By on April 18, 2015

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(If you have some time this weekend, this contribution, from our reader Robert, will be worth that time — JB)

“I will NEVER drive a minivan.” Thus ended the first hostile negotiation serious discussion with my wife about our next vehicle purchase.

The story so far: It was the summer of 2005. Our family truckster (a 1995 Toyota 4Runner SR5) was doing a fine job hauling mom and the first born around town during the week, plus me, the dog, and the cubic yard of gear required to travel with a one year old child on our frequent weekend trips to the Texas hill country. Anything I wanted to bring had to survive on the roof.

The 4Runner had been a masterpiece of engineering, form, and function to us. But even with Toyota’s legendary reliability, after 10 years and 135k on the clock, her many trouble-free miles were running out. A starter here, a radiator there, and stranding my wife and infant son on the side of the road with electrical gremlins made its replacement eminent. Contemplating the addition of another child with our already tight space requirements made it a matter of practicality. Her preference for large SUVs and my deep seated frugality made it, um, interesting.

“A Sequoia or Armada will work.”

Gas had just hit an all time high of $2.50 a gallon. (Heh.) With her staying home to raise our son, the rising cost of gas, the nontrivial price premium big SUVs command over minivans, and our already meager budget – there was no way we could swing that. Round 1 was a draw.

One peaceful (read: not discussing the car situation) Saturday afternoon we were watching broadcast TV at home. (Cable? Those frills cost money! Nor caller ID, call waiting or smartphones. I had the neighbors convinced that “Suburban Amish” was a thing). This ad came on:

“Hm. If I ever did drive a minivan, it would have to be that one.” Did she just say that in her outside voice?

Truth be told I didn’t want to drive a minivan either, but the Quest really did seem to be something different, daring even with the swept back look and unconventional styling. Every other van out there just looked like a box; at least they were trying. I was already a Nissan fan, having put enough miles on 3 Hardbody trucks to make it all the way to the moon and most of the trip back. Finding out it shared much DNA with the Maxima, my top pick for “what would I drive if I didn’t need a truck” made it almost, dare I say it, kind of cool.

August 22, 2005: I’m rushing to get to work, but she stops me at the door and hands me an odd looking book with a frilly cloth cover, tied with a satin sash. I stare at it, dumbfounded. “Its a new baby book. We’re going to need it.” OH! SQUEEEEEEE!! We hold each other tightly in wordless celebration. I break the silence – “Thats great news! We’re buying a van today.” She looks at the ground and offers one last muted protest. “Sequoia?” “Baby, the Quest is the best.”

A quick search on AutoTrader found a used base model with the right miles for the right price. The only drawback – it was 90 minutes away in Angleton. I called the dealer to make sure they still had it and we hit the road. In keeping with the long standing tradition of auto dealers everywhere, of course the van wasn’t there. They assured me they had a similar one that I would like, they just needed to get it from their other store across town. Well, we did come all this way…

We grab lunch to kill time and return to find the other van really does exist. She approaches to inspect it… I watch from a safe distance. It’s actually much nicer than the one we originally came for, a well optioned 2005 grey on grey SL with heated leather seats, panoramic sunroof, 6 CD changer with Bose sound, and a power sliding door. It was fresh off a one year lease with all of 4,722 miles. She briefly looks around the driver’s seat, glances at the second row, up at all the sunroofs (there are 5), then looking not quite at the van but not quite at me either she gives half a nod to no one in particular. The signal. It’s a done deal. A few hours later we bid the 4Runner farewell and start the long drive home, full of optimism about our growing family and the adventures we will have in our new chariot.

Delivering the goods

This van is big. Vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big compared to the 4Runner. The greenhouse is enormous; visibility is almost completely unobstructed.

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Almost…The D pillars are pretty big, but the rear window is so wide you hardly notice they’re there. The third row headrests are visible in the rearview mirror but adjusting them all the way down helps a lot. The side mirrors are large which is a good thing; you’re going to need them when cutting through rush hour traffic. There is no trace of the vehicle visible out the front glass, which takes some getting used to if you’re accustomed to seeing the hood of your truck at all times.

The second row seats have more legroom than the front. The third row seats have almost as much as the second row, and you can walk right to them between the captain’s chairs. Seven Texas-sized adults can ride in comfort. Fold the third row down and you have an enormous cargo area that will swallow two 50” flatscreens in one bite, or a sheet of plywood if you don’t mind some of it hanging out the back. The second row seats move forward a few inches to make even more room.

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With the third row up there is a huge well in the floor behind the seat backs.

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Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5L VQ engine delivers MAD MAXIMA POWAH! It’s just silly how strong it is off the line. Per Wikipedia, the engine is good for 240 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque that will get you to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds. Practical application: if you need to cross ALL the lanes of FM1488 to get to the Whataburger thats only 100 feet up the road from the stoplight because somebody forgot to pee before you left the Renaissance Festival, you can do that with authority and a satisfying roar from the engine. Of course it helps if nobody else at the light knows they are racing. Stomp the throttle from a roll below 10 mph and the tires spin. 80 mph is effortless, and you’ll get there without even noticing if you’re not careful. Fortunately my unassuming mom mobile has been invisible to law enforcement; I hoon it around with impunity. EPA estimated mileage is 18-24 MPG, but I always got 19 in mixed driving.

The handling is surprisingly good for something this large and heavy (204.1 inches long, 77.6 inches wide, 70 inches tall, 5,732 lbs). My driving style varies from spirited to aggressive, but I’ve never been able to unsettle it more than just getting the back end to step out a few degrees on hard corner exits, and even that takes a lot of effort. The steering has very little play; small inputs are faithfully translated into minor course adjustments. On the highway it tracks straight with very little effort needed to keep it between the ditches. The disc brakes front and back have always felt adequate for normal driving; the whoa matches the go.

It’s certainly the most luxurious vehicle we’ve owned so far. The leather seats are comfortable on long road trips, although at 6’ I wish they would go back another inch. The heated front seats provide welcome relief for my chronic back pain; I run them year round. My only complaint is the two heater settings are “is this thing on?” and “the seat is melting”, forcing me to toggle between high and off to maintain a comfortable temperature. The multi panel sunroof cheers up the otherwise drab greyness of the interior. Kids love the airplane-style overhead lights and vents.

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The Details

In addition to the pleasing big ticket items above, the van is endowed with some extremely well conceived and executed features that are a joy to use.

There is a strip of grocery bag hangers on the back of the third row seats. This is a killer feature. There are other knobs that things can hang on or be tied to.

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There is a map holder molded into the steering column. This is extremely handy if you still use old school written directions like me.

