When I was a kid, we had a 1968 Toyota Corona. The predecessor to the Corolla, this beauty had vinyl seats that you could fry a steak on in the summertime. I remember when our parents would take us out to the park we would bring a stack of towels, not to sit on at the park, but to put on the car’s seats to prevent second degree burns haha.
It never crossed my mind that our car was too small. I mean, it’s a really tiny car, but we did just fine. At least I think we did, as a kid I didn’t agonize over these decisions like I do now…
A Minivan of my Own
When our second child was born, I have to admit, I was kind of stoked to go shopping for minivans. At that time, we had two kids and a dog! We needed a van! My wife was resistant, making the compelling argument that vans are lame. In an effort to prove to her that minivans can be sexy, I sent her this photo of me in an ’05 Grand Caravan (we ended up buying this one by the way haha).
When I brought that bad boy home, I was able to win my wife over by showing her how the sto and go seating works. It’s possible to set the rear seats up like 4 different ways. This thing is the Autobot of family transportation.
At different times, I have used our van to transport:
- 7 people
- A refrigerator
- A washer and a dryer…at the same time
- Kitchen table
- Several bales of hay
It’s been a truly useful addition to our family, especially since our third child was born. It’s downfall is that it’s obnoxiously bad on fuel. Where I live in Western Canada, fuel is currently around $1.40/litre, and our van uses a lot of it. Lately I’ve been wondering if we need a 4000lb bedroom on wheels to get our kids to and from school and pick up groceries.
Do you really need a minivan with 3 kids?
I’ve always just assumed that we do. I mean, pretty much all of our friends who have three or more kids have a van, so it must be a necessity. This year however, I’ve been getting really annoyed at how much we’re spending on fuel and I started wondering if we could transport all five of us in a car.
Our other vehicle is a 2007 Honda Civic that gets incredible fuel mileage. I figure that if my parents could get by with a car that’s not much larger than a Yaris, surely I could fit our 3 little monsters in a Civic right?
A few weeks ago I took all of our car seats (1 booster, 1 high-back booster and a forward-facing car seat) and tried for longer than I’d like to admit to fit them into my car. No matter how I did it, the seats were too wide to fit between the rear doors. I felt like that person in black and white on infomercials who is struggling to complete the simplest task.
Making it Work
I spent some time on car seat forums (yeah, that’s a thing) and learned that there are certain types of car seats designed to be narrow and fit 3-across in smaller cars. The following week I found us a lightly-used, narrower seat for #3 on Craigslist and gave it another try.
With the narrower toddler seat, all three kids just fit across the back seat of our Civic.
We did our first trip with the whole family in the Civic recently and it wasn’t too bad actually. A little more cramped than we’re used to but we could reach the kids to pass them snacks, and they could all reach each other to share snacks and toys, it actually works out pretty well. As long as we can keep them from starting World War 3 in our back seat, everything should be good.
I’m going to be doing some more driving with all five of us over the next few weeks and I’ll update on how it’s going.
So do you need a minivan with 3 kids? I don’t think so. This setup is tight but we could definitely make it work. Where we might run into trouble is when we need to carry a load in addition to our human cargo. The trunk of our car is fairly big, but there’s definitely not enough room to pack a full load of camping gear or even do a big shopping trip and with five in the car, there’s zero extra space in the cabin.
I think that if we were to use this as a primary vehicle it would be a good idea to get some sort of rooftop cargo box or something like that.
This experiment has got me thinking a lot about the pros/cons of owning a car vs. a van. I’ll share some thoughts on why you might want to consider either below.
Reasons to get a minivan
If you regularly transport more than 5 people, you might want to consider a minivan (or a 3-row SUV).
As I mentioned above, driving a smaller car severely limits your cargo carrying capacity. If you really want to load up on gear you’re going to have to look into some sort of external carrier box or a small utility trailer.
A minivan really is a bedroom on wheels. We’ve used the extra floor space to change diapers, and to change our own clothes in addition to many other things that I can’t recall at the moment. They really are useful.
Smaller vehicles (with the exception of now-discontinued Mazda 5), don’t have sliding doors. In my opinion, sliding doors are one of the best reasons to own a minivan with kids.
We all know that children have a way of not being so gentle with things. Sliding doors prevent them from flinging doors open and damaging nearby vehicles, as well as your own. If you move to a car it might be worth putting some sort of guard on the outer edge of your rear doors
Reasons you might want to get a smaller vehicle
Vans are bad on fuel
Every single one of them (except the outlandishly expensive Pacifica Hybrid). Even the new non-hybrid vans are straight-up bad on gas compared to pretty much any common 4-cylinder car with the best of the bunch getting around 22mpg combined . Our Grand Caravan gets around 18mpg combined and it’s not going to get any better as time goes on.
Not only is this expensive, but burning a lot more fuel is worse for the environment. In the long run, owning a car can make a big difference.
As an overweight, 34 year old father of three, I’m a few years past my cool prime. Yet, I’m regularly reminded by my friends how lame it is to be driving a minivan. There’s something about the way they look that’s just super lame. Oh, and they’re absolutely no fun to drive either.
More expensive to buy
Minivans cost more than a car with equivalent features. A Toyota Sienna has a starting price of more than 35k (Canadian), while a Camry’s starting price is in the 27k range. You can get more car for your money if you go with a car rather than a van.
It’s harder to reach your kids in a van
This is more annoying than you might think. Trying to pass your kids a snack if they’re in the rear of a van requires you to have 3 arms and also take your eyes off the road. You can’t hold their hand if they’re upset either. Everything is just a little bit harder.
So there you have it, my family is moving towards using our car more than our van. This allows us to not only save money, but having our kids fit in the car gives us an alternative if our van breaks down and needs an expensive repair.
Four years ago, I thought our family absolutely needed a van. Now, four years and one more child later, I think we could happily do without it.
What do you think?
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