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What is a Minivan?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A minivan is a vehicle smaller than a van but large enough to fit seven to nine people. In present day, these vehicles are associated with soccer moms and families with children, but they have actually been in existence for much longer. The predecessors to the minivan include vehicles like the Volkswagen Bus, but the first true minivans began mass production by companies like Toyota and Chrysler in the 1980s.

There are several features common to most minivans. These include length not much larger than a car. Such vans also have a carlike front, opening rear hatches, and three rows of seats. You can usually remove one of the rows for extra storage space. The center of a minivan usually has sliding doors instead of those that open outward. Sliding doors may be located on one or both sides of the vehicle.

Minivans often became preferred to cars like station wagons, a typical car for large families, because they more resembled cars and could be slightly more fuel-efficient. They also were a primary choice for people who wanted lots of passenger space. Many parents have thanked minivan creators for creating three rows of seats, thus providing the ability to separate arguing children by a row.

Size of these vehicles can vary and they may be made in smaller and larger sizes, which can add to length. Height is typically about 65 inches (165.1 cm), or a little higher. Especially in early days, minivans might not be preferred because many of them lacked powerful engines. If people wanted large transportation with a lot of power, they tended to turn toward SUVs. Today, many models of the minivan are made with a V6 or V8 engine. This gives them greater power and makes them more capable of towing things like small trailers.

Popularity of these vehicles has remained high, though there has been some downturn in popularity because they are not tremendously fuel-efficient vehicles. Some people have turned to smaller cars with greater fuel efficiency or to hybrid SUV types. There has also been concern about the safety of early models. Adding driver and passenger airbags and side curtain airbags has enhanced crash testing and safety features on most minivans.

Trends in creating alternative fuel or more fuel-efficient vehicles are driving automakers to find ways of producing hybrid minivans. Several automakers are developing minivan hybrid models. These are likely to replace standard minivans in years to come as fuel efficiency demands grow.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WikiMotors contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By golf07 — On Mar 08, 2012

Our minivan is a lifesaver for our family. We have five kids and this makes life so much easier when we are on the road.

We even have an extra spot or two for friends depending on how many of us are in the van at one time.

Our minivan has a hitch on the back, and there have been many times this has come in handy. I think the gas mileage is also better than a lot of the big SUV's that many people drive.

I don't think I will always drive a minivan, but while I am raising our kids, I can't imagine using anything else.

By sunshined — On Mar 07, 2012

I just can't make myself drive a minivan. I have a lot of friends who love them, but there is just something about the soccer mom stigma that I want to avoid.

My SUV has all the comforts and benefits of a minivan, but I feel much more comfortable driving it for some reason.

Maybe all of this goes back to my high school days. The first car I was able to drive when I was 16 was the family minivan. This motivated me to get a job and buy my own car because I hated being teased about driving a van to school.

I realize they have a lot of nice features, but I would rather drive a small truck than a minivan.

By LisaLou — On Mar 07, 2012
I know many people associate minivans with families with children, but I know several couples who don't have kids that still choose to drive minivans.

When our friends were getting ready to buy a new vehicle, he spent hours researching all the current minivan ratings.

He had it narrowed down to either a Toyota or a Honda, and ended up going with a Honda Odysey. I have driven a SUV for years, but the first time I rode in their new minivan, I was impressed.

It had nice leather seats and the ride was very quiet and smooth. It also works great when they are hauling their grandkids around. A minivan really is a lot more convenient than a car when it comes to transporting kids anywhere.

By SarahSon — On Mar 06, 2012

I remember when minivans were first introduced and watched as they became very popular.

I wish we had a minivan when I was growing up. We didn't have a lot of money, but we took a family vacation every summer.

We would pack the car and spend our nights in a tent in campgrounds along the way. Those are some of the best memories, but the car would get pretty crowded.

There were three kids in my family, and my two older sisters always made me sit in the middle since I was the youngest. I hated sitting in the middle and not having my own window to look out.

If my parents had driven a minivan, I could have had my own seat and it wouldn't have even been an issue. Now that I am a parent myself, I love driving a minivan.

The flexibility of space and having doors that open on both sides of the van are great improvements.

By cloudel — On Mar 06, 2012

I traveled with my friend and her two young kids to the ocean on vacation last summer in a minivan. I remember being impressed by its features.

I liked being able to adjust the ventilation from the backseat. Each row could open or close their personal vents. We also had two cupholders to a row.

My friend had a DVD player installed on the ceiling just behind the front row, so the kids became absorbed in cartoon movies. They didn’t complain and whine so much, since their minds were occupied.