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There is a large hook within the driver’s reach on the passenger seat base. Our salesman said it was a purse hanger. Well, It’s a handy place to anchor a grocery bag or really anything else you don’t want sliding around on the floor. And slide it will; there is no center console separating the driver and passenger footwells.

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The Bose speakers sounded great then, and they still sound great 9 years later. I feed it a steady diet of ’80s heavy metal turned up to 11 when it’s just the boys and I.

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Rounding out the family friendly bona fides, there are little storage bins and compartments everywhere. I keep them full of band aids, water bottles, gummy worms, kids’ allergy medicine, and Red Bull (for me of course).

Things that make you go hmmm

It also has some things that are just different for the sake of being different and make no damn sense at all.

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The speedometer sits in the middle of the dash above the center stack instead of directly in front of the driver. What. The. Hell? This foolishness easily doubles the amount of time it takes to glance down and across at the speedometer and back at the road. Backseat drivers love it. This conversation, in perpetuity: “You’re speeding.” (low grumble) “I like the way I’m driving better than the way you’re not.” Nissan abandoned this foolishness before the end of the model run, so make sure you get a 2007 or later if you like your road speed like you like your browser history – private.

The front cup holders feel like an afterthought. They’re too low to comfortably reach while driving; your beverage is sitting nearly on the floor. I have to bend a little to the side to reach them. They’re also fragile and easily stepped on by children. Mine haven’t closed properly for years.

Finally, the third row seat stowing procedure is complicated, strenuous, and a little dangerous:

Remove the third row headrests and store them in a bag that hangs in the back corner.
Remove the bag and put it…somewhere.
Fold the seat forward and down to the flat position.
Reach as far forward as you possibly can and pull with all your might on a nylon strap to lift the seat all the way back up and over until it drops into the well with enough force to crush a small child. I’m 6′, 245 lbs and I struggle with this. I can’t imagine the target demographic Quest driver has an easy time with this.
Hang the stupid bag back up.

Most of the time I just leave the headrests and bag at home and reinstall them when I have passengers. If I like them.

Heading out to the highway

Beauty is skin deep, but cheap parts and assembly are to the bone.

For our first 5 years of Questdom, the van was used as a light commuter for my wife and as our weekend road trip hauler. During that time it accumulated squeaks, leaks, and rattles in much the same way that Toyotas don’t. That must be what the SL badge on the back stands for, or possibly, Sticky Leather.

There are several plastic splash shields under the engine compartment. I can’t tell you how many because I’ve never seen them all at the same time, but I’ve counted at least four that pushed their eject button somewhere out on the Texas highways. I know the scraping sound they make so well that I can hear a Quest coming from blocks away. Sometimes they drop onto a tire and make a terrific burning smell as they melt and splatter molten plastic all over the brake rotor. The van sits very low, especially the nose, and the suspension bottoms easily which I’m sure exacerbates the problem. I used to replace them, but the van just drops them like a bad habit so I don’t bother anymore. It seems to get along just fine without them.

The liftgate button also likes to disappear – into the body moulding. The first several times I dutifully fished it back out and reinstalled, only to have it happen again after a few more pushes. Closing it manually is a safer bet anyway, because every time you use the button there is a good chance the liftgate will stop a few inches before closing and open right back up, beeping a warning like you did something wrong. It likes to pull the opposite trick too, raising a few inches, beeping, and then suddenly closing. When it does you will be tempted to grab the handle and try to pull it back up. Don’t, because when you miss the handle and instead rip the painted plastic cover off it is expensive to put it back on.

“Daddy, it’s raining on me.” The multi panel moonroofs leak during anything harder than a sprinkle. When I finally felt like doing something about it, the roof was already rusted through in places around the glass. Oops. The power sunroof is a chronic leaker as well, dripping water right onto my lap while driving. This can be temporarily remedied by standing up through the sunroof and cleaning the drain lines with a pipe cleaner; I keep a pair in the glove box at all times. The moisture gives the electronics a sense of adventure and mischief, opening the sunroof unbidden when you least expect it and then closing just as mysteriously a few minutes later. I keep waiting for this to happen inside a car wash. To round out the wet weather fun, the left sliding door rattles and squeaks constantly when it rains, but not when it’s dry, and never the right side. Figure that one out.

The moonroof panels have a nifty pull-out shade for when you want protection from the sun. In Houston we call that “daytime.” One day the shade went slack and we heard something round and heavy roll across the roof and down into the side of the body. It never retracted again. Dropping the roof just to estimate the real repair cost is north of $500 at the dealer.

Despite all the little issues, the core strengths of hauling lots of people and lots of stuff (sometimes both!) still shine through. Shortly after buying the Quest I got promoted, which meant I could afford TWICE THE DEBT!! Recently retired from motocross, I no longer needed a truck. I traded my beloved but ailing T100 4×4 on a gently used G35 sedan. The following weekend we realized a backyard playset would make the perfect gift for the first born’s second birthday. I had my doubts about the Quest’s ability to haul several hundred pounds of “some assembly required” backyard fun, but it didn’t break a sweat. Over the years it served quite well as a light truck and cargo hauler. We added a trailer hitch and took the in-laws on vacation with us to South Padre Island, hauling 4 adults, 2 children, and a 4×8 trailer with ease. Life with the van is good!

Victim of changes

August 12, 2012: I’m driving the van back to Houston from Angleton once again. All the hope and optimism from before is gone. Leaving the Brazoria County courthouse, I’m struck by the irony of the judge’s parting words. “I’m glad the two of you worked this out.” I assume he meant to show his gratitude for us settling outside of a trial. This is obviously some strange use of the phrase “worked this out” that I wasn’t previously aware of.

The children, and the Quest, are now my sole responsibility and mode of transportation.

Survival mode

Adapting to life as a single dad while maintaining a demanding career and preparing to move out of a rundown house, the Quest proved itself to be a welcome shelter from the world when I needed one.

I spent a lot of the first year completely exhausted. Fortunately, the Quest is easy to sleep in. The third row is wide enough to curl up on for a quick nap. Need some legroom? Lean the third row back, fold a second row seat down and put your feet up. Want to lay all the way down? Fold the third row and move the second row all the way up and stretch out. Missed a meal? A small Lunchable fits perfectly in the coin tray.

The Bose sound system has plenty of punch if you need a sustained cathartic blast of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Still need more stress relief? Flog the mighty 3.5L V6 with reckless abandon on your commute, and stuff it into a freeway turnaround so hard that the back end starts to kick out when you exit at twice the posted speed; even drivers of full sized domestic pickup trucks will give you wide berth.

The Quest continued serving light truck duty while preparing our old house for sale, which suffered from years of deferred maintenance. Tile, paint, fence boards, landscaping, no job was too big. The play set it had hauled home for us new in a box, it hauled once more to the dump after I methodically cut it down with a circular saw. Little pieces of my my sons’ childhood and innocence tumbled down into the landfill with it.

