It’s nearly Christmas, and time to start stuffing your brood into the jolly ole family hauler for caroling, visits, outings, shopping, activities, and that annual trip into the bush to hack a pine tree out of the earth’s crust. Plus, Christmas dinner is coming, so there will be various birds and beasts smothered in delicious gravy.
Truly, it is the most wonderful time of the year.
To help celebrate the enchanted Christmas season and all of its sparkly Christmassyness, we’ve amassed a list of family haulers from the used marketplace worthy of your contemplation. Each of the models below brings a festive blend of space and flexibility for holiday gifts and gear, is designed with active families in mind, and has third-row seating so you can take the entire fam-jam and some friends along for the ride.
With room for seven or eight and space to spare, may we present the following list of rides for tackling your Christmas Carpool needs.
2007 to 2014 Chevrolet Suburban
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to ride in a big-ass Chevrolet! Forget reindeers with questionably luminous olfactory orifices: this lead sled is propelled by an all-American V8, has real four-wheel drive with low range if you’re hauling a sled or two, and packs room for the whole family, their things, and the family canine.
Need to tow something heavy? No problem, the Suburban is a beast. Need to hit up a serious off-road trail in search of the perfect festive tree? You’re covered here too, since Suburban is a truck-based machine designed for real hard work, and not a soccer-mom crossover designed for slushy parking lots at Starbucks. Two types of people drive Suburbans: cops, and serious dads. Which one are you?
The Test Drive
Start by dashing through the snow to your local GM dealer with the ‘Burban you’re considering, and talking to a service advisor about a well-known oil consumption problem with the 5.3 litre V8 your potential ride probably has under the hood. Though this seemed to be a more serious issue in 2007 to 2009 models, your service tech may have further information and advice. You may wish to start by opening the hood with the engine running. If a noise similar to reindeer hooves running across a metal roof is present from the cylinder head area, you’d best be making tracks to another used Suburban candidate.
Make sure the cruise control system works as expected, as well as the brake lights. If either doesn’t it’s likely because of a bad brake-light switch, which is easy to fix.
2009 to 2015 Honda Pilot
Don we now our gay apparel, and then it’s off to Auntie Lydia’s in the Pilot for egg nog, awkward conversations and crappy card games that nobody’s heard of since the forties. At least the ride there will be comfortable, thanks to Pilot’s big, square cabin, good outward sightlines, and abundant storage space. Look for a 3.5 litre V6 with VTEC on all models from this generation. Most used copies will have Honda’s VTM-4 system, powering all four wheels with available driver-selectable lock function for added traction when Mother Nature gets carried away with the fresh powder. High resale values means strong pricing on a used Pilot, though a gleaming reputation for reliability and safety are the tradeoffs.
The Test Drive
Is your potential used Pilot going Thumpety thump, thump, thumpety thump, thump, over the hills of snow? If so, a bushing or other suspension component likely needs some attention, so have a mechanic take a look. Check the condition of the leather on all seat surfaces, including the rear ones. Some owners have reported disappointing durability.
Drive with light throttle to get your Pilot candidate into its ‘ECO’ mode and open your ears. Does the engine grumble and groan like your stomach after your mother-in-law’s Christmas meatloaf? New engine software, available from your dealer, may be the fix.
While the Pilot is on the hoist, ask your mechanic to check for signs of leaks, especially around the radiator, transmission cooler lines, transmission, and rear differential. Note that some owners have reported issues with oil consumption, and that some haven’t. It’s unclear exactly what’s causing the issue, though shoppers are advised to check the oil level and condition of the model they’re considering, continue to monitor it throughout its life.
2008 to 2015 Dodge Grand Caravan / Chrysler Town and Country
The storm’s showing no signs of stopping, and you’ve bought some corn for popping. Thing is, you’ve got to get from the grocery store to Gramma’s place in this freaking blizzard with a full complement of over-caffeinated children while keeping your sanity. Thankfully, the Chrysler magic wagons have you covered. The people who design these things have screaming children too, and used copies will have everything from a pop-up activity table to dual rear-seat DVD consoles to help keep the rugrats pacified. You won’t find a used vehicle with a better price-to-size ratio, and when the Grand Caravan isn’t full of passengers, the rear seats fold away to leave you with a cargo-van. Look for the Pentastar V6 engine on all models from 2012. Compared to the older powerplants, this new-age engine is big-time punchy, and drinks less. Unlike Uncle Hal.
The Test Drive
Some owners have reported less-than-expected life of various brake and suspension components, as well as tires. Be sure to have each of these inspected by a mechanic ahead of your purchase if you’re not sure how. If you detect a high-pitched squealing sound similar to your 12-year-old opening her Justin Bieber calendar on Christmas morning, a brake job is in your future. Triple-check for proper operation of the air conditioner, and the entire rear-seat climate control system, too.
