Your Car Reviews: 1998 Honda Odyssey

Tam reviews her 1998 Honda Odyssey for us.

Your Car Reviews: 1998 Honda Odyssey - with five kids space is at a premium in Tam’s Honda Odyssey.

The market for extremely cheap used people-movers probably isn’t the leisure reading of choice for most people. But most people don’t have five children. I do, and I can assure you that I wish there had been more of an online presence for this particular niche in car-buying.

Advice is generally along the lines of, “Buy something recent to get the best value.” Gee, thanks, maybe I should just buy a brand new car with all the Monopoly money and IOU notes that I have left over after housing, feeding and educating my horde.

So my purchasing adventure was constrained by two main points. One: we had to fit 7 people into the car, including two baby seats that were too cramped in my former Toyota Tarago. Two: we had to find such a vehicle for less than $4000. And if we could get reasonable fuel economy while we were at it then that was a bonus.

I defined reasonable as costing less than the Tarago which needed $110 of fuel per week to do the school run and the shopping.

If you want a bottom-of-the-line people-mover, you are really going to have to look hard to find something that isn’t a Tarago. I had previously owned a Kia Carnival which had attempted to kill us with a fuel leak and some dodgy spark plugs.

Chrysler Grand Voyagers were expensive to run, expensive to repair, and unwieldy to drive and park. I had owned a brand new seven-seat Ford Territory in the past and had really liked it, but they were still too recent to fit my budget.

I had also driven a seven-seat Peugeot, and I really liked the fact that it handled like a standard wagon as well as being quite fuel economical. However the seven-seat version of the Peugeot doesn’t seem to be available very often – a market prejudice against European cars, or testament to the value of the Peugeot?

All of this directed me towards the Honda Odyssey. If we were willing to buy a 1st Generation version, the price ranged from $3500 to $5000. They offered the look and feel of a wagon, and were cheaper to fill than my Tarago.

I like to buy Japanese cars, if I’m buying second-hand, since the parts are easy to find and are cheap to buy. They also tend to run reliably over a long lifespan, which I appreciate since I acquire them in their old age.

I bought my 1998 Honda Odyssey a little over a year ago, when it was 16 years old. And, for its age, it does well. It is easy to drive, and easy to park. It fits comfortably within the lane markings, unlike some people-movers, and the steering is responsive enough so that I can manage a tight reverse park without looking like Austin Powers doing his million-point turn.

There have been a few repairs that have been needed, but nothing too expensive as yet.

It gets the family around town safely and cheaply. I can fit in the baby seats, as well as the pram. I can do the grocery shopping in it if the older kids are at school.

Which leads us to the real problem with the 1st Generation Odysseys. When the third row of seats is in use the boot space is very tight indeed. With the pram carefully deconstructed into separate flat parts, and arranged with all the care of an Origami master there is no room in the boot for anything else.

With the baby seat that we have to have in that third row, we lose half our boot space.

We chose to have anchor points installed to allow the third row of seats to accommodate baby seats, so this is not a standard feature of the car. But by trading off some of our precious boot space we can allow for the older children to get in and out of the car for quick pick-ups and drop offs, as well as allowing us to secure both babies with reasonable access to doors.

The more modern Odysseys have addressed this problem and have larger boots and more sensible anchor points. But they cost more to purchase as well.

So if we have shopping, or luggage, it has to be stored around our feet. Roof racks and a trailer are accessories that are on my list to purchase when funds are available.

And the ‘sound system’ that was standard in all Odysseys of that age leaves something to be desired. We had a cassette player that refused to play cassettes. I was excited to find the 8 CD stacker that was concealed under the front passenger seat, until I found that it also refused to play CDs. There’s no input jack. And if the car battery needs to be replaced then you will also lose the use of the radio unless you know the code. I don’t.

There’s never going to be a rating higher than “good enough for the age and the price” for a car in the bargain-basement people-mover category. You do get what you pay for. But on the whole, I am very happy with what I have paid for. It gets the job done.

And – let’s be brutally honest – top-of-the-line people movers are still daggy busses, no matter how sleek and exciting they try to be.

I think of people movers as the tubby girl wearing her pair of Spanx pants at the nightclub.

My Odyssey, old and cruddy (and in desperate, desperate need of a decent clean, I might add!) is comfortable with who it is. And I’m comfortable with it, too.

Thank you for telling us about your Honda, Tam. Want to share your car review with us? Send in a review of your car to [email protected] or use the Contact page.

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