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Nov 29 - Lauren's B-day Party
Nov 25 - Thanksgiving 2004
Nov 24 - The Sands of Time
Nov 23 - NetFlix
Nov 22 - Dinosaur Museum
Nov 21 - Joel Falls
Oct 21 - Goodbye, Altima!
Oct 4 - Bringing the Van Home
Oct 4 - JK1.van
Aug 24 - Munch, Crunch, Munch

The faithful readers of JK1.net both know that ever since we found out Noah was on the way, we started looking at minivans. Since Noah came, we've been cramming all three kids' car seats into the back of our Nissan Altima sedan. Well finally Karen couldn't take it any longer, so we bought a new van.

We got a used 2004 Toyota Sienna LE in the 8-passenger configuration. We decided we wanted this particular van quite awhile ago, but weren't excited about buying a new one, so we've been watching the used market likes hawks. We finally found one that we thought was a good deal on eBay, and bought it from a guy named Honest Bob in New Jersey. If you think that's a recipe for disaster, just wait until you read about me flying out to drive it back. So that's the news. You can stop reading if you don't want a sales pitch for our van.

"Why the Toyota Sienna?" you ask? Well, we really wanted an 8-passenger van since it is so much more versatile than its 7-passenger brethren. There aren't many minivans that have an 8 passenger option. The only two we even considered were the Chevy Venture and the Sienna. After looking at a Venture, Karen and I both agreed that it seemed much cheaper (in terms of quality), less versatile and poorly designed. It seemed like the Sienna designers, on the other hand, thought of everything. Add to that my bias toward the big 3 Japanese auto makers (Honda, Nissan, Toyota) over domestics because of perceived build quality, reliability and longevity. It almost seemed like a no-brainer.

Here are the things we really like about the 2004 Sienna:

  • Power windows that roll down on the sliding doors. The 2004 Sienna is the only minivan that has this feature except for the 2005 Honda Odyssey that came out a few weeks ago.
  • The rear bench seats easily fold into the floor. The bench is split 60/40 and either or both sections can be folded into the floor to reconfigure the van for hauling stuff.
  • Lots of leg room even for the back-row seats.
  • Lots of space in the back for hauling stuff.
  • Any or all of the middle row seats can be removed
  • It drives really well. The V6 engine gives it more than enough acceleration power for easily starting and passing.
  • Good mileage. It gets 24 MPG in the city and about 28 on the highway.
  • The controls are very intuitive and easy to use.
Here are the things we like about our particular Sienna:
  • The power sliding door makes it so we can open Lauren's door by remote and she can get in and out of the car with no help from us.
  • Eight Passengers!
  • The eighth seat (middle row, middle seat) can be moved into a forward position so that the baby is in arm's reach of the front seats.
  • Built-in programmable garage door openers.
  • Instant MPG readout.
  • Estimation of miles you can travel on remaining fuel, which is really nice for trips to decide where to stop for gas.
  • Digital Compass
  • Outside temperature
  • Roof rack for hauling stuff/canoe/bikes.
And here are the reasons that we aren't sad to be upgrading from our 1996 Altima to this van:
  • Now we can haul way more people and gear! You wouldn't believe how crammed full our car was when we went camping during the summer. Now we'll have no problem at all.
  • The airbag light on the dash doesn't blink at us the whole time we're driving.
  • We can see at night! Both headlights work, and they're bright. (Our Altima had some electrical problems that I never got around to fixing.)
  • Honking the horn after being cut-off actually makes us feel better. (Never heard an Altima's horn tooted? I'm not surprised. We Altima drivers would rather grin and bear it than honk that embarrassingly wimpy excuse for a noise-maker.)
And lastly, a few things I don't like about the new van, lest you think it's perfect:
  • Bulky keys and senders. I've never had a car that had the radio sender to lock/unlock the car (and even open the sliding door) so I'm not used to the bulk. And the key is as big as all my other keys combined, due to an anti-theft microchip in the base that tells the engine that it's okay to turn on. I wish they could shrink both the key and the sender by a factor of two or more.
  • No yellow turn signals on the back. This has been one thing that the Japanese auto makers have almost always gotten right. What's the deal Toyota? Yellow is safer. Period. When you see a yellow turn signal, there is no question that the car wants to turn or change lanes. With the red lights, you can't know for certain until the second or third blink whether they're blinking or have just tapped the brakes. The other tail light could be out or obscured by another car or a trailer so that you can't tell if they're blinking or braking. I've personally experienced situations where I've had to slam on the brakes for the guy in the next lane who turned out to only be braking a little, or where I thought someone was braking and the quick lane change that followed almost caused an accident.
  • No DVD player... yet. Someday when we can afford one, maybe we'll add one.
  • No alloy wheels. With the Altima, I learned to appreciate alloy wheels. They look much nicer and are easier to keep looking nice. Maybe one of my rich friends could fix these last two for Christmas. :-)

Really, the turn signal and key things are just annoyances. I still love the car and Karen does too, and we're very happy with it. Come for a ride in it sometime and see what we're talking about.

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