Autobytel Names the Best Used Minivans
Best Used Minivans: Introduction
When trying to choose the best used minivans, it is important to remember why people buy minivans in the first place. First and foremost, minivans are typically purchased to carry family members from Point A to Point B. Because good used minivans are charged with hauling the most precious of cargo, the people their owners love the most, the best used minivans must be safe vehicles before they’re anything else.
As an extension of safety, and because family finances are often already strained without adding vehicle repairs to the pile of bills, the best used vans must also be dependable, able to get you and your passengers to your destination without breaking down.
Minivans are also bought to carry stuff. Lots of stuff. That means they need to offer plenty of interior space, and the ability to configure that space to best accommodate that cargo.
In order to create this Best Used Minivans guide, we took a look at all of the minivans built during the past 10 years, examining their crash-test ratings, their reliability ratings, their cargo volume measurements, and their seating configurations. Based on this research, our picks for the best used vans on sale today are listed below, in alphabetical order by make.
We’re going to be right up front about the inclusion of the 2010 Chrysler Town & Country on this list of the best used minivans: we’re not fans of this model. That said, and based on the snapshot of information available as this buying guide was researched, this particular version of the Town & Country meets our minimum criteria. For now.
In 2010, when this minivan was new, it earned 5-star crash-test ratings from the NHTSA, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave it top ratings for frontal- and side-impact collision protection. Models built after March of 2010 also received the best rating for protecting against injury in a rear-impact collision. Prior to that, the Town & Country rated “Marginal.”
Reliability for the 2010 Chrysler Town & Country, according to Consumer Reports, is average. However, this model has a long and illustrious history of rating at the bottom of dependability surveys, and with time, the 2010 model is likely to join its forebears. Again, as we said, according to the information available as this guide is written, the T & C passes the smell test. Barely.
One area where the Chrysler van shines is with regard to cargo carrying capacity. The Town & Country is equipped with Stow ‘N Go seating, which allows the second-row captain’s chairs and third-row bench seat to be folded and stored in the floor, creating up to 143.8 cu.-ft. of cargo space.
Still, on their own, the Stow ‘N Go seats aren’t reason enough to seriously consider the 2010 Town & Country. And if you’re thinking you want one so that you can “buy American,” remember that when this van was engineered, a German company owned Chrysler, and when it was built, it rolled off of a Canadian assembly line.Best Used Minivans: 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan
The 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan is basically the same vehicle as the 2010 Chrysler Town & Country, and the same criticisms leveled at the Chrysler apply to the Dodge. The difference here is that a used Grand Caravan is probably equipped with fewer equipment and technology upgrades than a used Town & Country, which infers there are fewer things that could go wrong with it in the future.
If nothing else, used 2010 Grand Caravan buyers can rest easy knowing their minivan is crashworthy, especially those built after March of 2010. Prior to that date, the Grand Caravan’s front seats did a “Marginal” job of protecting occupants against injury in a rear-impact collision, according to the IIHS. In frontal- and side-impact tests, the IIHS gave the Grand Caravan its highest rating of “Good,” and for those same assessments the NHTSA awarded the Grand Caravan 5-star ratings.
According to recent reliability data, the 2010 Grand Caravan displays average reliability. Unfortunately, when looking at this model’s historical dependability performance, it is clear that as the 2010 Grand Caravan ages, it is likely to disappoint in this regard. However, for now, it meets our minimum standard for inclusion in this guide.
As with the Chrysler Town & Country, the Grand Caravan is equipped with industry-exclusive Stow ‘N Go second- and third-row seats that fold and collapse into bins carved into the van’s floor, creating up to 143.8 cu.-ft. of cargo volume without requiring removal of seats from the van. When the seats are in use, the van offers handy covered storage bins in the floor just forward of the second-row seats.
