Buyers Guide to the Second Generation Honda Odyssey

Odyssey camping conversion

I decided to make my minivan camper out of a 2nd generation Honda Odyssey.  These are the ones that were built between 1999 and 2004.  There are a number of reasons I decided on a 2004, which you can read about elsewhere on this site.    This article is about what to look for when you buy your 2nd gen Odyssey.

Let me show you a couple of things to watch out for on this particular model of minivan, before you put your money down.

  1. Transmission issues.  The one weak mechanical weak spot of the 2nd generation Odyssey is the transmission.  99-2001 model years have a four-speed transmission with a terrible record.  I suggest avoiding these three years altogether, but if you absolutely must have one, check that the transmission has been replaced or has a complete service history (Carfax can often tell you if the vehicle has had issues, but not always.  If it tells you this, great!  If not, do not assume that means it didn’t have a storied past).  In 2002, Honda went to a 5-speed transmission which gives better mileage.  However, these were plagued by a problem with the gears not being properly hardened.  There was a recall to inspect the gears using a fiber optic camera.  So, if you buy a 2002-2003, make sure the seller can show the dealer record that this inspection was performed, or that the transmission was replaced after 2004.  The 2004 model was not plagued by the earlier issues and one of the reasons I bought an 04!  You should still check to see that the transmission was serviced (fluid change or flush) at least every 80,000 miles.
  2. Engine.  All of the Odysseys had a 3.5L V6 engine.  In 2001 the Odyssey got a more powerful version of this engine with 240 horsepower.  Earlier versions were 210 hp.  However, I’ve had both and while the 240 hp was great for passing power, the 210 hp version seemed to have more low-end grunt.  Neither one is “bad” but they drive a little differently.  There are no major weak spots, but the timing belt should be changed every 120,000 miles and/or eight years.  The vehicle manual may suggest more frequent changes, but my number is based on what I’ve learned talking to Honda mechanics.  This is a significant amount of work and the dealer will charge over $1200 to do it.  A small shop will get about $800.  So, make sure it has already been done.  The water pump and idler pulley will be done at the same time.  If your perfect Odyssey has not had its belt changed, try to keep the RPM under 4500 until you can get it serviced.  The mechanics I spoke to say that it usually fails at high RPM, such as when passing.  When it fails, the internal engine parts collide and you will need an engine rebuild or replacement.  Other than that scary stuff, look for oil changes around every 5000-7500 or more often.
  3. Brakes.  These aren’t really a weak spot, but I’ve run into an issue with a couple of the used Odyssey’s I’ve owned.  If they are parked in damp weather for more than a few weeks, the brake rotors will rust where the pads touch.  This will cause a pulsation in the steering wheel (front brakes) or a shudder–pulsation in deceleration (rear brakes).  Sometimes both.  Drive it and do a couple of 50 to 0 stops under strong braking, but not full ABS lock up.  If you can do that a couple times without an issue, they are probably fine.  If not, plan on spending $300 for each axle, or $125 if you do the work yourself.  It’s not hard, but you need the tools.
  4. Rust.  Odysseys of this vintage seem to come two ways.  All rusty, or completely rust free.  In particular, look at the rear fenders above the tires and the rear hatch door, under the window and at the bottom.    If you are just dealing with minor surface rust on the rear fenders (the most common issue) you can slap some plastic fender spats on to cover it up for less than the full repair would cost.  As of this writing, they were still available HERE.
  5. Rear vent windows.  One awesome feature of the 2nd generation Odyssey is that the rear side windows tilt open.  That allows for ventilation while driving and good cross ventilation and security when parked.  However, they have a high incidence of motor failure and when you replace the motors, they fail again.  Making it worse, the problem is somewhat temperature related and so, it may not show when you first test drive the van.  If you have to replace these motors, which is not difficult but takes 90 min or so (each) make sure you do THIS FIX,  which will ensure that this is the last time you’ll have to remove the window motors.

Keep an eye on these things and you should find a nice Odyssey that will give you years of service.  There are a LOT of Odysseys out there with 250,000 miles and more.  If you start your search for 2nd generation Odysseys with the 2004 model year, you can avoid a lot of the issues.  These Hondas are a design that improved with each generation, so the later model years are pretty solid.  However, I had particular reasons for picking the second generation model.

You can find out more about why I picked a second-generation Honda Odyssey in the article below.

There is also a wiki page on the Honda Odyssey, which is a great place to compare the changes over the years.

Why Did I Pick a Honda Odyssey for a Camper?

When I’m not boondocking for free, I use my Passport America membership to save 50% on campgrounds.  It pays itself back on your first couple of stays and then cuts your travel costs in HALF!

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Don’t get stuck buying a separate membership for each campground chain, join Passport America instead!  –Odyssey Camper

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