The Great Debate – SUV vs Minivan


I mentioned in passing in the last post that Noah and I are debating right now whether to get an SUV or a Minivan for our next vehicle to fit our expanding tribe.

I have since received not only comments, but also phone calls and emails from people offering their opinion (some of whom have never owned either one, which cracks me up 🙂 )

I thought that I would take this opportunity to elaborate on the situation and ask for more explicit feedback, because while some people might LOVE their brand new Honda Odyssey, in order to fit our budget and pay cash we’re looking more at vehicles from 15 years ago – when the Odyssey was more of a glorified station wagon and didn’t even have sliding doors.

I said before that I was firmly in the minivan camp, but I have to admit that I’m wavering. Noah has some pretty good points in favor of a three-row SUV. Plus, he listed his categorically in bullet-point form, which is always impressive.

Here are our two perspectives:

Sarah – Team Minivan

With four (!) kids there is going to be a lot of getting in and out and buckling of carseats (at least for the younger two). Minivans are lower to the ground (which make a difference because I’m only five feet tall and the children are even shorter) and the interior designs typically offer more maneuverability and accessibility.

They’re also a bit better on gas and are typically designed specifically for hauling around kids and groceries (like the ones with the hooks in the back storage area for hanging bags – I swoon).

It might not be sexy or rugged and it might wind up being a ridiculous color (apparently minivan manufacturers were excited to finally find something to do with their excess purple paint. Add some  wood trim and you’re into a whole new definition of classy!), but minivans are typically designed with family needs in mind. We’re a family with needs – specifically the need to transport a family of six with minimal fuss and bother.

MInivan for the win!


 Noah – Team SUV

Ease of repairs:  It is  a lot easier to work on something higher off the ground and typically there is more working room in the engine compartment of an SUV. Minivans tend to have things in sideways or backwards to fit it all under that tiny front hood.

Parts:  The Expedition is built on the frame of an F150 – the best selling truck since before I was born. Ford makes millions of F150 variants – they are all over in the service industry.  They’re built to last and parts are all over the place, whereas a specific model and year of minivan is probably more of a rarity.

Dependability: Minivans are notorious for transmission problems. Even the top of the line Odysseys have had issues.  The testing and R&D that go into a minivan will never compare to a flagship model like an SUV on a truck frame.  The sales numbers are generally higher for SUVs, so the manufacturer is going to spend more on something that makes them more money.

Cost:  From what I have seen you can get more for your money with an older SUV in our price range.  Minivans in our local market tend to be pretty worn out, both interior and exterior – lots of parking lot dings and stains and broken… everything. For the same price we can get an SUV with leather interior and some extra bells and whistles.  Yes, the MPG is 13 vs 17 and that stinks,  but I think parts and the ability to repair at home help with that.

Style:  I’m not trying to impress the world or anything, and I fully embrace being the parent of a small tribe, but I don’t want to be perceived as a schlub who can’t provide for his family.  I mean, we already live in a bus –  I don’t need my wife rolling around in the “jolly jalopy wagon” on top of it all.

Summation:  If we were looking at a $30k stable family vehicle I would be all over the Odyssey or Sienna minivans.  They are more suited to our needs and their function as a family hauler cannot be disputed.  However, we are talking an old, super high mile vehicle that is likely on its 4th family, so my focus is more on potential problems.

So, basically, I’m going to be the one driving it most often and Noah’s going to be the one working on it most often.

What are YOUR thoughts?

UPDATE: And the winner is…

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20 thoughts on “The Great Debate – SUV vs Minivan

  1. I have had both, old mini vans and now a 2000 Ford Expedition. I did daycare for 15 years and the easiest for me was a big passenger van. The third row seat in the Expedition is so hard to reach.

  2. Ooh, that would be hard to decide! There are some good points on the SUV side that I have never thought of. We had a small SUV before our current minivan. I can’t offer any help with the ease of repair, etc, but here are my thoughts comparing the two.

