Chrysler Town & Country. Click image to enlarge
2008 to Current Dodge Grand Caravan / Chrysler Town & Country
The Draw: Chrysler’s ‘Magic Wagons’ hit their current generation for 2008 riding a long-wheelbase platform and packing new power features and safety. Expect great ride quality, countless thoughtful touches and plenty of power. Feature content, depending on the year and model, could include power doors and liftgate, navigation, back-up camera, power-folding rear seats, rear-seat entertainment consoles, a pop-up activity table and plenty more. At hand storage and all-around utility were highly rated.
What to Check: Some owners have reported less-than-expected life of various brake and suspension components, as well as tires. Be sure to have each of these inspected by a mechanic ahead of your purchase. Note that squealing from the front of the vehicle typically indicates that a brake job is needed, and that any unwelcomed clunking or popping sounds from beneath the vehicle are likely the result of a worn suspension piece. Wheel bearings on earlier models should also be inspected.
Triple-check for proper operation of the air conditioner, and be sure the transmission operates smoothly—and that it’s been treated to on-time fluid and filter changes. Budget for a full mechanical inspection ahead of your purchase, and complete a full fluid change and tune-up if the vehicle’s service history is unknown.
Useful: Chances are the minivan you’re considering has rear-seat climate control implements. Hop in the back and make sure these work properly—calling it into pricing negotiations if that’s not the case.
Toyota Sienna. Click image to enlarge
2004 to 2010 Toyota Sienna
The Draw: Going after its competitors with Toyota’s knack for sensibility and practicality, the Sienna minivan offered plenty of power, several options packages and trim grades and even available all-wheel drive (AWD) – a rarity in the segment. Space, performance, output, versatility and quality were all typically rated highly by Sienna owners taking to the internet to share their experiences. The flexible and easily folding seats were also a commonly stated plus.
What to Check: Where possible, avoid a model with the power sliding doors, as numerous owners have reported issues and failure of the system. If you’re set on power sliding doors, be sure they’re adjusted and lubricated regularly to prolong their life. Give the paint job a full inspection, looking for signs of rust, bubbling or peeling paint. Earlier models may suffer from a cracked dashboard.
Watch earlier models with the 3.3L engine for signs of oil smoke at start up and after a drive, noting that some owners have reported oil-sludge-related issues. Proper, frequent oil changes are the best defense against this issue.
Finally, avoid any model that exhibits signs of transmission slippage or rough, jerky shifting. This problem looks relatively rare, though it seems to have come about when Toyota switched to the new 3.5L V6 engine in 2007. If the model you’re considering shows any transmission-related weirdness, move to another one.
Useful: Sienna, like many minvans, was subject to a number of safety-related recalls that address a latent safety issue at no cost to the owner of the vehicle. Take the VIN number of the model you’re considering to the vehicle’s dealership and ask the service advisor to pull it up and check that no recall-related work is outstanding.