers are big and awkward.  Just humour yourself and see how much space a stroller will eat, even in a wagon.  Now, look at the reach you have to do in a wagon in order to grab cargo that’s far from the trunk edge.  Now, have a look at the deep yeat easily accessible storage well in an Oddy/Sienna/Caravan.
    About the only smallish cars that would work for you are the Kia Rondo and Mazda 5, and even then the trunk space would best be described as “notional” with the third row up, and if your one-year old is short and still an rear-face, they’re too small.  Three-row SUVs and crossovers are a real pain: the rear access through non-sliders is badly cramped.
    Put it this way: you’re pretty much in minivan land unless you compromise something.  Anyone who tells you you can get away with a wagon or a big sedan has never had to wrestle a recalcitrant toddler or seat a wriggling infant in a crowded parking lot, breastfeed on the side of the road in -30 weather, etc, etc.  Minivans are to young families what Jeeps are to rock-hopping, Roadsters for driving fun and/or pickups for haulings tons of crap: the right tool for the right job.
    Of the minivans, your best choices are the Toyota, Honda and Chrysler vans.  The Fords weren’t bad, but they’re old, not that good, and not always well cared for.  The GM vans just suck, even if you’re Canadian and can buy them new on the cheap.   The Nissan isn’t that reliable, and the Mazda MPV is a bit cramped.  So, on to the winners:
    * Honda: avoid anything before 2005 unless it comes with a full maintenance records, a tranny cooler and/or has already had the tranny replaced.  2005+ are fine.
    * Toyota: Generally these are pretty good.  The side power doors are the only real endemic problem.   They didn’t come with (on the base models) side airbags until 2006 and stability control until 2008, whereas Honda had them from the get-go on the 2005+.   As always, get your maintenance records if you buy used.
    * Chrysler: Reliability is more in question, but that parts are cheap, as is the whole product.  Again, get the maintenance records.  A 2008 Caravan (avoid the base SE with the 3.3L, it’s gutless and the middle bench will hinder you) can be a screaming deal.
    P.S.: That advice about a tranny cooler?  Get one if the van doesn’t have one, and stay the hell away from any van that’s had to tow on a regular basis.  Front-drive transaxles and heavy loads do not mix, and you’ll do yourself a favour if you find a model where the transmission has either been treated well.

  • avatar

    We put three kids in the back of a Taurus. We picked up a four-year-old Taurus for $4,500 with 55k. Then when the fourth came we moved up to a Grand Caravan. We paid $8k for the Dodge when it had 60k and have had only one $75 repair (knock on wood) in three years of service. When you consider our friends were paying $30k for Odyssey’s and Sienna’s, we felt like we made a pretty good decision. Now a few years down the road, those same friends are replacing trannies. One friend has done so twice. I preferred the Taurus X (Freestyle at the time) and the Mazda 5, but the prices were at least double if not three times what we paid for the Dodge. Plus, my wife wasn’t prepared to give up the storage space for hip-“ness”

  • avatar

    Best reliability in a minivan, far cheaper than an ego-stroking SUV, mileage like a large car (better than some).
    Buy a well cared for one 2-3 years older than a doh-mess-tic to offset the price differential.  It will still be far more reliable and sell for more when you are done.
    Post ’03 Oddys are a good bet also, they fixed the trannies.


  • avatar

    There’s also the Kia Sedona minivan. It looks nice and is less expensive than the Ody or Sienna. But I don’t know if the Sedona has been reliable.

  • avatar

    If you must go used and money is a factor, the CryCo minis make the most sense…avoid Pacifica–not reliable and horribly cramped inside with terrible mileage to boot.
    If you’re going to go Honda/Toyota, wait until the the inevitable 0% promotions for new–the used value simply isn’t there if you’re going to use the vehicles for a long period of time.
    The Olds Silouette and all GM vans of the ilk should be avoided like the plague–they are also horribly unreliable and their crash ratings pre nose job are terrible. Bad call SL, IMHO.

  • avatar

    2 points.   One.  Forget about any modern sedan or wagon.  The last time I had three in carseats at the same time was the mid 90s.  I could NOT get 3 carseats abreast in the rear seat of an 84 RWD Olds 98, a big car by todays standards.  Not wide enough.  Could do it with a  68 Newport, though.  For 3 abreast seats you need a full sized van or pickup with a rear seat.  Its about width here.

    Two.  If you are looking for a budget minivan, DO NOT overlook the Gen1 (1995-98) Honda Odyssey (or its twin, the Isuzu Oasis).  These still crop up for sale.  This is the old bulletproof Accord 2.2 4 banger and a 4 speed auto that will outlast the engine.  If you can find a well-maintained one of these with under 200K miles, go for it.  You should get 50-100K out of it pretty easily.  I bought one last spring.  216K and I drive it on 300 mile trips fairly regularly.  I have seen them for sale approaching 400K miles, however I don’t think I would go there with a young family.

  • avatar

    On the way to the hospital to pick up my wife and new born twins in 2006, I picked up a 2003 Passat Wagon (we had a 1996 Honda Civic 2 dr and a 1995 BMW M3 Lightweight and a 1991 Honda Civic 4 door at the time).   The car has almost 40 cubic feet of luggage space, gets 33 mpg+ on the highway, and took us, the twins, and another adult on a four hour trip for a 5 day vacation.