    I LOVED driving my bright yellow Ford Escape SUV. It took me a while to get used to driving such a conspicuous colour though. I would love a purple minivan! They’re all white and/or silver and/or grey around here. Boring 😉

    My husband insisted on getting a minivan shortly after our second child was born. I had resisted for a really long time. So we got an anonymously-coloured 2005 Ford Freestar. Basically, the instant we got one and I could easily sling an infant car seat in and out of the sliding door, I was sold. That and the fact that a tank of gas lasts me a good two weeks sometimes. Honestly, I think the sliding doors and the extra storage space is totally worth the stigma of driving a beat-up mom-mobile.

    To add another perspective: My mother in law has driven both a minivan and a “crossover” SUV with a third row of seats. She said the SUV was basically exactly like a minivan but without the sliding doors, and with way less storage. To me, that’s taking away the too best things about driving such a big vehicle!

    I did get to drive a Chrysler town & country for a few days in the spring and that was NICE! But something luxurious like that will never be in my budget anyway. I figure I can drive a cool car when my kids are grown up. Which will happen in not very many years, since my baby just turned 5!

  3. I love my Tahoe! The second row is bucket seats so there is easy access to the back. When the third row is up there isn’t much room in the back for groceries, etc. which is fine for our family of four … a bigger family may want the suburban;0) We have never owned a minivan but can see the benefit of sliding doors, gas mileage, etc. After being in a huge accident (not my fault) I am all for a large vehicle and feel safer in them!

  4. I had a Pilot and thought we would be so set even after our 3rd was born, but the back row was really difficult to help my oldest get buckled in (I didn’t consider that with baby/convertible car seats strapped in the middle row that the seats weren’t going to slide forward to get to the back row easily and my son was constantly just climbing over). It also knocked out a lot of the trunk storage. I know a Pilot is much smaller than an Expedition, though. Switching to a minivan was a nice for us. My kids were and still are much more amicable when getting in and buckled and the storage space is much better. I have had to sit in the back and there’s a decent amount of leg room. Tough decision, but either way, you’ll probably be happy!

  5. A minivan all the way! We’re on a very tight budget and we’re able to get a 2004 Honda Odyssey that is in excellent shape and at a great price. Plenty of leg room for our big children and so easy to get our little one in and out of the car seat. And the awesomely huge storage in back (with hooks!!) makes this the best vehicle we’ve ever had!

  6. I already said I’m in the SUV camp for myself, but this is the car you are going to be driving, so I think it should be what YOU want. 🙂 However, what I really think is you should look for either and settle on the car you actually find that best fits your needs and price range – regardless of which it is, unless both options are readily available. Do any of your kids tend toward carsickness? My older daughter does, and I wonder if there is a difference in the minivan or SUV in terms of which one would cause less of that, especially in the 3rd row. They have improved it in newer models, but I would very much agree access to the 3rd row was a pain in the older models (we had I think a 2003 Pilot). The Expedition may be better in that respect than our Pilot was, but that alone might be a deciding factor for the minivan.

  7. We drive a 2004 Toyota Sienna mini van, and It gets aprox 25 mpg, and I think the book value is only 5-7 grand, definitely not 30 grand! 🙂 It has been relatively trouble-free, and I love my ride. I’ve no experience with an SUV, so I’ll shut up now. 🙂

    In Pennsylvania Dutch, I’d say, “Do ve do vit!” which means “do whatever you want.”

  8. We have a 2004 Odyssey and a 2001 Expedition. When we had 2 children, the Expedition was a blast. It was our first car that we paid cash for and we still love it 5 years later. We now have 4 children, and a stroller will NOT fit in the Expedition. In the past we laid the 3rd row down and put the stroller on top, but now we need the 3rd row to fit all of our family. I have come to despise the Expedition because I have a 4 mo old, a 2 yr old, and twin 7 yr olds. There are some times when I really need a stroller. The Expedition is also higher off the ground, so even to strap the baby seat in requires me to lift it very high. The Odyssey has SO much more storage!! We can fit the stroller and all the kids and everything in between. B/c it’s lower to the ground, its easier to get everyone strapped in.

    I was the one in the SUV camp when we purchased the Expedition. I refused to be a minivan mom! But now that our family has grown, I enjoy driving the van and it makes me sad that my beloved Expedition has become a bit of a headache for me to get everyone in and out.

