Those of us who grew up in the era of the minivan, or (worse) had to drive one as a teenager, have something in common: We swore an oath that we’d never own a minivan. And now that we’re grown up, married, and starting families, many of us share another commonality: we’ve broken down and bought the minivan. And we love it.
Not long after we found out we were having twins, my car (a Honda Accord with >150K miles) finally started to go kaput. While it could still be driven, we decided to trade it in on something larger that would suit our growing family. Like many of us oath-takers, we thought a 4Runner or Pilot might be the ticket.
SUV or Minivan?
Some of those have 3rd rows, right? Sure they do. As long as you (1) don’t need any trunk space, and (2) have someone under 4 feet tall who can sit back there. We had this heartbreaking realization when looking at one of these SUVs on a car lot. Right next to it, fortuitously, there was a minivan for sale.
“Why don’t we look in it, just for fun?” I asked.
What a world of difference! Compared to the cramped SUV, the inside of the minivan looked like a palace. Within a week, we owned one. And very quickly, the minivan became our center of operations as a family of five. Here’s why.
Space for Babies and Gear
There is no substitute for the sheer amount of space in a minivan. The typical layouts are two rows of passengers seats (a 2 -seater and a 3-seater) or two captain’s chairs and a full third row. We have the latter configuration; our twin boys ride in their car seats in the captain’s chairs.
Our 3rd row has the option of folding down either two seats on the driver’s side or one seat on the passenger side. We fold down the two seats, and put the 3-year-old in her seat in the 3rd row passenger side. She has cupholders and a storage bin and a clear view of the DVD player. We usually get her in and out of the trunk, and there’s plenty of room for cargo.
On a recent road trip with all three kids, we packed an astonishing amount of luggage, pack-N-plays, food, baby toys, and one of several double strollers into our minivan, and had room to spare. We stuffed the glovebox and compartments with snacks, DVDs, and other distractions.
One aspect that’s truly improved about minivans over the years is how they drive. Back when I was a teenager, driving our family’s Grand Voyager felt like steering the back end of a fire truck. It had a big, loud engine and just felt heavy. New minivans seem a polar opposite – they drive just like cars, steer easily, and ours has an engine so quiet we often don’t realize it’s still running. Yet it’s still powerful, strong enough that we could easily tow a fair-sized boat (if having 3 little ones left money and time for such diversions).
Another perk of minivans is that you sit up higher, so the view is a little better and you feel safer, too. There are lots of controls on the steering wheel, putting the driver in full command without distraction.
Reaching Things for Kids
One challenge when you upgrade to the minivan is that your kids can be rather far away from you. Dangerously out of reach if they have a meltdown, drop something, or just need extra attention. There’s a clever solution that addresses most of these points, and that’s to keep a nifty grabber tool in the car.
These pick-up tools aren’t just for roadside litter pick-ups or elderly people — they let you reach and grab things in the minivan without undoing your seatbelt. I’ve used ours to pass around happy meals and snacks, retrieve fallen toys, and generally keep the peace.
Important: your kids will see this and beg to hold it. Don’t give in! Something will be broken or someone will get hurt. It won’t end well.
I’m continually surprised and impressed at how minivans are superbly designed for families, especially those with little kids. I have to remind myself that this makes sense – we’re generally the demographic that tends to buy minivans. But I keep adding to my list of favorite features:
- Latch system, which I realize is common in many newer cars, but vastly simplifies car seat installation.
- TONS of cupholders. Our van has seven in reach of the front (driver/passenger) seats, and a similar number spread around the back.
- A fist-sized, flip-down “check on the back” mirror for keeping an eye on the kids.
- Built-in compartments. Two gloveboxes, and a flip-lid compartment for every seat.
- Sliding doors! Something that you’ll really appreciate in a narrow garage space or when someone parks a foot away from the side of your car. The automatic versions are so much the better.
Twin DVD Players
Our minivan had a built-in DVD player, which just might be the best car accessory ever, especially for road trips. You can also buy twin DVD players for cars if your vehicle doesn’t have one. We have two options for the audio: letting the kids use headphones (which I’d prefer, but the twins aren’t old enough for yet) or broadcast the sound over the van’s sound system by tuning the radio to a specific frequency.
Since we usually end up doing the latter, we set the fade all the way to the rear. The kids can relax and be entertained by Dora, Barney, Thomas the Train, and other characters while we do the driving and navigating.
Why We Love our Minivan
Our minivan isn’t just a nice way to get around. It’s our center of operations, our base camp, whenever we’re not at home. When we need snacks, drinks, a diaper change, or just a chance to cool off in this ungodly summer, to the minivan we go. Loath as my teenage self might be to believe it, I own a minivan and I’m proud of it!