Piston Slap: The Least Sexy Question of The Year?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the least sexy question of the year

JCP writes:

So here’s the least sexy question of the year. For those of us with the need for six seats (and climbing over the middle row of an SUV is unacceptable) what is your take on the reasonable lifespan of the current minivan lineup? I’m curious what you can expect to be a reasonable number of miles on a Caravan, Oddessy or Sienna if you were to be traveling 900 miles on Christmas Eve or New Years Day? Breakdowns with a family of six in this situation can get very expensive fast, so replacing the vehicle before it breaks can make financial sense. How far would you recommend pushing it?

Assumptions; minivans are purchased new and all regular maintenance is done. Do you have any thoughts on the various models and do any of them have timebombs under the hood?

Sajeev answers:

I hate answering questions like this. And not because they aren’t sexy, I think that damn near anyone can make a minivan look sexy. It’s all about being comfortable with yourself and a positive attitude conveyed to others. Our founder’s wife penned an article on this subject many, many years ago.

Where were we? Oh yeah, trying to make a decision based on all we know: automotive durability stats and the shaky foundations they are based on…

Well then! Many reliability studies don’t go beyond a vehicle’s warranty period, and damn near all of them use formulas of dubious utility. One of the few (the only?) avoiding that pitfall is our own Mr. Karesh’s TrueDelta.com website. Poking around there leads me to believe that the most reliable van so far in modern history (5-10 years) is the Toyota Sienna. It seems marginally better than the repair data collected for the Honda Odyssey. Perhaps the Chrysler vans are just fine now–with their all new powertrains–but their past reliability has been spotty at best. Do you mind being the next spot?

My answer? I don’t really give a crap. Even worse, I have modest-at-best faith in past performance being a bellwether of future durability. There are too many little things that can go wrong, too many moving parts that can have a running manufacturing defect that we won’t know for months/years and we can never plan for.

Just buy any minivan you like, cut the required transmission servicing schedule in half, add a transmission cooler and you’ll be pretty much okay. I call this Taking an Active Role in Consumer Reporting! And that’s how you bring the sexy back.

How’s that for avoiding your unsexy question?

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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2 of 51 comments
  • Don1967 Don1967 on Jul 23, 2012

    One option for the contrarian handyperson is a used 2004-2009 Nissan Quest. The quality issues are well-documented, but most are minor and well within the grasp of shadetree mechanics. The 3.5 VQ is fairly robust, the transmissions solid by minivan standards, and clean specimens are occasionally available for near-Chrysler prices.

  • Tjh8402 Tjh8402 on Jul 23, 2012

    If you're buying new and keeping it till it dies, Chryslers available lifetime unlimited mileage warranty would seem to make them the best option. It was a big reason my parents got their Fiat 500 (it was $3k on that car).

  • RHD Any truth to the unconfirmed rumor that the new, larger model will be called the bZ6X? We could surmise that with a generous back seat it certainly should be!
  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.https://www.lhd.com.au/lhd-insights/australian-road-death-statistics/
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…