So, talk to me about minivans

by DaniGirl on October 30, 2007 · 38 comments

in Life, the Universe and Everything

Sigh. I guess there’s no avoiding it. We’re capitulating to the dark side. Not only are we in the market for a second car, but we’re officially shopping for a minivan now.

At first, I thought maybe we could get by with the Mazda 5 or the Kia Rondo, the new station wagons with the third row of seating. (I love our Ford Focus wagon. We’re on our second one, and I think it’s the perfect family car — if you have two kids or less.) But, I’ve been doing some reading and there isn’t even enough storage space in the back of the Mazda 5 for a stroller, let alone some of the gear you’d have to bring along for an excursion of any length. So, we’re looking at minivans.

Aside from the stigma of being a minivan mom, and the horrendous fuel consumption, I have other concerns about the minivan. I hate the idea that one of the kids will be in the very back row – and very far out of my reach. If I put Tristan’s booster seat in the back row, Simon will want to be back there, too, and that seems a long way from me up in the driver’s seat. And of course I can’t put the baby’s seat way back there. For families with more than two kids, how do you arrange the seating in your car?

And then there’s the whole rigamarole of actually choosing and buying a van — makes me tired just thinking about it. I ordinarily love car shopping, but I’m feeling no joy in this one. I don’t know from minivans, and I don’t know what to look for in selecting one. They all look the same to me, and even after a few weeks of comparison shopping by scoping out other peoples’ vans in the grocery store parking lot (a bonus of living in the child-rich suburbs) I still can’t tell what distinguishes one van from another.

Our final dilemma is the new-vs-used debate. The monthly payments to lease a 2008 are actually less than what it would cost to buy a used 2004 or 2005, so that will probably be the route we go. Given the time of year, we might be able to find a good deal on a 2007, I’m thinking. Did you know that Ford and Saturn are no longer even offering minivans for 2008? So the main contenders right now seem to be the Kia Sedona, the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Hyundai Entourage. (I’d love a Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey, but both are a little out of our price range for now… it’s going to be painful enough doubling our existing car and insurance payments!!) I was playing around on the “build and price” part of the Dodge Caravan web site, but gave up because there are just too many options and I frankly am not sure whether I care about more than half of them. Even stuff like A/C and power windows is not overly important to me… although I do love the the heated seats on our Focus. Nothing like a warm toushie on a cold February morning!!

So, minivan owners, educate me. What features do you absolutely love about your van? What do you hate? What can’t you do without? Which features would you pay extra for? Wax poetic or rant righteously, but tell me what I need to know when I’m shopping for a minivan please!


{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cait October 30, 2007 at 8:01 am

I know there has been a lot of talk of the restrictions on car purchasing in the US, but if you can swing it, why not go to the States to get it? Makes it somewhat less painful if you know you kick-ass bargain, no?

2 Barbara October 30, 2007 at 8:18 am

Disclosure: My brother builds the Chrysler minivans. He drives what he builds and he loves the stow ‘n go seats for the space they free up without the hassle of removing the seats from the vehicle. Ken said that a minivan wouldn’t fit in our garage but he has some minivanity issues so I would take that with a grain of salt. Having spent some time in the back of minivans (no not in that way!), I would recommend taking one with separate climate control for the back, if it were offered in your price range. Ditto for separate volume control for the radio. I don’t think that I would pay extra for the installed entertainment system because you would then lose use of your vehicle if it breaks (I’m a minimalist when it comes to built-in features.)

Our Caliber has a two-prong electrical outlet and I totally love it – no requirement to use a converter and connect to the lighter to charge electronics. We also have the little jack that lets you connect your MP3 player to your radio and I like that, too. The glove box has a “chill zone” that we never really used but it is nice to have 2 distinct compartments. The cell phone/MP3 holder is lame and gets in the way; if they offer one, do not pay extra for it. Some new cars come with rear view mirrors that adjust themselves when the sun sets. It’s harder to angle them to look at your kids in the backseat.

I notice on the dodge.ca site, you can compare the Grand Caravan to the competitor vehicles. Oh, and I would buy air conditioning to increase the resale value.