    Then, accident!  A third child!  Now what?  Turns out all three kids fit easily into the rear seat of a Passat wagon and the luggage space is fine.  It’s larger than many midsize 5 passenger SUV’s and crossover’s.  It’s easy to get the kids in and out and now at 3-1/2 they can get in and out all by themselves.  I put seatbelt extenders on their seats to make it easier to buckle their boosters.  And, they are almost out of their stroller so we get all our luggage space back.

    We would only consider replacing this vehicle with one that gets better mileage – where is the Fusion Hybrid wagon, Ford?  I would not recommend VW for reliability/repair issues but ours has been adequate.

  • avatar
    Sammy Hagar

    If you want as much space as possible for the least amount of money, a late-model Chrysler/Dodge van is the way to go.  You can get a’05 Grand ManaVan w/correct mileage for around $10K…and that means seating for eight, “Stow-n-Go” rear seat,   pretty much all the standard power features and decent gas mileage for a giant jellybean.  Sure, A/T issues are common, but that’s true across the board (as mentioned by Sajeev)…even for Toyota & Honda.  Just hedge your bets on the A/T:  Do a train & fill with a quality synthetic ATF (Amsoil, Mobil, etc)…it’s about the only preventive maintenance you can do on any A/T, so spring the $100-200 for peace of mind.

    All that said, we know that a certain percentage of the population can not be seen in an American-made minivan;  there’s definitely something to be said for the factory-tinted windows.  But if your ego and/or worry over your neighbor’s perception of you is throwing a red flag, then just buy one of these beans and debadge it!  As I’ve said before, you can always get VW badging on Ebay and <presto!>, you have a Routan.

    As for the old Volvo…why?  You can not possible get three of today’s “normal” (read:  HUGE) childseats in the second row.  And most moms are loathe to have one child sitting in the back row by themselves (you’d think there’s a star from “To Catch A Predator” hanging back there).  Throw in the maintenance costs, the relatively craptactular mileage and the tiny numbers of Volvo’s on the used market (compared to the ManVan), and it makes no sense. To a certain regard, same goes for the Passat wagon: Very hard to find, nothing spectacular about the reliability and most owners have been fooled into doing the “VW Free Maintenance” scheme…which means very-long oil change and ATF change intervals (which is fine in Europe, not so good with Americans).

    Go with the van, Man! It’s cheap, maintenance (ie, parts) is cheap (how many millions in salvage yards) and you’ll have an entire extra third row for when all three of the embryos take root (in spite of what the doctor said).

  • avatar

    Listen! You guys!
    Have you ever had to deal with three kids, two – twins? I have! So, you folks are missing a very important point which I hope the questioners will heed here!
    A mini-van with two captain’s chairs behind the driver’s seat – SUCKS!!! Regardless of the brand DO NOT BUY A VAN WITH CAPTAIN CHAIRS!!!
    The problem is that you will end up having to hump the captain’s chairs in order to buckle in the older child into the third seat. WHY? Because you will have two other car seats in the captain’s chairs, preventing them from being folded forward to assist the older child!!! Trying to buckle the older child into the third seat via the back hatch also doesn’t work well.
    We bought a minivan before discovering that we were having twins, so we are stuck with this awful arrangement! It is a freakin’ nightmare!

    This is what worked –  I bought a used Crown Victoria. Now, all we have to do is open the doors and drop the kids into the seats. It is an easy set up. We take this older car for family trips as much as we take the minivan. AND – the Vic has an enormous trunk with will hold all the crap that you will need with twins – THE MINIVAN LOSES HERE TOO since it has no room when the third seat is in use!

    So – what you folks need is either a full sized car, or a minivan with a second row BENCH seat.

    BTW – Your lives will be hell for a while. Our twins are now 2, and we’re finally getting some sleep. ALSO – please be aware that your oldest is still a baby and so you guys will be dealing with THREE babies at once. ENLIST your family to help, so that you guys will be able to sleep. Sleep deprivation is total warfare on your lives. Stay calm and remember the love that made these three babies. You will be forced awake at all hours. Organize. Drink lots of coffee!

    Now wait a couple of years, and start making more kids! WooHoo!

    • 0 avatar

      I like the full size car idea.  I’m glad to hear someone actually has evidence it’s a do-able plan.
      And, luckily for this couple’s sleep schedule and sanity, this question and scenario was hypothetical.

    • 0 avatar

      Did you try removing one of the captain’s chairs in the middle row?  This way, you put 2 kids in the third row (at either side, leaving a no-man’s-land in the center to prevent “ouch-quit its)  and then stick the third in the other captains chair in the middle row.  The advantage is that its easy to get back to the third row with only 1 seat in the middle row.

    • 0 avatar
      Sammy Hagar

      Come on Vanilla, don’t diss the captain’s chairs;  sweet, sweet 70’s hold-over, no?

      But seriously, what percentage of Chrysler vans came with those?  It has to be tiny…about the same as those that opted for the heart-shaped window just aft of the poop deck.  Most have that abbreviated middle seat that holds two car seats, but can be switched with the full-size (three seat) rear seat;  even the mid-90’s ManaVans can accommodate that switch.

      As for storage, I can guarantee that I can get more luggage/cargo in my Grand Caravan with two adults up front, three brats in the middle seat (the swapped out one) and the third seat stowed than you can in any configuration of your Crown Vic.  I mean, it’s just not possible…if it were the 70’s (fun times, no seatbelt laws), I could pack a dozen kindergarten kids, nuts-to-butts, behind that second row.  Of course, my name isn’t Jim Bob Duggar and the president isn’t named “Carter,” so that experiment is out.  But you get my drift, no?

