Automotive superlatives like “World’s Fastest” or “World’s Most Expensive” constantly change hands and the titles go to whatever chassis Bugatti sticks a 16-cylinder engine in or a car that Enzo Ferrari may have looked at once in the 1950s. But “World’s Cleanest 2003 Honda Odyssey” is a record that is not often disputed among carmakers.
I doubt Guinness World Records even has a category for it. That’s about to change when they see my candidate for The World’s Cleanest 2003 Honda Odyssey.
This specific Honda Odyssey belongs to a friend of mine who got it from her parents a few years ago after they bought it new in 2003. It has 246,000 miles on it and doesn’t show it at all. My 1996 Camry has 150,000 miles on it and looks like it’s been to a warzone and back.
On the outside, my friend’s Odyssey looks nearly the same as it did when it rolled off the assembly line 14 years ago in Lincoln, Alabama. That’s fairly impressive for any 14-year-old car and really astounding for a minivan that’s travelled a little more than the distance from earth to the moon.
Normally minivans have a somewhat sorry lot in life. They are often abused and seen as a disposable workhouse before being shipped off to the scrap yard with an ungodly amount of dirt and grime worn into the carpet. In some cases, they are given to whatever kid gets their driver’s license first. When that happens, the van is driven very hard and they end up either sold or totaled.
The first car I had access to was a 2001 Pontiac Montana with a VCR hooked up to a very tiny LCD screen in the back. It was not Pontiac’s finest work and I sold it to buy my 1985 Chrysler LeBaron Turbo because I am not capable of sound and reasonable decisions when it comes to cars.
This minivan escaped that fate and that’s evident when looking at the interior. The little white text on all of the knobs, buttons, and controls are still present and readable as they were in 2003.
I’ve seen that text worn off on much newer cars. It’s like this van was cursed with vampire-like abilities to never cosmetically age. The embroidered “ODYSSEY” text on the floor mats looks like it was dry-cleaned. For comparison, the Camry text on my floor mats looks like it was on the decks of an Alaskan crabbing vessel for several decades.
Unlike most minivans more than a few years old, everything on the van works. Plastic interior panels are often the first to go on most vans. They’ll get broken off when trying to shove a kayak or several suitcases into the trunk and never replaced. The World’s Cleanest 2003 Honda Odyssey’s interior plastic has survived this long without as much as a scratch or rattle.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the van is not exempt from the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Things have gone wrong on the van. The rear bumper was replaced a few years ago due to rust and a window motor was also replaced.
I actually had the privilege of driving this van and I got to push it a few times on the various highways and back roads of Maryland. This van is not fast and you can hear the 3.5-liter VTEC engine trying its absolute best to propel this 4,200-pound boat to 65 mph on the highway.
That’s not to say it’s bad in any way and Honda never designed the Odyssey to set lap records at the Nurburgring. Honda designed this car and engine to work forever and not complain. That’s exactly what it does.
Second generation Honda Odysseys were plagued with transmission problems and somehow this specific van has avoided all of those issues, which is unheard of for a van that has over 246,000 miles.
Driving this van, I was honestly a little terrified. I felt like I was wandering around haphazardly in a museum and I was in danger of breaking something. When I worked for Autoweek, I had the opportunity to drive a Mercedes-Maybach S550, and that exercise in opulence cost more than my house and I felt like I should be more careful with this 14-year-old Honda.
Given its (nearly) perfect condition, I felt like I was disturbing some cosmic balance with a doofus like me driving. Yet this van is driven every single day and still manages to cruise along with zero complaints. That’s not only a testament to how well the owner takes care of her van but also how well Honda made the van in the first place. The van was made to perform well as a daily cargo carrier and that’s exactly what it’s used for. No more, no less.
That may be a factor in why the odometer reads higher than just about every other car it is parked next to.