We include the 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan on our list of the best used minivans on a technicality. It meets our reliability criteria, right now, today. We have little faith that it would continue to do in the future.Best Used Minivans: 2006-2007 Ford Freestar
When the Ford Freestar was new, it wasn’t very competitive. A re-hashed Ford Windstar with a new face and name, the Freestar simply couldn’t match the best minivans in the class on a number of fronts. Today, that still holds true amongst used models, but the 2006 and 2007 versions of the Freestar are reasonably safe and reasonably dependable, and they’re reasonably cheap to buy.
In NHTSA crash tests, the Freestar received 4- or 5-star ratings, and the IIHS gave the van a “Good” rating for frontal-impact protection and a “Good” rating for rear-impact injury prevention. Without the optional side-impact airbags, the Freestar rates “Poor” in IIHS side-impact crash tests. So be sure to get an example equipped with those side airbags, because with them, the 2006 and 2007 versions of the van rated “Acceptable” in this regard.
Reliability for this model is average, and like other minivans, the Ford Freestar offers three rows of seats, and the third-row seat can fold into the floor to expand cargo capacity. Take the second-row seats out of the van, and a Freestar offers 135.7 cu.-ft. of cargo volume, making it smaller than primary competitors but still roomier than most SUVs.
Sometimes, vehicles become more compelling with age. The 2006 and 2007 versions of the Ford Freestar are those kinds of models.Best Used Minivans: 2003-2004 Honda Odyssey
When this version of the Honda Odyssey debuted for the 1999 model year, it revolutionized minivan design, from its substantial size and appealing design to its reconfigurable second-row captain’s chairs and Magic Seat third-row bench that tumbled and folded into the floor. It’s not at all surprising, then, that as we look back at a decade of models for this best used Minivans buying guide buying guide, the final two model years for the second-generation Odyssey qualify for inclusion – with a caveat.
The Odyssey is a safe minivan, achieving 5-star ratings in frontal- and side-impact tests conducted by the NHTSA. In IIHS tests, the Odyssey received a “Good” rating for frontal-impact protection. No problems here.
Rather, the Odyssey suffers a single and widespread mechanical issue. Generally, reliability is better than average, but these models reportedly suffer from transmission trouble and early transmission failures. Before buying any Odyssey of this vintage, be sure to ascertain the condition of the transmission; whether it has been replaced; whether the replacement transmission was new, rebuilt, or used; and where it was installed.
If that hasn’t scared you away from the Honda, know that one of the Odyssey’s hallmark features is its Magic Seat third-row bench seat. This feature originally debuted on the first Honda Odyssey back in the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until Honda introduced the sizable 1999 model that it became a must-have feature. Additionally, the Odyssey’s second-row captain’s chairs could be moved to form a bench seat, allowing parents to position a child in the middle of the vehicle, the safest position. Maximum cargo volume was a whopping 146.1 cu.-ft.
When Honda redesigned the Odyssey for the 2005 model year, it refined the recipe used for the groundbreaking 1999 model, keeping everything that owners liked about the previous version while adding size, comfort, and new technologies.
Safety remained an Odyssey hallmark, thanks to 5-star ratings for frontal- and side-impact crash tests from the NHTSA and “Good” ratings for those same evaluations from the IIHS. Rear injury protection rated “Marginal” until the 2008 model year, when upgrades produced a “Good” rating for 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Honda also resolved transmission issues, but owners of this third-generation Odyssey consistently complain about the braking and suspension components. Honda recalled a significant number of 2005, 2006 and 2007 Odyssey models for a minor braking system problem. Otherwise, this van is relatively trouble-free.
Inside, the 2005-2010 Odyssey continued to offer its Magic Seat third-row bench, and maximum cargo volume increased to 147.4 cu.-ft. A new luxury-themed Touring model also joined the lineup, offering premium features previously unavailable to Odyssey buyers.