      All that said, I will grant you this: Nobody confuses my ManVan with a cop car. For that, you get the points…if I had a Crown Vic, I’d be all over a J.C. Whitney catalog, looking for baby moon hubcaps and a spot light. Oh, and one of those little badge/star stickers for the rear window…so cops don’t pull over other cops. That’d be awesome.

    • 0 avatar

      A mini-van with two captain’s chairs behind the driver’s seat – SUCKS!!! Regardless of the brand DO NOT BUY A VAN WITH CAPTAIN CHAIRS!!!
      Not true.  Every modern minivan allows you to reseat the second chair in the middle position.  We do this in our Sienna: our three-year old sits in the third row, passenger side and the passenger-side captain’s chair is moved over one notch so that it’s flush with the driver’s chair.  This lets us have an easy walk-through to either row, and lets us flip-fold (a Caravan would stow the seat instead) the second-row chair to easily get at the third row.
      In a bench, the second row is fixed, and getting back to the third is harder.  You can also remove one seat from the second-row, at which point access becomes trivial.  You can’t do that with a bench unless you remove or fold the whole row.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah – we tried removing one of the middle seats in order to put the three car seats in the back. It didn’t work because the kids were too far from the front seats in order to attend to the kids. We also just put two car seats in the back with one of the car seats in the remaining Captain’s Chairs. Didn’t work well either. Perhaps if my wife and I weren’t tall, this could have been a solution, but in this position your knees were threatened by the exposed seat anchors as you worked in the third row.

      No. The Captain’s Chairs are full sized so there isn’t enough room to take out the center console and reposition one of the seats next to the other. I don’t know what the Sienna does, but the Captain’s Chairs are full sized and wide with fold down arms on each side. This cannot be done.

      I also decided to take the center seats out and turn them around. This would theoretically have opened the back of the van, allowing a parent to have access to all five seating positions behind the front seats. However, the seat anchors and the seat design didn’t make this a possibility, and this forced the front seats forward, eliminating needed space behind the driver’s wheel.

      I strongly recommend that any couple with a set of twins, with another child in a car seat, avoid any vans with Captain’s Chairs.

      I was envious of the fellow that had the Passat wagon before the arrival of his twins. Understandably, that seating arrangement worked as well as the seating arrangement of my Crown Victoria, plus being a station wagon to boot.

      The ability to swing open a passenger’s door and plop the infants directly into the car seats while standing outside the vehicle to fasten them into position – has become the best arrangement for my family. I strongly recommend it to this couple too.

  • avatar

    First, I’m ready to unload my ’01 Sienna.  Not because there’s anything wrong with it, we just don’t need it any more.

    Second, if they’d prefer someting newer, and although I am not a fan of this car, maybe they should look at a lease-return Impala?  They do have a fair amount of interior room and they can be had at a good price, presumably with the balance of the 5/100 warranty or maybe even get it CPO’ed or an extended warranty for a reasonable fee.

    I don’t know for sure whether or not 3 seats would fit but I expect they would (we’ve crammed two seats and a kid into much smaller vehicles) and it’s probably worth a look for the relative combination of price and “newness factor.”

    And, finally, I must observe: “Steve Lang: Geez. The stigma and silent judgment of your neighbors? They’re buying a car. Not joining a swinger’s club. “

    That must be the funniest – and perhaps wisest – thing I’ve read all year.  Thanks, Steve.

  • avatar

    I would certainly endorse the minivan.  We have a 10 year old Grand Caravan, which is fine — we probably spend $800/year keeping it on the road, but given that it cost $3,600, I am fine with it — works out to about $150/month for repairs, depreciation and interest.  The truth is, all minivans look the same inside after a year or two of bottles,  sippy cups, diaper blowouts and play-doh!
    An alternative, if you really hate minivans would be a 5 year old Acura MDX CUV.   These are very wide, so you can do 3 carseats across the middle row, and quite reliable.  Expect to pay ~$16K for one in decent shape.  Just don’t expect to use the third row much, not because it is cramped, but because access is so difficult.  You will strap your one year old into his carseat in the “way back” once before you swear you’ll never do it again.

  • avatar

    Having had two little kids myself, I can tell you from experience that only two factors really come to mind for me: reliability and no unexpected expenses. The last thing you need with three screaming toddlers on your hands is a $3,000 transmission bill…and believe me, the fact that you stole the car used makes zero difference to you when THAT happens. It did to me. And that’s nothing next to the fun and frolic of picturing your wife and two babies sitting by the side of the road in a broken down car.

    That makes me the sole heretic here advocating buying a new minivan. But what I’d really advocate is LEASING one. You can get a new Sienna for $269/mo with a couple grand down, or maybe $50-60 higher monthly with a sign-and-drive deal. Car’s under warranty, and has roadside assistance, so if it breaks, Toyota gets to send a tow truck to rescue your wife, and then they fix the car for free. Woo hoo!

    And if you like the car after 36 months, buy it. If not, chuck it in on a new one. You know its maintenance history. Figure you spend 11 grand over three years on the Sienna, but that isn’t much more than you’ll spend on a right-miles used Caravan, and a one-year-old program van will probably cost you $15,000 or so, and then you have to wonder what drunken fool drove this like he stole it from Avis.

    • 0 avatar
      Sammy Hagar

      $269 x 36 = $11,720.

