Mini van or work van?


Original Post
Hobo Greg · May 26, 2016 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 25
Pertinent info: I've been living full time in my mini van since March (2007 dodge grand caravan) but it's got too many power features that are already breaking. Space is not an issue since it's just me. And I like how a mini van drives, gets better fuel economy, and is pretty stealthy (though so is a plain van I would think). However, I don't like the overly-electronic features like power seats, power side doors, power rear vent windows, etc. I also wonder if work vans have longer lasting engines and transmissions? Are work vans just built tougher overall? Am I focusing too much on gas mileage? I love road tripping and driving a lot and have plans to do a 365 day trip across America that would be 25,000+ miles so a difference of even 5 mpg would be significant.

If I go the mini van route, I'm thinking Toyota Sienna. Work van, not sure, econoline 150 or Chevy 1500? I told myself I wouldn't get another American car after seeing how shoddy this dodge has been but again are work vans different than mini vans in overall durability? Or is everything just plastic and crappy now?

Thank you all in advance for the advice.

Henry Holub · May 26, 2016 · Altus, Ok · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 410
Hobo Greg wrote:(2007 dodge grand caravan) but it's got too many power features that are already breaking
You stated your problem- its a Dodge. Top two minivans for reliability are the Odyssey and the Sienna. I believe the Sienna has a little bit more interior space, but both are larger than the dodge. If you don't mind going old-school, the Previa seems to be a popular choice and, even though its a decade or more older than the grand caravan, will still have fewer problems (yay Toyota). Some things are more plasticky and more crappy than others. The Chrysler corp has a stellar reputation for terrible electrical systems and poor fit and finish. For my money (and perhaps because there's not a lot of it) I'm trying to find an old Previa.

Edit: To be fair to other American manufacturers, Chrysler's products are the worst of the bunch, regularly falling in last place among all vehicles available in the US (rankings by msn auto, edmunds, consumer reports, etc). I'm not suggesting Ford and Chevy are quite as reliable as their Japanese competitors, but they're much, much closer, and have been slowly closing the gap for the last 7 or 8 years.

Alexander K · May 26, 2016 · The road · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 15
I have a 2004 Sienna with 207k miles on it that is going strong. Planning on many road trips to come. I think that livability/stealth camping is easier in a mostly windowless work van but MPGs and ride comfort are definitely better in the Sienna.

mountainhick · May 26, 2016 · Black Hawk, CO · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 60
Previa and Sprinter owner here, though the Previa is no longer a stock type van.

Previas have idiosyncrasies which you need to know how to repair. Most modern day mechanics don't have the knowledge and some will bluster their way through faking it and screw up the repairs. Mechanics in the know often refuse to work on them. The factory service manual and onine forums devoted to the Previa are indispensible. And the Previa AWD is the best in the snow of any vehicle I have ever driven, and we live at 9300' in Colorado

If you want to travel rough dirt or 4x4 roads, full size vans are the way to go unless you mod your minivan. Previas can be lifted, but the AWD does not have hi/lo unless you transplant an 80's transfer case.

BTW, Previas don't get the greatest gas mileage. Mine gets about 21mpg highway. But if you can get one cheap, you get the savings on the front end.

YMMV

Lifted 4x4 hi/lo transfer case, 5 speed manual transmission, custom self built front coilovers, bigger wheels and tires Previa

Kent Richards · May 26, 2016 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 3
There are going to be trade-offs either way. For me, fuel economy is high on the list. As is fundamental mechanical reliability.

If you're happy with the space and clearance of a minivan, maybe you just need a more reliable minivan.

Faulted Geologist · May 26, 2016 · Lawrence, KS · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 8
Anecdotal: my Sienna is great. Throw a crash pad in it with seats removed and it is comfy. Engine is great. I beat racecars off the line. Decent gas mileage for road trips. Automatic electronic Windows etc, still fine.

Ben Stabley · May 26, 2016 · Portland, OR · Joined Sep 2014 · Points: 88
An acquaintance got a 1st gen Ford Transit Connect cargo van and put 2 roof boxes on it. It is a very nice set up, especially for weekend stuff. I very nearly decided to do the same, but ended up getting a 2004 sprinter. I kinda regret getting the sprinter because I'm spending a lot of time and money repairing it (though I think some of it is just the "regular" replacement of worn parts; the body rust, however, is not). I like driving the sprinter when I'm not thinking about repairs, though.

Hobo Greg · May 26, 2016 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 25
Thanks for all the input! It seems like even 20 mpg highway is not really possible with a work van (other than sprinter, but too much up front for me). And since I am totally happy with the space/clearance etc of alter mini, maybe the sienna is my best bet? Previa seems cool but as mentioned, repairs can be funky and I am anything but mechanical. So it's between Sienna and Odyssey is it?. Crapshoot either way or is one perhaps better than the other? I've never owned a Toyota but the civic I had was super reliable.

