Isi had a 2008 Sienna van that he loved. It was his first car and he planned on keeping it forever. That was until two stolen cars came crashing into it making the vehicle a total loss. He is looking for a replacement but is open to options. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario:
I had a 2008 Toyota Sienna LE that I adored. It was the first and only vehicle I’ve ever owned, and a hand-me-down from my aunt and uncle. They gifted it to me when my now-wife and I moved back to my hometown of Minneapolis. It had about 180,000 miles on it then, and I put about another 30,000 on it. It was literally falling apart and after the front bumper fell off, I had it replaced with the cheapest option, made out of black plastic. But it never broke down, it always got me where I needed to go, and it was nice having a car that I never cared about dinging or getting rear-ended - something that happened frequently. My mechanic regularly told me that even with the way it got treated, it would easily get me to 300,000.
I really loved that van.
We live on a busy street in a relatively high-crime part of the city. A few weeks ago — and I am not making this up — two different and unrelated stolen vehicles crashed into each other. The crash sent one car careening into mine, and then a light post. Both drivers fled the scene with the license plates. This happened overnight, and the next morning my wife and I went downstairs to go to breakfast to find her car seriously damaged and my van just gone. Her car, a very nice 2016 Camry, was salvageable and is now better than when she bought it.
But my precious van, towed to the city impound lot, was totaled.
I’ve got what I think was pretty good insurance. They offered me about $3,600, less my $500 deductible. By all accounts this seems like a fair valuation given the milage, even though comparable vehicles with similar milage are going for about twice that. But they told me that’s not really how valuation is determined.
So I need a new car, and ideally the same one. A late ‘00s Sienna. I’ve got the $3,100 from the total loss settlement, and can probably put together a few grand more, but that’s about where my budge taps out. And I’m extremely leery about taking out any kind of loan, though I’m willing to if absolutely necessary.
Budget: From $3,100 to $5,000 maybe a tad more
Daily Driver: Yes
Wants: Ideally another van just like it
Doesn’t want: Something too expensive
Wow, Isi, that really sucks about your van! Those older Siennas are known to run forever. I’m sure yours would have, too, had it not met its tragic end. Finding a similar replacement that isn’t rusted to hell in the Minneapolis region is a challenge, so perhaps it’s time to change it up a bit and maybe upgrade to something a tad nicer. Also, sometimes it can be best not to try and replicate your old car because the next one often will never live up to the original.
The Ford Flex is Dearborn’s best take on a minivan that isn’t actually a van, but these are roomy with three rows of seating and make for great long-distance cruisers. They are also fairly reliable and easy to service. There are a number of Flexes available in the region, though I would try to avoid the corner used car lots where “Your job is your credit!” This 2009 example falling right within your budget zone. You will even get leather seats and all-wheel-drive, upgrades that come in handy during Midwest winters.
That sounds like a rough time Isi, and I’m sorry about your Sienna. I agree with Tom, though, that it may be time to try something else out. In keeping with the theme of cars that are van-adjacent, I will recommend the Mazda5.
We referred to this Mazda as the mini-minivan in the past because it takes the winning formula of a minivan and shrinks its proportions down to produce a magical, car-based, road-going home that will comfortably fit a good amount of passengers and will do so with car-like handling.
The Mazda5 rides on the same platform as the Mazda3. It has good reliability and ease-of-ownership, like the 3. Unlike the 3, it has sliding doors and good visibility. It also doesn’t really call too much attention to itself ... well, at least not until you stare at it hard and begin to realize that a mini-minivan is almost cool enough to replace the wagon as the king of the road-trip.
This 2009 Mazda5 that I’m recommending is a bit over budget but it has low miles and even comes with a five-speed! It is quite a ways from you so get ready for the maiden voyage. But if you are not keen on a long drive or a manual transmission, don’t worry. There are some of these around you with an auto transmission that could work.
Vans are cool, but know what’s even cooler than any regular minivan? A kei van! I have just the right mix of quirky and cheap kei van for you. Check out this 1995 Mitsubishi Minicab.
It comes equipped with a 660cc three-cylinder engine and a manual transmission. That engine sounds really nice with a custom exhaust. It’s like the soundtrack of a Triumph Speed Triple. That said, these don’t go too fast — expect a top speed of 70 mph on a good day — but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in weirdness. It’ll be a showstopper everywhere it goes. Kei vans have roomy interior volume, too! Just don’t skip leg day because those are your crumple zones.
Let’s do the bad news first: Our panel of experts didn’t find you a Sienna. The good news is, there are many nice Siennas with reasonably low mileage for sale in your neck of the woods. This one isn’t the newest one I found, and it doesn’t have the fewest miles, but it caught my eye because the seller said my special words: “detailed service records.” There’s no reason to fear a six-digit odometer reading when you know someone’s been keeping up with regular maintenance.
There are other options nearby, like this one, which looks to have been well-cared for, though its service status isn’t mentioned in the ad.
Of course with any used car, you’ll want to take it to a third-party mechanic for an inspection. Have them check that the timing belt’s been replaced at nine-years/90,000 miles. If it’s a 3.5 liter, have them listen to the variable valve timing gears. If the mechanic really loves you, have them watch this incredible multi-part buyer’s guide for the XL20 Sienna to make sure it’s in perfect condition.
In any case, I hope you’re luckier as a buyer than you were as a street-parker!
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