      $11,720 + $2,000 (down payment) = $13,720.

      That’s a lot of money for “peace of mind” and no car at the end of three years.  Now if you want to buy that car after three years, that’s fine…but how much more is that?  $16K?  $18K?

      I see your reasoning about maintenance worries, but heck…if the guy bought a $5K used Caravan, put $3K in the bank for a new A/T and another $1000 for the required rental during repair, he’d still be WAY ahead of the loss on the Sienna lease.  Plus he’d still own the car after three years and could still get $2-3K for it…maybe more, since it’d have a new A/T.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t have kids but I think the point a lot of guys are missing here is, as you pointed out,  reliability isn’t just a financial decision.  You don’t want your van leaving your family stranded, or being unavailable for several days (not to mention the logistics of getting it to/from the repair shop).   The fact that you saved a few thousand dollars buying the van cheap and paying for repairs while it’s down once or twice a year will not satisfy your wife and kids when they get stranded and/or don’t have use of their vehicle for several days.
      In this situation, reliability is considerations number 1-5 and it’s not for financial reasons.  Buy or lease a new minivan with a good reliability reputation.   Everyone I know who has had kids come along has done just that, some of them kicking and screaming, but none have regretted it.

    • 0 avatar

      Sammy –

      Hey, no one said peace of mind was cheap. And let’s keep in mind that five-grand Caravan you’re talking about is going to be…ahem…experienced. I searched them up, and the only ones I found for that money were at least six years old, with upwards of 100,000 miles. How much do you think you’re going to have to spend on maintenance for a six-year-old Chrysler product with that kind of mileage? And are you REALLY going to keep an old car around for another 10 years? Some people will. Most won’t.

      We’re also leaving out that the old vans don’t have all the safety equipment the new ones do. That counts for a lot if you’re toting little kids around.

      If it’s the car I use to get back and forth to work every day, I’ll opt for a beater if need be. But for the wife and babies, I’ll spend extra for peace of mind.

  • avatar

    Older Volvos were great cars when they were new or slightly used. There’s a lot of good advice here on avoiding an older Volvo (I’d say anything over 7 years or 90,000 miles). Stay away.
    We love and hate our Odyssey. Hate it for being a minivan, love it for what it does. A minivan is a good solution for your family configuration. DO pay attention to the poster who cautions about having to get a kid into a child seat in the third row–not fun. A rear (second row) bench seat is the way to go for now. You’ll want the third row when they get a bit bigger and start hitting each other on those long rides.  Definitely do a dry run with three car seats to see how it works. You might post the question on a twins forum (surely there is one) to get feedback that is more reality based than car based. Any extra you’ll shell out for a ceiling-mounted DVD player will pay for itself in the first thirty minutes.
    I’m not sure it’s a good idea to look for a ten-year solution at this time. Having three kids from newborn to 3 is very different than having three kids between 7 and 10. You’ll be dealing with car seats until your youngest is 4 (more if they are small).
    As one of  grown-up twins who follow an older sibling by less than two years, I can assure you that busy times are ahead. Oh, and do them a favor and call them by their names instead of “the twins”.  And whatever you do, don’t dress them alike no matter what.
    Best of luck. You’ll have a blast.

  • avatar

    Findude…I couldn’t agree more with your twin assessment as a fellow identical twin with my brother Jerry. The rules are simple and you nailed it…anyhow back to the car debate.

  • avatar

    Incidentally Findude… my brother Jerry is a huge fin car guy..what do you own?

  • avatar

    So a serious question from someone who has absolutely NO intention of EVER having kids (and at 41 I can be fairly confident in that statement) – what the heck do they do on the other side of the Pond? Either one? Full-size cars and minivans are pretty rare in Europe, and essentially unknown in Asia. Having been to Europe a fair bit, families with 2+ kids are just as common as here. Do the brats just get left at home until old enough to not need these ridiculously large kiddy seats? Do they have more reasonably sized kiddy seats? They certainly have more reasonably sized cars. I mean, I drive a fairly typical Swedish family car (Saab 9-3SC), and there is no way two average size Swedes and two American infant seats could co-exist in it.

    My Mother managed myself and my 9 years younger brother in an early 70’s 911 for many years, but I certainly never had any kind of kiddy seat. My brother did though. In the front seat of the Porsche. 

    • 0 avatar
      Sammy Hagar

      I wouldn’t get crazy about the generalizations of European car sizes;  in the past, sure…but I know a few German families with very large cars and vans.  My mother-in-law has had various VW vans (Microbus, Vanagon & Eurovan)…but now has moved onto a much more environmentally friendly E-Class (wish she’d save some of that cash for an inheritance).  And I don’t think that those are necessarily rare things;  I know another family pretty well and they have a weird love affair with Mitsubishi SUV’s.  It seems to me that cars will always be about outdoing the Jones…or in that case, the Schmidts;  sometimes it’s the performance, sometimes it’s the kitsch, and yes, even in Europe, sometimes it’s the size.

      As for the car & booster seats, no…the assumptions that everything in Europe is smaller isn’t right there either.  Just like here, you can spend $ and get a relatively small, lightly padded seat (not saying they’re not safe, mind you) or $$$ for a big, puffy, obstructionist one;  regardless, they’re all going to be TUV tested.

