COAL: 2006 Honda Odyssey EX-L – Ridden Hard And Put Away Wet…

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After several months in our new home with just an older Chevy Tahoe and a Honda Civic Hybrid, going anywhere with our three kids became more of a chore than it needed to be.  Clearly we needed to get another vehicle with at least three rows of seats to quell the constant bickering from the back…

Even since before our old Sienna burned to a crisp, we’d been thinking about buying an AWD version for Colorado.  However, the new ones were quite expensive and old ones were not in abundance on the used market; people seem to hold on to them.  We also realized that here in the northern part of the Front Range we get much less snow than we thought we would.  We get about half of what Denver gets and even Denver is not considered one of the snowier places in the country.  So FWD would probably be OK with decent tires.

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Having preferred the Sienna to the Odyssey the last time I was looking, I figured we’d get another one, but when I was taking another look at the Odyssey, whatever had bothered me about it last time was no longer an issue.  In fact, I found that I liked the Honda and my focus jumped to it, rather than the Sienna.  At that time (about three years ago) Kias and Chryslers were not on our radar but as fairly popular, pleasant vans, we would now find either to be an acceptable choice.

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Anyway, I searched up and down the Front Range, eventually settling on the one we bought.  Equipment-wise, neither Navigation nor DVD players were important, and we did not want the lightest interior color, but we definitely wanted leather and power sliding doors.  We would have also preferred a power hatch, but it was not offered by Honda in the model years and trim levels we were considering. 

Prevented by Honda’s strict price structure from ordering options a la carte, the EX-L (L for leather) trim level best suited us–ours actually does have the DVD player but we very rarely use it.  This is the first of the cars that we actually still have, I’ll bet you thought we would never get to this point!

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As I relayed in the an earlier post, I traded in my Civic Hybrid for this van, a 2006 model with 67,000 miles on it.  That, oddly enough, is about the same mileage our Sienna had when we lost it. So in a way, we took over where we left off but with a different steed.  As of today we are pushing 114,000 miles.  So over almost three years we have driven the Odyssey 47,000 miles.  Oddly enough, just yesterday a salesman from the dealer where I bought it called for his annual check-in, asking how it was doing and if he could do anything else for me.  To his credit, his persistence will help me remember him if I ever buy from the same dealer.

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The exterior color is called Silver Pearl, the interior is sort of a two-tone gray.  Unlike Toyota, Honda uses a faux-stainless steel panel across the dashboard that looks pretty good and works well with the dark gray dashboard.  I also think the dashboard looks more high-tech and modern than the Toyota’s, however in both, controls are easily located and work well.  Between the front seats is a little tray with four cupholders (supplementing the double cupholder that slides out of the dashboard) which can be folded down to open up a walk-through to the back. 

In reality the tray stays up 100% of the time because even without any drinks, all the other stuff that rests on it would just fall to the floor.  The front seats are heated and have fold-down inboard armrests.  There are two gloveboxes, and a third covered compartment under the radio, along with large door pockets.  Also behind the front row, in the middle of the van, is a large covered compartment with an under-floor Lazy Susan, i.e. it rotates and only part of it is visible/accessible at any time.  We have never used it, but it seems to be a good place to hide cameras or other odds and ends if needed. 

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By the way, an interior color called “Olive” was available in these.  As the name implies, it is kind of a dark green color.  I happened to see one when I was looking and honestly it was a bit much.  The color was just not very attractive but I have to give Honda props for trying. 

The black interior that is also available is very cave-like (I usually like black interiors, but in the Odyssey, it’s too much dark space).  Gray and ivory are by far the most popular interior colors, but I wonder how the burgundy Honda used in the ’80s would look.

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The seats appear a bit larger than the Toyota’s, but it’s a wash, overall comfort-wise; i.e. none of us have any complaints.  Our van has an optional 8th seat insert that can be put between the two seats in the middle row.  We have only used this once when we had to transport 6 kids, and while it came in handy, we prefer the aisle in the middle left open to aid third row access.

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As with all third generation Odysseys (released for 2005, updated for 2008, replaced for 2011), our EX-L example came with 16” alloy wheels.  Pictured here, our van is wearing the set of Continental ExtremeWinterContact snow tires (mounted on Moda alloy wheels) ordered from The Tire Rack soon after we bought it. 

While an improvement over regular all-seasons, they’re still not great–Blizzaks are definitely better.  You would think that the van is very front heavy but the tires do not seem to dig in when accelerating and spin very easily even with very light throttle. 

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All Odysseys of this generation feature a 3.5l V6 and a 5-speed transmission.  It delivers 244 horsepower at 5750rpm and 240 ft/lbs of torque at 4500rpm.  Weighing just over 4500 pounds with a full twenty-one gallons, fuel economy is rated at 17 mpg city, 26 highway; numbers which for us have proved quite accurate.