Alas, operating the van during this transitional period wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Days before its inspection was due the check engine light came on. The code indicated catalytic converter replacement, a several thousand dollar repair. I did not have two extra nickels to rub together, so I dumped the biggest bottle of fuel system cleaner I could find into a tank of super unleaded and whipped it like a rented mule for 300 miles. I reset the CEL, and it never came back on.

In the year that followed, I replaced the rear wheel bearings, one CV joint, and the odometer/fuel gauge. One unlucky morning I was attempting my Tokyo Drift freeway turnaround maneuver. At the point of the corner exit where I was expecting an upshift, the transmission slipped instead and the engine soared way past the redline. Before I could back off the throttle, it lost all power with a loud bang. CRAP! I pondered the very expensive options while I limped it to the nearest shop at its new top speed of 20 mph, the engine shaking like a wet dog. Slipped timing chain and bent valves? Did a catalytic converter finally collapse? I was relieved to find it had only popped off a vacuum line downwind from the mass air flow meter; a mercifully cheap fix. Still, there was no denying the van was getting expensive to operate and that I had kept it well past its expiration date.

New beginnings

In June 2013, the Quest brought the boys to see their new home for the first time where we would restart our life in Sugar Land. After years of chronic back pain I did not want my children riding dirt bikes, but my brother had other plans. Waiting for us in the garage was the 1991 Yamaha PW50 that all 3 of his boys learned to ride on, restored and ready for mine. How can I say no to that? We quickly outgrew the little Pee Wee, and got tired of sharing it. Fortunately the Quest is a damn good mini bike hauler.

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Dont try this with your RX 350! That’s a Honda CRF50 and CRF70, with the second row seats in place, and the liftgate will still close. You can even use the second row seat brackets to anchor tiedowns, and there’s room for plenty of gear and a ramp down the middle.

Like any addict, part of my mind is constantly whispering to me “Go ahead, Robert. You can ride just a little bit, it won’t hurt you.” Come to think of it, I do need something to follow the boys around on so I can coach them on proper riding techniques.

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450 KTM FTW!
A trailer with 3 dirt bikes and gear starts to stress the van a bit. Fuel economy drops to about 15 MPG. The low ground clearance makes hauling a trailer over rough ground a dangerous proposition; I’ve bottomed out the hitch several times. The modest grade of my driveway grinds metal into concrete every single time I back in or pull out, leaving glacial striations for future archaeologists to ponder. This is not the best application for the van, but you can get by with it.

Conclusion

I’ve gotten years of use and enjoyment out of this van, albeit tempered by the frustrations of the chronic problem areas and rapidly increasing operating costs. It was the right vehicle at the right time; it’s been the right vehicle for a long time now. I’m a proud member of the He-Man Minivan Lovers Club. I still stand by my decision to buy it, and given the same set of circumstances I’d buy it again. But circumstances change, and I will never be back at that place in my life. As good as it has been to own it, nothing lasts forever. Any day now it could need something that costs more than I could sell it for. If I loved it, I could afford repairs that make no financial sense, but I don’t love it. I respect it, it has been a faithful and dependable part of my life for 9 years now, but in my mind it will always be her car. I’m reminded of her every time I sit down and turn the key, and I’ve grown weary of that.

Is my quest, and my Quest, finally coming to an end? I think… yes, and soon.

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106 Comments on “A Nine Year Quest, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Looking Cool and Love the Van...”


  • avatar
    thelaine

    Excellent.

  • avatar
    SMIA1948

    Wonderful writing. Cars are part of your life, and it’s great to read a story of how one vehicle fit into one person’s life.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Well done! And it just goes to show that despite being unfashionable, a van is the right tool for the job when the job is hauling mass quantities of people and stuff.

  • avatar
    S197GT

    first of all: nice write up.

    second: not only will i never own a minivan… i don’t even like being seen in one. having said that i have driven and ridden in one and they are fantastic vehicles and i totally get why people love them.

    third: what i take most from this is never get married. (i am married; which has also taught me to never get married.)

    what can i say? life is full of contradictions.

  • avatar
    jrmason

    Dont leave us hanging! What are your plans for a future vehicle?

    Coming from the same background as you (MX) I too got my boys into riding by the age of 4. They are now soon to be 11 and just turned 9 and are getting to the point I am comfortable taking them to some of the areas I go with my riding buddies. It is a ton of fun being out there, just me and my boys and a set of wheels. We’ve had many great memories. Thank you for sharing yours.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Thanks jrmason! I pretty much tortured myself for months trying to pick out a vehicle that does everything a minivan does, except for being a minivan. Spoiler alert – they don’t exist, but some come closer than others. I ended up buying a Ford Flex – great comfort, passenger room, and handling. With the factory trailer hitch it pulls the bikes really well, I paid extra for the factory hitch because it sits right under the license plate, whereas the aftermarket ones are a few inches lower and I did not want to have any more ground clearance issues.

  • avatar
    kkop

    Been there, done that (mostly). Crew Cab pickup is in your future. While they are frowned upon by most of the TTAC community (unless you can prove you’re a farmer or contractor), they are the most versatile family vehicles available.

    After driving the minivan for a few years, I found I didn’t need the third row (it was stored most of the time), and the interior was just a little too cramped for me (6’+). Crew Cab fixed all that. Transported bike in bed, no need for trailer.

    Wife loves the high position and overall comfort of the truck as well. Made sure I got steps so she could get in easily.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Oh, how I wanted the answer to be a crew cab pickup. It was the forgone conclusion until I noticed that a lot of the crew cab trucks at the motocross track were also pulling trailers. 3 bikes and all our gear would have been a very tight squeeze. Plus I do need to carry 6 or more people on a regular basis. Plus I sometimes carry big stuff that can’t get rained on. Plus I wanted something I could hoon around in :-) I’m sure I could have made a truck work, but the Flex I ended up buying was the least worst compromise of all my requirements.

      • 0 avatar

        Anthropological data suggests that those who prefer SUVs view themselves as rugged independents, while those who prefer minivans are more family people. I will take the latter any day over the former, and I would rather be seen in a minivan than an SUV for that reason. Robert, you sound like more of a family person, and I’m guessing ***maybe*** your wife wasn’t.

        My parents’ last new car was a ’97 Dodge Caravan. They needed something that could carry my mother’s electric scooter (she had MS). I actually liked the Caravan, somewhat to my surprise. It was very peppy (I called it my mother’s hot-rod minivan, which she loved), and I think the styling is among the best I’ve ever seen on a minivan.

        But it could not corner hard. I had a minor scare the one time I tried to do so (I was alone in it).