3 Mama V October 30, 2007 at 8:32 am

I love my Grand Caravan. We bought a used one 5 years ago, and traded it in towards a brand new one this past summer. I LOVE the stow & go seats… and to be completely honest, it works out better for us having the kids in separate “rows” of seating – especially on long trips, they don’t drive each other quite as crazy!

4 Kathryn October 30, 2007 at 8:40 am

Ah yes, the great minivan debate. I know this well. I actually tried to fit 3 carseats in the back of my teeny tiny Saturn before deciding we need a bigger vehicle.
We have the Chrysler Town & Country. I must say, though I feel like a big nerd, I love it. I have the 4 year old and 2 year old in the way back seat, and the baby in one of the captain’s chairs in the middle. The other captain’s chair we have folded down into the floor (Stow and Go seating is a must!) so that I can easily climb in and out of the back to buckle the kids in. The room is awesome. I really do like it.
Ours was used. It was only a year old with hardly any miles on it. Our friend is a car salesman and found it for us so we got a great deal.
Good luck!

5 snackmommy October 30, 2007 at 9:22 am

If I was buying a vehicle right now, I would definitely do it in the States. We’ve looked at all the angles and additional fees, and you still come ahead by buying in the US right now. If you (snicker), really have to buy a minivan. Seriously, look into it.

6 J October 30, 2007 at 9:27 am

what about an SUV?

7 Loukia October 30, 2007 at 9:38 am

Ahhh… the main reason we may not have a third child is the fear of having to buy a minivan! We hate them. Funny enough, my husband has to drive one today… the last car left at the car rental place. The reason he needed to rent a car?
Oh, because I was in a serious car accident yesterday on my way back to work from my Ob-Gyn appointment. I was in lala land, thinking about my baby, and I went right through a stop sign onto O’Connor street. It was a serious accident, and would have been much worse – like I would have died – had I been going any faster. Luckily, the cop said, it was 2 German cars so the accident, as bad as it was (my car is destroyed) could have been horrible if it was been ‘2 North American cars’, he said. (I hit a BMW). I was in the hospital all day/night for observation for me and baby, on the heart monitor all day, blood work to see if the placenta had seperated, ultrasounds, neorlogical tests, bedrest and no food. Thank GOD we are both okay, but it was the most traumatic day. The sound of the air bag going off made me temperarily deaf. It was so frightening. Okay sorry for rambling here… your minivan post made me start rambling!

8 Chantal October 30, 2007 at 9:43 am

My old Civic just kicked the bucket and we got a Dodge Caravan. Dodge has actually discontinued the regular Caravan in favour of the Grand Caravan so we were able to negotiate a good lease agreement (we got it two weeks ago and they said the only had 7 left on the lot). I was very happy with the whole experience and I really liked our salesman. If you decide to go to Capital Dodge e-mail me and I will send you his name. I found the jump from my tiny civic to a minivan big and found the Grand Caravan almost scary big. But the regular caravan doesn’t have Stow and Go seats and I have to say that is the biggest feature I am missing. I figure if I really like the caravan once my 4 years is up I can move to a Grand Caravan or something like it. We got close to base model to save on price but was happy with all the things that came standard.

9 yvonne October 30, 2007 at 10:06 am

We have both a Kia Sedona (van) and Kia Rondo (SUV) because they are cheap. I love my van and, though I considered it during the purchase process, don’t think I would give it up for the Rondo. It does not have stow and go but I have taken out one of the middle seats and I store it in the garage. It is much easier for the kids to get in and out and there is tonnes of storage room for, hmm…, garbage. (sigh) I have the two younger in the back together (their choice) and my nine year old in the captain seat in the middle.

I travel alot with my boys on my own and a minivan is the only way I can do it and stay sane. Welcome to the dark side lady. It is warm and comfy here!

10 Mad Hatter October 30, 2007 at 10:52 am

No advice here. I love my tiny Tercel so much I may consider restricting my daughter’s leisure pursuits simply so we won’t have to upgrade. Hockey? Puh, it’s soccer for you, Missy.

