Review and photos by Justin Pritchard, additional photos by Autos.ca staff
Originally published September 24, 2013
Crossover SUVs have largely killed off the once-popular minivan as Canada’s go-to family hauler – though thousands of shoppers still prefer the overwhelming value of a minivan when it comes to moving their families, their things and their pets around on the cheap.
Car-like maneuverability and ride quality, huge space for the money and plenty of flexibility make the minivan a machine that’s ready for virtually anything.
Hyundai Entourage. Click image to enlarge
Today, numerous affordable used minivan options exist – so here’s a look at a few of the most popular in terms of what owners say they love, and the commonly reported problems they say you should watch out for.
2007 to 2008 Hyundai Entourage / Kia Sedona
The Draw: Low resale values and relatively solid reliability make the Entourage / Sedona twins worth a check as your next used family hauler. Owners tend to rave about crash-test scores, spaciousness, ride comfort and an abundance of handy storage compartments. Low pricing and a lengthy warranty were cited as key purchase factors, too. These weren’t the most flashy or well-equipped minivans on the road, but for many owners, the space, price and warranty were unbeatable.
What to Check: Common complaints include interior squeaks and rattles, cheap or broken interior trim pieces and heavy fuel consumption. Check all interior electronics, including the climate control, power windows, remote key fobs, locks and stereo. A quick look underneath can reveal hidden problems like leaks or rust, and a mechanic can check the state of various suspension components relatively quickly, too.
Useful: A well-maintained minivan will tend to show itself that way. Is the candidate you’re looking at clean, free of damaged paint or panels and looking well taken care of? Or is it dented, rusty, scraped up and full of dried-up french fries and Cheerios ground into the carpeting? Scrutinize the minivan’s paint for signs of damage, and note any excessive wear on the seats, on door sills and in the cargo area.
2005 to 2009 Chevrolet Uplander / Pontiac Montana SV6
The Draw: Affordable pricing, plenty of room and a great warranty helped sales of these cloned GM minivans until they were axed after 2009 to focus on crossover sales. Look for available all-wheel drive designated by the ‘Versatrak’ badge, as well as two available V6 engines with 200 or 240 horsepower. All models were automatic and both short and long wheelbase units could be had. Smooth ride quality and performance are commonly praised, as is generous feature content for the money. The huge cabin also saw Uplander / Montana owners benefit from pickup-truck-like levels of utility.
What to Check: Powertrain issues seem more sensor-related than mechanical in nature. Have a GM technician ‘scan’ the vehicle ahead of your purchase for signs of hidden trouble. If the engine and transmission’s service requirements have been adhered to, if it runs smoothly and if no check engine lights are illuminated, you’re well on your way.
Any model with a ‘slipping’ automatic transmission should be avoided – though you’re not likely to come across one. Have a mechanic inspect the underside for signs of leaks or worn-out suspension parts. Confirm operation of the air conditioning system, front and rear.
Useful: Have a mechanic ‘scan’ the minivan you’re considering for signs of hidden electronics issues. Sometimes, a bad sensor or module will cause a check engine light to illuminate – but sometimes it won’t. A computer scan can help ensure there are no hidden surprises waiting for you.
2004 to 2009 Nissan Quest
The Draw: A silky 3.5L V6 engine and a generous standard features list helped set the Quest apart, as did its unique, distinctive styling. Nissan’s minivan offered no less than three trim grades for selection’s sake, and could be had with power adjustable pedals, Bose audio and plenty of other high-end features. Handling, the sky-view roof system and the upscale interior looks were all highly rated.
What to Check: Listen to the engine during idle, after confirming that its oil level and condition are satisfactory. Loud rattling sounds at idle or lower revs may be indicative of a somewhat rare but relevant timing-chain problem that’s expensive to fix. This seemed to affect 2004 models, mostly. Note that timing chains generally don’t require maintenance provided oil change schedules are strictly adhered to. Be sure that’s been the case for the used Quest you’re considering.
Double check for proper operation of all instruments, the remote fobs and the climate control fan.
A noisy front suspension may indicate worn-out components, and moisture in the headliner could be caused by a known water leak resulting from a blocked sunroof drain tube. Power tailgate and power sliding door mechanisms should be triple-checked as well.
Useful: Your potential used minivan has a complicated suspension system that keeps it anchored to the road while largely dictating its handling, ride, steering and even braking characteristics. A mechanic can quickly inspect the suspension of the minivan you’re considering to make sure it’s in tip-top shape for family cruising. If the unit in question is suffering from worn-out bushings, busted shocks or broken ball joints, now’s the time to check. You’ll experience better ride quality, handling and safety by opting for a model with a healthy suspension system.
Nissan Quest (photos by Haney Louka) & Honda Odyssey (photo by Michael Clark). Click image to enlarge
2005 to 2010 Honda Odyssey
The Draw: Honda’s knack for interior space optimization, reliability and safety hit the minivan scene with this generation of the brand’s popular Odyssey minivan. Standard V6 power and plenty of trim grades mean selection will be plentiful, and all models get up to 4,170 L of cargo space. Owners comment positively on spaciousness, comfort, power output and even fuel mileage. A useful navigation system and power sliding doors are among the most loved features.
What to Check: Confirm proper operation of the power sliding doors and power liftgate, if equipped. Any strained or non-operation should be called into pricing negotiations or repaired. Listen to and ‘feel’ the transmission for any signs of shuddering as you drive gently up to highway speeds. This sensation could be a precursor to a failing torque converter or transmission mounts. Don’t buy an Odyssey with this shuddering sensation without having a mechanic investigate. Finally, ensure the steering wheel maintains consistent, easy effort throughout its entire range of travel. Any ‘binding’ or ‘lumps’ in power steering effort could indicate a problem with the power steering pump.
Useful: Check your used minivan’s tires for wear, but also for signs of a bad alignment. Uneven wear across the tire treads, or excessive wear on one edge of one or more tires likely means an alignment is in your future. A properly aligned vehicle saves you money on tires and brakes, and steers and handles more safely.
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.