Car Buying Tips

Buying a Used Minivan? Here’s What You Need to Know

If you’re shopping for a used minivan, you’re likely considering models like the Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and Kia Sedona. These are the used market’s largest minivans, though some shoppers prefer smaller but still flexible alternatives like the discontinued Mazda5.

Minivan Pros

Minivans are built for drivers who need the maximum amount of room, space, and flexibility possible for their dollar. They’re also built to be family-friendly: easy to load and unload with pets, people, and gear, and with large door openings to help. Sliding doors are also a game-changer.

Unlike an SUV, a minivan sits lower to the ground and is easier to board and exit. Usually, minivans drive and ride like a big, comfortable car.

Elsewhere, modern minivans are equipped with latest must-have tech, including features like Bluetooth, navigation, push-button start, heated steering wheels, cabin cameras and entertainment systems, and motorized doors and tailgates. In recent years, minivans have also adopted the very latest in hazard-detection and driver-assistance technologies responsible for some of the highest safety scores available.

Minivan Cons

Some shoppers might avoid minivans because of their looks or performance, and with a low ride-height and limited availability of all-wheel drive (AWD), a crossover or SUV may be a more capable, all-weather alternative for some shoppers and their families.

Minivan Motoring

Most of the used minivans on the market today get a V6 engine with between 250 and 300 horsepower, front-wheel drive, and an automatic transmission.

A few exceptions include used Toyota Sienna models, which offered AWD on selected versions, and the front-wheel-drive Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, complete with a plug-in hybrid powertrain that can give drivers access to fuel-free, all-electric commuting for short distances.

Modern minivans are built using engine and driveline components that are well-proven from use in multiple applications. This applies in particular to the V6 engines used by Chrysler and Toyota, both of which have been in mass production for many years, meaning the automakers have had time to iron out any issues.

Test Drive Tips for a Used Minivan

When test driving a used minivan, a few special considerations and inspections can help reveal possible issues.

Plan your test drive around having enough time to thoroughly inspect every function of the vehicle’s interior, including the folding/sliding action of all seats, the operation of all power windows and locks, sunroof operation, and (especially) any motorized doors or tailgates.

If a power seat, folding third-row, or sliding door is acting up, you’ll want to know about it before you buy because they can be costly to repair.

Next, note that at least two features common to modern minivans are also potential trouble spots across numerous makes and models.

For instance, a minivan with a sunroof should be checked carefully for signs of water leakage or moisture in the footwell carpeting and ceiling liner, which could be evidence of a serious problem. Overhead water leaks related to sunroofs and roof rails tend to reveal themselves through unwanted dampness or standing water in carpeted areas down low, so be on the lookout. Evidence of water leakage is a good reason to seek out another vehicle.

Second, many recent minivans use new eight-, nine-, or even 10-speed automatic transmissions that are intended to enhance performance and fuel economy. Though transmission trouble is reported by a portion of owners, most say that problems are usually fixed quickly with a transmission software update that improves the smoothness and refinement of the gearbox.

If the minivan you’re considering seems to have trouble shifting smoothly, or as quickly and precisely as you expect, have it looked at by a professional mechanic before you buy. Usually, trouble like this is software-related and easily corrected during a routine maintenance visit, though it can also be a sign of more serious problems.

Minivans are commonly used by families with young children who eat in the car and leave plenty of crumbs behind. These crumbs can make minivans a tempting target for nesting rodents, which may cause damage to vehicle wiring, air filters, and upholstery.

For this reason, a check of all electronic components and both the engine and cabin air filters can go a long way to avoiding headaches.

Note that electronic trouble may also be caused by a weak battery, and that plugged filters should be addressed right away. Ensuring the electronics and filters in the used minivan you’re considering are in proper working order are a great means of avoiding common issues with poor fuel mileage and poor climate control performance.

Spend some time in the back seats of the used minivan you’re considering. While there, confirm satisfactory performance from the rear seat climate control system along with any rear-seat entertainment consoles and the accessories provided with them.

Popular Used Modern Minivans

Toyota Sienna

For years, the Sienna was Canada’s only AWD minivan, and a new engine and transmission combination for model-year 2017 improved mileage and responsiveness. For best results during your test drive and inspection, focus on door-related hardware like latches, locks, and windows. Carefully check the climate control on all settings, and have AWD-equipped models inspected for a rare but problematic fluid leak.

Dodge Grand Caravan

This built-in-Canada favourite is one of the most popular family haulers on the planet. Big, flexible, and inexpensive, used Grand Caravans are popular with shoppers looking for big space on a budget. For maximum peace of mind, have a used model checked for signs of front-end braking system wear before you buy, and be on the lookout for trouble signs like poor air conditioning performance and rough shifting.

Honda Odyssey

The Honda Odyssey has a strong reputation for safety and residual value, and owners enjoy plenty of innovative and handy features. A proven V6 engine powers most models, though some owners have reported transmission trouble, air conditioner drains that could leak into front footwell carpeting, heated seat failure, and less-than-stellar life of braking system parts.

Reports of complaints drop after about 2013, however, and most Odyssey drivers report an enjoyable ownership experience.

Kia Sedona

With an award-winning interior, strong safety scores, and more than 4,000 litres of available cargo space, the Kia Sedona is often chosen by shoppers after a strong blend of features, style, and room for their dollar.

Some owners have reported trouble with the air conditioner, battery, and charging system, and door and tailgate sensors, but most owners have perfectly fine experiences. Still, it’s extra important to make sure the used Sedona you’re considering has a healthy battery and charging system.

Chrysler Pacifica

The Pacifica is built in Canada using best practices from decades of minivan expertise and it features an award-winning cabin that blends utility and upscale flair. The available plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model can get many families off of gasoline for daily commuting and errands.

Some owners report trouble with infotainment systems, front suspension noise, and transmission-related harshness, so be sure to quiet the cabin and test drive attentively, being on the lookout for signs of rough shifts.

Maximizing Your Minivan’s Resale Value

Taking care of your new-to-you minivan is an important way to ensure it gives you the most reliable and trouble-free experience possible, and that it performs as safely and efficiently as its designers intended. Ongoing maintenance helps increase vehicle resale value and will save you money in the long run.

Adding protection helps increase resale value, too. Accessories like mud flaps and pet liners help reduce wear and tear on vulnerable surfaces, which can help secure a higher asking price when selling down the line.