The Final Ride of the Not Cool Minivan, 2003 – 2019

Our minivan being towed away

Spare a moment, if you will, to think upon our 2003 Honda Odyssey minivan, which today, after sixteen years and over 200,000 miles, was towed away by a local charity to an unknown destination and future. The minivan has for the last few years been the daily driver for Athena, who took it to school with her and ferried around her friends and their stuff. But before that it was the family minivan, in which we carried kid, dogs, groceries and so on and so forth, as one does with minivans.

I should note that I didn’t want the minivan. When we went car shopping in 2003 (after my previous car, a 1989 Ford Escort, went belly up), I was looking at the then-new-to-the-scene Honda Element, which I thought was a pretty cool like pseudo-SUV. However, Krissy was indifferent to that car, so the salesman showed us a minivan, and by the time he got to the hideaway third row of seats, Krissy was sold. I accepted the inevitable, on the condition that we got personalized plates that read “NOT COOL,” because if you drove around in a minivan, any coolness you ever had goes out the window.

And as it turns out, “minivan for coolness” was a pretty good trade. The dirty secret of minivans is that they are generally comfortable, safe and useful cars. We were the ones toting friends when it came to go out to restaurants, and the ones who got called for loads that were too large for cars but too small for trucks; we could carry pretty much anyone or anything. And it turns out that Honda Odysseys are incredibly easy to maintain; I can’t really recall any particular trouble we ever had with it.

Be that as it may, sixteen years and 200,000 miles will take its toll, and the minivan was pretty much at the end of its useful life for us. We got Athena a used GMC Terrain to take her where she wants to go, and called up a local charity to come take away the minivan. I don’t know what they’ll do with it, but I like to think they might fix it up a little and give it to a family who could use it for at least a few more years. It served us well; it’d be nice if it could do the same for someone else.

So, farewell to the Not Cool minivan. It wasn’t cool, but it was good. It will be missed.

36 thoughts on “The Final Ride of the Not Cool Minivan, 2003 – 2019

  1. Did you transfer the license plate to another car of yours? In Arizona, the plate stays with the owner (not with the car). Not sure if Ohio is similar…..

  2. Aw.

    My 2000 Accord was still going strong in May when I bought a Camry hybrid with 16,000 miles on it. The Accord had only 179,000 miles on it and I gave it to a friend. Hondas and Toyotas seem nearly indestructible.

  3. Minivans are cool. They say “I’ve got a family, and I care about their needs and comfort more than I do about my own appearance”.

    And that’s cool.

  4. We have a 2004 Toyota minivan that’s still running well but showing a lot of wear and tear. We’re holding onto it until 2020 or 2021 when we plan to replace it with either a Tesla Model Y (the “cheaper” Tesla SUV) or that electric VW van. If our plans come through our daughter will learn to drive on an electric car. Brave new world and all that.

  5. My 2004 Honda Civic is still chugging along with 205,000 miles. Honda’s are very reliable. Mini Vans have never been cool but we had two Dodge Caravan for about 25 years.

  6. Two years ago we replaced my 20 year old Isuzu Trooper. It still had some life left in it so we donated it to a local charity which gives cars to folks who need them. I bought a Subaru Forester which is not very sporty but I love it.

  7. Waat?! My first car was a gray 4-door 1988 Escort! It was from the era when the paint was crap, and would peel away to the primer, and was lovingly(?) called “The Rat” by my friends.

  8. You definitely got your money’s worth. My Ford Windstarr broke down after 100,000 and I bought a Toyota Cienna. That was a good van and we finally traded that in last year for a RAV4 after 12 years of service, but it was good to us. My kids are all grown now and the need is gone.

  9. For many years I drove a 1992 F150. It wasn’t pretty. The clear coat was chipping & had oxidized. It was now matte black rather than glossy. It had no AC (which in GA is an issue). It had an old fashioned bench seat in which the fabric was threadbare & the springs saggy. Its one redeeming value was dual fuel tanks, which meant I could go 500-600 miles between fill-ups. In the end I was spending $500/mo on repairs. I was too cheap to replace it for a few months, but after the 4th expensive repair it was sent into exile.