Oh, and remember that sometimes, unwanted sensations or behavior from the transmission are caused by a simple-to-fix problem within the computer that controls it. Other times, internal transmission damage may be to blame. Be sure the transmission operates smoothly, and be sure to have a mechanic investigate if it’s not.
2013 to 2015 Audi RS5
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 2 doors, 4 seats, 7 gears, 8 cylinders and 8,200 glorious revs! Whee!! Forget the mistletoe, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas with a foot of fresh powder, a set of Blizzaks, and 450 screaming ponies under my right foot. Okay, we lied: the RS5 doesn’t have three seating rows, but I’ll gladly make numerous trips to move the family around, and so will you. Look for premium audio, xenon lighting, automatic climate control, memory seats and whole lot more on the luxury front. In sport mode, this rocket coupe will set your face on fire. In comfort mode, you could drive your mother to Christmas morning mass.
The Test Drive
Play with the RS5’s doors, windows and related switches and controls a few moments at the start of your test drive. If a former owner tried to force the door open while the frameless window was covered in ice, they could have damaged the window motor, regulator or tracks, which will be pricey to fix. Does the RS5 you’re considering have Carbon Ceramic brakes up front? Cool stuff, but you don’t really need them, and they’ll turn your wallet inside out if they ever need replacing. Check that the air conditioner works properly and doesn’t make the RS5 smell like a mouldy towel when activated. If it does, you’ll likely need a new cabin filter. Finally, remember that a battery trickle-charger is a good investment, and should be hooked up to your RS5 when you aren’t driving it for more than a few days. Opt for any extended warranty coverage available through your Audi dealer’s Certified Pre Owned program, and you’ll enjoy many miles and many thrills in your new rocket-coupe, heedless of the wind and weather.
2007 to 2014 Lincoln Navigator
O come ye, O come ye, on board daddy’s new posh-ute! Though the Cadillac Escalade tends to steal all the thunder in the American luxury utility vehicle scene, the Lincoln Navigator offers a similarly all-American take on great-big luxury and capability. Standard was a 5.4 litre V8 engine, automatic transmission, and four-wheel drive. Look for 310 horsepower, over 103 cubic feet of total cargo space, and towing capacity of 9,000 pounds. Blast your favorite festive carols with ferocious intensity from the available THX audio system, and look for features like navigation, climate controlled memory seating, rear seat entertainment consoles and more. Power-deployable running boards and power adjustable pedals were available for those of elfish proportions, too.
The Test Drive
From now on, your troubles will be miles away, unless the Navigator you’re considering has problems lying in wait to have their way with your bank account. If equipped, confirm that the power running boards appear when the door opens. If not, the solution could be as simple as blasting some WD40 onto the door sensor, or something pricier.
Improper rear-seat climate control operation could result from leaky AC lines or a broken ‘blend door’, which controls air flow through the rear seat climate system. The same problems may be present up front – so be sure to run the climate controls in all seating rows through their paces.
If it sounds like jingle bells swinging and jingle bells ringing from beneath the floor, you’ve probably got a busted exhaust hanger or heat shield, which a mechanic can fix with minimal time and cost.
Clumsy or hard shifting from the transmission is likely software related but should be investigated, and soft, mushy performance from the brakes could be the result of air seeping into the brake lines, which is bad news, because stopping isn’t optional.
1992 to 2006 Hummer H1
Murica! If you’ve got a Grandmother who lives in Deliverance country and find yourself charged with getting her to the family feast, you definitely need one of these. Ground clearance? Check. Military-grade suspension and chassis implements? Check. Roof mounted machine gun? Oh hell, yes.
All models got V8 power, gas or diesel, four-wheel drive, inboard-mounted brakes, and the ability to climb huge things and drive through a meter of water. Most used Hummer H1 models only have four seatbelts, but an extra passenger or two can bundle up and sit at the machine gun turret out back. Fill it with Christmas-colored confetti to help spread the season’s cheer to your horrified fellow motorists!
The Test Drive
You probably shouldn’t buy one of these. Big costs and the crashing economy right around the H1’s popularity mean many used examples have been denied proper upkeep, which will be expensive. The H1 is an exotic, like a Lamborghini or an Aston Martin, though it’s built to climb and slog and it has a machine gun turret and self-inflating bulletproof tires.
If you’re set on owning an H1 anyways, you’ll want to read this. Among other things, this very informative how-to on buying a used H1 suggests that you make a list and check it twice, then set off to procure a plethora of spare parts you’ll need to have on hand if you decide to own one and ever drive it.
Some notes? Avoid a unit with aftermarket wheels, as most aftermarket wheels aren’t designed for the weight of the H1, and will crumble apart like Chinese patio furniture without notice. Evidence of a fan-shaped oil-spray on the inside of the rear wheels indicates a hub seal leak, and gauges can be fussy about working properly, if at all. Many sources say that Hummer H1 suspension components are disposable, and nothing to repair on a vehicle like this will be cheap.