11 Fawn October 30, 2007 at 10:58 am

Yikes, Loukia! That’s so scary. Glad to hear you and the babe are both okay. I got into a car accident last weekend, too; single vehicle and the damage didn’t seem that bad, but it turns out the repairs cost more than the replacement value of the vehicle. The car was amazing, considering I careened down a steep ditch, plowed down a highway sign and then hopped back up onto the highway. We’re even more in love with our Volvo that we were before. *sigh*

Since we’re working on baby#2 there’s no need to go to minivans yet, unless we actually want passengers in the car. But I finally have Michael convinced that it would be better to get a minivan, when and if the time comes, than a cargo van!

12 liz October 30, 2007 at 11:10 am

I love my Kia Sedona (aside from it’s pisspoor gas mileage). A friend of mine loves her Honda whatever it is.

First suggestion is to check Consumer Reports and decide what features aside from enough seats you need. Will you need to change the configuration often (hauling stuff/extra kids/stuff/extra kids) or will you just be using it the same way most of the time? If you’re changing things around often then look for minivans with stow-n-go seating. If not, then not.

Don’t pay extra for features you won’t use. The Kia Sedona has one of the best safety ratings but one of the worst extra-features packages (but I can reach the pedals without having to turn off the driver’s airbag!)

13 slouching mom October 30, 2007 at 11:28 am

No minivan for us. No third child, either. We’ve got a Subaru Forester, and we love it.

My friends have a Toyota Rav and really like it — is that too small for you?

14 meanie October 30, 2007 at 11:37 am

Pontiac Montana all the way baby! Smooth ride, good sound system, t.v./dvd player optional (we opted!); a “magic door” (door that closes with a click of a button, my daughters’ cool factor with the neighbourhood kids goes through the roof!)

I too resisted the mini-van, but I did get a Social Distortion license plate cover just to prove that I have not given up completely!

15 Suz October 30, 2007 at 11:37 am

We have the Odyssey and love it! I know that it’s not on your list, but one of the things I like the most about it are how easy it is to move the seats and the doors that open automatically. The other things I love is that it’s top rated in safety. I feel safe in that car – much safer than I feel in my husband’s SUV or my Miata.

16 Loukia October 30, 2007 at 11:54 am

Fawn.. it was scary… but I was well taken care of at the Civic! Thank goodness for European cars. Volvo’s are AMAZING cars. 🙂 Glad to hear you’re okay too! I will blog about my accident soon enough but today and tomorrow I have a lot of meetings at work!

17 Windex October 30, 2007 at 12:43 pm

We just bought a van in May of this year and our first choice would have been the Honda (loved that van) but the price was way out of our league. The toyoa was good too but again price was a bit too high. We went with the Grand Caravan! We love it. We tried the Montana but the Stow N Go 2 row bucket seats sold us on the Dodge over the Montana (GM). We have 3 kids and we use the storage in the stow N Go all the time. I agree with one of the commenters about the dual zone temperature we did not get it but you should look at it. We did not get power doors either (would have been nice but a luxury for our budget). We also got a 2007 so we received major deals because of the new versions coming out. Being in the same neighbourhood you may go to the same dealership – we would actually recommend the sales person we dealt with. If interested e-mail me.

18 andrea from the fishbowl October 30, 2007 at 2:37 pm

I vote for the Mazda 5 (hey, you’re asking) because you’re actually not going to use a huge stroller for more than a couple of years. So why factor that in?

If you’re going to go on some longer trip, you can always rent. AND you can get something with a DVD player. You know, because yours always seem to break down when you need them. *wink*

19 andrea from the fishbowl October 30, 2007 at 2:39 pm

p.s you minivan people are nuts. 🙂

20 Renee October 30, 2007 at 2:54 pm

I have a Saturn Relay (I didn’t realize they weren’t making them for 2008). I love it; it gets pretty good gas mileage (25 hwy), has 16 cupholders (woo-hoo) and an automatic door on the carseat side. I highly recommend it. Maybe you can find a used one!

21 Sheila October 30, 2007 at 3:28 pm

We bought a Pontiac Montana extended van when the triplets were born in 2000, and we’ve been very happy with it.