Kent Richards · May 26, 2016 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 3
Hobo Greg wrote:So it's between Sienna and Odyssey is it?. Crapshoot either way or is one perhaps better than the other?
I recommend checking Consumer Reports or something similar for the full picture on their comparative reliability.

Hobo Greg · May 26, 2016 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 25
Kent Richards wrote: I recommend checking Consumer Reports or something similar for the full picture on their comparative reliability.
I have looked at both, but since things vary from year to year, I'd like to augment that with anecdotes from people on here. Also, Im hearing of the Honda Element as being an option, anyone have experience with it?

Ball · May 26, 2016 · Oakridge, OR · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 45
AWD Previa get the same MPG has my old AWD Astro and isn't half as capable. They tend to overheat, too.

Bill M · May 26, 2016 · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 101
The difference between 16 and 21 mpg for 25,000 miles at $2.25/gal is only 800 bucks. Get a decent cargo van and be done with it. I have a Chevy 1500 Express and enjoy it.

Hobo Greg · May 26, 2016 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 25
Bill M wrote:The difference between 16 and 21 mpg for 25,000 miles at $2.25/gal is only 800 bucks. Get a decent cargo van and be done with it. I have a Chevy 1500 Express and enjoy it.
$800 more in just the first year of planned ownership is a significant margin when I don't need the extra space of a work van, however, if its more durable and cheaper on repairs etc in the long run I'd save money and I would consider it, is that the general case?

Bill M · May 26, 2016 · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 101
I would not make generalizations. I assume "well maintained" is more important than a particular model of used van. Parts are inexpensive for my Chevy van and I am sure the same is true for a Ford.

Hobo Greg · May 26, 2016 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 25
Bill M wrote:I would not make generalizations. I assume "well maintained" is more important than a particular model of used van.
I would have agreed 100% before owning this Dodge, which I bought at 110k, one owner, will full service records. Since then, Ive put 8k on it but have had to replace the radiator, the drivers side sliding door stopped working from the inside (no manual override, so I have to open driver door and reach around to outside handle every morning to exit), and theres minor but concerning things like once in a while, the LCD displays will get really bright for a few seconds, for no reason whatsoever. Or how the passenger front seat won't move more than 1/4" (again, no manual override) and as such, I can't put the seat behind it down and its taking up space.

Fun fact, Mike Lechlinski and a friend replaced my radiator at the cost of one radiator and four twelve-packs of Sierra. I wanted to help but had recently dislocated my elbow in a fall. That was one hell of a week!

Ben Stabley · May 27, 2016 · Portland, OR · Joined Sep 2014 · Points: 88
Hobo Greg wrote: Im hearing of the Honda Element as being an option, anyone have experience with it?
I think Steph Davis, her bf, and dog lived in an element until recently, if that means anything to you. Could probably check her old blog posts to see what she wrote about it.

Ball · May 27, 2016 · Oakridge, OR · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 45
Old cargo van with a broken water pump: $30 and 30 minutes to fix.

Previa: good fucking luck!

Ball · May 27, 2016 · Oakridge, OR · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 45
My friend complained that the Element has terrible mpg and if you load it up you need air shocks or it'll sag hard and eat tires. God help you if the water pump goes on a sideways-mounted engine from any make. I replaced one on a Chevy and a Honda; the Chevy wasn't too bad, but the Honda required removing engine mounts, the balancer, timing cover...

Express van with a chip get 20mpg. My Astro got 20 even though I jacked it up a couple inches. You're only going to get significant gas savings if you buy a hybrid, geo metro, or old 90s Mazda. If it's just one person and little gear you can make it work by pulling the passenger seat. I wouldn't cal it livable, though.

Wally · May 27, 2016 · Denver · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 0
My 2004 AWD Toyota Sienna just turned 250,000 miles. 12 years of great road trips, super reliable vehicle, big cargo space, a bit more expensive up front to pay for that Toyota quality, gets into many roads that the 4WD gas guzzlers get into. And still going strong. The minivan is cool! :)

Bill M · May 27, 2016 · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 101
A late 2000's Chevy Express 1500 has decent room to work in the engine compartment - not as much as a flat 6 in an old pickup, but lots more than a minivan.

Ball · May 27, 2016 · Oakridge, OR · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 45
Wally wrote:Toyota quality
Highly dependent on year, model, and day of the week it was made. Just pray you never have to work on one. I just replaced the PCV valve on my 3L and WHEW!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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