      The big problem is, at least for the Germans, is that they can’t produce enough kids to keep their creaky machine going.  I’m pretty sure the CDU would be ecstatic if Germans were needing to buy minivans and combis…it would mean people are reproducing and not piddling away their income on travel and personal items (which all my relatives are doing).   But then that ain’t gonna happen…

    • 0 avatar

      So a serious question from someone who has absolutely NO intention of EVER having kids (and at 41 I can be fairly confident in that statement) – what the heck do they do on the other side of the Pond? Either one? Full-size cars and minivans are pretty rare in Europe, and essentially unknown in Asia.
      City design is different in Europe and (much of) Asia.  Communities are more walkable and intercity transit more pervasive.  It’s the same reason Europeans don’t care as much about reliable cars: they just don’t drive as frequently, nor are as screwed when the car fails.
      My Mother managed myself and my 9 years younger brother in an early 70’s 911 for many years, but I certainly never had any kind of kiddy seat. My brother did though. In the front seat of the Porsche.
      Never mind that it’s not safe, you’d get arrested for that, today.  A lot of work has been done in the past quarter-century in understanding just how much the physiology of children and infants differs from post-pubescent adults (never mind the differences between the average and short people or seniors).  Bones are softer, muscles less strong, neck/head dynamics much different.  It was not uncommon for young children in sufficiently powerful accidents to be killed, brain-damaged or paralyzed while an adult male subject to the same forces might get a seatbelt bruise and, at worst, whiplash.
      There’s a reason why carseats are so overbuilt.  Personally, I’d take a big carseat over a lifetime of caring for a brain-damaged kid.
      On a related note, I’d like to stress again the importance of installing your carseat correctly.  Most people do it wrong, especially when it comes to infant and rear-facing seats.  The seat is designed to sit at a certain angle (and the angled seat cushion in most cars prevents that), and it designed to move slightly in a crash (and as such must not be jammed up against the seatback of the front seat).
      If you have any doubt at all, get your seat inspected.  Many police stations have a carseat clinic or on-staff expert who will help you with this.

  • avatar

    when #3 arrived for us the solution was a 07 KIA Sedona.
    The Sedona/Entourage match the Ody for safety – our #1 consideration – and are more reliable than the Chrysler for similar money. My 07 came with a year /12,500miles used up of the 5 year / 60,000 miles warranty for $14.5k
    Sure you can get 3 carseats across the back of a sedan but in the end we decided to get a minivan so we can carpool / invite friends along / take grandma to the zoo.

  • avatar

    Turning back time 10 years, I have been here.

    We went with the minivan (Windstar – no issues whatsoever, until it was  totalled when it was rear-ended 3 years ago – the twins, their sister, Mom and the dog were unscathed).  The minivan was replaced with a Freestlye (no issues so far either)

    I would recommend a van with dual sliding doors, and captains’s chairs in the middle.  You remove the passenger side captains chair – it makes it a snap to strap the twins in the back, and the older child in the remaining captain’s chair.  Also consider the “larger” minivans – you will need the capacity because 3 kids under 3 seem to travel with an enormous amount of stuff, as I recall.
    You could do with a larger sedan, SUV or CUV (like the Freestyle), but it is going to be way more cumbersome.  This seems to work better when they are older and out of car seats (though I wish I would have gone for the optional sound proof barrier between the front and back!)

    The suggestion to try things out with the car seats in a variety of different vehicles is a good one.  Don’t forget that all of the children are going to graduate into larger seats in the next 2 years, so you might want to borrow a couple for your test.

    krhodes1 > you made me chuckle.  I also grew up when car seats were unknown (or at least, pretty new-fangled – I think my parents had a car crib for my sister in the mid-1960’s that was secured to the back seat – sort of).  I am amazed any of us survived our childhood, what with the unsafe cribs, playpens, toys, etc.,etc.

  • avatar

    I’d go with Certified pre owned Chrylser minivan. They are the best value seeing as the Honda tranny is junk and Toyota way overpriced.

  • avatar

    Can’t believe nobody else thought of this.

    Easy. Off-lease ’07+ SWB Kia Sedona LX. SWB being the key. I checked them over a year ago and they were well under $10,000. You still get the sweetheart Lambda 3.8L V6, cruise, air, am/fm/cd, full airbags, transferrable warranty, auto-off lights, dual manual climate, 5-speed automatic, 7 seats, etc. Heck, the new one is only $21,000, and with the current economic climate, Hyundai-Kia’s voracious market share appetite, stalled Sedona sales, and ultra-stagnant minivan segment, you could probably knock $5 grand off that and get the full warranty and an odometer in the single-digit range, if that floats your boat.
    I would absolutely never recommend the first-generation Sedona. It’s one of the least reliable vehicles on the road, and crashes rather poorly, too. The second generation is extremely good in both reliability and safety.

    Also, according to Wikipedia, it’s one of the 20 cheapest-to-insure vehicles on the US market.

    Alternatively, the ’00-04 Toyota Avalon is a massively wide car. Tons of interior room, great reliability, a snooze to drive (no spilled formula), better fuel economy than any minivan, safe vehicle, decent luxury features for the adults…

    Failing those, the Ford Freestar (the van, not the Freestyle quasi-SUV) is another great pick. Ford mostly fixed the transmission issues by ’06-07, they had tip-top safety ratings, the 4.2L models had decent pickup (but poor fuel economy), they had a good amount of luxury features, and they didn’t drive too badly. I’ve always thought they were ruggedly handsome for minivans, in a rather bland sort of way. I used to drive them regularly when they were new and in the rental fleets. Never minded them one bit. I’d take them over a Sienna or Chrysler van, first-gen Kia van, or the vomit-inducing U-Body vans any day. The Hyundai-Kia second-gen vans beat it at most prices, and if someone else is paying, the Odyssey wins hands-down.