One of the engine’s nice features is cylinder deactivation (standard after 2006, on EX trim and up).  With this feature, 3 cylinders are shut down when not needed–pretty much whenever you have a steady throttle and are under 80mph.  A little “Eco” light illuminates when this mode is on.  Along with only needing regular gas, it blows our old Sienna out of the water when it comes to fuel costs.  In terms of performance, it is on par with the Sienna and can hold its own.  There is nothing slow about a modern minivan.

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Engine with the cover removed

EX-L trim also comes with a sunroof, which we never use, and an in-dash CD changer, which we use frequently.  The heater/defroster is excellent, which is important out here, as are traction control (used a lot when snowing), stability control (not overly intrusive) and many airbags, which we’ve thankfully never needed.

Honda pioneered the flat-fold third row seat which works very easily; headrests can remain in place when the split bench is folded into its well, which is helpful.  The second row seats can collapse but remain inside unless owners are inclined to risk their backs removing them. 

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We’ve had a few incidents with this van.  At one point, something broke inside the heated driver-side mirror and it would not stay still anymore.  I’m not sure if we hit something with it or what, but the cheap pot-metal-looking post inside was snapped in half.

After a few days of searching online, I gave up and for about $240, got a replacement in the right color from the dealer.  I kept the old mirror in case something happens to the new one so I can use the parts to Frankenstein it myself.

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We had a large snowstorm a year after we bought the van.  I had been lazy and did not install the snow tires but was forced to drive it to an appointment.  Sure enough, after making a left turn I was forced to hit the brakes in an attempt to avoid hitting a Saab which I hadn’t noticed stalled in front of me and wound up sliding into the back of the car.  The other driver was fine and after an uneventful exchange, I went on with my day. 

Our bumper cover was cracked and hung off slightly, but the other car’s bumper was damaged along with some of the rear sheet metal on the left.  Since I was already on the hook for the claim, I had my insurance company repair our van as well.  After the bodyshop ended up fixing and repainting it, the bumper looked like new but it has since acquired a few scuffs.

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The car I nailed in the snow…

Mechanically, this van has not been as good to us as I would have hoped.  While the transmission has not had problems besides a low-rpm judder–eliminated by revised software (covered by a warranty extension to 8yrs or 105k miles), the steering became very heavy right just as a recall was issued, resulting in a new power steering pump being installed for free.  The AC condenser wound up with a hole punched in it due to being mounted right at the bottom of the bumper with nothing to protect it (very poor design), and after a class action lawsuit, Honda now offers a protective grill at no charge to owners willing to pay the cost of installation.  When we had the bumper fixed we asked to have the grill installed, requiring no extra labor and working in our favor.

Both sliding doors have been balky, reversing themselves on inclines and refusing to close easily.  There is an actuator inside each door that costs about $32 online and can be replaced in under an hour.  A great video on YouTube explains the process and I replaced the part on both doors but one is starting to act up again.   I may have to order another actuator and have another go.

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That valve with the sensor and wire is what repeatedly trips the Check Engine light

A recurring issue has been a Check Engine light that first came on in the middle of Nebraska, during a trip.  I would not care except that if the light is on, the engine will not go into the fuel-saving mode and will run on all six cylinders all the time.  I had the codes read after finding an Autozone which also offered to reset the light and took the van in when I returned.  It appears the culprit was a valve with a sensor easily accessed at the front of the engine. 

My shop replaced it with a used one from their boneyard for $50 which worked for a while but the light came back on.  In the meantime, I had bought a code reader for $20 from Amazon and was able to determine it was the same code again.  So I made sure the sensor’s plug was properly seated (it apparently wiggles loose easily) and reset the code.  The light still comes on every few months or so, but now I just reset it and everything seems fine; the van passes emissions and doesn’t use any more gas than is normal. 

I’ve figured out under what conditions the light comes on, and can almost make it happen on command.  The engine has to have been running for a couple of hours at freeway speeds, then I have to apply and release and reapply the throttle in a specific sequence.  This most often occurs when in traffic on the freeway and I’m trying to switch lanes but without a large gap and/or on an incline.  It seems the rapid throttle movements confuse the sensor. 

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A couple of months ago it started leaking a lot of oil onto the garage floor and, like a naughty dog, was banished outside.  After some reading I was convinced it was the rear main seal.  The dealer wanted about $1000 to fix it, but my regular mechanic quoted under $700, so he got the business and repaired it just before Thanksgiving.  I was delighted when he called to tell me  the oil pan gasket was the culprit instead and the repair would cost much less.  He will be getting more of my business going forward.

