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I’ve always fancied myself a truck driving kind of gal.  I learned how to drive a stick shift in my Dad’s olive green International Pick-up.  It took both arms and all the strength I could muster in my 100 pound spaghetti-armed frame just to turn the wheel.  I recall that the act of wheel turning would bring me right out of the bench seat.  This was before the seatbelt law, btw.

Except for a period of time in my 20’s when I went through the sports car phase, and owned a Gold 280 ZX, followed by a Honda CRX Hatchback, I’ve always preferred trucks.  

When I got married, I brought with me as a dowry a black Toyota pick-up which lacked air conditioning.  In Los Angeles, this was not a big deal, but upon moving to Florida, I thought I was going to die of heat prostration every time I climbed behind the wheel.  Not to mention what Florida humidity + no air conditioning + open windows did to my hair every day.  I made Rosanne Rosannadanna look well coiffed.

When my Mom died in 1999, she left me her Chevrolet 3-door pick-up WITH AIR CONDITIONING.  I loved that truck.  Mostly because I had such wonderful memories of trips between Los Angeles and Phoenix antique hunting with her in that truck.

Then a funny thing happened.  I got pregnant.  Somewhere around month 7, I could no longer fit behind the steering wheel of my truck.  Fiddledaddy announced that it was time to shop for a van.  A VAN?  When pigs fly.  I never thought of myself as someone who would EVER own a van.  Pfffffft.  

Fiddledaddy did all the research, and determined that the Honda Odyssey would fit out needs best.  I was dubious.  We had saved the money to be able to buy it, since we were a 1-truck family and had no car payments.  We had to drive to Orlando to pick it up, and I was terrified to drive it home.  So I squeezed into the driver’s seat of my truck, and followed Fiddledaddy home.  While he drove the van.  Shaking my head and muttering the entire time.

I did warm up to the van.  Especially since it was the only vehicle we owned with a seat that moved back far enough to accommodate my enormity.  But I swore that our child would NEVER eat in it.

(insert maniacal laughter)

Fast forward 11 years, 3 children, and 4,000 Happy Meals later.  I have been known to find petrified french fries stuffed into seat pockets, yogurt stains on the interior roof, and entire sandwiches of unknown origin stashed under carpet mats.

I can tell you now that I love my van.  We’ve had it for more than 11 years, and have put well over 100,000 miles on it.  We’ve had to do little more than change the oil and keep it filled with gas.  It has given us no trouble and has been extremely reliable.

Until yesterday.

We’ve noticed that our engine light has been coming on.  We had it checked out, and the service shop said that likely our transmission is going.  How much would that cost, I asked hopefully.  Oh, somewhere around the tune of $5,000.

I do not like that tune at all.

We did discover that there was a class action lawsuit involving 1999 Honda Odysseys because of an issue with transmissions failing after 100,000 miles.  And in 2006 Honda replaced the transmissions for free.  But you had to know about the law suit.  We did not.  And we would not have known about it unless we happened to take our van in for service and ASKED about the transmission.

Fiddledaddy talked to the mucky-muck suit and tie guys at Honda corporate, and we are out of luck.

Yesterday, I decided to take the van so that I could drop the girls off at their A.H.G. Christmas party.  The van had been running just fine, so I didn’t see a problem, even though Fiddledaddy offered to rent me a car since he was going to be taking the Prius out of town for a job.

I waved that idea off.  After all, we’re trying to save up for a new car.  Every penny counts.

Jensen and I dropped the girls, and were heading back home.  The back way.  In the middle of Nowhere, Florida.  Both of us dressed inappropriately for the frigid temperatures that have found their way down here close to the equator.  On the way home, my beloved van began talking back to me.  And shaking rather violently as it attempted to auto shift from one gear to the other.

All of a sudden I had visions of my crippled self and Jensen, dressed in his Mario red t-shirt, stranded on the side of the freezing road.  And me trying to wave down help with the aid of my crutches, hoping above all hope I didn’t attract the attention of a criminal type.

I began praying fervently for God JUST TO GET US HOME.  The last 7 miles were treacherous.  I was a bundle of raw praying nerves.  When at last we turned onto our street, the van made such a noise that I was certain I was going to look out of the rear view mirror and see the transmission lying in the middle of the road.

But by the grace of God we made it safely home.