  • avatar

    Put me down as another vote for a minivan and I’ve only got one kid who was well out of using a carseat when we finally got one. We bought my wife’s Odyssey new in 2006 and haven’t had any problems. It rides nice, has plenty of room with an insane number of  storage cubbies, and has more than enough power, especially compared to the Chrysler/ Ford/ Kia minivans.

    My brother and his wife have two kids who are still in carseats and they bought a Mazda5 a month or so ago.

    Here’s the main reason you want a minivan when you’ve got two or more kids in carseats: double sliding doors. Ever had to try to wrestle an uncooperative kid into a carseat when you can’t open the door all the way because some A- hole decided to park a third of his Hummer in your space while you were inside Target?  Ever give up and then try to wrestle the kid into his seat from the opposite side? 

    Sliding doors. They really are the greatest things since sliced bread. 

  • avatar

    Interesting thread.  With three kids in car seats, I feel your pain.  The solution for my wife and I was a CPO Ford Freestyle which provides a variety of seating options (3 in the middle, 1 or 2 in the 3rd row, etc.).   Although actually, my Mazda6 wagon fits 3 car seats in the 3rd row no problem and we could make that work for the family truckster if we really needed to.   The idea that you need an enormous vehicle with 3 kids is kind of curious – one would think you could fit them all in Mazda6, Passat or Legacy wagon and actually enjoy the driving experience!  Oh well, different strokes…

  • avatar

    funny… I went to the local auto trans rebuilder today to get some thrust bearings. There were several Odysseys in the (small) parking lot.

  • avatar

    I don’t get the minivan stigma. Demographically speaking, minivan owners are good family people, and generally cooperative and civic-minded. What’s not to like?
    Whereas the SUV ownership bell curve peaks in “selfish.”

    • 0 avatar

      To my significant other somehow minivan = mommyvan.  Not that she doesn’t want children, she just somehow associates minivans with large bottomed women wearing elastic waistband jeans and loud ugly holiday cardigans.  Personally I think we’d be smarter to get a minivan when the children start coming but if that somehow makes her think she’s not a “sexy latina” anymore then, que sera, sera.  I’m glad I’ve gotten her to agree that it can be a CUV and not a BOF Tahoe/Suburban/Yukon.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t get the minivan stigma. Demographically speaking, minivan owners are good family people, and generally cooperative and civic-minded. What’s not to like?
      I don’t get it either.  I’ve heard them called frumpy, unsexy, a statement that your life, as it has been, is over, etc, etc.  What’s interesting is that, for all the small-package-compensation jokes about SUVs, they’re actually marketed at women, and it’s among women that the anti-parent stigma is strongest.
      I think that’s kind of sad, really, that women are being sold on the idea that parenthood is a bad thing.  I feel bad for the kids.**
      Now, that said, it’s far easier to get your bone on in a minivan than just about any other vehicle out there.  Sure, there are sexier cars, but there’s no easier car to have sex in.
      ** I also won’t deny that being the parent of an energetic toddler ages you pretty dramatically.  It’s very hard, or at least very expensive, to be a good parent and a yoga-toned hardbody at the same time.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I have recommended the Chrylser minivans in the past. But I really don’t think that Chrysler has resolved many of their quality and reliability issues.
    A few things that commonly go wrong with these models…
    * Radiator (They use exceptionally thin and fragile metal)
    * Power Steering Pump and Hoses (Pumps always make noise before going South)
    * Window Switches
    * Power Sliding Doors
    * Transmissions (Grand Caravan models)
    * Head Gaskets (4 cylinder models)
    * Steering Rack
    If you look at what actual  owners have to say (carsurvey, edmunds, msn, yahoo) the Silhouette actually beats out the Chrysler minivans, the Sedona, even the Toyondas. I’ve also financed a lot of these vehicles and the Silhouettes seem to hold up particularly well. Intake gasket can be a one time issue, but otherwise they hold up quite well.

  • avatar

    If only I could convince my wife to get a minivan.  After our first child was born we got an ’06 Jeep Commander at her insistence.  I’ve gotten a good workout over the last three years hefting my daughter into its cramped interior.  The poor reliability, poor gas mileage, and limited space grate on me each time I drive it.  It won’t even hold our car seat on the side back seats because of the angle of the back seat headrest.  The car makes my wife feel safe, and she is attached to it.  Our second child is due in Feb, and I have a feeling that and the next major repair may convince her to let me get rid of it.
    The problem my wife has with minivans is that 9/10 families here drive either a white or silver Honda or Toyota van, and she thinks minivans are hideous.  I can’t argue with that, but practicality overrides those concerns for me.   The problem is that I can’t really get excited a minivan purchase either.  She doesn’t like Japanese/Korean cars, and the domestics aren’t that great either.  This leaves the Europeans.  I did convince her to look at Volvos and she likes them, but they are pricey, have questionable reliability, and are about to be sold to the Chinese.
    About a month ago my father was in a serious accident in his month old diesel e-class that he bought new.  The other driver was killed, and he walked away even though his car was hit on the side.  That convinced us to consider a 3-4 year old e-class  as well.  I guess safety is the biggest consideration for us.