        I will also say that the one time I went parking after my teen years was in a minivan. I was over 50(!), the woman lived in Portland Maine and I outside of Boston, and we met for the first time halfway between.

        Great story!

    • 0 avatar
      thx_zetec

      “most versatile” hard to define, this is case of apples-and-oranges.

      I have six in my family and extended family near by, so for me 3rd row is a must-have.

      For towing and rough-road, no comparison. Minivans terrible for towing and off-loading.

      Minivan will cost less and get better fuel economy, easier to park and garage than crew-cab.

  • avatar
    thx_zetec

    Minivans are hard to beat. Our 2004 Sienna was pretty useful.

    23,000 dollars, 26,000 out the door (AZ has high registration).

    You could flip down row3 and pull out row2 and haul a great deal. Consider 8-passenger van 8*200 = 1600lb, this is 3/4 ton weight limit. Need to get 1000lb of flooring from Home Depot? Easy.

    One feature I liked was that the center consul between the front seats could fold out of the way – this would allow hauling very, very long objects in 7-passenger version.

    You can haul seven people on long trip and have decent luggage room. To do this with SUV you need to go to Nimitz-class size like Suburban

    Decent Mileage. Decent power. Decent ride. Decent handling.

    In response to lower sales carmakers are trying to make minivans more luxurious, more stylish, etc. This is a step backwards.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    My dad was a traveling sales rep for nearly 40 years, and had a whole host of company vehicles, from a ’78 Malibu that blew the engine at 12,000 miles to a Pontiac 6000 wagon that would…not…die. His final vehicle, and his all time favorite was a 2008 Chevy Uplander. I had to admit it was a very thoughtful design, and very easy for him to work out of. I see the wisdom of mini vans for certain uses, great numbers of rug rats among them. Good power train, but everything else was in imminent danger of failing/falling apart.

    Also, you were stranded roadside by a 10 year old Toyota? Can’t say any of my Fords have ever done that to me, no matter how clapped out they got. Just going to throw that out there. :)

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      “you were stranded roadside by a 10 year old Toyota?”

      No one was more surprised than me!

      • 0 avatar
        Littlecarrot

        Perhaps a bit of hyperbole? I just bought a 1997 4Runner with 126k and it’s barely broke in. The 3.4 v6 should go 400k easily.

        • 0 avatar
          Robert

          I have no doubt the engine could have gone that far. All the things bolted to it, perhaps not so much. For the most part the issues we had with the 4Runner were relatively minor and to be expected. We just outgrew it. Enjoy your 97! That particular generation was my favorite.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            I’m one of the first to jump in and tout the build quality and durability of that generation of Toyotas, 4Runners even more so. But just because they’re built very well doesn’t mean they’re some sort of magical invincible vehicles. To need a starter rebuilt($5 in new brushes and a quick DIY to replace) and a radiator after 10 years isn’t too bad IMO. I’m curious what exactly the electric gremlin was that stranded your wife was, just from a curious tinkerer’s perspective. The 90-95 4Runners with the 3vz V6 have notorious headgasket issues, but once it is replaced with the redesigned part, you’re all set for the next 200k miles or more. As far as the tightness, interior quality and lack of squeaks I will attest to that. My now 19 year old truck is rattle free over even the worst roads, tight as a drum.

            Robert, glad you got such good use out of the Quest, and it’s awesome to see you got your kids on 2 wheels. One aspect of future fatherhood that I’m really looking forward to is getting my children-to-be up and riding. We’ll see if I still have my trusty ’96 4Runner as a tow rig then, at 118k miles I figure it has another few decades and hundreds of thousands of miles in it as long as I keep up on maintenance and oil undercoating.

          • 0 avatar
            jrmason

            We had a 95 4Runner with a 22RE and a 5 speed manual trans. It couldn’t get out of its own way but it gave us many trouble free miles. Sadly it was totaled when my wife got rear ended. We were close to upgrading anyway when it happened, but I had plans of dropping a small 4BT Cummins in it, replace the IFS with a straight axle under the front end and add some 35’s. It would have made a sweet trail rig. I had most of the parts needed for the swap. This was several years ago and she was still in college so I couldn’t afford to go buy a donor vehicle to do it when the 4Runner was totaled. Now that we are in a better place, Ive been keeping an eye out for another donor vehicle. Clean body bad motor type. Only instead of the 4BT I had I’m thinking a TDI out of an ALH platform VW. They are roughly the same HP yet substantially lighter. They are modern enough to produce a good amount of torque with a tune yet old enough to make for a simple conversion. We just so happen to have one in the Beetle TDI she commutes in but it is way too clean to hack apart. For now. :-)

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            @jrmason,

            Here’s some inspiration:

            linkhttp://www.japaneseclassicsllc.com/1990-toyota-hilux-surf-ssr-24l-turbo-diesel-4wd-5-mt-8995.html

          • 0 avatar
            jrmason

            I would love me an original Hilux diesel. More so than any custom rig I could ever build. I wish they were more available, but here in the states I’d have a better shot at finding a unicorn.

          • 0 avatar
            Robert

            The electrical gremlin was the negative battery lead basically breaking in half near the starter, if I recall correctly. Nothing systemic, just a weird one time failure. I also had to replace the power radio antenna at one point – that was the nightmare that made me swear off wrenching on cars forever, the cable went behind the glove box and was over $500 just for labor. I ended up taking the old one apart and rebuilding it with the guts of the new one. I only got the bolts finger tight for the first power test, in which it dutifully unwound from the shell and shot through the air and onto the driveway. One of the bolts I didn’t tighten was what stopped that from happening, so I had to do it all over again.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Robert,

            It’s funny you mention power antenna woes, mine gave up the ghost this winter in the middle of the deep freeze, the plastic cable the pushes the antenna broke snapped. I fiddled around with a cheap $16 replacement antenna for a bit, which broke during installation so I just disconnected the motor inside the wheel well and called it good. I only listen to MP3 media in the car anyhow so it was irrelevant.

            As I suspected, the ‘electrical gremlin’ was quite trivial, unlike something like a wiring harness degrading on a Mercedes of similar 1990s vintage, or a 1980s Volvo.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Great write up, let’s me sad in some sense though.

    My boys are older now and have a suburban, but our minivan phase was one of the best times of my life. I am terribly sorry to hear your marriage did not make it though.

    My love for the minivan is uncanny. As you noted they are just about invisible to law enforcement, so I routinely take one from national weekly. With 300hp they are no downright fast! And cruise along at 80 or better in quiet unnoticeable bliss. I had a T&C for five years and had non of the issues you note in terms of quality though, I chalk that up to Nissan racing to the bottom in just about every category.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Thanks Morgan.

      “I chalk that up to Nissan racing to the bottom in just about every category.”