We really like the modular seating, 5 separate seats that can be put in and out in various ways at the back. We can put 3 seats across the middle row, with 3 rear-facing infant car seats – that’s what we did the first year, and had tons of cargo area in the back. Since switching to high-back car seats, we have two kids in the middle row on the sides, and one at the back. We can walk through the centre to get through to the back row without moving any car seats, and each child has a shoulder strap seatbelt to secure the seat (they have graduated to booster seats). When grandparents are visiting or we have friends for play dates we install all 7 seats in the van, and have to fold one of the middle-row-side seats down to access the back row. It still works pretty well. The seats are light enough that I can easily move them in and out myself.

We are very glad we got the extended wheelbase model so there is room for stroller, wagon, groceries, bikes etc. behind the 3rd row of seats.

We chose a “sport” model with a trailer-towing package, which meant more transmission power and cooler, roof rack, load levelling suspension, and a compressor to inflate your tires yourself (or bike tires and soccer balls – very handy). We have towed a lightweight trailer for camping trips and to drive from SK to Ontario and back, with no trouble at all.

The gas mileage on our minivan is not that bad, way better than an SUV, so it’s not a bad choice for the environment. Some newer vans are very good – make sure to compare the figures for the model you want.

If you have a second small car you can use it for commuting to work, and errands with just one or two children, so you will be able to save on gas some of the time.

I second the recommendation to use Consumer Reports, and the Lemon-Aid guide, for up to date reviews and recommendations for new and used vans. Good luck!

22 lugina October 30, 2007 at 4:01 pm

I have three boys and we have a gas guzzling SUV. I love it, but hate the gas mileage. My oldest is almost 14 so he sits in the front with me if dad isn’t with us and the other two sit in the back seat. If we’re all together, all three fit in the backseat (it’s a bench, not buckets). If we’re all together and traveling, we put the seven year old in the third seat and the teenager and baby in the second row.
I saw a commercial for the new Dodge Grand Caravan and, while I’ve always been completely against owning a minivan, I think I might like it a little bit. The second row of seats swivels to face the third row and you can put a table in the middle!!

23 Scrivener October 30, 2007 at 4:33 pm

Hi! Not a response to this post–I know nothing about minivans–but I’ve just followed you to WordPress.

24 Ingrid October 30, 2007 at 5:01 pm

definitely AC,although I don’t care for this in my house or office. Driving around with 3 kids, of which 2 can’t open windows very well, and you way in the front and them in the back – sounds like a recipe for crankiness! And with 3 you need all the help you can get.

I also agree with the person who wrote about the big stroller – you will have your vehicle for much longer than you’ll have the large stroller. Why pay for the extra cost of gas for the sake of a few months/years? Depending on your choice and number of kids actually travelling together, you may find that you can get by with an umbrella stroller once #3 is a little older.

We do own a minivan but I hate the cost of gas – without much effort you can spend $20 a day ( in and out of Kanata twice per day will do it!)

25 cinnamon gurl October 30, 2007 at 5:11 pm

Nothing here, except DO NOT go without A/C, especially if you ever plan to go back to African Lion Safari or something like it (says one who drove her own A/C-less car around African Lion Safari with no A/C on a mild September day and made an ass of herself getting yelled at constantly for opening the windows and sticking her nose out for fresh air). You never really appreciate it until you don’t have it.

26 Kristin October 30, 2007 at 8:35 pm

When I was expecting with our third the first thing we did was go out and buy a bigger car. I was bummed about it at the time, but three years and a fourth child later, I wouldn’t trade my SUV for the world. Sorry, I’m of no help offering minivan advice I live in Texas aka land of pickups and suburbans.

27 hw October 30, 2007 at 10:05 pm

Good luck with the minivan identity crisis. We’re a one car family – a honda civic – so I don’t have experience with a larger vehicle yet….

For the most part, the civic is great. We can put the two kids and our 70lb dog in the back. We even drive the 8 hour trip to Timmins in that car. It’s fine…until the last hour or so. But, it would be good to be able to have a vehicle that could fit the whole family at once.

I do recall that you’re a one vehicle family, too. It must be glorious to be in upgrade mode!

28 jennyandtim October 31, 2007 at 7:22 am

We bough a Pontiac Montana SV6 before Wyatt was born. We went with new instead of used.

We have individual seats in the middle row and a bench seat for the back row. Jordan sits on the back row in his booster seat, wit h Ethan and Wyatt on the middle row. The seats pull out easily if you need extra room for moving something.