  9. My daughter has the Mazda sorta mini-van/station wagon (obviously forgotten the model), which has two bucket seats in the middle and a bench with two seatbelts in the rear. It gets 30 mpg ( I didn’t believe it until I figured it out on a road trip) and has sliding doors, which are the most convenient things ever in a parking lot. The bucket seats make it easy for car seats and the rear seat is easy for boosters. It’s been a good car for her and the kidlets!

  10. I’ve had a ford explorer, always broke down so I got rid of it. Because of our pack I needed something good on gas but big, I got a ford wind star was good but again everything kept falling apart. But I love the space a van offers especially if you have children & pets and your on the go. We ended up donating it to a family that could fix it and keep it. I was sad but happy to see it go. But when my hubby came home from a used dealership with a honda hybrid I was not happy. Needless to say hybrids cost way more to have fixed. We paid it off before the year and it died on my with two small children and our dog right as we were trying to exit the freeway. It sucked really bad. A nice guy helped me push it off the road. Next… The hubby went to the dealership without me and the kids and he knew what I wanted but I told him just get something. He looked at cars… I said No, No no cars!!! So he looked at suv’s and pt cruisers etc finally he got a ride on Oddassy and that did the trick. Or course they gave him a ride in the most high end model. Lmbo. I told him, really? We have kids and dogs, nothing fancy! Basic basic basic. I love my van. We paid 23,000 for it plus 600 for the alarm system, plus trained in the car. All in all if you can, being a woman and with small children you need something reliable. The last thing you need is to be stuck off the road with with the little ones. But get something you feel is right for your family. Test driving and asking questions dosnt cost but your time. And if you get one from a dealer….. Negotiate negotiate negotiate. They are sales men the higher the price the nicer their commission, also if you take cash to a dealer and negotiate you’ll be surprised at the outcome. Best of luck, hugs to you and the little ones.

  11. As much as I would love to drive a super cool SUV, we continue to drive a minivan. We have had a the same van for over 10 years now with very little maintenance needed. It has over 180,000 miles on it (a Honda Odyssey). I loved this post. Kelly and I have the same conversation all the time. We had a Suburban about 13 years ago and what a lemon it was. We poured money into it. So the Odyssey has been great. With the 5 kids and the youngest being 7 now, it’s getting a little tight for arm room. We also feel the minivans have more packing room in the back then an SUV. So for now, sticking with our Odyssey. 🙂

  12. I’ve owned both. And I was thrilled to get rid of the SUV.

    I had a 2006 Ford Expedition. I was thrilled when I bought it because I got a great deal on it. (SUVs depreciate a ton as you said…) But, I grew to despise it because it did most things in a mediocre manner and nothing well. It was bad on gas, small inside, didn’t have a very useful cargo area and had no cargo space with the third seat up. The only thing it did better than a minivan was tow a bigger trailer.

    Sold it and found a 2007 Hyundai Entourage with 170k miles for $5k a year or two ago. (It was a drycleaning delivery van.) Great gas mileage, better seating, great cargo space with the third row in use, way more cargo space than the Expedition if you put the back seat down or all the seats down, and can still tow a 3,000 lb trailer.

    Unless you need a true 4wd vehicle or need to tow a heavy trailer and carry more people than a pickup, go with the minivan, every time!


  13. OK, so I have not owned either, but I did see a really nice looking, white Ford van for sale on Citrus today. Wouldn’t an E-150 make both of your “teams” happy (basically the F-150, but still made for hauling people)? You could even get the conversion one for those days you miss living in the bus. 😉

  14. We own a 1999 Toyota Sienna that has served us really well. We bought it for $3000 off ebay, 6 years ago….deals like that are hard to come by now, but you might consider buying on eBay and having a shipping company ship it to you. Dealers that list on eBay are usually safe to go with esp if their feedback score is high, or even private sellers if they list their carfax report and all that stuff. So far we’ve bought 4 of our vehicles off eBay and had 2 of them shipped from halfway across the country. There are shipping websites that give you quotes based on bids placed by individual auto shipping companies. Just to say you’re not limited to your local market.