      No kidding. I was a huge Nissan fanboy for years. Now there’s really nothing in their lineup that I can get excited about. I got my hopes up about the new Pathfinder, but Autotrader was full of practically brand new ones listed as factory buyback. No thank you – I have enough drama in my life!

  • avatar
    Scuttle

    Excellent article. You should submit more of them Robert.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Great story! Reminds me of the kind of stuff I would read on Curbside Classic back when I still visited that site.

    I wish TTAC would have posted it on Monday so more people could read it.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Thank you for writing this beautiful article. You managed to review the car wonderfully, while giving us a sense of how it became a member of your family. Best of luck with the Flex. I loved the writing too… especially “the whoa matched the go.”

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Thanks Nick! It was like a member of the family. I had mixed emotions about parting with it – we had been through a lot together, and it was the biggest remaining llink to my old life (other than my awesome boys of course). My boys were not happy about it at all – they loved that van…until I started taking them on test rides with me :-) Having a back seat window that actually rolls down sold them.

  • avatar
    See 7 up

    If your vehicle of 10 years and only 135k miles required new radiators and starters, and has electrical gremlins, left you stranded, it is NOT a masterpiece of engineering and frankly pretty unreliable.

    Any vehicle that leaves me stranded, sans a dead battery due to lack of use, under 150k miles is frankly a poor example of reliability, I don’t care what name is on the grill. And I basically expect 200k miles without any real issue.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      See my comment above. I have pretty high standards for vehicle reliability, but pray tell me, what vehicle makes it 200k and 10+ years without any ‘real issues?’ I’m obviously buying the wrong cars over here.

      • 0 avatar
        jrmason

        Its hard to beat the reliability of a Yota. Ive got a Ford in my driveway (Mountaineer) that I would gladly trade for another 4Runner, Which will most likely be our next purchase.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          If I weren’t determinedly saving up for a house, I’d have a 2015 SR5 Premium in my garage right now. There’s a few things I’d miss from my ’96 (locking rear diff, steel bumpers that can be stepped on, no gaping maw up front) but overall they’re a worthy successor IMO. Who knows what direction Toyota will take the next generation. If the 2016 Tacoma is any indicator, it’s not a good one.

          • 0 avatar
            jrmason

            Gtemnykh, I’m not sure what changes are coming down the pipeline for Toyota but we dont buy new anyway. Generally 2-3 (maybe 4 tops) yrs old, low mileage, preferably owned by an older man/woman or at the least responsible and dilegent in mtce and care. It is a process you can’t be in a hurry to buy but we have gotten some good deals over the years.

      • 0 avatar
        See 7 up

        Everything but an early 80’s saab, and that was mainly vacuum line issues. Toyota, VW, Honda, Subaru.
        Maybe I’ve been lucky but all made it to 150k without issue, although the thermostat on the VW went around 40k I think. Between 150 and 200, I did have an alternator on the Toyota, but i knew this was an issue with the car when bought due to its placement. The Toyota went past 350k, everything else went past 225k minimum and was still running. Sold just to get a different/new car.

        And yes, I am knocking on wood right now.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Like I said, I don’t see a radiator and starter brush replacements as “major” issues if they happened after the car is 10+ years old and 135k miles. Being stranded sure sucks, the fact that it was an incredibly simple fix is both infuriating and good to hear.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Great story! I love minivans – how long do you get to wear that badge of proud parenthood?? Sadly we only had one kid, and the perfectly-sized Villager/Quest had left the market by then.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Unlike most of the B+B, I am no fan of the van. Give me a Suburban everyday of the week and drill, baby, drill.

    That being said this was a cool story. Shows just how much cars can be a part of life.

    That being said, if one of my vehicles’ roofs started leaking, I would dump that sucker like a live grenade.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Thanks Mandalorian. Of all the van’s failings, the roof leak was the most frustrating and disappointing. We’re it not for the leaks, it would probably still be sitting in my driveway today.

  • avatar
    alex159569

    Wow! Thanks for the awesome read, I loved it! You managed to weave together a touching life story with a super-informative car review… best wishes to you!

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The problem with minivans is that they’re so practical, they’ve gotten a reputation as being driven by people who have given up any pretense of style or fashion. IOW, complete dullards, today’s modern version of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

    It’s fitting that the article immediately following this one concerns the rise of commercial van sales. I have no doubt it falls very much in line with the influx of new, small, city-sized commercial vans like the Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200, and Fiat Doblo-based Ram Promaster City. These small commercial vans (which can also be had as wagons with seats, ostensively to avoid the ‘chicken tax’) are the ultimate expression of practical, minivan-sized cargo haulers in that the storage area is large and enclosed, they’re small enough to be driven like a car, and they get decent fuel mileage. The only thing they really can’t do is haul people.

    It’s also why Chrysler’s Stow-and-Go seating was such marketing genius. You could have both a large people mover, as well as a cargo carrier by just folding all the seats into the floor. In a world where the buying public had more sense, Chrysler’s minivan would be the sales champ, easily eclipsing SUV/CUV sales. Instead, it’s just the opposite.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      I looked hard at the Ford Transit Wagon as a replacement. In theory they can be had in interesting colors, but I never saw anything other than white in dealer inventory.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    Clap, Clap…jolly good.
    I am more of a wagon type of guy but I really appreciate what a van brings to the table. The Flex is an absolute top choice. I would have gotten one when I was in the market in 98 but Ford wouldn’t budge on the price. I got a CX9 instead.
    With that being said I wish that Nissan would have kept the space and versatility of the first Quest with the looks, quality and dare I say luxurious interior of the new one and combined them together. Instead they just used one for all markets. I absolutely love the poor-mans stow and go in the first gen. The current one lacks space overall and has much better quality.
    Maybe Nissan will do as I ask in the 4th gen when it comes out in about three years.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    Being at the age, early 30s, where peers are having kids, I notice a weird psychosis among new parents, especially moms. On one hand, everything they talk about – their very identity – becomes their new kid, to the point that their Facebook profile pictures are of their kids instead of themselves.

    While mildly annoying to someone who hasn’t reached that point in their life, I understand that having a kid transforms your routine, your priorities, and your life, so to an extent this phenomenon makes sense to me.

    What doesn’t make sense is that despite this transformation, they absolutely will not be seen in a vehicle that makes them look like a parent. A minivan is by far the best tool for the job when you’re schlepping around kids (or for a number of other practical uses). But instead of dropping $25k or less on a nicely equipped, brand new Caravan, among other good choices, they’ll go out and drop big coin on a CUV or SUV, simply for the image. And these are usually not people with money to spare on frivolous things.

    No matter what ride you roll up to the grocery store in, you’re going to have vomit on your shirt and smell of poop before you get back home, so who do you think you’re impressing, and why are you trying to impress them?

