You Don't Really Need That $45,000 Minivan

Recently, I was reading a Baby Blues comic strip. In it, the parents were contemplating why they didn’t have a van with the built-in vacuum. They quickly realized that one existed (the Honda Odyssey Touring Elite), but that it was $45,000. The parents then thought about installing a goat instead, at which point the humor was lost on me.

First off, I know what you’re thinking. “Why on earth does he read Baby Blues? Isn’t he a millennial? Shouldn’t he be more of the Dustin type? There’s no other way he would have the time for such outlandish thoughts like writing about $45,000 minivans.” Chances are my parents are thinking the same thing too.

But since you’ve read yesterday’s piece, what you’re actually thinking is: "How on earth can the guy who contemplated that be capable of writing about minivans?!" You’d be right to ask that question. Though I also considered the possibility of using a minivan for setting a cross-country record, so that probably constitutes some degree of qualification.

Today’s minivans have so many available features that you as a kid did just fine without. Your minivan only had one sliding door. All the rear seats were benches and had no headrests. The windows in the middle didn’t go down. The transmission had to be rebuilt every 40,000 miles. (25,000 if it was a Chrysler minivan.) The stereo system had only four speakers. There was no such thing as a TV in the back.

Yet today, all I see are brand-new Sienna XLEs, Odyssey Tourings, Town and Country Limiteds, and the occasional Quest LE going around my neighborhood. Their buyers were swayed by Honda LaneWatch (and the fact they could see exactly who was their blind spot), the massive glass roofs (in a few months, all you’ll see through it is dust), and the dual 10-inch HD screens (they’ll promptly sent a letter to the manufacturer that they need to be bigger).

But they don’t need any of that equipment and then some. In my view, a $30,000 minivan is enough. I speak from experience on this one, unlike the last piece, where I pointed out all roads lead to selling your cross-country record car to a drug dealer instead of having the car "stolen" and collecting on the insurance money.

So I’ve devised a strategy detailing why you don’t need most of the features that come on $45,000 minivans. I will a) list the feature that your salesman said you absolutely need and only comes on that particular model, and b) come up with somewhat plausible scenarios that question each option. Let’s begin.

The Upgraded Sound System and Rear TV Screens

I don’t know about you, but the types of people who can spend $45,000 on a minivan probably can afford an iPad or smartphone for each of their kids. As a result, during a road trip, your kids will be watching a movie, playing Flappy Bird (that particular iPad set you back $1,000), and spending your hard-earned money on Card Wars. Instead, the rear TV screens are for everyone else on the road to invade your privacy, looking into your vehicle to see who on earth would watch Grown Ups 2.

The Navigation System and Bluetooth

Everyone these days has smartphones which will give you the directions, for a start. But even better is going to Costco and getting a portable navigation system for $400. It’s cheaper than the $1,000-$2,000 it is as an option and plugs directly into the cell phone charger. Furthermore, the current units even have Bluetooth speakerphone capability. And in some minivans (cough...Sienna...cough), the touchscreen is disabled when the transmission is in drive and there's no override, making a portable unit you can simply operate at a stoplight very much worth it.

Heated Leather Seats and the Security System

The salesman will compliment you on your choice, saying they’re easier to clean. He’s right. But even cloth seats can be easy to clean. All you need to do is buy a $10 can of Scotchgard to spray all over the seats. For heated seats, you can always buy a heated car seat cushion for $25. As for the security system issue, I don’t think thieves will target a low-end minivan. After all, you had to buy a minivan on the cheap. A high-end minivan whose occupants probably have an iPad each sitting in the Neiman Marcus parking lot? Definitely. But it’s not as if a security system will deter thieves if an iPad is in plain sight.

But power-sliding doors!

Power-sliding doors are a gimmick and potentially dangerous if you accidentally hit the open door button on your remote. They may come in handy that one time your dog was running to the car. However, you might inadvertently allow unwanted visitors, like raccoons who will promptly tear up the interior. Sure, the doors may enable your five-year-old to open and close the door when getting dropped off at school, but he or she won’t build any muscle from operating such a heavy door. And it builds character.

There’s a Built-In Vacuum for Pete’s Sake!!!

Yes, it’s only available on the $45,000 Touring Elite. Hopefully, they might make it available in lesser models. But what if that HondaVAC breaks because that cookie you thought you were getting rid of turned out to be part of a Mr. Potato Head toy? You have to go to the dealer and pay them at least $100 to fix a vacuum cleaner when you simply could have gone to Target and bought a portable one for that amount. Sure, the HondaVAC will always be there, but so will a $50 DustBuster, and even it can be plugged in on the go.

It Has All the Safety Systems You Ever Thought Possible

This part is the most important. Since minivans are family vehicles, they have to be as safe as possible. Now, I actually had the time to go to the manufacturer’s website and see the direct comparisons between all the trim levels. In fact, the only extra “safety” features that a $45,000 minivan has on its $30,000 counterpart are the blind spot monitoring systems, some sort of smart “collision warning systems,” and maybe the parking sensors, though those are quickly becoming standard along with a backup camera. That’s it. In the event of an accident, all the safety systems in the minivan are the same no matter which trim level you buy.

In the end, with all these added features there's so much that can go wrong, adding significantly to your cost of ownership. Honda LaneWatch might stop working, so a camera has to be replaced. That wonderful glass roof might get a chip from a bird that crashed into it. A power sliding door might not be working and a fuse has to be (expensively) replaced. Getting a whole new set of tech features can open up a can of worms.

Not to mention that the lowest-end minivans on average are about 200 pounds lighter than their fully loaded counterparts, making you faster everywhere (especially in the elementary school parking lot) with the added benefit of better fuel economy.

Follow these tips, and you’ll have plenty of money left over for the autocross Miata fund, the poker tournament fund, the LeMons funds, the cross-country record fund, or most likely, the college fund.

You’re welcome. I'll get back to explaining to my parents how I'm not in any way like Dustin.

Satish Kondapavulur runs Clunkerture, named because "Clunker.com" was $82 at auction and would've taken 30% out of the balance of his Eagle Vision for LeMons fund. In between contemplating cross-country runs, he spends much of his time attempting to convince others that his MkV Jetta 2.0T Wolfsburg is indeed a sports sedan.

Photo credit Honda.