1999 Chevrolet VentureEnlarge Photo
My first minivan experience was almost a fairy tale. After a few years of schlepping the car seat in and out of various sport-utility nightmares, I finally decided to let my brain entertain the idea of owning a minivan. I didn’t want too much commitment, so we bought a used Chevy Venture. The kids still jump when they see that white-with-black trimmed beast that looks like Shamu.
You see, I had grown very tired of having to get out of the driver’s seat and hop out into whatever weather to retrieve the pacifier that dropped just out of reach. It would be so much easier to just wander between the first row seats and into the back, right? And then there’s tail gaiting. How much more fun would it be when you can haul so much more food? Tom’s Root Beer stand in Walled Lake sure liked it when we popped the hatch of Shamu because they knew we were staying long enough to order dessert.
Okay, so I finally let myself break down and get the minivan. Here’s where the fairy tale begins. Three days later, I wrecked it. Yup, in a spectacular intersection collision. Nope, the kids weren’t with me. Six months of repairs and that thing still isn’t right. Six months of driving a 2000 Chevy Venture that had 200 miles on it. Shiny and new, it was the dealership’s loaner vehicle. I warned them; 10,000 miles later, they got it back. And we got, frankly, a piece of junk. But that's a post for when I'd like to tear apart insurance companies.
I was such an inexperienced minivan evaluator when we plunked down the cash for that 1999 model. Little did I know I should have held out just one more model year. I never thought I'd care about cup holders, but that was actually one of the things I missed when I had to hand over that loaner. More important were the structural improvements from 1999 to 2000 that became obvious once we had to sort through each function of the vehicle before we signed off on the repairs.
I've never owned a minivan since. I learned that the best family vehicle is one that's comfortable. I'm not a minivan basher; I simply prefer to drive a different vehicle. That summer we had two Herculean road trips. I loved having that beast for those trips! But, I have to admit that the every-day driver is a Pontiac Vibe. It just works for me. So, while I'll most certainly review the more traditional "family vehicles," you’ll also see some reviews here on some alternatives to the stereotypes.
I want to hear from you, too. If you've owned a minivan, let FamilyCarGuide.com know--does a minivan work for you?