    Personally, I’d much rather have a practical kid-hauler tool, and use the money saved to buy something that’ll actually be cool. Dirtbikes, sport motorcycles and old sports cars can all be purchased with the cost savings of buying a minivan over an equivalent SUV or CUV.

    • 0 avatar
      See 7 up

      I find it ironic that parents, to not be seen as such, choose a car that only other parents are driving.

      Oh but that CUV looks so rugged, like it just came off an African Safari right? Must have just happened to save those kids from life in the bush on the way to Costco.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Amen.

    • 0 avatar
      markf

      The topic of being to “cool” for a minivan is covered pretty well in this Reason article.

      “There’s also the decline in parental prestige over generations. My mother reports that when she was a newlywed (she was married in 1959) you weren’t seen as fully a member of the adult world until you had kids. Nowadays to have kids means something closer to an expulsion from the adult world. People in the suburbs buy SUVs instead of minivans not because they need the four-wheel-drive capabilities, but because the SUVs lack the minivan’s close association with low-prestige activities like parenting, and instead provide the aura of high-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. Why should kayaking be more prestigious than parenting? Because parenting isn’t prestigious in our society. If it were, childless people would drive minivans just to partake of the aura.

      http://reason.com/archives/2011/01/06/return-of-the-minivan

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        And yet my wife loved her parents’ old Chevy Astro (yes, more midivan than minivan) specifically because she could stuff a kayak in it.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Astros are awesome. Very useful vans that can haul/tow a good deal more than a standard sedan based fwd minivan, and were available with AWD. People have done some pretty cool stuff with swapping in S10 blazer manual transfer cases and doing body and suspension lifts. Done well and within reason, you can have a really awesome camping/expedition rig on the cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      jrmason

      There is no rule that says a van is the most practical vehicle or the best fit for every family. For a family of 4 an SUV fits us perfectly. The extra ground clearance along with 4 wheel drive option (not AWD) is used frequently just to get out of our drive and down our road to the main road in the winter when there are 18″ drifts in the road. Both features also come in handy the couple of times a year we primitave camp. Aside from that, we simply like the fit and finish of an SUV. Being a country girl the wife prefers a truck (and could legitimately USE one) but is not practical in daily use from a family standpoint. Besides that when she needs something with a bed we own 2 CTD as it is and at least one is available when the need arises.

      Believe it or not, people genuinely use what they buy. Its not all about the image as your stereotypes incite.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Based on the gazillions of SUVs at my kid’s school in tony west Houston, you using your suv as it was intended is an aberration. Good on you though.

        • 0 avatar
          jrmason

          Well, I can imagine being in the city you won’t see too many people using an SUV for its intended use. But that’s not the case in BFE, ahem, home sweet home.

          • 0 avatar
            See 7 up

            I think your correct that people use what they buy, but I think a lot of people buy capability they won’t need, and also shy away from potentially “better” options for aesthetic/image reasons.

            But, its hard to say what is a “better” option. If it meets an owners needs and they like it, its the best option right? Who am I to say that a vehicle one like isn’t the right one for them.

            I just find the push from many moms I know away from “mom mobiles” into vehicles that I only see “moms” in, is comic irony to the outside observer.

  • avatar
    houstonheat

    Thanks for the great story! Hope we get to hear more from you in the future

  • avatar
    05lgt

    WOW. Thanks for the briliant write up about cars, lives, and how they change over time. Easily the best thing I’ve read on TTAC for quite some time. You helped me remember that I love cars.

  • avatar
    Syke

    A wonderful story. My fiancee and I looked seriously at Quests last year when we were looking for our minivan, but there was something about the interior setup that just wasn’t working out for us. Our needs were for a van that could haul a three tent re-enactment/sutlery setup for various 16th/17th century events, be something we could live out of at MotoGP/AMA Superbike/Formula 1 race venues, and still replace my Ranger pickup in anything except absolutely dirty hauling.

    Ended up with an ’08 Kia Sedona with the second row of seats permanently stored in the attic. This is being written at our rental cottage in St. Augustine with the Kia parked outside, as we’re on our honeymooon. And we’ll be back again in two months for Drake’s Raid.

    Oh yeah, room in the driveway for the van was made by selling off my Pontiac Solstice. Yeah, I dumped a sports car for a minivan. And I don’t have (and never will have) kids.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Congratulations on the nuptials. I’m curious, what 16th century events do you reenact?

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        Drake’s Raid in St. Augustine is a regular. I’m primarily 17th century, Henricus Plantation, St. Mary’s City, MD, both in October. I earned my living at this doing Syke’s Sutlery (still in business although under different ownership for the last fifteen years), I’m just got back in the business as Syke the Shirtmaker (syketheshirtmaker.com). Going to start doing Searle’s Raid (1680’s) in St. Augustine, since it’s the weekend before the Dayona 200.

        Going to be an interesting week, hauling both Restoration kit with an ’88 Harley Super Glide.

        Over the last ten years, the 16th/17th century reenactment hobby has fallen off badly. Too many people lost to pirates.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      @Syke – You lead a fascinating life. Congratulations on finding a woman to share it with that can appreciate such widely varied activities! Does she share your love of older watercooled front engined Porsches too?

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        Yes, although being a good redneck girl, I’ve promised her a nice T-top Camaro or Firebird for her play car. And while she’s got me watching NASCAR with her, she’s also learned to love Valentine Rossi and Ferrari F1.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice piece.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I still wont buy a minivan. Not because of the stigma;
    Firstly, I only have three kids, so I don’t need three rows, and most cars here are allowed to tow, so I don’t need the ‘van’ part of it either. I have even gone from CUV to sedan now that the smallest only need booster seats instead of ‘thrones’
    Secondly, over here minivans don’t come with engines. The weight tax penalty alone assures that no one even tries to sell a minivan over here with more than 140hp. You can partially get around this by buyin a new one as a commercial van and then add tax-relieved seats after a few years of company use, but come on…
    Third, my main reason, and it’s a big part of your story too, they are crap.
    All of them as far as I know. The ‘best’ ones you can buy here are from either Renault (who has acknowledged that ‘quality’ and ‘reliability’ is a real word, and uses it on some of their non-minivans) or Chrysler, (who does not yet aknowledge those word at all as far as I know)
    And(but?) as their only selling point is ‘having more than 5 seats’, I dont see that this will change anytime soon, as they know people who need more than 5 seats will continue to buy them.
    We have some other European offerings , most of which are also based on small sedans or smaller hatchbacks, but none of them offer the space and utility, or power that you get in the typical US offerings. (sadly no Odysseys or Quests or Siennas here)
    It has changed a bit for the better in the later years, but so far I see no good reason why any minivan over here is even considered when a family buys a new ( especially 3-row) CUV, or even a ‘normal’ stationwagon (yeah, we still have those over here).