Then I began thinking, okay, how am I going to pick up my girls?  And in a flash of brilliance, I called my girlfriend who was staying at the party, and asked if she would bring my girls to me after it was over.  She said that of course she would.  Huge relief.

Can I just stop to say that as much as I gripe and complain about Florida, I admit now that this town is seriously growing on me.  I never thought I’d say that.  And I completely owe my change of heart to not only my sweet in-laws and out-laws who live here, but also to the gaggle of homeschooling girlfriends that I have been getting close to over these last 2 years.  I’d be lost without them.  AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

Anyhoo.  Now we’re in the throws of used car shopping. Via the internet.  I have my heart set on another Honda Odyssey.  I’ve been saving up in my car fund for several years now, but we still have to find an awfully good deal.  Preferably a late model with low miles, and one owner who only drove it to and fro church on Sunday.

And I’d like a side of bacon to go with that pipe dream.  🙂

So, I’d like to take a poll.  All of you mini-van driving mommas, what is your favorite van and why?

35 Responses to Grounded

  • We were a minivan family before we were even pregnant. It just made sense since we were picking up teenagers to go to church (and/or taking them home). Don’t tell anyone but occasionally there were more than 5 in the back and that would mean some did not have seat belts but we’re all alive and well so that’s good! 🙂

    We’ve only owned 3 minivans and I can’t say I feel particularly any of them are *must* haves. Our first was a Plymouth Grand Voyager, air conditioning went out and the transmission, mechanic couldn’t seem to fix a/c so we went without for quite a while. Next we bought a Chrysler Town & Country Lxi, leather heated seats (my *favorite* part), the dashboard was just like the Plymouth GV so that was a big plus, had to rebuild the transmission (but it wasn’t a big surprise). Earlier this year we traded that in for a Mazda MPV, which isn’t made anymore. The space is much smaller and it parks/drives more like a car but I’m missing the space b/w front and middle and back seats! But I do *love* the 6-CD changer, very nice!! Good luck on your minivan shopping and purchase!

  • We are die-hard Honda people. But we never owned a van. Our new car is a Honda CR-V, which we are happy with. Honda are having end of the year sales if you could stretch to a new Odyssey, or perhaps the Honda dealer has a newish used one for you. Good luck. Glad you made it home safely.

  • Three types of vand have entered our lives:
    Chevy Venture-run(or crutch( screaming in the other direction)

    Dodge Grand Caravan-see above note

    Toyota Sienna-hello my darling where have you been
    PS we also felt the same way about the Honda Odessey but when we were looking they did not have an 8 passenger which is a requirement with 5 kids-they do now

  • We had a Toyota Sienna for a while and it served us well. I was never a van person, so as soon as I could safely get rid of it I did.

    We just got a Subaru outback and love it though!!

  • I have never been a van mama. I never even had anything larger than a mid-size sedan till 4 years ago when Superman bought me a Honda CR-V.

    I love it…love it…love it. It is the perfect size to slide in…no more stooping down to get in a car. It is great on gas. I don’t think I’d have anything else.

  • I’ve owned several different mini-vans and LOVE them all.
    Did you know that you can fit a 4-wheeler in them? I am one “truck”-driving mama! Even my husband’s Tahoe couldn’t claim that bragging right.

  • Never had a mini-van but love my Honda CRV.

  • I, too, prefer a truck. Had one from when I first began to drive until pregnant with first child. Determined not to own a mini van…ever…until pregnancy number four forced it.

    Got a Toyota Sienna for the eight seats. It has served us well. And I’m doing my darndest not to get pregnant again since little guy number six arrived in August. I will NOT own a 15-passenger prison van converted!

    Apparently, car choices is our birth control.

  • Hands down, it’s Toyota Sienna for us all the way. We have an ’02, no major issues, 122K miles. Check engine light has been on for several months, problem with emissions, and due to the way our state law is written, it’s to our advantage to delay the repair until our emissions test is due in Feb. Our mechanic advised us against Honda minivans (but loves their cars) because of inferior parts during earlier production years.