Among the best used minivans, this version of the Odyssey ranks high on the list.Best Used Minivans: 2006-2007 Mercury Monterey
If you don’t know what a Mercury Monterey is, you’re forgiven. It’s a Ford Freestar wearing a Mercury moustache grille, and it was sold in relatively low numbers. That’s partly because it wore a Mercury badge, and that’s partly because, like the Freestar, the Monterey wasn’t terribly competitive when it was new. The Monterey’s relative rarity combined with its lack of minivan street cred, its favorable crash-test ratings, and its steadfastly average reliability record mean it represents value as a good used minivan – if you can find one.
Like the Ford upon which it is heavily based, the 2006 Mercury Monterey received 4-star and 5-star NHTSA crash-test scores (the NHTSA did not evaluate the Monterey in 2007). The IIHS gives the 2006 and 2007 Monterey models “Good” ratings for frontal-impact crash protection and rear-impact injury prevention. Choosing a model with side-impact airbags is a must, however, to own a Monterey rated “Acceptable” by the IIHS for side-impact protection.
Finding good used minivans is tougher than one might think, because most proved to be unreliable. That means models with average reliability ratings, like the Mercury Monterey, are actually among the better choices, and so it is that the Monterey makes our best used minivans list.
Add 136.9 cu.-ft. of maximum cargo space with the third-row seat tucked into its storage well and the second-row captain’s chairs removed, and a Mercury Monterey makes a stronger case for itself as a used vehicle than it ever did as a new one.Best Used Minivans: 2003 Toyota Sienna
The 2003 Toyota Sienna was the final year for the original Sienna minivan, which debuted for the 1998 model year. When it first went on sale, replacing the odd Previa van, the Sienna was an instant hit and continued to sell well despite the arrival of the bigger and, in our opinion, more practical 1999 Honda Odyssey. Still, as we explained earlier, sometimes what appears to be most appealing when new isn’t quite as attractive as a used vehicle.
Based on available crash-test data, the 2003 Sienna is a safe vehicle, with 4-star and 5-star ratings from the NHTSA and a “Good” frontal-impact rating from the IIHS. Its reliability track record, especially for a 10-year-old vehicle, is also very impressive. If you’re seeking a safe and reliable van and have a small budget, look no further than a well-maintained 2003 Toyota Sienna.
Where the 2003 Sienna represents a bit of a compromise is within its cabin. This is the smallest van on our list of good used minivans, offering just 133.5 cu.-ft. of maximum cargo space. This is also the only van on our list equipped with a third-row seat that must be removed and stored outside of the van to expand trunk space behind the second-row seats, a significant inconvenience.
Nevertheless, there’s no denying that for buyers on a budget, a 2003 Toyota Sienna is likely the best used minivan.Best Used Minivans: 2004-2010 Toyota Sienna
When Toyota introduced the redesigned 2004 Sienna minivan, it was clear the company had benchmarked the Odyssey with the intention of beating Honda at the minivan-building game. The new Sienna was much bigger inside and offered a third-row seat that folded into a storage well in the floor, but retained its track record for reliability and safety. Plus, it offered an optional all-wheel-drive system, making it the only minivan on our list to have this feature.
Crash-test performance receives 4-star and 5-star ratings from the NHTSA. The IIHS rates frontal-impact crashworthiness as “Good” for all model years. For side-impact collisions, the van rates “Acceptable” without side-impact airbags and “Good” with them. Reliability is excellent. The only reported trouble spot pertains to the audio systems in 2006, 2007, and 2008 models.
If this edition of the Sienna offers any cause for pause, it is related to its inability to protect front-seat occupants against whiplash in a rear-impact collision. The front seats rate “Poor” in this regard. Often a car company will redesign the seats at some point during a vehicle’s generational run to rectify such situations, but not Toyota.
To expand cargo capacity to 148.9 cu.-ft., more than any other model on our list of the best used minivans, the third-row seat drops into the floor while the second-row captain’s chairs require removal. This design mirrors other minivans on this list, with the exception of the Chrysler and Dodge.
Among used minivans, the 2004-2010 Toyota Sienna is the one with the best overall track record for safety, reliability, and practicality. More than the other vehicles on this list, this version of the Sienna is the one we recommend to used minivan buyers.