    • 0 avatar

      Funny how the world is, I’d rather have any minivan over any Cuv anyday. And the Euro minivans also drive better than them. Of course they lose in driving dynamics to regular cars. Even so I’d rather have one than a station wagon.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        I have test driven a Ford S-Max, regarded by many as the ‘best driving minivan’, and people has repeatedly told me it is supposed to drive just like a ‘normal’ car. And it drove exactly like my ’07 CR-V, except it lacked some power, and the massive centerconsole made it feel cramped up front, while the forward stretching A-pillars made me feel like I was sitting in the backseat. Second row space was as good as or maybe even better than the CR-V, and without the 3rd row it certainly has more space than a CR-V behind the seats, but with no 3rd row I feel a stationwagon would be just as good anyway.
        I should mention that I have never driven any CUV besides my CR-V’s, and that Ford ergonomics will always to superior to Hondas (except seats, they are about as bad)

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    OK…You completely talked me out of EVER purchasing this minivan.
    Had so many through the years, mostly Dodge.
    And they never had these quality issues.
    The very fav was the 99 Caravan…got 120K out of it, even with the trans issues.
    But we NEVER had the quality issues with windows and plastics and sticky anything.
    The Dodge was abused as a team hauler as well as weekly hauler for product, equipment and supplies for jewelry mfg. work. Heavy boxes and loaded to the hilt.
    This van sounds terrible.
    And that Dodge had the 3.8 V6. Never knew the actual horse power of that engine.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      In fairness to the Quest, the stickiness was 100% attributable to my children’s frightening ability to make the van look like we had been living out of it for a month after only a two hour road trip ;-)

  • avatar
    readallover

    Well, there is your next subject: music to play in the car when mom is not around. My boys loved and learned about the classics: the Kinks, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash (A Boy Named Sue was especially loved due to the swear word which mother would not have allowed.) And thus saved from the Rick Astley- Michael Boulton garbage that permeated the times disguised as `music`.
    I avoided the minivan trap with a Mercury Sable wagon. Hugely functional but came with the disintegrating 3.8 V-6 gaskets, transmission that did not like the 1-2 shift on cold, wet days and electric windows that stopped one month after the warranty expired.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Their mother was horrified when they asked to hear Breaking the Law and Electric Eye with us all in the car :-)

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        “Their mother was horrified when they asked to hear Breaking the Law and Electric Eye with us all in the car :-)”

        A sure sign that you have been a great dad!

        Few things are as sad as hearing the judge pronounce the end of your marriage and wishing you well. When I found myself in that position, the voice inside me was screaming “No!, No!, No!”. It took me some time to realize that it was for the best.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Priest rules!!!! Although, long ago, I discovered Iron Maiden is better live.

      However, both were blown away by watching Metallica outplay a Night on Bald Mountain-ish thunderstorm at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Followed by Guns and Roses making complete asses of themselves because Axel didn’t feel like performing that night.

      I hate that band

      • 0 avatar
        Robert

        I saw Iron Maiden last summer and was shocked at how good they still sound.

      • 0 avatar
        pb35

        I saw the Faith No More/Metallica/Guns ‘n Roses tour too, albeit at Giants Stadium. We left after Metallica, I had no interest in waiting for Axl to grace us with his presence.

        Congrats on the nuptials too, Syke. Glad you were able to find love again.

  • avatar
    deanst

    I think it was Dan Neil who called the minivan the most manly vehicle available – what other vehicle basically advertises that you have successfully reproduced? Hard to argue with that statement.

    The quest has always been my favourite minivan- just quirky enough to be interesting, but retaining all the practical features. However, the article validates all my fears about Nissan vehicles – silly little things will go wrong and ruin the ownership experience.

    I’ve been through the minivan stage, and look forward to the next step – a manual, non-brown station wagon.

    (The vehicle weight cited in the article seems to be the gross vehicle weight, the curb weight of these things is “only” about 2 tons.)

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Thanks for catching that.

      Whenever people ask me about buying a Nissan, I always say “they will last far longer than you will be willing to drive them.”

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Thanks for such a very engaging piece, Robert. There wasn’t a single moment where the length made it a chore and it’s delightfully free of fluff and puff.

    I suspect that you may have some psychic abilities somewhere as the line
    ” It also has some things that are just different for the sake of being different and make no damn sense at all.” is very likely to be the subject of an upcoming Doug DeMuro piece.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Fantastic write up – and vastly superior to the U-body crapbox I shlep around in for grocery getting duty.

    With that I agree with everything you wrote on the versatility of the minivan, despite it being maligned as uncool. A CUV/SUV can’t match what even a poorly designed minivan can do from a versatility and rearrangement stand point.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Robert,
    Was the Dr. Strangelove (sub) title yours or JB?

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    Similar story here!
    In 2004 I was checking out the new 2005 Quest as I needed a minivan for my dog (she loves to watch DVDs while I drive!). I even called Nissan to compliment them on the superb design of the new Quest.
    The best part of the van was the control stack, just like an F7 or E8 locomotive, I surmised. I could not get past the centered dash and so said no to the lease. Most of the Quests on the Irvine Nissan showroom floor were $39,000 and up versions. The fact that I was going to paint the van to replicate an Amtrak SDP40F locomotive from 1979 meant it had to be platinum silver to work.
    We ended up buying a 2000 Oldsmobile Silhouette GL up in Burlington, Washington. It was painted in Amtrak Phase II scheme with the red and blue stripes and three white divider tapes. What a lot of expense to copy a train!
    In 2011 we bought a 2005 Buick Terazza and had it painted in the proper Amtrak Phase III scheme for a 1983 SDP40F (#622) as seen on Google (in Texas!). The protruded nose on the GM vans really say “TRAIN”!
    And after hearing of all the problems with the Nissan Quest down the road, we are glad we never bought one.
    just like the overpriced Honda Odysseys with the failing transmissions…
    Kage, my shepherd-collie dog, is 14 now and wants a 1988 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon.
    It will be delivered in two weeks.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    One of the best pieces I’ve ever read here on TTAC. Most excellent, Robert!

    When my first wife left me and the kids unexpectedly I was left to do all the schlepping around for school and sports and extra-curricular activities in not a mini-van but an Evo. I can attest that I was the only Liitle League Dad pulling an enormous bag of baseball equipment out of a trunk that had a giant carbon fiber wing mounted on it.

    I finally came to my senses and bought a Honda Element. Other than the lack of seating (it only seats four), the Element has most of the advantages of a minivan and just about the same macho coolness factor: ie none. But it got the job done when I needed it most and it’s still in service today with my youngest son at college.

    Great, great heartfelt story!