  • Just so you know, you guys have totally gotten us to look at the Toyota Sienna. It does have a lot of the features that the Odyssey has that I like. And this, my friends, is why advertisers are heavily courting the blogging community. We do have the power to influence purchasing decisions. 😉

  • Honda odyssey hands down, nothing else!!! Bummer about the ’99 transmission. I had heard about that. We have an ’01

  • Sounds like you have already been persuaded, but let me just add to it – I”m right there in being one of those people who swore (HA!) that I would never drive a mini-van, which in my opinion, was only one step up from the station wagons with wood panelling that my parents insisted on driving throughout my childhood. However – arrival of surprise child #3 right at the time that we needed a new second car… and we got the Toyota Sienna. Love it! It has over 160,000 miles and has given us barely any trouble at all! (My brother-in-law got an Odyssey at the same time, and regrets it) Hope you can find what you are looking for!

    PS – If you buy used from a Toyota Dealer, they are they only dealer I know that provides a used car warranty that covers oil changes and regular maintenance for several years… worth every penny!

  • When it came time to up-size from my little compact car to accommodate 3 carseats, I had read that Ford Windstars had a very high safety rating. This may be (or may have been) true, but they are terrible for repairs. We’ve had two, and will never buy another Ford van. The transmission went out on both of them at the same mileage point, the a/c goes out fairly regularly, and last summer I could hardly leave the house b/c as soon as we got it out of the shop we had to take it back for something else. Although, that could be a reflection of the mechanics, but we did go to two different shops. The latest fun is all the recalls that have been issued on our van. I am currently waiting for my appointment to see if my rear axle is cracked…another recall from our friends at Ford.

    My best girlfriend has a Sienna and I looooovvvvve her van. So much space in the hatch area! I can’t wait to start van shopping again!

  • I don’t have a minivan, but I’m a Honda girl all the way! I have an Accord right now. My mom had a Honda Odyssey as I was growing up, and it served her really well. (With four kids, and eventually four teenagers, it took quite a beating too!)

  • We have a 2004 Toyota Sienna and LOVE it. We looked at both Odysseys and Siennas and that was it. They are both great minivans. We ended up picking the Sienna because it has more room in the trunk area and it was a bit cheaper. My Sienna was getting fixed after an accident a few months ago and we had a loaner that was a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan. I did not like it. I didn’t like the seats – they were less comfortable and it just seemed like it was not as nicely made. Stick with the Sienna or Odyssey! : ) Oh, and we bought ours off ebay, too from a dealer. The things you can find on ebay!

  • We had similar days. My van started to heat up in line to pick my kids up from school. So I turned it off for a few minutes to cool it down. It was 15 degrees – that shouldn’t be tough to do. And then when the line started to move again, I tried to turn it on. TRIED. WAS NOT SUCCESSFUL. Had to get out and wave the minivan brigade around me. Took the screaming baby into school to wait with my girls until my husband could leave work to pick us up, meanwhile trying to locate a mechanic and tow truck because I’ve never had a vehicle old enough to make me think I needed AAA. I drive newer, reliable vehicles. Only it’s no longer newer. Or, apparently, reliable. Sounds like we need a new battery and alternator. And I think a new van would be good. Because being stranded because of an unreliable vehicle is my nightmare. Instilled by a father who never drives them past 50,000 miles.

    Is it wrong of me to want a Toyota Sienna just because of the swagger wagon commercials?

  • I was totally an Odyssey Mom until last year when it was totaled in an accident with speeds of only 35 mph! Once I saw that the impact seperated the 2 sections of the kids booster seats I decided Bigger was Better! Hubby was driving though and thanks to the Honda Safety and God he was unharmed minus some scratches and seatbelt bruising! We went the full sized SUV route this time and have now had it for 13 monthes! I love it feel like I own the road in it and there have still been no happy meals eatin in it or even cups (sippy or otherwise) drank from! Im takin good care of this baby! We have the Nissan Armada and LOVE it! you can see my Odyssey accident photos on my FB account pic section (and it was hit by a tiny Kia Soul)
    When we were van people though it was only the Odyssey or Sienna which ever had the best deal! There are some tremendous deals out there on SUVs right now though too. =)

  • I’m an SUV Mom. We have five kids and have driven a Ford Explorer for 5 years. We have owned the Ford Windstar (no longer made and I would run the opposite direction) and a Dodge Caravan. I wouldn’t run from the Caravan but I wouldn’t run to it either.