In addition to all the other problems, it appears that the rear AC is no longer working correctly.  It could be major or it could just be a blockage somewhere.  I probably need to spend some time looking into it but right now it’s not important.

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The summer after I took my daughter to Glacier National Park we decided to do the father/daughter trip again.  This time (2012) we headed to the Midwest; Illinois and Indiana specifically.  We have good friends outside of Chicago and in Fort Wayne and spent several days with each. 

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Heading east from Colorado, you go through Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa before hitting Illinois.  I like Wyoming but Nebraska is pretty boring (along I-80 anyway) and is where the Check Engine light came on to boot.  Iowa was a surprise.  I expected it would be flat and featureless but that turned out not to be the case; it was very picturesque, for the most part.

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Getting to Fort Wayne from Chicago is not the easiest voyage, the section of I-80 you need to take is in poor condition and there is heavy freight traffic.  Once in Indiana we took state highways through lots of small towns–with lots of Broughaminalia for sale on the front lawns–until we hit Fort Wayne, which was nicer and larger than I remembered. 

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On the farm in Fort Wayne, IN. This is before I was interested in shooting tractors but I know someone here can recite all the particulars of this one…

On the way back we took the southern route through Indianapolis, a large chunk of Illinois (which I forgot stretched so far South), then Missouri and Kansas before reaching the eastern part of Colorado.  Kansas was a surprise like Iowa, I also thought it would be dead flat, which is not the case, but it turned out that eastern Colorado is how I had always pictured Kansas.  Driving towards Denver on I-70 it is fascinating to see the Rockies get bigger and bigger as you approach the city, only to realize you are still fifty miles away from them! 

The van did great, cruising comfortably, quietly,  and steadily at 80mph.  Except for the Check Engine light, there was no drama (although that admittedly caused some concern).

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We’ve also taken the van to Southern California a couple of times (most recently this past Thanksgiving) and also to Albuquerque for the Balloon Festival a couple of years ago.  On the way home, I got pulled over by the New Mexico State Patrol.  He asked if I knew what I was doing and I conceded that I perhaps was exceeding the posted limit by almost 20mph. 

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He went back to his patrol car with my documentation, came back ten minutes later, told me that he A, appreciated my honesty; B, would give me a written warning since it was the day after my birthday and C, wanted to warn me about the Colorado State Trooper, apparently always at mile marker 13 just across the border, looking for people to be going faster than the posted 55mph on a steep downhill section. 

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In hindsight, the van has had several relatively small issues but nothing really major.  We do ride it hard and put it away wet and I believe it had belonged to two other families before we got it.  It does not get much love besides the regular prescribed maintenance (generally a good value at our dealer, otherwise we use our mechanic) and we definitely often ask 110% of it.  I also use it as my “work truck” when I am rehabbing a foreclosed house or condo and load all manner of tools, supplies, appliances and trash into it.  I’ve thought about getting a real truck but this is really very user-friendly, convenient, and holds 99% of the stuff that I need it to.  On rare occasions, I either rent a truck or have something delivered.

While this is not the longest period we’ve owned a car (we had the Volvo V40 and the Audi S4 for four years each), the Odyssey is getting close to covering the most miles travelled, again being edged out (barely) by those two cars and my first car, the Mazda 626.  At this point it is getting a bit beat though, and since we both sell Real Estate, a different vehicle would be better for clients if our preferred car is already in use.  I actually washed it and cleaned it out for these pictures, and while far from clean, the carpets at least look better in person than these pictures would suggest.  Something about gray.

We’ve also recently gotten a large-ish popup trailer and are deciding how best to tow it.  A newer Suburban would be tempting if not for the gas mileage and the price tag.  I’m considering getting tranny and power steering coolers and a hitch for the van as space-wise, it is perfect.  I’d still be getting close to the weight limits, however, and we face steep grades and major elevation changes most places that we go.  Being at 5000 feet to start with makes everything work harder to begin with, and the last thing I want is to overtax the van and be faced with a large repair bill. 

At this point the future of the Odyssey is uncertain.  A minivan is still a good option, but our needs have changed a bit.  The kids are also at the point where two of them no longer need any assistance getting in and out, and the third is getting close.  Ideally we’d have four (or more) cars, but our house and garage don’t make that feasible. 

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This must have been the first week of ownership as I had not transferred the plates yet.

In case you were wondering whether the Odyssey or the Sienna was better, it’s pretty much a draw and comes down to personal preference.  By the mid to late 2000s, most minivans pretty much hit the sweet spot in regard to power, space, safety, and features.  Both are capable vehicles, but neither is quite as trouble-free as its nameplate might suggest.  I would not regret choosing either one over the other, but I will say that unlike the current Sienna, which has taken a small step backwards, the newest Odyssey builds on the model’s strengths (for a large price).