Despite their decidedly low appeal among sports car purists and SUV owners, a used minivan can offer an unprecedented blend of versatility, comfort, safety, fuel economy, and utility.
Since you’re shopping for a used minivan, keep in mind pre-owned vans offer many of the same amenities as new models, but at a lower cost and less depreciation on your investment. Be sure to compare each model’s fuel economy rating, safety features, the cost to maintain and insure.
Also, check out Carfax.com to see if the minivan you’re interested in has been in an accident or if anything else has happened to it. Most dealerships subscribe to this service, so you should get a Carfax report at no charge. If they don’t subscribe, ask if they have Internet access you can use to check for yourself (for free) while there.
Check Your Minivan Out
Before you test drive your minivan, see if it’s equipped with an aftermarket towing hitch. If it has one, it’s a sure sign the vehicle has been used for towing a boat, personal watercraft, trailer, or other vehicle. This is important because automatic transmissions have historically been a weak spot even in top-rated minivans like the Dodge Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country, Honda Odyssey, and Ford Windstar.
Take a look underneath at the engine and powertrain areas. If they’re greasy, and it doesn’t appear to be from normal road grime, it could potentially be an expensive oil or transmission fluid leak, or both.
Also, raise the hood and check the color of the transmission fluid. It should be dark red in color and should not have a burnt smell. If the transmission fluid is black and smells burned, it is out of its service life and the transmission could possibly already be damaged or about to fail.
If your used minivan is equipped with power sliding doors, make sure both sides work, both at the exterior and interior switches and with the remote if one is available. The electric sliding doors on some models, like the second-generation Honda Odyssey, are problematic. Other models such as the Ford Windstar have electrical wiring problems.
Start the engine and see if the “Check Engine”, “Service Engine Soon”, or other warning lights illuminate on the dash. If any lights remain lit after the engine is running, the engine computer has detected and stored a trouble code or codes. Have these codes retrieved at an auto parts store or by a mechanic to determine what they are. Remember, the more knowledge you have about the condition of the vehicle, the more negotiating leverage you have.
Cash for Clunkers
If your current car is worn out and gets poor gas mileage, ask your dealer if you qualify for the $4,500 “Cash For Clunkers” credit. The Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), is a federal program designed to stimulate U.S. auto sales and improve the environment by providing an economic incentive for consumers to replace old, gas-guzzling vehicles with new, more fuel-efficient models.
Under the CARS Program, that $14,000 used Toyota Previa minivan you’ve narrowed your search down to would now cost you $9,500. And, if you can drive your older car for a few additional months to save up a couple thousand to add to your down payment, it will only require a $7500 loan. Not a bad day’s haul at all.
There are many ways to go about buying a used minivan for less. Using the information above will sharpen your research skills and lead to finding a better, more suitable deal.