  • avatar

    This all sounds like a fair argument for birth control to me.
    Or just get a Scion xB

  • avatar

    As the father of three children – singleton plus twins, five years apart – I feel qualified to answer this question. Driving a van seems like hell on earth and I have avoided it. When the twins arrived I was driving an E36 328i. It was totally unsuited and had to go. I still miss it.
    The E39 528i auto that replaced it was a bit of a disaster (long story) and was replaced with…. wait for it… an E46 325i!  Yes, there was no problem fitting a booster seat and two baby seats in the back. Luggage was a bit tight on long trips but we managed.
    My advice would be to get the baby seats first and then start shopping for a car. Take the seats along and check that they will fit. You may surprised how roomy cars can be. You might even find that your existing car is up to the job. Don’t make assumptions about only a minivan being big enough.

  • avatar

    I usually trust your judgement on these things, but I can’t endorse your love for the “Cadillac of Minivans” the Olds Silhouette.  The safety scores are lousy in the one type of vehicle that is supposed to value safety the most.  That’s a no-go for most parents.

  • avatar

    I am going through this same scenario as my wife and I are expecting chitlin #3 in the spring.  We just sold our wonderful SAAB 9-5 wagon in a private sale and bought a slightly used 2008 Ford Taurus X (16K miles).  Here’s why:

    The SAAB for all its inherent goodness (economy, safety, comfort, fun to drive) was simply too small.  I am 6 feet tall, and my wife is 5’9″.  Plus we have a 65 pound dog.  Even with a Thule roof box, the SAAB was cramped on trips, so the pending arrival of #3 made the wagon expendable.
    Wife doesn’t like minivans.  I think they’re ugly but practical.  Thus, no minivan. Entering crossover country.
    We wanted something under $20K, and our priorities were space, safety and reasonable fuel economy. 
    Crossovers are rolling compromises, but the Taurus X (with leather package, we paid $19K) fit the bill for several reasons:  1) Flexible seating.  The middle row captain’s chairs slide, recline and fold flat.  The space between is useful for accessing the roomy third row.  Even with all seats up, there’s 16 cubic feet of luggage space, enough for a bulky stroller and other detritus.  2) Safety.  The D3 platform endows the T-X with the highest possible safety ratings and the latest passive safety features.  This was a big draw.  3)  Economy.  EPA highway is 24.  We get up to 25 on highway trips, more like 20 around town, but reasonable considering the size of the car.
    I miss the SAAB’s agility, European feel, excellent fuel economy and fun to drive quotient, but the Ford is supremely practical if not very exciting.  And, as the first American car I’ve ever owned, I am thus far pleasantly surprised by its overall quality and reliability.

    Just our experience.  A minivan is probably more practical and spacious, but if you can’t get past the aesthetics, the Taurus X is worth a look (although, the T-X isn’t exactly a beauty either).

  • avatar

    Minivans are nice, but I’d just suck it up and go with a nice used Suburban or Yukon XL.  Get a good one with low miles now and it will likely be the last family hauler you buy.  Taken care of those things will last 20+ years easy with generally fewer repairs and less maintenance cost or hassle than a minivan.  More cargo room than in a minivan when all three rows of seats are up, and it’s more useable room as well because there is more square feet of floorspace behind the third row than what is behind the third row of most minivans.  You can remove or fold down the third row and still have enough seating to lash down three car seats in the second row bench.  As most Suburbans or Yukon’s were factory ordered with the towing package, you’ll be able to tow just about whatever you might need to down the line with little or no mods to the vehicle.  U-Haul trailers, campers, passenger cars on tow dollies, ATV’s, whatever.  As for fuel efficiency depending on the kind of area you live in, your average mileage may not be much worse than a minivan.  If you live where your driving is roughly 50% or more city than highway most minivans will only average about 15-17 MPG, which is only one or two MPG better than a K1500 Suburban.  If you do more highway driving than the minivan will get much mileage, but if you get a Suburban and keep it until the kids move out the difference in what you won’t be spending in monthly payments, repairs, and maintenance will more than make up for that.

    • 0 avatar

      Re: Sedona
      We had a 2004 in stellar shape, low miles and beautiful paint . . . I hated it.
      Problem 1:
      Super-SUV MPG  – as low as 15mpg (more typically 16mpg) if you’re in situations where you need to speed up/slow down (like in highway morning traffic) — Best ever was high 18s with very conservative driving
      Problem 2:
      YMMV dealers.  If you work for a living and are unlucky enough to get a dealer that tries to skimp on warranty repairs (slow to work on, no loaner, drags out diagnosis), it’s not much of a deal.

    • 0 avatar

      I second this.  A GM Sub/YukXL will last forever with proper maintenance and not get much worse real world mileage than a minivan.  It will cost more up front but gives you the maximum versatility possible.  With the 2nd row captain option, you  can still get to the third row with two carseats installed.

  • avatar

    I own a 1999 Chrysler Voyager with the 3.3L V6 engine which is bulletproof, a 4-speed auto 41TE transmission which is butter-soft at gear changes and has given us great service living down here in Baja California, where roads are less than optimal yet the car has great handling, space for us all and only had the fan-relay failure on us. We love the van as it has better mileage than a coworkers’ Toyota Camry, has a cool-blast A/C system (special for those 110F summers) and so far it has been bulletproof. It’s the Boeing 777 of cars :)
    Yet I found the “Maximum Vehicle Gross Weight” label and it’s rated at 1,000 lbs. of payload so you should be careful when loading the van and not exceeding it, or the tranny issue will come and bite at you :(

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Eesh, glad I’m past this.  We had one followed by twins. I had a couple of Ford wagons, then moved to Grand Wagoneers. We used the jeeps as beach buggies and live back in the woods.  Clunkers all.
    A used Camry wagon?