    We just had child number 5 and made the purchase of a 12 passenger van. Mini-van didn’t make sense since we only got 1 more seat and we’ll (Lord-willing) have more children. We looked at Suburbans and Ford Expeditions and Excursions. They are just too expensive. I LOVED our Explorer and thankfully dh kept that and sold his BMW. Our van has the frame of a Ford F350. I am sitting up high!!! Do NOT mess with me! I am hauling precious cargo!!!

    We have done a lot of research over the years and if we were in the market to purchase a mini-van, it would be a Toyota. I know Toyota has taken a hit over the last year but their mini-van really is built the best with the features we needed.

  • Our first van was a Dodge Caravan, hand me down from my mom. It was great until the transmission died, twice. Then a Plymouth Voyager, it also had a transmission die twice. We never got past 60K miles with those and swore we’d never buy a Chrysler product again. They were AWFUL! I wanted a Odyssey next, hubby brought home a Sienna. It was terrific for the 18mos we had it. Hubby was in an Oreo accident where he was the filling and two big trucks were the cookies. I didn’t feel safe driving it after the insurance company insisted on repairing rather than replacing. I inisisted we get an Odyssey then and eat the cost. We ended up getting payoff for the Sienna trade, despite the massive repairs, which is unheard of when selling a car that soon-it is true, they hold their value. That Honda was great, but not as great as the Sienna. When that lease was up I wanted a Sienna again but couldn’t get as good of a deal and went with another Odyssey instead. So, that’s that, we are 2 years in to our 2nd Odyssey. I still think I like the Sienna better, but I couldn’t tell you why, I just do. They are basically the same, it was just nicer somehow. Since the getting the Sienna we’ve always had 8 seats, I wouldn’t want to go back until the kids are all grown. We need that 8th seat just as often as we don’t and we are a family of 6.

  • We have a Honda odyssey too and love it
    Even though it has it’s dents and weird smells.
    It is my favorite because I gave birth to our
    Youngest in the back seat on the way to the hospital.
    No joke! I can’t ever imagine selling it… What
    would I tell the buyers…..;)

  • I have a Kia Sportage and I really like it but that would be too small for you. My DIL has the Sienna and she loves it beyond words. Get that one.

  • I had a Dodge Grand Caravan that I liked and my parents have a 2010. It is really nice and they like it.

    Do not, I repeat do not buy a used Ford Freestar. I have discovered that they have the same transmission problems yours does and people on the internet are talking about a class action suit.

    That being said, while on vacation, in the mountains no less, our van started acting up just like yours. I was sure it was the transmission. I took it to a reliable repair shop rather than the dealer and they discovered it was the cam sensor. It causes the same problems as a transmission but was less than $200 to fix. I have discovered it isn’t uncommon to be told it is the transmission when it is only the cam sensor. If you know a reliable mechanic you might want to try getting that checked. Most dealerships just want your money.

  • In 2007, I drove a used suburban and loved having the space. The on June 21, 2007 we had a near-fatal rollover accident. My middle child was thrown from the vehicle. (We believe he pressed the seat belt release as he was reaching for the armrest of his booster seat). God’s grace and mercy have always astounded me, but on that day it was IN MY FACE. My daughter, youngest son and I walked out of the hospital that day and my middle miracle walked out 4 days later, with no lasting effects of a brain bleed, fractured skull and collapsed lung. God is good, all the time!

    All that to say, safety was a major concern. I demanded side-curtain airbags. We bought a Honda Odyssey and it has 12 side curtain airbags 🙂

    Oh and it has 18 cup holders. I mean really, who wouldn’t want 18 cup holders? Go back to what you love!

  • Honda Odyssey. I call her the Starship Odyssey in ode to Captain Jean Luc Picard. There’s some insight you maybe didn’t want. Anyway, it’s a 2000 and our 1st transmission went out on it in the first 3 months of ownership. Replaced free. Our 2nd transmission went out on it around 132K. Not replaced for free and that’s when Husband announced we’d get another Honda over his cold corpse. Or something like that. We do still have it though and it’s still chugging along at right around 180K. My goal now is 200K. Just to say I did it. However, I have driven it the last two years with every orange light on the left side of the dashboard on and/or flashing. Let me know the battery wasn’t dead.

    If I ever drive again, back surgery restrictions currently, our next hope is for a Toyota Sienna. However, our pipe dream for low miles, low price and slice of cheesecake is right up there with your bacon.