    As to minivan vs SUV, we love our Sienna. We’ve borrowed my brother’s Suburban when we needed the space for extra passengers, and it’s just a hassle to get the kids in and out, plus the gas mileage stinks. My husband works on repairs for our vehicles and it’s true that it’s lower and the engine is a tight fit, but he bought one of those double ramps at Advance Auto to do oil changes and repairs, and then later he invested in a hydraulic jack thing-y that jacks up the car so he can work on it more easily. And for parts, again we get them on eBay often, we haven’t had any problems finding them. Generally European cars are more expensive when it comes to parts. We like Japanese cars like Toyotas and Hondas because they are dependable and have higher resale values, but other Asian cars like Kia, Hyundai, and Nissan, might not be as dependable.

  15. I had an Expedition when my 3 kids were very young, newborn & up, and then a Sienna minivan. I still have the Sienna going on 8-9 years now. My biggest problem with the Expedition was that with the 3rd row seat in, I could fit either my double stroller or a load of groceries behind it but not both. My Expedition 3rd row seat had to be taken out manually, it did not stow below and it was very heavy and you had to leave it in your garage. Not sure if all are like that or just older models. Mine was probably around 1999. My 3rd row seat was hard to access. You had to fold down one side of the 2nd row to climb back there. Adults really did not fit back there. Love the Sienna especially when my kids were little. I still love it because I can lug bigger things around but it’s on its last legs with just about 200,000 miles.

  16. I drive a 2012 Mazda MPV and owned 2 other minivans before this one. My kids are grown now but our van is paid off and we have rarely had problems. I will continue to drive it until it dies. I don’t care about being cool and I LOVE having a paid for vehicle. I certainly can see that repairs would be difficult for a DIYer. But, with a reliable model there are very few repairs.

    I do have a suggestion. Whatever vehicle you get, since it will be 12-15 yrs old, will still be worth what you paid for it several months after you purchase it. If you get it and hate it, then just sell it (probably for same price that you paid) and then go buy the other type of vehicle. Nothing to lose. That’s part of the beauty of buying a used vehicle.

    Good luck with your purchase!

  17. I was so resistant to a mini-van, and now I am so thankful to have it!

    I always look at mini-vans as movers of people, and SUV’s as movers of things. Some SUV’s have a section in the middle seat which flips forward, making it easier for people to climb into the third row; if not, it is just a big pain to get kids in and out of the waaay back.

    My biggest joy with our mini-van is that is comes with a Stow-and-Go feature. All the seats in the back fold completely into the floor, and we are able to haul all types of big, bulky, cumbersome items with no trouble. When all the seats are up, the Stow-and-Go bins are fantastic for hauling extra “stuff” and provide so much more space for moving things in addition to people. I am totally sold on mini-vans with Stow-and-Go.

    We also are buyers of new-to-us vehicles. We were able to purchase our 2006 Chrysler Town & Country in 2010 for $8000 cash. The van had about 68K miles on it and plenty of extra features for us – we do not have a DVD player or sliding side doors, but just about everything else, I think. It had been well maintained by the previous (original) owner and was in great shape. In the 4-1/2 years it has been in our family, our biggest expense (aside from gas and insurance) has been new tires. I’m hoping to keep driving it at least 6 more years, until our kids fly the coop.

  18. I subscribe to the SUV camp myself for reasons you stated. My personal experience with “old” mini vans is that they suck and were really undependable. However if your budget affords you a newer one then it may be the way to go as they have improved allot! Other alternatives you might consider especially since the biggest down fall I see to the big SUV’s is that they suck down gas like there is no tomorrow! Some of the station wagons have a third row seat that pops up in the back with easy access from the rear of the car and the dependability of the sedan counterparts. Ford Taurus is one but many European cars too like Volvo, Mercedes.. Or even better yet find one of the real old Mercedes Benz 300 Diesel Wagons with the third pop up seat. Really reliable and will last forever drives like a tractor LOL. Any how just my thoughts on the subject. Good luck to you guys in whatever you do. Great Blog!

  19. I drive a 7 passenger Ford Freestyle, and it has so many minivan features, that a lot of people argue: Is it a minivan or an SUV or an overblown station wagon?

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