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Thanks LeeK. Good on you for taking on that challenge and doing right by your kids – it’s a job that takes both hands!

      I really liked the Element, it’s too bad they don’t make them anymore.

  • avatar
    ekaftan

    Great story! it made me tear up a bit as it resonated with me a lot. I am just now driving a loaned beater as I sold my Nissan Navara (Frontier) yesterday as a second child comes before space for a racing bike, and the Town & Country I was going to buy got sold under me by a very rude dealer.

    Anyway, no Quests down here unless its a grey import and minivans are either trashed to hell or priced way outside my price range.

    I may end up with a 2006-2011 Pathfinder, which is not bad at all and its like a Frontier with a third row. Add a tow hitch and the bike will have to ride in a trailer but its workable…

    Very nice writeup.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Thanks! That generation of Pathfinder was a good one. I was annoyed at having to trailer the bikes at first – having a truck seemed much more simple, but I’ve discovered it’s nice to have them on the trailer the night before, ready to go in the morning, and then being able to just back the whole mess into the garage at night without unloading is very convenient.

  • avatar
    Car-los

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

    As for your back pain, have you tried Tui Na massage and acupuncture? Both helped a lot for mine.

    All the best…

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Robert,
    That was just about the perfect auto review. As good as anything that I have read. You provided the reason for buying that particular vehicle, the good, the bad and the sentimental. Both educational and touching.

    As for minivans being ‘invisible’. I had at least one of them in the driveway between 1992 and recently.

    Traded in the last one and took delivery of a sedan. Had not had any ‘moving violation’ during the entire time that I drove minivans. On my first weekend with a sedan they pulled me over in the normal ‘fishing hole’ that I drive by everyday. In the sedan ‘they finally saw me’.

    And now after living without one for a while, even though the kids have grown, I intend to return to minivans with my next vehicle purchase. They are just so practical that they make life so much easier and simpler.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      Thanks Arthur. Some days I wish I still had it. If only it had a couple more inches of ground clearance and an un-rusted through roof I would have kept it for a weekend hauler and gotten something more fun for me to get speeding tickets in :-)

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    As the owner of a Mazda 5 ( before kids) and current Odyssey driver, thank you for this write-up.

    I’d probably be a wagon guy if(new) wagons existed that didn’t require a second mortgage, pseudo-SUV’s with AWD and/or weren’t inferior to minivans for nearly every duty normal to most peoples lives. Going back to when Ford sold minivans and wagons together, why buy the Taurus wagon over the Windstar if they both had nearly the same mileage, price, and, let’s face it, handled about the same? The Euro wagons generally ride/drive much better, but their fuel mileage is nearly the same as any CUV they sell. When wagons were more popular, they were about the same economy as most minivans with much less capability.

    We’ll probably have a minivan by someone at least another 10 years. Maybe once the kids are teens, but I can’t see buying (leasing) anything else that fits our needs and is as easy to live with until then.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Great writing.

    My ’04 Quest hauled like an F-150, including a tall stack of 4×8 drywall with the tailgate closed. But man, could it shed parts. I never did my own oil changes, because by the time it was due there was always a list of warranty work to be done at the dealer. Nissan made good by offering a free extended warranty on those models, but for me it was the end of a long relationship with the brand.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    Wonderful article Robert combining the sometimes sad reality of life with great information about this particular minivan model. Unfortunately, this minivan must go because as you so eloquently put it ” I’m reminded of her every time I sit down and turn the key, and I’ve grown weary of that. ” No one deserves to be “tortured” like that.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    This was a great article… from one single full-time dad to another. Looking “cool” in a family vehicle doesn’t matter much. When I was still married and with only one kid, I had a booster seat in the front passenger seat of my ’84 Porsche 911 and that pretty much killed any “cool” factor (not that it mattered since I was married).

    My daily driver is now an ’02 Ford Taurus wagon and, surprisingly, single women in my demographic seem to appreciate the family-first message it seems to send. To be fair, I now live in the Midwest rather than Northern California. It’s also cheap, paid for, and allows me to keep my old Mercedes convertible for summer and nicer days. The rear-facing Way Way Back is popular with the kiddos.

    I also had a minivan, albeit a Mazda5, for a number of years. I had an unreasonable connection to that car. It was smaller than the quest (and at 5’6″ I fit) but it never failed to swallow what I needed. It even fit a full-sized inflatable mattress in back for a camping trip. Alas, it was on its last legs when I needed to move cross country and the Taurus with 25k miles popped up on Craigslist last year in a rare moment of serendipity.

  • avatar
    Willyam

    Great stuff Robert, and thanks. Apparently a lot of us are sometimes single-dad engineer-types with (occasionally at least) minivans. There’s good big data stuff in here somewhere about brown wagons we won’t pay for.

    On my second marriage and second minivan. The first was a Windstar, which was broken so much it barely counted as a vehicle. When traded in it had so many dash lights on and was worth so little it might have been appraised as a Christmas-tree.

    We now have an Odyssey, which has leather called “truffle”, gets more than 25 mpg loaded, and has more screens and lights than an irresponsible corporate perk Lear-jet. It will also decide whether you are worthy of entrance when you walk up and grab the handle, beeping twice for my wife, and three times for me, as it re-re-locks itself and leaves me standing in the parking lot yelling and digging for the fob.

    We hauled home a plastic playhouse the other day from the resale (I told the wife if she could find one in non-primary colors we could plop it in the yard, and of course she did). The saleswomen who helped us load it looked disapproving (Odyssey’s just don’t look that big, unlike Quests). It slid in perfectly against the still-upright middle seats, and the legs just barely invaded the open space in the door against the rear window. The gate beeped once and auto-closed. “I wouldn’t have believed it…”.

    We have christened it the plus-one-van-of-holding.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I am dreading the day I have to get a minivan. Maybe we will do the 3 car household thing. You can’t argue with the practicality though which is what makes it all so painful. They just work.

    They are not terrible to drive either. I had a newish Grand Caravan work van for work and it worked. Engine had a lot of punch- more than the chassis and brakes could handle for sure. If… let’s be blunt, when I get a van, I hope to get something I can upgrade the suspension and brakes on. Not to go do track days in but just to make it somewhat fun to drive beyond the go pedal.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      It thought I was going to get another van at first, but nothing I looked at was even remotely exciting to drive. The Quest may have been a unique aberration in that regard. The Caravan and T&C are well regarded on this site for their ability to hustle though.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    One of the best and most complete articles I’ve read around here in quite some time. Very well done.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Excellent story, thanks. Can’t let my kid see it or he will demand a minivan.

  • avatar
    canddmeyer

    Great write-up OP. My next vehicle may be my first minivan.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    How exactly do you get the back end of a FWD minivan to step out on corner exit?

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