  10. In (at least semi-) rural Ohio, giant minivans are fine, and I’m sure they’re useful. But here in the Big City, they are a scourge to the rest of us trying to park on the street, as their monstrous size isn’t made to share the streets of New York, let alone parking spots.

  11. I put 295k miles on my Honda Element before I decided to let it go. It was breaking down and I didn’t want to get stranded somewhere. But I REALLY wanted to hit 300k. But I traded it for a used Honda CRV. I’m still amazed at all the new bells and whistles in cars. I felt like I was driving a spaceship for a while.

  12. I’ve donated every one of my cars, and I’m glad I did. The last one went to the nonprofit classical music station and they auctioned it, so I think about that car sometimes when I’m listening to them in my newer car.

  13. We had a Honda Accord from 2004 to 2014 (It was already 3 years old when we had it) so it had a pretty good run for its money. Before that I had a VW Beatle from 1988 to 2004 – car was the same age as me. I am now 47 and am on my 3rd car since I was 17 – a somewhat smaller Vauxhall Astra.

    I honestly don’t understand people who change their cars every other year. If its going fine – why? – I miss the VW Beatle though only changed it when my daughter was born as the buggy wouldn’t fit. Mind you having heaters and air con that works is a blessing.

  14. Amazing set of coincidences. We had a Ford F150 which I used so seldom that the brakes had frozen, so we called the charity garage and donated it. They used it as a work truck while they fixed it up, and back in early spring we got a note/photo from the grateful recipient.

    Today, after much research and a test drive last week, I am trading in a VW Tiguan for a Mazda CZ-5. We really need a high clearance all wheel drive if we’re to get home on snowy days and ever go up to friends’ farms. The VW, of which we have owned many since we first bought a White Rabbit diesel in 1978, is not as reliable as VWs of old. We’ve had it since 2013, just over 40K miles, two major repairs, a main drive shaft bearing failed [$3.5K !!] and screamed some months ago, and more recently a rear ABS sensor and wheel bearing [$1.7K] failed, which caused EVERY warning light on the dash to illuminate, not of course, a light that said ABS sensor right rear failing. Or a computer message to that effect.

    Hoping this isn’t miserable, if it turns out to be painful I’m liable to walk out on them, a fact that I plan to inform them of up front. Not a threat, a promise.

  15. They recently had a thing called the Indy 500 here. They asked all the drivers their dream car and what they drove. Of course their dream cars were old hot rods. But nearly all drove minivans. I think perhaps minivans ARE cool, which is why so many people have them.

  16. My niece drove her late grandmother’s 2003 Dodge Caravan in high school, until about last December. She got a “Cool Whip” sticker for the back window. At Christmas she got her college car—my 2010 Prius—and the Caravan went to her little sister.

  17. My 2006 Honda Odyssey was just kinteically retired by a driver who was using her cellphone. 329,016 miles, and I expected another 100,000. My twins grew up in it, and actually thought it was cool. I first liked it for the convenience, but really came to appreciate that because I was willing to drive them and their friends wherever they would like; I was able to go places and spend time with them that was just pure joy. This would never have happened with a “cooler” car.

    Of course, the insurance company wrote it off; its book value was trivial. But as a working, reliable car it was saving me monthly payments….

    I had to defer having it towed off for a day so they could properly say goodbye.

  18. We traded our Chrysler Town and Country minivan with just about 200K miles on it last year. It did the same for us- kids, dogs, cargo, home supplies, groceries, guests, etc. It was a good vehicle, and served us well. Just didn’t need all of that anymore, and like yours, it had hit its useful lifespan. Got us a nice Toyota Avalon Limited Hybrid now.

  19. I’ve had two Toyota minivans (1984 “Mini Van Gogh” and 1989 “Mini Van Cliburn”) each surviving about 200,000 miles, 14 years, and five teenage drivers. Both started out sleek, smooth, and streamlined, but like all of us became more baroque and crenelated with age and mileage. My sweetheart and I share his car and supplement with electric-assist bicycles (our first venture into assisted living) to get our seven-decades-old bodies up the hills.

    I still miss the minis.