Since the minivan was so spacious, I had plenty of room for all the luggage I wanted to bring. Even with all the sand pails and other beach toys piled in the back for the kids, we had room for my two large suitcases and beach chair.

By seag47 — On Mar 05, 2012

I married a man with two young children, and he had a minivan. I wasn’t crazy about it, but it sure did come in handy when we had to move.

It is amazing how many toys kids accumulate over the years. Since we had the minivan instead of a regular car, though, we were able to fit much more into it during one trip.

It was also great for hauling taller objects, like patio chairs and beach umbrellas. I think we saved several trips back and forth from our old house to the new one by using the minivan.

By kylee07drg — On Mar 05, 2012

@StarJo - I think that this might just be a safety feature to keep kids from opening the door while the minivan is in motion and falling out. If it wasn’t intentional, it is still fortunate.

I, too, find it hard to open the sliding door from inside my minivan. I know for a fact that my children can’t do it, because I have to let them out every time I take them anywhere.

There are always features like the child safety lock in place for this type of thing, but I think that a heavy door is even better. If the lock were to malfunction, then they still couldn’t fall out.

By StarJo — On Mar 04, 2012

Does anyone else here find the sliding door in a minivan really hard to open from the inside? It seems that every time I have ridden in the back of a minivan, I have nearly injured myself trying to scoot the door along the track to get out.

My friends just laugh at me and say that I am weak, but I don’t think that’s the case. I can open the sliding door just fine from outside the minivan. Are the doors designed to be difficult to open from the inside?

By matthewc23 — On Mar 03, 2012

I don't think minivans should be limited to only people with a lot of kids. I grew up as an only child, but my family still had a minivan. We took a lot of trips, and traveling in a minivan is much more comfortable than spending several hours in the back seat of a car.

We had a big need for towing things and carrying around a lot of stuff, too, since my parents did a lot of refinishing of furniture and the like. Having a truck wasn't really convenient, since the items could get rained on.

At least at the time we got the minivan, SUVs were much more expensive than vans, so that wasn't really an option. Even though I moved out a long time ago, my parents still always keep a minivan to drive around in case they need to carry any large items.

By tigers88 — On Mar 02, 2012
I am 28 so I was raised during what was probably the heyday of the minivan which was the 90s. Do you guys remember that period of time when it seemed like everyone who had more than one kid had a boxy Dodge caravan minivan? I know my parents had one, they actually had two at one point.

It's funny to think about how many different minivans I have rode in over my lifetime. There were my own families but also all the minivans my friends parents had. It must be dozens.

By titans62 — On Mar 02, 2012

The thing that is really funny to me is that everyone shunned station wagons because they weren't stylish. Now, though, they are making the "crossover" vehicles that are basically glorified station wagons. They are supposed to be a mix between the design of an SUV with the comfort of a minivan, but when you get right down to it, they have the same purpose as a station wagon. That's not to say there is anything wrong with driving a station wagon or crossover, but I don't think people should act like crossovers are a new concept.

I don't know if it is necessarily fair to say that SUVs are better than minivans, though. I think they both have their pros and cons. There is still a pretty big difference between the performance of the two types of vehicles. SUV safety has gotten a lot better over the last decade, but I believe from the minivan reviews I have read that vans are still quite a bit safer. After all, they're designed with child safety in mind.

By TreeMan — On Mar 01, 2012

@Monika - It guess I can kind of see the how it seems like minivans are declining in popularity. The real piece of supporting evidence, I think, for this is that many of the new minivans are starting to look more and more like SUVs!

My friend has a few kids and they just bought a brand new van. The thing is like a tank. I used to drive a Trailblazer for several years and just recently downgraded to a car for the gas savings. Trailblazers are one of the larger SUVs around, but I still felt like I was driving a bus when I tried out his minivan. They pack so many features into them now, that it is no surprise that they have to keep making them bigger.

Everyone is always demanding more legroom, more storage space, more headroom, etc. Personally, I think I would choose an SUV just from a driving standpoint. My SUV had a higher center of gravity, so might not have been as safe overall, but I felt like it had better steering, handling, and driving comfort than the van.

By jcraig — On Mar 01, 2012

@indemnifyme - I know what you mean. We just had our second child, and I am really fighting the urge to get a minivan, but I think my wife is winning the argument. We got a Subaru station wagon after we had the first kid, and that is what my wife usually drives, but our other vehicle is just a normal sedan, and there is no way it will comfortably hold two car seats.