    • 0 avatar

      The Camry wagon was last sold in the U.S. in 1996 or 1997.  Even the best car of that age is not a practical purchase for the average person who has to pay retail for all mechanical work, and is unlikely to get the car repaired right even after paying through the nose.
      OK if you’ve a car buff or have owned it for a decade and are familiar with its maintenance and condition.

  • avatar

    My wife and I have a nearly two year old, and are working on a 2nd one right now.  When  my sister-in-law was in town with her 3 year old twins, all three would fit in the back seat of my Grand Marquis.  The women rode up front, and it was the ultimate family truckster the entire work.

    The bonus is my Grand Marquis has the self leveling rear air suspension – load up the car with women, kids, strollers, diaper bags, etc.  Start the car, and like magic, the car levels out and still keeps it’s smooth ride.

    The only time one needs a bigger vehicle is when you have three strollers – then you run into trouble.   That being said, having sliding doors is the only reason to get a new vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      “Start the car, and like magic, the car levels out and still keeps it’s smooth ride. ”

      Until it doesn’t.  Maybe Ford fixed that by the time they built yours.  I certainly hope so.

    • 0 avatar

      It has 104,000 miles, and so far, so good.  My 94 Grand Marquis was 11 years old and 117,000 miles when I sold it, and it was still working.

      I know what you are saying – air leaks or compressor issues can be a hassle, but this system is nothing like the one on the old Lincoln Continentals – it is a much simpler design.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I’ve got 3 kids in car seats in the back of crew cab PU. Works great. One of the best things about minivans is the sliding doors. I’ve  had situations in parking lots where I couldn’t get the back door open far enough to get the baby carrier in so that’s a pain. But as far as loading, one big bench seat is much easier than the 3rd row thing. But still, unless you tow heavy loads your best off with a van even though the mileage is hardly any better than a modern 1/2 ton crew cab PU or Tahoe type SUV. 

    I’m getting rid of the truck because we have another big vehicle that can handle our towing needs and looking at larger wagons like the Volvo V70. l like that option much better than a mini? van.

  • avatar

    Nice feature!  Looking forward to more of these.
    But… Pontiac TranSport?  Really?

  • avatar

    With three toddlers, your life is pretty much over for a few years.  Just get a NEW minivan – keep in mind that with three kids, you will also occasionally have to cart one or more of the grandparents around.  While you are at it, also grab the khakis and some nice polo shirts at Costco.
    Trust me, what you will need is to make sure as many parts of your life as possible are absolutely rock-solid reliable and low-maintenance.  Because everything else will be coming at you from all sides.
    Best wishes, sincerely.

  • avatar

    I spent three years living in Europe and Europeans are much like us. They like the things they can not afford just like we do but more of them are content with having less or no debt and that means they (the ones i knew) lived well within their means. They might admire a Range Rover or big Merc but they were likely to drive Fiats and Golfs.
    They had families too – the same challenges we have – how to put a family of four or even five into a small (or in some cases VERY small) car.
    Before you “give into” the idea that you’ll have to buy a big SUV or minivan if you don’t want to – shop for kid seats. I’ve seen quite a few over the years that were TUV approved, still comfortable, still affordable, and still safe. These were narrow booster/baby seats just like we use here. With the purchase of three of these seats it’s perfectly possible to put three children across the rear seat of a midsize car like a Passat or Volvo or Audi.
    No, I have no problem being seen driving a minivan but I don’t WANT a minivan. Well, maybe a Eurovan Weekender but those are still expensive, and still pretty rare and even fewer can be had with low miles. And yes they CAN be reliable vehicles as some friends’ 200K Eurovan attested – with the original unrebuilt driveline too.
    We were looking at narrow child seats a few years ago when we were bouncing around the idea of trying for a third child but the second one was so difficult to get here that we’ve mostly quit that idea. We would have been putting three children in the back seat of a 1st gen CR-V. I think we were looking at online retailers like Amazon. The mainstream big box retailers like WalMart and Sears and Kmart just didn’t have anything like we were looking for. I wonder if they assume Americans will think narrow child seats will look weak so they sold upsized seats for folks who tend to buy upsized vehicles and have spare room in the back.
    Anyhow if you shop some online retailer – look at the comments – all of them. Folks sometimes offer better ideas in the comments. Also visit the forums of the cars you want to carry three children with. The European forums will often have recommendations for accessories like child seats that will be more clever than anything you saw at WalMart or cousin stores.

  • avatar

    Well my first response disappeared. Let’s go again.
    We’ve got a 1st gen CR-V. Plenty of room for two car seats. Three bulky seats would be a challenge. When we were considering child #3 I looked around a little and found options. I don’t know why the typical car seats sold in the USA are so bulky but the Europeans have alternatives that also go through strict testing processes too. They too have cars they’d like to fit three children across the back seat and have car seats sized for those purposes. Look around and if you already have a favorite import car – look to the enthusiast forums for your vehicle of choice that include European readers. It’s unlikely you’ll ever fit three children in carseats in the back of a Fiat 500 or Mini but I’m confident that a Volvo or Audi or Merc or Passat will be good for your needs with the right car seats.
    I don’t mind a minivan, just don’t want to drive one daily. Same for large SUVs.

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