Apparently, interest in the Dodge Grand Caravan from the used marketplace is growing lately, as based on three separate reader emails I’ve received recently.
One was from a contractor who re-did my bathroom a few years ago. He used an old beater Dodge Caravan instead of a work truck, explaining, at the time, that it was “easier on fuel, way cheaper, and my stuff won’t get wet if it rains.”
Contractor guy was back in touch to advise that said beater Grand Caravan had finally barfed up its transmission at nearly 300,000 kilometres and that he just bought another one for $1,700 and planned to run it into the ground doing contractor things, just like its predecessor.
The second email came from Tyler Ross, who would spend some portion of the summer driving across some great portion of Canada with his boyfriend Dave and their dog, Lucifer (best dog name ever!).
Ross wanted to know if buying a cheap Grand Caravan and driving it for a very, very long distance might be a better alternative than, say, putting thousands of kilometres on their much-smaller new Kia Rio, or spending loads more on fuel and fees to rent a great big Chevrolet Suburban for seven or eight weeks instead. These fellas needed something with a lot of space.
The final email was from my aunt and uncle who are partaking in numerous projects around their newly-built home this summer and fall. Building and landscaping are on the menu. Aunt and uncle wanted something big and cheap and easy to drive but determined that their limited budget wouldn’t cover a big pickup and figured a (very) used minivan might be best.
So, not only is Grand Caravan one of the most spacious, flexible and readily-available haulers on the road, but you can pick one up for under $1,000 all day long, depending on what you want to get up to.
At that money, you’re probably getting a unit that’s got a lot of miles, doesn’t look pretty, needs some work and probably shouldn’t be used for long distances. If you get a year or two of use out of it and stay local (like contractor-guy and my aunt and uncle), the space and size of a well-used Grand Caravan is all but untouchable for the money.
Why so cheap? Many factors, really. You can’t throw a rock in most of Canada without hitting a Grand Caravan. There are billions of them (not really), but the supply is high, and as minivans aren’t as trendy as they once were, demand is somewhat low.
High supply + low demand = cheaper.
So, if you’re looking for something big and friendly and flexible, and if you won’t be going too far, and if you’re after something you wouldn’t be too upset with for kicking the bucket after a year or two, a $1,000-$2,500 Grand Caravan could be a compelling choice.
Pick one up, remove the rear seats, toss a tarp down (or don’t), and you’ve got an easy-to-drive, easy-to-load and easy-to-board-and-exit cargo van that every mechanic in the universe knows how to fix.
So, search the listings. You can find used copies of these machines, entering their winter years but still in road-worthy shape, for well under $2,000. Drive it into the ground, scrap it for parts and repeat.
But for Tyler, Dave and Lucifer the Pug, I’d go a different route. If you’re planning long-haul travels in the blazing heat of the summer, you’ll want to spend a bit more and be a little more careful.
There’s no magic price point that makes a high-mileage beater minivan more reliable than another, but I’d advise seeking out something with less miles, in better shape and with as many service records as you can.
I’d also consider having a full tune-up, fluid change (including the transmission, brake fluid and engine coolant), to be mandatory. This is relatively affordable peace of mind, especially if you’ll be pushing an older vehicle like this in extreme heat for many miles.
If it’s in your budget, many used Grand Caravans can be had with plenty of life left, up toward about $10,000-$12,000.
It’ll cost you more than the “stay near home” beater from above, but probably won’t break down on your trip and will probably serve you for several more summers of travel before heading off to that great big garage in the sky.
Many units are also available around, say, nine years old with reasonable mileage for $6,000 to $7,000.
Don’t purchase a Grand Caravan for long-haul travels until a professional assesses its road worthiness.
Explain that you want to do some lengthy summer driving, ask if they see any major concerns and get an estimate to address them.
Also, quadruple check that the air conditioner still works.