We'll probably just trade in the car and upgrade to a van. You're right, though, that it's kind of the sign that you're at the end of your youth when you make the move to a minivan. I guess it's only about 18 or 20 more years before I get a chance to have another car all to myself.

Even though I'd like to have a car to drive, minivans can still be helpful. Like someone else mentioned, they're good for hauling around big items. That's something that we can't do with either of the vehicles we have now.

By Monika — On Feb 29, 2012
This is obviously just anecdotal evidence, but I feel like I don't see minivans as much these days. I see SUVs everywhere, but minivans very rarely. Maybe SUVs really are more popular than minivans right now?

I have to admit, I think SUVs look a lot cooler than minivans. And having an SUV doesn't put you into that "soccer mom" stereotype like having a minivan does. I can definitely see why someone might prefer an SUV over a minivan.

By indemnifyme — On Feb 29, 2012

@JessicaLynn - I learned to drive on a big truck, so I had the same experience as you. My parallel parking is great after learning on that big old thing!

Anyway, I have a few friends with young kids that are fighting the urge to get minivans. My friend and I drove by a minivan for sale the other day and she definitely took a second look at it. However, my friends and I are all in our mid-twenties, and for most of my friends they feel like getting a minivan is totally unhip thing to do. Getting a minivan is almost like admitting you're not a cool young person anymore!

By JessicaLynn — On Feb 28, 2012

When I was younger, my family had a Town and Country minivan. It was great for my sister and I, because we each got to sit in our row. I think my mom probably bought it to preserve her sanity, because we my sister and I used to argue about who was on who's "side" of the backseat of the car we had before.

Also, we had that minivan for so long that I eventually learned to drive on it. At the time I wished we had a car, but later on I was glad I learned to drive on a van. After learning to parallel park on a van, parallel parking a regular car was a breeze!

By SkyWhisperer — On Feb 27, 2012

@everetra - Minivans are not going out style. They already have hybrid models for them, so they’re trying to compensate for the mileage problem.

If you want to argue that stylistically they’re still not as fashionable as they once were, I can understand that, but I think that even their styles are being updated to look more modern. As long as there are families minivans will be here to stay.

By everetra — On Feb 26, 2012

@MrMoody - Personally, I think that minivans are going the way of the station wagon. They are going to become passé. Yes, they still make them, but the slimmer SUVs are replacing them for a number of reasons.

Minivan mileage is not all that great although it’s probably getting better. The size of the vehicle is a big factor here. Mileage is probably not worse than you can get with a truck, but a truck is seen as a utility vehicle, whereas the minivan is a family passenger vehicle.

As I said, the mini SUVs are already replacing it. I wouldn’t buy a new minivan myself. I’d go with the SUVs. I suppose if you found a used minivan at a decent price it might be worth it; just remember that it will become outdated very soon.

By MrMoody — On Feb 26, 2012

@David09 - For kids, I think the minivans are great. I loved the sliding door feature, making it easy to load up your little ones and strap them into the seat. Our seats were also removable.

This came in handy when I needed to take my lawn mower for maintenance to a repair shop. There’s no way that I could have loaded that mower into my regular car. We removed the middle row of seats and loaded the mower in. It fit perfectly.

By David09 — On Feb 25, 2012

We bought a used minivan in 1996 and it had 20,000 miles on it. It was a Mercury Villager and we put 150,000 miles on it before trading it in; it ran great. Of course we did all the usual maintenance stuff like timing belt replacements and so forth.

We have a couple of kids and the minivan was a great vehicle for taking the family out on trips, shuttling them back and forth to after school events and things like that. It had a V6 engine so it wasn’t bad, and actually I think that Nissan made that particular engine for that make and model.

Since then we’ve transitioned into a small SUV which is a nice replacement. It’s not as big as the minivan but it gets better mileage and it still has plenty of space to take us all where we need to go.

By ElizaBennett — On Feb 25, 2012

My research has suggested that new minivans are safer than SUVs, just as a general rule - I'm sure there are exceptions.

For now, I've been managing to get along with my Honda Accord, but I'm hoping to have a third child in a few years and that's when you've really got to upgrade, especially since they will all three likely be in some sort of car seat or booster seat!

I've been looking at the Mazda 5. It only holds 6 people, not seven like some minivans, but that would be enough for all the kids, two parents, and one friend. It is smaller and so doesn't drive quite so big. And most importantly, it is *much* cheaper than something like the Honda Odysey. Which I could - but as a stay-at-home mom, that won't be in my price range!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WikiMotors contributor, Tricia...
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