I never thought I would like a minivan, but it is so useful when taking a short or long trip with all the boys.

I thought he seat warmers were stupid, but the big whimp I am now enjoys them. I would go for the built in DVD player, it helps so much on trips. We have automatic side doors, which are good and bad. Good in that you can easily open the doors with your arms full of children or other stuff. Bad in that Jordan likes to press the buttons.

The gas mileage is not great, but I didn’t expect it to be.

Good luck with your shopping.

29 DaniGirl October 31, 2007 at 7:52 am

Oh thank you thank you THANK YOU for your opinions and thoughts. Loukia and Fawn, what a bad week for accidents, but I’m glad to hear both of you are okay.

As to the Mazda 5 / Kia Rondo issue, it’s not just about room for a stroller, but the inconvenience of having to fold the middle row forward when you get in and out that seemed like a major pain… how do you fold forward a seat with a car seat attached to it? After reading about them from the people who have them in an owners’ forum, the consensus is that they’re great with two kids or less. And, with the amount of travelling we do these days, we’d spend more in rentals over the summer than we would in extra gas for the whole year, since the minivan will be “my” vehicle and mostly used to get around the neighbourhood.

Off to buy myself a month or two of Consumer Reports online!

30 b*babbler October 31, 2007 at 9:31 am

Ooh, it’s too bad you’re ruling out the Mazda 5. I totally have the love on for the Mazda 5 right now.

31 mamatulip October 31, 2007 at 10:44 am

When I was pregnant with Oliver we bought a used Pontiac Montana. At the time I was quite disheartened by the fact that A) I was buying a fucking minivan and B) that it meant I couldn’t drive standard anymore but to be honest, I really do like it. The thing seats 8 (and we’ve had 8 people in the van more than I thought) and hauls all of our crap around. There was one time when we fit a pack n’ play, a very bulky, non-collapsible highchair, an exersaucer, a duffel bag full of clothes, two kids and two adults in it and rode comfortably. It’s okay on gas…would be better if the gas prices were a bit lower, but it’s okay. The stereo’s not bad and the first row of seats in the back are removable, which is really convenient — right now we have the two seats beside the windows in use for the kids and the middle seat is gone so as to allow people to get through to the back seats easily.

Even with the back seats up, there’s still room in the back ‘trunk’ area for a stroller, or a good haul of groceries. There’s really not much I don’t like about it, to be honest, although I will be glad to get back into a car that has five on the floor. 😉

32 Laura October 31, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Love our Dodge Grand Caravan. the sto and go seats are the best. When baby first came we put 3 year old and new baby in the far back with passager second row down and 2 year old in the second row behind driver – it is great to have the big open floor space and the fact that you can quickly pull that additional seat up if needed. Now that the baby is in rear facing seat we have the 2 and 3 year olds in far back row and baby in the second row behind the driver. It works GREAT.

We bought through the executive program – it is about 1/2 price of new, so we got a 7 month old car for 19K and saved 21K!!!! I can pass our contact to you if you would like.

We went with a line of credit and that way our payments are self imposed and we double or triple up when we can. It has worked great.

good luck – it is a big decision and a necessity with 3 or more little ones!

33 Lynn November 1, 2007 at 8:16 am

When we had our third this summer, we also had to cave in and get a minivan.

We chose the Toyota Sienna, and it’s fantastic. Very versatile, surprisingly good on gas, very user-friendly and fun to drive. Even my husband, who always said he’d never drive a minivan, likes it.

We bought ours used from Kanata Ford, which is out in Kanata (duh) in the Centrum. They have a real market going for Toyota Siennas from the States. They buy them from rental car companies in the States and bring them up here, refit them for Canada, then sell them at a great price. Ours was less than a year old but we got it for $28 000. We were nervous at first about the rental thing, but the car is very clean and in great shape and we’ve had no trouble at all with it. I think the Toyota name makes it extra reliable, but just to be sure, we also purchased an extended warranty.

We were just there this weekend and they have plenty more Siennas on the lot, selling at 30 000. An added plus — all future oil changes are included when you buy a used car there.