  • I had a beloved Volvo that I adored when I was pregnant with my fourth baby. I knew we were going to have to get a bigger vehicle before he was born. And one day, my husband was driving it and a lady turned directly in front of him…and totalled my beloved car.

    We were blessed with a Chrysler Town and Country. It had low mileage and drove like a dream. We drove that van until a recent hail storm totalled it.

    We decided to step out of the minivan world this time though. We got a fabulous Expedition with all the bells and whistles. She is just lovely;)

  • Toyota Sienna all the way! LOVE it. It is feeling it age as well (it is a 2000) model. Will replace it with another Sienna if we can!

  • When we bought the cute SUV, we knew we wanted kids, but it would take us a few years to out-grow the SUV, right?

    We didn’t count on twins. Or a surprise brother 16 months later. Which is how i ended up mini-van shopping at the age of 25. I remember sitting in the back of a Toyota Sienna, crying, because I was 25 years old and I didn’t WANNA own a minivan.

    So we opted for the “coolest” version we could find, the Nissan Quest SE with sun roofs all the way back and leather seats. I still love this van.

    Only we didn’t count on our family growing some more… And I’ve got to get me one of those big white 12-passenger beasts. At the age of 31. I could cry.

    Still, I hear they are re-releasing the Nissan Quest this year and it looks fab. Love that car. Love how it drives. Will miss it fiercely.

  • Our first van was a Dodge Grand Caravan, and we were really happy with it. We only sold it because we went overseas. When we returned, my husband was able to get a good deal on a Chrysler Town & Country Stow & Go van. We LOVE it! We’ve put hundreds and hundreds of miles on it with no problems. It is nice and roomy for our family of five, and we’ve hauled a lot of stuff in it too as we worked on our fixer upper house.

  • We didn’t get a van until we had two kids (just 17 months apart), and as I recall I had to sit in the back with the infant while hubby drove it home, so she must have been very little. Poor hubby had to not only trade in his Camaro to buy said used van, but also his motorcycle. That was the first of 3 vans we’ve owned. I hate them all. For the cool factor, not for the convenience. At other times over the years, I’ve driven a Jeep Liberty (my absolute favorite!) and a Chevy Trailblazer (2nd fav, but gas guzzler.) Oh, and when our last car died, I got to drive my friends big, black Hummer for a week while we car shopped. She is a GOOD friend! I fell in love, and am so sad to report I ended up with a Dodge grand caravan…NOT a big, black Hummer (which I absolutely loved!)
    I’ve decided a vehicle is simply a grocery-getter, kid dropper-off-and-picker-upper, and cool really doesn’t matter. But sometimes I wish it did 😉
    Check out the GoFish Guys song “It’s Hard to Be Cool in a Minivan.” Hilarious!

  • My husband works for Toyota so we got a great deal on our Sienna. Then we adopted 7 kids. So we traded in my PAID FOR Sienna for The Beast. A 12 passenger white van. Oh, and then, we got a call this past July for a placement of a newborn. So we traded in the PAID FOR Beast for The Beast II. A 15 passenger white van. I love not having to count who’s going and who I have to leave at home because there wasn’t enough room. Now we can all go and even have room for 1 more!

  • Our Venture died leaving me van less – run away from them. I don’t even have the room to list all the horrors it has put me through.

  • Plymoth Grand Voyager was my favorite mini van. I loved it because it was as easy to drive as a car and it had great visibility. The van we had before this one was a Dodge Ram Conversion Van. It was enormous, had velvet curtains in the back and was just so big and cumbersome. Going from this to the Grand Voyager was a dream. We still had loads of room without feeling as though we were lumbering along. Our van was hunter green with tan interior. Our babies were pre-schoolers at the time ( they are teenagers now ) and were in car seats. We found the same color of Eddie Bauer car seats for our Voyager. It was just too snazzy ! We’ve since switched to driving Suburbans. They aren’t mini vans, but are very nice.

  • I love my ’08 Honda Odyssey. We got it two years ago after driving a Chrysler Town and Country for 7 years. We did splurge on the XM radio and GPS. I thought I wouldn’t use them…but we do, all the time! Good luck with your shopping. Something terrific will come up!

  • I’ve had a Dodge Caravan for 9 years. We just had to put a transmission in it at 190,000 miles! No other problems with it ever. Can’t complain at all about it.