  20. Look at it this way — at least custom paint jobs never became a Thing for minivans like their big brothers. Imagine if you spent years taking friends to restaurants in this:

  21. I too have a Honda Odyssey, a 2006 with about 140,000 miles on it, and I love it! I can carry up to 7 other people, a Christmas tree, a weekend’s worth of camping gear, a huge load of crap to Goodwill, a couple bookcases… It’s definitely nearing the end of its life, and I don’t think I’ll get another one because my youngest just graduated from high school, but I’m so glad we got it!

  22. Minivans aren’t cool, it’s true, but they are hardly the worst. Oversized SUVs and fake-macho pickup trucks? Yeah, that’s getting warmer… I mean un-cooler.

    Just be glad you don’t have to drive a city bus or a cement truck–the real nerds among us.

  23. Sounds like a good run for a car. Your experience buying it sounds like the way I recently acquired a Honda CR-V. I was looking for midsize sedans (e.g. Camry, Altima, Accord) to replace a dying Altima (14 years, over 150K miles), and there was a CR-V next to the Accord floor model I was scoping out. I realized from the specs the MPG ratings weren’t terribly less than the Accord, and in fact were better for city driving then some of the sedans I was eyeing. Then I found out a department-mate was in the process of selling an old CR-V and moving up to an Odyssey. His positive comments on his CR-V were the final thing that convinced me, and the following weekend I drove off a local dealer’s lot with a new CR-V.

  24. I grinned at your license plate – way to own it!

    Another writer I like, who is a registered nurse and volunteers as an EMT in addition to writing, was similarly opposed to the idea of getting a minivan, but gave in to his wife’s better judgment on the condition that the vehicle be called the “fambulance” rather than a minivan. He says he doesn’t mind driving around in a fambulance, but draws the line at being seen in a minivan.

    Farewell to the NOT Not Cool minivan, and I hope it serves someone else as well as it did you and your family.

  25. We have something in common. My husband & I drove a 2000 Mitsubishi Mirage until we finally traded it in 2015. It had 485,000 miles on it when we finally said goodbye. Our secondary vehicle is a 1987 Nissan pick-up with 385,000 on it. It’s still my go-to vehicle for the hardware store & garden center. The main car now is a ’15 Ford Focus we bought new, and will probably drive until the wheels fall off.

  26. I have a 1991 Honda Accord station wagon that is about 40 miles under 150k. I’m the third owner – it was my mom’s car, and she bought it from the original owner, so I have all the maintenance history paperwork. It still runs great, and has been very reliable, the interior is in pretty good condition, but the exterior is pretty weather-beaten (west coast, so no major rust issues).

    I wish I could go back to when I got it (2003) and put a few hours in each year into giving it a good waxing. Other than that, for someone who doesn’t drive a lot (obviously), it’s been a great vehicle.

  27. I thought the GMC Terrain was one of those land monster beasts, but see it’s supposed to get 26/30mpg which is impressive – didn’t know any American truck could do that..

    Quit on our 1998 Sienna at 300k, when it needed a timing belt and two new CV joints.. but some days regret it. The replacement 2004 Ford Sport Trac pickup truck, doesn’t have nearly as much cargo space..

  28. Out of the 15 vehicles I’ve owned since I was in high school, I’ve only sold four, (three of them for $100 or thereabouts) the rest I’ve driven into the grave. (I’m the sort who squeezes the last bit of toothpaste out with pliers.)

    I’ve been a devotee for decades of the other uncool format, the full-sized station wagon. My Taurus with the rumble seat option can carry eight people (if three are kids), and I can, by myself, load six sheets of plywood or drywall on top, or put a dozen bags of cement mix, or three 48″ model airplanes in the back. And it still gets sedan style fuel economy.

  29. But it’s the Cadillac of minivans.

    Actually, there was a great 2008 Motorsports article comparing the Honda Odyssey with the Jaguar XKE and the Porsche 356. (https://grassrootsmotorsports.com/articles/soccer-moms-revenge/) The Honda does pretty well. It beat the Jaguar and tied the Porsche. As they said, “Between the anti-lock brakes, supportive seats and power steering, you could practically watch ‘The Lord of the Rings’ on the DVD player while whipping around the cones just as fast as the paradigm of sports cars.”

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