Our model has the added bonus of being an 8-passenger, rather than a 7-passenger. We never would have been able to afford this model new, but man, it is so so worth it if you can swing it. The extra seat has allowed us to put all three car seats (our kids are 4, 3, and newborn) across the middle row, which means I can still reach them all when we’re in the car, and having the bigger two next to the baby means they can help calm her down by singing to her or handing her toys (so cute). With all three across the middle row, we have about a million cubic feet of space in the back (with the back row of seats folded down) so we have tons of room for strollers, diaper bags, whatever. We recently took all three kids on a trip down to Toronto and everything we needed easily fit in the back, and everyone had plenty of room and was comfortable for the whole trip.

Let me know if you have any other questions about the Sienna or minivans, I’m happy to answer them!

34 Sharon November 1, 2007 at 9:12 am

Ok…Here I go on my Mini Van and I’m going to try and put my enviromentlist side aside for now. I ‘ve had a few little problems with my Dodge Caravan.,being that the eletronic’s (the locks and windows would work while the the van was off and drained the battery) have failed and I have gone through 2 batteries. BUT now that it’s all working it’s fine. The gas milage is not the same as our Jetta Disel,,, but what is? It’s not that bad on milage and for the price they are not a bad van. I like the feel and and drive of it. I wish though they had stow and go seats when I bought mine 5 years ago. I was dissapointed that my hood rusted over the head lights but Dodge came through and fixed it for me PLUS a scratch that I had put on the fender.

That all said. Over all I like the van but I don’t love it. I like the convience of taking lots of people with me and being able to take the back seat out for that BIG trip to Costco. I like the drive and the feel on the road. BUT Will I buy another mini van. NO I don’t need one. I want a fuel effeicent car like another diseal Jetta. Nothing beats 1000 km to the tank.

35 Cristen November 3, 2007 at 11:59 pm

We considered getting a minivan last year and test drove many; hubs liked the Kia Sedona for price, and I, of course, loved the Sienna the best, and considered getting a used one. I thought when we test-drove that the third row of seats in the Grand Caravan had a steep angle to the butt part of the seat that might make a carseat hard to fit. But then we rented a minivan for a week and took our 1-year old in a rear-facing Britax Roundabout (behind the driver) plus 3 teenagers (ages 14-17) on a camping trip for a week. The Grand Caravan worked amazing for the 6 of us and I was very impressed with the storage and leg room and comfort for all of us (and I spent time in all 3 rows). Can you rent a minivan (maybe your top choice?) for a couple of days to really check it out? It’s so hard to get a good feel for them on a test drive, especially if the salesman comes with you. And don’t get lost in the packages, you don’t really need all that stuff. If you get dreamy about the installed DVD player, they make you buy all these extra features first, except the Sedona had pretty good options for that if I recall. Good luck! And congratulations on the many blessings in your life that you need a minivan. I hope I get to be a minivan mom someday too, God (and uterus) willing. Oh, and as for the button-push door closings, I mostly got annoyed with them and closed by hand. I liked the resounding smack of the door closing to make me feel safer that my baby and nieces/nephews were locked in and safe back there before I climbed in myself.

36 Improvgal November 4, 2007 at 1:04 pm

We have an old minivan so I can’t talk about the new features, but the reason I love that thing is because of that slider side-door. No kid’s banging the car next to you, can open it up, sit down there and nurse the baby, change a diaper….. no banging your head getting kids in and out of there.

And the room in the back – just throw that stroller in.

Awesome!!!

37 Comrade Rutherford November 6, 2007 at 4:29 pm

I do not know if this is a standard feature now, but make sure the van has sliding doors on BOTh sides!!!

We bought a used 2000 Dodgy (It’s a) Car (No, it’s a) Van, and now I can’t imagine why double sliding doors weren’t invented sooner! We had test driven the 1999, without the driver’s side sliding door, and Hoo-Boy are we glad we didn’t get that thing!

Now if only we had the Sto-N-Go seats!

My other car is a 1992 Volvo 240 with over 200K miles.

Do NOT buy an SUV. The ONLY reason to buy one of those is to intentionally waste gas-money. Our Dodgy gets better than 22 MPG, and the Volvo gets better than 25. I want a Prius…

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